How Can We Experience the Joys of the Kingdom?

In verse 27 of Revelation 21, John tells us that,

“…nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Re 21:27)

And again in verses 14 and 15 of Revelation 22, John tells us that only

“…those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” (Re 22:14–15)

Clearly, not everyone is allowed to enter and experience the joys of the kingdom. What is that dividing line? What determines whether a person is in or out of the kingdom? In other words,

How can we experience the joys of the kingdom to come?

In verse 27, John mentions the Lamb’s book of life. He tells us that our names have to be written in it if we are going to enter. As well as he tells us that no one who is unclean will be able to enter.

How do we become clean?

In order to be clean, we have to have had our robes washed. It is not clear from this verse how or in what way our robes must be washed, but back in chapter 7 in verse 14, John tells us that those who have already entered into Jesus’ presence have washed their robes in the blood of Christ.

How can we wash in the blood of Christ?

The blood of Jesus isn’t a product we can run down to Walmart and purchase. How, then, can we have our robes washed in Jesus’ blood? The only way we can wash our robes in the blood of Jesus is to believe the gospel.

The gospel

The gospel is shorthand for good news. In biblical terms, the good news is that Jesus has taken our punishment for us. You see, we are sinners who have sinned against God. In other words, we live in rebellion. We want to do our own thing. As those who have rebelled against God, we deserve to be punished by Him.

But God sent Jesus, who not only lived a perfect life but also died the death we deserve. He took our punishment on Himself when He hung on the cross at Calvary.

All those who would admit that they live in rebellion to God and deserve His punishment for doing so, as well as all those who believe that Jesus suffered and died in our place, in order to make a way for our relationship with the Father to be repaired, all those who would repent and believe those things will be covered or washed in the blood of Christ.

When the Father looks down on us, He doesn’t see an unclean people but a people who have been made holy through Jesus’ blood. As a result, we are able to enter and enjoy the blessings of the kingdom to come.

No other way

Apart from repenting and believing in Jesus, there is no other way to enter the kingdom and enjoy the blessings that come with it.

Open to all

The good news in all of this is that the ability to be washed in Jesus’ blood is open to all. Look at verse 17 of chapter 22,

“The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” (Re 22:17)

We all can come. Coming costs nothing. We don’t, nay we can’t, pay for the water of life. It’s freely given to those who repent and believe.

So if you haven’t yet repented and believed, heed Jesus’ words and come. If you are thirsty and desire life eternal, come. If you want to experience the joys of the kingdom, come. Come to Jesus!

If you have turned to Jesus, and if you do believe in Him, then praise God because you have a perfect world, ruled by a perfect King, with unhindered access to God to which to look forward.

Question for Reflection

  1. Will you be a part of the kingdom to come?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon The End of God’s Restoration Project

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The Man of Steel or the Son of Man? Who’ll fix this broken world?

I don’t know about you but I have a problem finishing books. Not so much novels, but my Christian Living and Theology books. I have a hard time reading those cover to cover. Typically, I’ll start reading a book, get really excited about it, and then after a 100 or so pages that excitement begins to wane, my focus turns somewhere else, and that book ends up next to my chair in the “currently reading” pile. My “currently reading” pile isn’t really a currently reading pile because it’s currently about 10 books high. And some of those books have been in the pile, I kid you not, for over a year. Now, eventually, a question will arise and I’ll get back to that book. I might finish it, but that’s not always the case.

My other pastor friends and ministry leaders I follow assure me that’s not a problem. They argue that books are tools and not all books are meant to be read cover to cover. You use them for what you need at the time, then pick them up later when they’re needed for another task, just like any other tool in your toolbox out in the shed. I like that analogy. I not only think it’s a helpful way to think of books in that genre, but it makes me feel better because that pile by my chair isn’t getting any smaller.

While it can be hard for me to finish those books, one book and story that will eventually come to an end whether we get back to it or not is the biblical story. There is no stopping time. It keeps marching forward, which means God’s story will eventually come to an end. Thankfully, we have the Bible, which gives us a sneak peek, a spoiler, if you will, of how God’s restoration project will end.

How does God’s story end?

Revelation 21 and 22 are the last two chapters of the Bible. Combined they tell us how God’s story will end.

God’s people live in a perfect world

Looking at those two chapters, one of the first things you see is that God’s story ends with God’s people living in a perfect world (1-3; 5). Unless you live under a rock, you know the world in which currently live isn’t perfect. All you have to do is turn on the news or open the newspaper to figure that out. Recently, I visited the Wise County Messenger’s website, which is my local paper. Apart from documenting the rainfall and some of the basketball games the night before, two of the headline stories that ran for the day read: “Sex offender given life sentence.” “Driver crashes into tree.” Even in small town Decatur, the news tells us that we don’t live in a perfect world.

We desire a perfect world

That, however, doesn’t mean we don’t want to live in a perfect world. If we are honest with ourselves, we all long to live in a perfect world. This longing begins when we are children.

My two sons, Camden and Bryson, are now four and two. For their last birthday, we had a party for them. It was a joint party since they were born in the same month just four days apart. The theme of the party was superheroes. Camden is the one who chose that theme since he’s the one who can articulate what he wants.

While it’s mostly out of fun that he chose a superhero themed birthday party, I believe there is also an underlying truth to explore here. Camden is four. He knows there are bad people in the world. He has learned that from our family Bible reading as well as the cartoons he watches. You know as well as I do as soon as we find out that there are bad people in the world, we long for something to be done to set things right. That’s why kids, and even adults, are drawn to superheroes. We are looking for a fix.

Hopefully, you know by now that fix isn’t going to come through the Man of Steel. No matter how strong Super Man is, he can’t fix this broken world. He can’t provide the Utopia for which we all long.

God can and will fix this broken world

But God can and will. Through the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus, the Father is working to set things right. When Jesus returns, He will defeat Satan and judge the world (Rev. 20:11-15). Once that’s taken place we are told in Revelation 21 that a New Heavens and New Earth will appear.Look at the text starting in verse 1,

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”” (Re 21:1–5)

So that longing that begins in us as a kid to live in a perfect world is realized in Jesus. He is the One who makes all things new. He is the One who will make this broken world perfect.

Question for Reflection

  1. Are you relying on someone or something other than Jesus to fix this broken world? If so, why?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon The End of God’s Restoration Project

The Unified Mission, Devotion, and Power of the Church – Part 3

What is the Unified Devotion of the Church?

In Acts 2, after Peter’s Spirit-empowered preaching at Pentecost, a multitude of people began to follow Jesus as His disciples. We are told in verse 41 that:

“…there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41b)

We know from earlier in the chapter that those who heard Peter’s sermon were “from every nation under heaven” — verse 8. So a number of the people who began to follow Jesus that day were from foreign countries. I assume that many of them carried the good news of Jesus back to their hometowns and made disciples there. But many stayed in Jerusalem and joined the other disciples. We are told starting in verse 42 what their day to day activity looked like.

The text says,

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Ac 2:42)

These were the things they were devoted to and unified around. Let’s look at these one at a time.

They were devoted to and unified around learning more about Jesus and how He would have us to live.

Each day they would be taught by the apostles more about God, Jesus, and how they were to live. That wasn’t just an early church practice. We should be unified around the idea of learning more about God, Jesus, and how we are to live as well.

You see, being a member of a church shouldn’t be like being a member of a Country Club. We shouldn’t join for status, connections, or for what we can get out of it. Instead, we join and come to church to help one another become better disciples of Jesus. That should be our focus as a church — to learn how we can better follow Jesus and help others to do the same.

They were devoted to and unified around fellowshipping with one another

As well as we should be unified around fellowshipping with one another. This means that we should be close. We should know what is going on in each other’s lives. How we can encourage and be in prayer for one another.

Even if that is occurring in the community to which you belong, there’s always room for improvement. One way to actively improve fellowship in your Christian community is to pick someone out, it could be anyone — someone you know well or someone you don’t know well, but pick someone out, and invite them to do something with you. Maybe that involves grabbing a coffee or having them over for lunch or dinner one day. When you are gathered together, make it a point to ask them how you can pray for or encourage them.

Now, I know that sounds a little uncomfortable, but if we truly want to experience the level of fellowship Luke is writing about in the book of Acts, that’s something we need to start doing regularly. The easiest way to start is to just do it. So take some time this week to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to empower you to fellowship with others in your congregation, and then invite them to hang out.

They were devoted to and unified around breaking Bread Together

Next, we see that along with focusing on learning what it means to be a disciple and fellowshipping with one another, the early church was also unified around breaking bread together. What this means is that they participated in the Lord’s Supper with one another regularly. The reason they did that, and the reason we should do that, is to constantly remind ourselves of Jesus’ work on our behalf.

When we keep what Jesus has done in front of us, it’s hard to keep sinning against one another and God. That’s because when we are thankful for what God has done for us by sending His son to die on our behalf, we should want to please Him. Not to earn or keep our salvation, but simply as a way to worship Him. So by regularly observing the Lord’s Supper, we should be driven to obedience and unity with one another.

They were devoted to and unified around praying for one another

Lastly, we learn that prayer for one another unified the early church. That’s what we should be doing as well, we should be praying for one another. Not just for each other’s physical ailments, but for one another’s spiritual life. That means we have to be willing to ask others how they are doing spiritually, as well as we have to be willing to tell others how we are doing spiritually. It’s a two-way street and we have to be willing to drive down both sides.

Telling others how you are doing spiritually doesn’t necessarily mean that you are always telling them what’s wrong. While that is not a bad idea. Telling others how you are doing spiritually might also mean that you share with them how God is working in your life for good. By willing to do both, you’re not only setting yourself up to receive encouragement, guidance, and prayer, but you will also be a catalyst to worship, as others are driven to praise God for what He is doing in your life. Either way, we are bringing glory to God, and glorifying God is what our life should be about.

What are the Benefits?

So these are the things we should be devoted to and unified around as a church. Honestly, when we are unified around these things, fights and disagreements will be at a minimum. When they do occur, we will seek reconciliation quickly.

As well as, when we are unified around these things, we will always be on the lookout for one another’s spiritual health. When we see others slipping, we will be in a place where we can pray for and admonish them. Or when we see others doing well, we will be in a place where we can encourage them to keep on keeping on.

Moreover, being unified around these ideas will allow us to be better witnesses to the world because we will come across as a unified and loving family that others will want to be a part of.

Conclusion

But again, we don’t do these things in our own strength, nor do we accomplish our mission in our own strength. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers us to be devoted to these things and to make disciples. Which means, when we see ourselves or others slipping, we shouldn’t just encourage them or ourselves to try harder. Instead, we should pray that the Spirit would work in our lives, empowering us to keep pressing on as Jesus’ disciple.

So let me encourage you to be faithful to your Spirit-empowered mission — to make disciples and to be devoted to the teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.

Question for Reflection

  1. Are the above a point of unity for your congregation?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon The Unified Mission, Devotion, and Power of the Church

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