Bible Tuesday for Sunday November 2, 2014
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The context for this portion of Revelation is that John, the writer of Revelation, has been “taken in spirit” up to the throne room of God. What he sees there is beyond words so he draws on images to describe this fantastic vision.
The book of Revelation was written in the second half of the first century, when Christianity was still, by and large, considered a sect within Judaism. Yet, in verse nine of this passage, John tells us that people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” are standing before the throne of God and the lamb (Jesus) with palm branches in their hands, praising God. Palm branches were considered by the Jews to be symbols of God’s power and action, rather like flags to be waved at parades and rallies. John tells us that Jews and Gentiles are wearing the white of purity, holding the symbols of God’s power, and standing around God’s throne, praising God. That is an astounding vision to any religious or political “zealot” or “extremist”.
These white robed, ethnically diverse praisers of God are those who have suffered for their faith in Jesus/Father/Holy Spirit. Now that they are before God’s throne, they are saved from and protected from any future suffering. AMEN
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3 O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Look to him, and be radiant;
so your[a] faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
and was saved from every trouble.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
9 O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
This is another acrostic psalm, though the negative verses that talk about revenge against enemies are omitted from the above selection. The above verses emphasize those who humble themselves, or “subjugate” themselves to God. They are (v. 4) answered and delivered from all their fears, (v. 5) never ashamed, (v. 6) heard by the Lord, (v. 8) happy, (v. 9) without want, (10) lack no good thing, (v. 22) spared condemnation.
I have always struggled with the concepts of humans magnifying God. How can we, bound in finitude, make bigger that which is completely beyond all dimensions? But, a quick glance at Webster’s showed that an archaic meaning of “magnify” is to glorify or laud.
1 John 3:1-3
1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he[a] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
In the time of Jesus, being the son of someone meant that you were automatically afforded the social class privileges (or curses) afforded the father. That was almost the only way to elevate to a new class. (The other way was to come under the patronage of someone, who frequently legally adopted the beneficiary.) The eldest son not only inherited the estate, but also frequently political and religious office. John reminds us in this passage that all the baptized receive these amazing gifts from God. But, this inheritance from God is very different than normal patronage. With God, we inherit God’s glory in the giving and receiving grace. We inherit God’s power through the purity from evil which God alone bestows. We inherit God’s might through the exercise of mercy.
5When Jesus* saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The term translated “Blessed” or “Happy” is one of those words which is not translatable into English. The Greek macarios has a deeper, all encompassing meaning. Macarios can also be translated as satiated, satisfied/at peace. When read with these synonyms in mind, these beatitudes can be read as statements of God’s individualized care for those who suffer.
Poor in Spirit can be understood as humble, bowed over by life. Meek can be understood as those at the bottom of a society with very strict social structures.
Chapter 4 of Matthew recounts Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, the calling of the disciples, and the first forays into ministry, healing the sick. Jesus’ fame spread and crowds were gathered. The first verse of this text tells us that as the crowd gathered, Jesus called his disciples to himself and taught them. The context seems to be that as Jesus sees all of these suffering people coming to him for relief and he uses this as a teaching moment. The traditional interpretation of suffering is that it is a sign of God’s displeasure. Jesus turns that on its head, listing those who suffer and their gifts from God. Mercy, a weakness which makes one vulnerable is rewarded with God’s mercy. The meek, while taken advantage of by people in higher classes, are rewarded with the inheritance of all the earth.