Based on a True Story: Act Six (Revelation 5:1-11, 21:1-5)

A summary of the six acts is available in PDF (free Acrobat Reader required).

Big Idea: What keeps us going as we play our part in Act Five? Knowing how the drama ends in Act Six.

Knowing how the drama ends helps us play our part faithfully here and now.

Purpose: To be encouraged by the end of the drama to play our part well.

We've been looking at the Bible as a six-act play. Part of the drama is being played here and now. Our job is to improvise our roles faithfully as we wait for the final act of the play.

But I will bet you that you find it hard to maintain intensity as you play your part. The reason? It really looks like we're playing roles in some other drama than the Biblical one. We understand our role as students, employees, parents. Those seem real. Our role in the theo-drama seems more like an abstraction.

This isn't a new problem. When Jesus left at the beginning of the book of Acts, it wasn't hard for the disciples to maintain their intensity. But decades went by, and with every decade it was harder to stay as focused.

By the time Revelation was written, perhaps around 95 AD, it perhaps looked like history was unfolding differently than expected. Persecution was increasing. Focus had been lost. Was it possible still to play one's role in the theo-drama, or was the whole thing a waste of time?

Today, as well, it looks like things are out of control. This past week, a fourteen-year-old girl was arrested at a nearby school with a loaded Magnum. Police say that gang members are using eight-year-old kids on bikes to run guns. It's easy to believe that God has lost control.

In this context, Revelation gives us a glimpse of the end of the theo-drama, and reminds us of two things to keep us on track.

One: Jesus is in control

Revelation is sometimes hard to understand, and there are lots of interpretations out there. But it's important to keep the main message in sight. Arguing over the details is like fighting so much about labor pains that you forget a baby is coming.

John sees a vision of heaven in Revelation 5. The key question in verses 1-3:

Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice,"Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.

"Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" The scroll recorded the unfolding of God's righteous judgments, to set history on its right course. It looked hopeless. If nobody could open the scrolls, then nobody is in charge of guiding history. It's just random, and our parts don't matter.

Verse 4:"I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside." John is completely discouraged, because it looks like this is the case. History is random; nobody is in control. But then:

Then one of the elders said to me,"Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals."

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center before the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God's people. And they sang a new song, saying:

"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
members of every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth."
(Revelation 5:5-11)

The lesson: Jesus is in control. We can play our parts faithfully because history isn't random. Jesus is not just gone. He's working in history to bring it to its ultimate purpose. Which is:

Two: Everything will be made new

In Revelation 21:1-5, we read where history is headed:

Then I saw"a new heaven and a new earth," for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,"Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

He who was seated on the throne said,"I am making everything new!" Then he said,"Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

This is the biblical hope: not heaven and clouds and harps. We're mistaken when we think that going to heaven when we die is the point of it all.

The biblical hope is the restoration of all things. Earthly existence is redeemed. God creates a new heaven and a new earth. Cosmic restoration takes place (Colossians 1:19-20).

This is the church's hope that keeps us playing our part faithfully.

He who testifies to these things says,"Yes, I am coming soon."

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21)

Posted on June 18, 2006 and filed under Uncategorized.

Based on a True Story: Act Five (Acts 1:1-11)

Big Idea: What is our place in the drama? To live as the people of God through the power of the Spirit for the good of the world.

Purpose: To realize our part in the drama.

Something has happened in the past few decades of church life.

It began with the best of intentions: we began to come to church expecting that church would help us improve our lives:

  • to help us become better parents
  • to"hold up in a fold up world"
  • to be relevant to our lives and interesting

The result is that we have come to the point where we expect the drama of Scripture to be relevant to our lives, and we reject the parts that don't meet our needs.

The alternative: To believe that we are part of a drama that is much bigger than our own, and to believe that we have crucial parts to play in this ongoing action.

Review

  • Part One - Creation (good)
  • Part Two - Fall (mess)
  • Part Three - God cleans up the mess by calling a people
  • Part Four: When God's plan to restore a messed-up world seemed to fail, he sent His own Son.

Today: Part Five

"In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven." (Acts 1:1-2)

He is still active in restoring a messed up world. He is still acting and teaching.

How can this happen?

  • We receive the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5) - Pentecost
  • We live in between Act Four and Act Six (Acts 1:6-7)
  • Meanwhile, we act as his witnesses throughout all the world (Acts 1:8-9)

The exalted Christ is at work in the church and the world.

  • Israel's mission to be light to nations: Failure!
  • Jesus fulfills Israel's mission
  • Jesus gathers new Israel to continue mission to nations
  • Church continues Israel's, Jesus' mission

The Story of Acts

  • Witness in Jerusalem 3:1-6:7
  • Witness in Samaria and Judea 6:8-12:24
  • Witness to Ends of Earth 12:25-end

Our Part in the Act

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ - with all boldness and without hindrance! (Acts 28:30-31)

Why so abrupt? Loose ends? The Story of Acts has not ended. It continues today until Christ returns.

"...the ending of Acts is truly an opening to the continuing life of the messianic people, as it continues to preach the kingdom and teach the things concerning Jesus both boldly and without hindrance." (Luke Johnson)

N.T. Wright's suggestion: that a"lost" Shakespeare play has been found. The play originally had six acts, but only a little more than five have been found - the first four acts, the first scene of act five, and the final act of the play.

The play is given to a set of actors who are to work out the rest of act 5 for themselves. They are to immerse themselves in the culture and language, and let the trajectory of the rest of the story help them improvise the rest of act 5.

The church is like a theatre company.

Implications

  • Playing our part faithfully is more important than our lives -"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace." (Acts 20:24)
  • The main purpose of reading the Bible is to get to know our parts so we can play our role faithfully.
  • We continue God's work of restoring the world by living faithfully wherever we are."Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27)
Posted on June 11, 2006 and filed under Uncategorized.

Based on a True Story: Act Four (Luke 10:1-24)

Big Idea: What did God do when his plan to restore a messed-up world seemed to fail? He sent His own Son.

OR When God's plan to restore a messed-up world seemed to fail, he sent His own Son.

Purpose: To center the story line on Jesus.

A drama always involves a crisis. The"happily ever after" part never comes until the end, otherwise it would be a very boring drama.

The drama of Scripture contains a crisis too. Review: God created the world; sin messed up the world; God chose a people to begin restoring the messed up world.

The problem: Those people failed in their job.

Biggest indication: Exiles (a reverse-exodus): 722 BC, the northern kingdom was conquered by Assyria and went into exile; 587 BC, the Temple was destroyed by Babylonians; 586 BC, the southern kingdom went into exile.

Although they were eventually allowed to return to their land, only a minority did so. And even those that returned were dominated by one foreign power after another, as if their exile had never ended.

They believed one day that God would first judge and then restore His people. They longed for"the kingdom of God" - when there would be no king but God; the land would be cleansed from those who trampled it; Israel would live in communion with God; God would again dwell among his people.

**What did God do when his plan to restore a messed-up world seemed to fail? He sent His own Son.

Who He Was

He is the Son of God.

It becomes clear that He came to do Israel's job. He becomes the true Israel:

  • His genealogy is given to show that God's promises to Abram and David are being fulfilled in Him
  • The events of Jesus' life do the same - The threat to his life as infant; his flight to Egypt; his time in the wilderness; his baptism in the Jordon
  • Jesus saw himself as the Temple

His Message

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God."The time has come," he said."The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:14-15)
Also Luke 10:8-11

It is the central message of Jesus. What is the Kingdom? One definition: Power of God in Christ by the Spirit to restore creation (especially humanity) to again live under the rule of God.

It's broken in; it's not yet fully present.

What He Did

Demonstration of God's Kingdom:

Blind see; lame walk; deaf hear; sick healed; dead raised; poor/ lost received; sinners forgiven; cursed creation restored; demons cast out; lives changed (cf. Lk. 7:21-23; 10:17-20 - the defeat of Satan at the hands of Jesus)

He also created a kingdom community - Luke 10:21. He even welcomes sinners and outcasts.

All of this is what was longed for in Act Three - Luke 10:23. God's plan to restore a messed up world are back on track.

And we haven't even got to the climax yet:

For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful humanity to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in human flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4)

Jesus conquered sin: death; Satan; forms of sin (hatred, greed), results of sin (suffering, sickness).

We live in the"already, but not yet" world of the Kingdom.

The Difference Today

Jesus died to restore His creation......we participate in that new creation as we trust in Christ.

Posted on June 4, 2006 and filed under Uncategorized.