The Holy and the Common

Ezekiel 42-43

Why is it that older churches and cathedrals seem to have an aura about them that is missing from newer Christian constructions? There is a special reverence that is shown to these historical places of worship, but why? They appear to be more “holy” than modern church structures–are they really or is it just perception?

In our reading today, we get more details about the temple complex being shown to Ezekiel. As I mentioned yesterday, one intention for the prophet in giving specifications to all of Israel was so they could imagine what it would be like. Another reason, which flows from first is to draw attention to God’s holiness and, in turn, Israel’s sinfulness. But why would imagining the temple lead to recognizing sin? This question and the ones in the above paragraph are tied together.

The idea of holiness in the Bible is connected with being different, set apart, or sacred. The God of the Bible is called holy; He is without sin, He is all powerful, He is worthy of worship and adoration. Yahweh is distinct from His creation. Though humans are made in His image, they have sins which separate them from God, showing Him to be holy and people common. When humans encounter God’s holiness, it leaves them in awe of His majesty and with awareness of their own sinfulness (see Isaiah 6). When you see a dirty object–even one you think is clean–held up to something that is flawless, every little blemish is revealed. That is what happens when humans meet God.

When we see older churches or cathedrals, we are looking at something different, uncommon, a building designed to be set apart from other constructions. Older places of worship are usually taller, more distinctive, and, dare I say, were built by people more reverent than us. They have brilliant stained glass, magnificent architecture, and invoke a deep sense of beauty. Modern churches, by contrast, aren’t much taller than most middle-class housing and, in most cities, are located every few blocks. They look dull in comparison, with nothing extraordinary to offer. Older churches appear more holy because they stand out more, while modern ones seem all too common.

Older churches and cathedrals were built as the place where humans go to encounter God, much like Jews viewed the temple. Many modern Christians understand they don’t have go to a building to worship God, but for most of Christian history the church building has been the place where followers of Christ have gathered to worship their creator, which is why those older churches were so grand. They wanted the building to reflect the holiness of the God they worshiped. God’s holiness causes people to recognize their own sinfulness. It’s no wonder that the dulling down of Christian architecture has mirrored a more laissez-faire attitude towards sin.

What should we do then? Should we go back to designing and building grand places of worship?

No. When Jesus left the curtain torn, the separation between the holy God and sinful humanity was broken. This means striving after good works and the sacrificing of rams and bulls is not the way to achieve holiness. Instead, we put our faith (believe) in the one responsible for ripping the veil in half and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Because of the righteousness of the Messiah, we can be holy and the spirit of God can dwell in us, as we live as the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16).

God’s holiness still causes us to recognize our own sin, but we don’t have to go to a grand building to see it. We encounter it through scripture, reading about God Himself or His son who reveals so much about Him. We see it in nature, looking through binoculars, telescopes, or with the naked eye. We see it when the Church (the people, not the building) acts as it was intended to. Thankfully God’s holiness doesn’t just reveal our sinfulness, but His love for us and willingness to forgive those who ask for it. What a holy, loving, and awesome God we serve!

– Joel Fletcher

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezekiel 42-43

Tomorrow we will read Ezekiel 44-45 as we continue on our

Looking into the Future

Revelation 4-7

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Tuesday July 18

If you had a chance to look into the future and see what was going to happen, would you want to?  If you had a chance to get a peek at God’s throne room in Heaven, would you want to?  John is given that chance.  While he’s physically in exile on the Island of Patmos in the middle of the Mediterranean sea around 90 A.D. during a time of great persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire, he is given a vision of the throne room of God Almighty.  He is able to see God seated upon His throne, surrounded by angels.  He sees seven scrolls that have been sealed by God.  The question is, who is worthy to unseal the scrolls and reveal their contents?  The answer is: the Lamb that was slain.  Jesus is the only one worthy to unseal the royal scrolls and reveal their contents.  The scrolls reveal what is about to happen.
Notices that there are 7 scrolls just as there were 7 churches.  In the Bible, 7 is the number of completion.  It took God 7 days to finish creating the earth (including a Sabbath rest).  The number 7 will keep occurring through the book of Revelation.  It’s completion, God is finishing the new creation, bringing this creation to an end.  7 scrolls reveal God’s plan to bring this world with it’s evil to a close.
As the scrolls are opened they reveal war, famine, earthquakes and other disasters resulting in wide scale death.  God is beginning to bring His judgment upon the earth, and He is vindicating his people who have died as martyrs at the hands of the evil empire.  (it sounds a little bit like Star Wars- Empires and those who suffer at the hands of the empire).
Imagine that you are a Christian living in this time and you want to be faithful to God, but it’s hard when you see a powerful empire destroying your fellow Christians by the sword, or burning in the fire, or throwing them to the lions or the gladiators in the arena.  It might be tempting at times to give up and give in to the seemingly overwhelming force of the empire.  But then you are permitted to look into the future and see that, eventually, the empire is destroyed, and those who died the death of the martyr are brought back to life and end up the true victors.  That is what is happening here.  The Christians are given a boost of confidence by seeing the ultimate victory of God and his people.
The trials and temptations that you and I face today may be different from those of 1st century Christians in the Roman empire.  We may be tempted to turn away from our faith in order to be popular among our peers at school, or to fit in at the university.  We may be tempted to abandon our morals in order to have fun.  We might be tempted to cut corners in our jobs to get ahead.  We might be tempted to abandon our allegiance to Jesus Christ for any number of reasons.  But what if we could see into the future, what if the curtain that separates us in time and space were peeled back enough for us to see a glimpse of God, of Jesus, of the future… how everything ends, and realize that God is victorious and those who oppose God will be defeated, and that the rewards to following God and being faithful to Jesus Christ are great.  Would that help during times when we are tempted to turn away and abandon our faith?  I think they would.  And that’s the value of Revelation.  It helps us to see beyond the here and now and base our decisions not on what’s happening today, but to see the BIG picture…. the grand and glorious victory of God over evil.  Whose side do you want to be on?

-Jeff Fletcher

(Photo Credit: https://www.versaday.com/Months/05/0516.aspx)

Unveiling the Past, Present and Future…And Then Repent!

Monday, July 17

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Revelation 1-3

The final book of the Bible is known as the Book of Revelation.  It is also known as the Apocalypse.  Apocalypse mean “unveiling”.  It has the idea of that which was hidden has now been unveiled or brought out into the open to be seen.  There are other passages in the Bible that contain apocalyptic material (parts of the book of Daniel and Ezekiel are two) but this is the only book of the Bible that is fully apocalyptic.
Revelation can be a little confusing (ok, a lot confusing).  A big part of this confusion comes from the challenge of pinning down the proper timeline.  It contains material that was past, present and future to the writer, John, who wrote toward the end of the first century.  The angel who gave this revelation to John said: “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.”(Rev. 1:19).  There are different “schools of interpretation” that see Revelation as mostly focusing on John’s time period (end of first century in the Roman empire), others see it as being fulfilled progressively over the past 2000 years of the Church, and others see it as still to be fulfilled in the future.  This is compounded by the use of symbol and imagery that fill the visions of Revelation.  A lot of time can be spent trying to discuss and debate these issues, but for our purposes I’d like to focus on basic principles found in Revelation that can be of value to our lives as followers of Jesus today.
In chapters 1-3 a focus is on letters written to seven Churches throughout Asia.  John is writing to them as a pastor who at the time was living in isolation on an island in the Mediterranean sea.  He can’t be physically present with his churches, but he is with them in spirit and wants to encourage and instruct them, to help them stay strong during a time when many believers were suffering persecution by the Roman empire.  Imagine what it would be like to try to encourage Christians today living in places like Pakistan, or Egypt, or Sudan or Syria, where Christians were being killed because of their allegiance of Jesus Christ rather than to Mohammed.  What kinds of encouragement would Christians whose family members, friends and fellow believers were dying for their faith need to help them not lose faith?
In the Roman Empire during John’s time of writing it was required by law for citizens to declare allegiance to Caesar by publicly declaring Caesar to be Lord.  Jewish people were largely exempt from making such declarations (but not always).  Often Christians came under the umbrella of the Jewish exemption, but now always.  Thousands of Christians died as a result of religious persecution during the early Roman empire.  John writes to offer encouragement to keep faithful to their commitment to God and to Jesus Christ in the midst of such persecution.  The challenges we face today may not be the same type that first century Christians faced, yet we still have challenges, struggles and temptations.
Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation contain words of exhortation and correction to the various Churches to which John is writing.  Each Church had many good things happening for which they were praised, but several also had not so good things going on for which they needed to be corrected.  One of the common themes of each letter to each Church was a call to repentance.  To repent means to turn around or change direction.  To the Church at Ephesus, John said that you have “lost your first love.”  They were just going through the motions of their faith, without the passion.  Perhaps you can relate to that.  Anyone who has been a Christian for a while has to be aware the danger of “just going through the motions” and losing their passion for God.  John is trying to get them fired up again.  John says: “repent” and do the things you did at first.  Most Christians, start out enthusiastic… they read the Bible a lot, they pray a lot, they tell their friends about God and their faith a lot, and they consciously seek to get closer to God and do things to please God.  But over time, they lose the passion, lose the drive… become complacent.  John says- get back to the love and passion you first had for Jesus.
Maybe this is you.  If it is… let it be a wake up call.  If this isn’t you, then keep reading through Revelation 2 and 3.  Look at what is said to each of the seven churches.  Is there anything that rings a bell?  Is there anything there that applies to you?  I’m guessing there is.  Read it… and then repent.
-Jeff Fletcher