Friday, November 19
Revelation 2:18-29: Thyatira, the modern Akhisar, was a city more modest than the previous three. The church in that city, too, was praised for its works, love, service, faith, and patience (verse 19).
In spite of that praise, the congregation was tolerating in its midst the activities of a pseudo-charismatic woman whom John likened to the ancient Queen Jezebel of Israel, that fine Phoenician feminist responsible for so many of the ills condemned by the prophet Elijah in the ninth century B.C. (verse 20). The moral offenses of the woman at Thyatira, which included the advocacy of sexual sins and the eating of food sacrificed to demons, seem similar to those of the Nicolaitans, but in the present case John took care to single out an individual rather than to talk about a group. Against her he prophesied a dire judgment (verses 22-23). This woman seems also to have been a sort of mistress of the occult, here called "the depths of Satan" (verse 24).
But John does not condemn solely that woman; he speaks very critically, in addition, of the church that tolerated her activities (verse 20). Toleration, which today is everywhere regarded as a virtue to be cultivated, is everywhere in the New Testament regarded as a vice to be avoided (for example, Romans 1:32).
In the instance studied here, the church at Thyatira was permitting a very forceful woman, who claimed the authority of a prophetess, to bring moral havoc into the congregation. Whereas the members of the congregation were intimidated by her influence, or were simply reluctant to deal harshly with a woman, John, as we see, suffered from neither that intimidation nor that reluctance. In the present text he accomplished the moral equivalent of that robust defenestration suffered by the aging Phoenician princess of Samaria on that judgment day when Jehu came a-riding.
Luke 22:35-38: These verses are found only in Luke, who is also the only one of the Evangelists to treat of Christian evangelism in the context of the Lord’s Supper. This fact is significant, suggesting the outward thrust of the Eucharist into the Church’s mission to the world.
Comparing these verses to 10:4, we see that the terms of the Church’s engagement with the world are now changed. Those earlier restrictions, though they did not impede the ministry at the time, are now lifted, and the Church is instructed to take such measures as will prove necessary for the greater and lengthier mission. (To borrow a metaphor from Matthew 24, the Church will need to provide oil for the lamps, because time will be the trial of her success, as the return of the Bridegroom is delayed.)
According to nearly all commentators (and certainly to all those commentators that the present writer is disposed to trust), the purse, the wallet, and the sword are to be understood figuratively. They imply that the Christian mission will be costly, strenuous, and fraught with peril. The Church must be ready for anything (verse 36). ??A crisis is now about to fall. With the betrayal of Christ begins the last age of world history. What has been written must be fulfilled (to gegrammenon dei telesthenai, verse 37). The Lord refers here to His own fulfillment of the Suffering Servant prophecies from the Book of Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 53:12. This is the proper context for considering the Church’s mission in the world.
Alas, the Apostles, misunderstanding the Lord’s reference to the sword, announce that they have two swords (at least one of which will be used in the Garden that night!). To this announcement our Lord expresses a definite despondency. “Enough of that,” He sighs.
Saturday, November 20
Revelation 3:1-6: In antiquity Sardis had been the capital city of the famous Croesus, king of Lydia, and in Persian times it was the greatest city of Asia Minor, linked by a major highway to the faraway Persian capital of Susa. The acropolis of the city was so high and well fortified as to be nearly impregnable. In fact, it was never taken by direct assault. It was captured twice, however, on both occasions by sneak attacks, once by Cyrus in 546 and once by Antiochus the Great in 218.
It is against another surprise attack that John warns the people of Sardis now (verse 3), using an image found elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 24:43; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). Truth to tell, lack of vigilance was a great problem in the church at Sardis, part of its more general condition of laziness and despondency. After all, John does not mention a single heresy at Sardis. The evil in that congregation is, rather, apathy and boredom; the congregation is too dead to be sick (verse 1).
Therefore, John summons them to vigilance (verse 2). Very few Christians in Sardis have measured up (verse 4), and the others are in danger of being removed from “the Book of Life” (verse 5; cf. also 17:8; 21:27). This latter image is not a metaphor for eternal predestination, obviously, precisely because names can be removed from it.
The Book of Life is, rather, a register of the citizens of heaven, and the metaphor of erasure testifies that the names written therein, as long as those who bear those names still live on earth, can be removed if the removal is warranted. There is no question, then, of some sort of eternal roll call already fixed and unchangeable, independent of the choices each man makes in his own heart. As long as he is on this earth, there remains the possibility that a man’s name may be erased from the Book of Life. Hence, the necessity of vigilance.
Luke 22:39-46: We now come to the Agony in the Garden, our (apparently) earliest description of which is found in Hebrews 5:7. This brief description in Hebrews is important, because it indicates that the prayer of Jesus, made “with vehement cries,” was loud enough to be heard by at least some of the Apostles. It is their immediate testimony to the event that lies behind the descriptions in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Luke is the only Evangelist to observe that Jesus was accustomed to spend the night in that place (cf. also 21:37), a custom that explains how Judas knew where to find Him that night.
Luke’s version of the Agony is simplified. He does not, like Matthew and Mark, indicate that the agony lasted a long time. He includes no threefold reprimand to the Apostles, nor does he describe them as fleeing at the time of the Lord’s arrest, nor does he single out three of them as special witnesses to the event.
Indeed, Luke does not even say it happened in a garden. He describes Jesus’ prayer as being made, rather, on a hill, “the Mount of Olives.” In fact, the Garden of Gethsemani is found on the west side of the Mount of Olives, but it is significant that Luke mentions the hill, not the garden. In fact, Luke normally pictures Jesus as praying on hills (cf. 6:12; 9:28).?? Even though verses 43-44 are missing from some of our oldest and best manuscripts of Luke (including Papyrus Bodmer XIV), they were certainly original and should be preserved. It is fairly easy to explain how they might have been left out of copies of the original text, whereas it is virtually impossible to explain how they might later have been added.
In truth, these Lukan features appear so soon after his Gospel's composition that it seems downright rash to claim they were not part of the "original" text. For instance, about halfway through the second century, Justin Martyr wrote: "According to the Memoirs [apomnemonevmata–Justin's common expression for the Gospels], which I say were composed by the Apostles and their followers, His sweat fell down like drops of blood while He was praying" (Dialogue With Trypho 103.8). This citation, as old as any extant manuscript of Luke, shows that Justin was familiar with the disputed verses. Shortly after Justin, moreover, Irenaeus of Lyons also wrote of the bloody sweat (Adversus Haereses 3.22.2), as did Hippolytus of Rome, who mentioned, as well, the angel who strengthened Jesus (Fragments on Psalms 1 [2.7]). Later, Epiphanius of Cyprus (Ancoratus 31:4-5) and others followed suit. For these reasons, and because this passage has long been received in the Church as integral to the Lukan text, my comments on these verses will presume Luke’s authorship of them. Let us consider more closely, then, the Lord's bloody sweat and the angel who strengthened Him. First, there is the sweat of blood, a condition called hematidrosis, which results from an extreme dilation of the subcutaneous capillaries, causing them to burst through the sweat glands. This symptom, mentioned as early as Aristotle (Historia Animalium 3.19), is well known to the history of medicine, which sometimes associates it with intense fear. It is not without interest, surely, that only the evangelist that was also a physician mentions this phenomenon. Unlike Mark (14:34) and Matthew (26:38), Luke does not speak of Jesus’ sadness in the garden scene, but of an inner struggle, an agonia, in which the Lord "prayed more earnestly." The theological significance of this feature in Luke is that Jesus’ internal conflict causes the first bloodshed in the Passion. His complete obedience to the Father in His prayer immediately produces this initial libation of His redemptive blood, the blood of which He had proclaimed just shortly before, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you" (22:20). Prior to the appearance of His betrayer, then, the Lord already begins the shedding of His blood. He pours it out in the struggle of obedience, before a single hand has been laid upon Him. In Luke the agony in the garden is not a prelude to the Passion, but its very commencement, because Jesus' stern determination to accomplish the Father's will causes His blood to flow for our redemption. Second, there is the angel sent to strengthen the Lord during His trial. Luke, in his earlier temptation scene, had omitted the angelic ministry, of which Matthew (4:11) and Mark (1:13) spoke on that occasion. When Luke did describe that period of temptation, however, he remarked that the devil, having failed to bring about Jesus' downfall, "departed from Him until an opportune time" (4:13). Now, in the garden, that time has come, and Jesus receives the ministry of an angel to strengthen Him for the task. This is one of those angels of whom Jesus asks Peter in the Gospel of Matthew, "Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?" (26:53) This angelic ministry was ever available to Him, but now Jesus is in special need of it. In Luke's literary structure, this ministering angel stands parallel to Gabriel at the beginning of the Gospel. In the earlier case an angel introduces the Incarnation; in the present case an angel introduces the Passion. Very shortly angels will introduce the Resurrection (24:4).
Sunday, November 21
Revelation 3:7-13: This is the most cheerful, complimentary, and optimistic of the letters to the seven Asian churches. Not one word of criticism is directed to the Christians at Philadelphia. On the contrary, they are twice praised for their perseverance (verses 8,10). The problem at Philadelphia is external, involving conflict with the local Jews (verse 9), the sort of problem we saw at Smyrna.
“The key of David” (verse 7) alludes to Isaiah 22:22, where Eliakim is described as having exclusive power of the keys. A minister with this power was the man who decided who would and who would not be admitted to the royal presence. In describing Jesus in this way, John asserts that if anyone wants to go to God, he must go through Jesus. This emphasis on the unique mediation and finality of Christ is common throughout the New Testament.
The Christian congregation at Philadelphia is evidently small and of limited resources, but we gain the impression that it is about to make significant missionary gains (“open door” — see Acts 14:27; 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3). Also, there will soon be a trial (verse 10), and those who overcome in that trial will receive the name of God and the name of New Jerusalem (verse 12), the holy city that comes down from heaven (21:2; Galatians 2:9).
St. Paul contrasts the new Jerusalem with the now Jerusalem (he nun Hierousalem), which is simply a city in Palestine (Galatians 4:24-25). By the time that John writes, this latter city, the earthly Jerusalem, has already been destroyed by the Romans.
Luke 22:47-53: It is unlikely that Simon Peter and Malchus knew each other, the one being a Galilean fisherman and the other a servant of Caiaphas the high priest, living in Jerusalem. Nor is it probable, in the normal course of affairs, that the paths of these two men would ever have crossed.
Affairs were not following a normal course, however, on that fateful night just prior to Passover, when the destinies of Malchus and Simon came to an abrupt and dramatic confrontation in an olive orchard on the side of a hill just east of the Kidron Valley. ??Malchus was part of an armed band sent by the high priest to arrest Jesus of Nazareth secretly, away from the eyes and impulses of the Passover crowds.
This band was guided by Judas Iscariot, a defector from the small group of Jesus’ close companions; he was the one who could identify Jesus from within their number. The giveaway sign was an easy one; Judas would simply walk up to Jesus and kiss His hand, the customary greeting that a disciple gave to his rabbi.
Moreover, there is no reason to believe that Malchus himself regarded the coming event as especially significant. It had nothing to do with him, after all; he was simply the faithful servant of the high priest, expected to perform this task loyally, leaving to his betters the determination of such matters.
It was somewhat after midnight when that armed band left the house of Caiaphas, well to the south of the Temple, proceeded northward along the Kidron Creek, and approached the little bridge by which they could cross over to the Mount of Olives on the opposite side. Those in the front carried lanterns and flambeaus to light the way, for the night was dark, in spite of the full moon of Passover. Some of the band were armed with swords, while others carried only clubs (Matthew 26:47). We are not sure just what Malchus had in hand.
Meanwhile, Simon Peter was once again awakened by the voice of Jesus, having fallen asleep three times in as many hours, even as he listened to the prayer of Jesus. Weak in flesh, Simon had utterly failed in the Master’s command to watch and pray with Him (Matthew 26:41).??What a night. At the Passover Seder, just a few hours ago, Jesus had disclosed the presence of a traitor among them and foretold that the rest of the little group would fail Him in His coming hour of trial (26:21,24,31). Simon himself had been singled out for a special warning, as the Lord predicted his triple denial before that very night should run its course (26:33,35). It was all entirely too much for a man to bear, so Simon had slept there on the ground, under the olive trees.??But now he was awakened by the Lord’s voice: “Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand” (26:46).
And here they were, a band of armed men already on the scene. Simon leapt up, holding a sword that he had brought to make good his promise of loyalty in the face of danger. He recognized Judas Iscariot, who came forward to Jesus and, in the customary fashion, kissed the hand of his rabbi. Just what was this all about? The response of Jesus explained it all: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). Simon waited no further.
Malchus saw the sword coming from the right, aimed at his throat, and he ducked quickly to his left to avoid decapitation. Even so, his right ear was partly severed by the tip of the blade (Luke 22:50). Then Jesus stepped up, grabbed his dangling ear, and replaced it entirely to his head, as though nothing had ever happened.
The rest of that night was a blur, and the whole next day, as Malchus walked around in a daze, going to Pilate’s and elsewhere, but ever reaching up from time to time to feel his ear and trying to make sense of it all.
Some decades later, Malchus, a Christian now for many years and long repentant of his actions on that dreadful night, sat down and described his part in the event to a physician named Luke, who happened to be writing a new account of the life and teaching of Jesus. Malchus told how the Lord reached out His hand through the enveloping darkness and reattached his dangling ear. “He made it as good as new, really. But, please, leave out my name,” Malchus requested of Luke. He was not aware that another writer would put it in anyway (John 18:10). This other writer, John, had also been present when it happened, and he may have learned the name of Malchus from a cousin, who encountered Simon in the courtyard of the high priest somewhat later that night (18:26).
Monday November 22
Revelation 3:14-22: We commented, with respect to the church at Philadelphia, that John had no criticisms to make about that congregation. Writing to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pegamos, Thyatira, and Sardis, John paid some compliments and made some criticisms. Writing to the Christians at Laodicea, however, John has nothing at all encouraging to say! He is unable to find a single item for which to praise that church. To John’s thinking, the church at Laodicea is a lackluster group of slackers living in an affluent, self-satisfied society. Although this church was evangelized by Paul’s companion Epaphras (Colossians 4:12-13), it has lost its fervor and is now mediocre (verse 16).
The secular city of Laodicea was famous for three things: (1) its large banking interests, (2) its textile industry, and (3) a special eye salve that the great physician Galen called “Phrygian powder.” John alludes to all three things in verse 18, where the church at Laodicea is told to come to God for (1) gold refined in the fire, (2) clothing to cover its nakedness, and (3) a special anointing of its spiritual eyes. The Laodiceans must admit, in short, that they are “poor, blind, and naked” (verse 17).
There are three points of Christology to note in this letter to Laodicea: (1) Christ in the past; the relationship of Christ to creation (verse 14; cf. Colossians 1:15-18; Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:3). (2) Christ in the present, exhorting and inviting His Church, communing with those who open to Him (verses 19-20; cf. 19:9; Luke 22:28-30). (3) Christ in the future, rewarding those who vanquish in His name (verse 21; cf. Matthew 19:28). The image of the divine throne appears over forty times in the Book of Revelation.
Luke 22:54-62: It is most significant, surely, that Peter’s triple denial, so embarrassing to the chief of the Twelve Apostles, is narrated in detail in each of the four canonical Gospels, for it is thus made to stand fixed forever in the memory of Holy Church. From this story, all believers down through the ages are to learn two lessons they must never forget:
First, anyone may fall, at any time. If Simon Peter could deny Jesus, any one of us could do so. Simon, after all, had not believed himself capable of such a thing. “Even if all are made to stumble,’ he boasted, ‘yet I will not be” (Mark 14:29). He was so utterly resolved on the matter that, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the garden, Simon attacked them with violence. Alas, he was neither the first man nor the last to confuse human excitement with divine strength, nor to mistake the pumping of adrenaline for the infusion of grace. Within a very short time after he swung his sword at the unsuspecting Malchus, we find Peter backing down embarrassed before the pointing finger of a servant girl.
The Holy Spirit took particular care that Christians throughout the ages would never forget that falling away remains a real possibility for any of them. In the words of yet another converted sinner, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Second, Christians were also to learn from this story that, as long as they are alive, repentance and a return to forgiveness are always live options. In this respect, the repentance of Simon Peter is to be contrasted with the despair of Judas. Thus, the Gospel stories tell us, until our very last breath, it is never too late to return to God in answer to the summons of His grace. It is probably today’s Gospel that gives the most poignant description of this conversion: “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. . . . So Peter went out and wept bitterly” (verses 61-62).
Tuesday, November 23
Revelation 4:1-11: In Chapters 2 and 3 John has warned the Christians of the seven churches of Asia that judgment is imminent. He has endeavored to strengthen them for an impending outbreak of chaos and disorder.
In the present chapter, John turns their vision on high, to the throne of God, which is the source of all order. Like Amos, Isaiah, Micah, and other prophets, John slips into an ecstatic trance, a rapture in which he is seized by the Holy Spirit. He hears a voice, and a mysterious door opens (verse 1). He is introduced to the heavenly worship before God’s throne (verse 2), over which is the rainbow of the covenant (verse 3; Genesis 9:12-17). The dominant color is green, the symbol of spring and hope.
As in the temple of Solomon (1 Kings 7:23), which was modeled, after all, on the heavenly throne room, there is "a sea of glass, like crystal" (verse 6), symbolizing the chaos over which the Holy Spirit brooded in Creation. Other details remind us of Isaiah 6 (which is also read today) and Ezekiel 1. This should not surprise us, because in all of Holy Scripture we are dealing with the same God and the same heaven. The hymn, with which the chapter closes, concentrates on Creation. Recall that this vision takes place on Sunday (1:10), the first day of Creation.
Luke 22:63-71: The Sanhedrin, Israel’s governing body, was modeled on the seventy elders who assisted Moses in the governing and judging God’s people (Numbers 11:10-24; Mishnah “Sanhedrin” 1.6). Although rabbinical sources place its origins much earlier, it appears that this body developed from the political needs of the Jews during the nation’s struggles with the Seleucids in the Hellenic period.
Indeed, the group’s very name was derived from Greek: synedrion = “council” (syn = with, hedrion = little seat). Although it was a representative body, made up of “elders, priests, and scribes” (verse 66), it was an aristocratic rather than a democratic group. In this respect it resembled the Roman Senate. Modeled on that ancient group of Moses’ judicial assistants, the Sanhedrin had seventy members, the presiding high priest being the seventy-first. Under the Romans it had religious authority in the Holy Land.
Compared with the other Gospels, Luke gives fewer details about the sundry indignities Jesus suffered at the hands of the Sanhedrin. Unlike Matthew, Luke concentrates the trial of Jesus in a morning session rather than during the night. It appears that there were, in truth, two judicial hearings of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, and that each Evangelist narrates one of them in a summary form.
The seating of the Messiah at God’s right hand (verse 69; Psalm 110 [109 in Greek and Latin]:1) became a major article of the Christian faith, found in every major source in the New Testament and, in due course, enshrined in the Nicene Creed. The Lord’s affirmation of this dignity leads (cf. “therefore” in verse 70) to the most important and all-inclusive dimension of His claim, namely, to be the Son of God.
Wednesday, November 24
Revelation 5:1-14: Because the earliest Christians were Jews, their experience of worship was tightly tied to the style of the synagogue. In the weekly worship at the synagogue, a special liturgical moment came when a reader took the Sacred Scroll of God’s Word, opened it, read it to the congregation, and then explained it.
For Christians, this solemn rite held a particular significance, because they believed that the Words of the Sacred Scroll were completed and fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah. Thus, the opening, reading, and interpretation of the Sacred Scroll was perceived as a symbol of what Jesus accomplished in His ministry, death, and resurrection.
There is a story bearing this symbolism in Luke 4:16-21, where Jesus Himself took, read, and interpreted God’s Word in the synagogue at Nazareth, finishing by referring the entire Text to himself. That Lukan passage at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry forms a literary inclusion with the action of Jesus at the end of Luke, where the wounded Lord (“Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself”) explains the meaning of Holy Scripture to the Church by referring it to His own ministry, death, and resurrection (24:25-27,32).
That is to say, the Church believes that the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ the Lord have an exegetical quality; it is interpretation in act. This primitive conviction of the Christian faith that only Jesus can “open the Scroll” is at the heart of what John now sees in the throne room of heaven (verse 7). The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, can open this Scroll precisely because He died and rose again (verse 9). This Lamb “stands” before God, standing being the proper posture of a priest (cf. Acts 7:55-56; Hebrews 10:11).
Although the image of Christ as the Lamb is common in the New Testament (John 1:29,36; 19:36; Acts 8:32; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:18-19), it is utterly dominant in the Book of Revelation, where it appears twenty-eight times. The Lamb in Revelation 5 stands in His immolated, mactated state, “as though slain,” still bearing in His flesh the wounds of His Passion (cf. John 20:25,27). This picture of Jesus as the wound-bearing Lamb, opening the Scriptures, is strikingly parallel to that of the risen Lord at the end of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24:38-46).
“The twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb” (verse 8) in the posture of adoration. This is the posture that we commonly find people assuming in the presence of Jesus in the gospel stories, but more especially in the Gospel according to Matthew (cf. 2:2,8,11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 20:20; 28:9). Jesus is adored as equal to the Father.
Likewise, two of the three short hymns in this chapter are addressed to Christ. The first is called a “new song,” an expression derived from the Book of Psalms and Isaiah 42:10-13. It is a “new song,” not in the sense of the “latest hit,” but because it comes from and gives expression to the definitive newness of life given us in redemption. The new song is of a piece with our new name, the new heaven, and the new earth. This is the eternal newness purchased by the blood of Christ (verse 9), who makes us kings and priests (verse 10; cf. 1:5-6; 1 Peter 2:5,9; Exodus 19:6).
He has drawn us “out of (ek) every tribe and tongue and people and nation”; this idea, which appears repeatedly in Revelation (79; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15), is largely inspired by the Book of Daniel (3:4, 7; 5:19; 6:25).
In verse 11 the whole choir of heaven joins in the “new song” of the twenty-four elders who ascribe seven things to the Lamb (verse 12), and in verse 13 the whole of creation follows suit. This hymn extends the praise of God in Chapter 4 and joins the Lamb to that praise, in which heaven and earth are united in a common worship. To understand the significance of this common worship, we should bear in mind that the context of these visions is the Church at worship in the Sunday Eucharist (cf. 1:10). These hymns in Chapters 4 and 5 were surely sung by the Church on earth as well as the Church in heaven.
Thursday, November 25
Thanksgiving Day: There are three points to be made about today’s Gospel: Gospel healing, thanksgiving, worship
First, this Gospel story presents us with one of the three accounts of individual Samaritans found in the New Testament; these three are the so-called Good Samaritan in Luke, the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John, and today’s Samaritan leper, the lone man who returned and gave thanks to the Lord.
This last account is also found only in Luke, and it is rightly seen as part of Luke’s chronicle of the mission to the Samaritans in the Acts of the Apostles. As we know, that early Christian mission to the Samaritans was an essential step in the evangelization of the world; that mission was the Gospel’s first extension beyond the confines of Judaism, and our Lord spoke of it specifically in the mandate He gave at the beginning of the Book of Acts: “you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The Samaritans, being half-Jews, were the historical link between Judaism and the other nations of the earth. Today’s Gospel story, then, pertains to evangelism.
Significantly, this story about evangelism involves a healing. In the eyes of St. Luke, the physician who authored this story, evangelism was inseparable from health and healing. We recall Luke’s account of the mission of the Seventy: “heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
Evangelism, the extension of the Gospel, has many aspects, but one of the most important of these aspects is the healing of peoples’ lives. Truly to preach the Gospel is to bring health to those who hear and receive it in faith. Today’s Samaritan is a man whom Christ restored to human wholeness and integrity.
Indeed, the Gospel itself asserts that full health, full human integrity, is available to man solely in Jesus the Messiah, for there is no other name under heaven given men by which they may be saved.
It is the mission of the Gospel to repair what is broken, to strengthen what is weak, to straighten what is bent, and to cure in our lives whatever is sick and unhealthy. “Arise, go your way,” says Jesus to this Samaritan, “Your faith has made you well.” This healing is accomplished only through receptive faith.
Second, the moral lesson of today’s Gospel has to do with thanksgiving. This point is made in Jesus’ question, with which the story ends: “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”
We doubt that this was the first time our Samaritan had given thanks. In truth, we suspect that he remembered to give thanks on this occasion because he had already formed the habit of giving thanks, even during those years when his leprosy made him an outcast. The cultivated and sustained habit of thanksgiving is the secret of a happy life. This is why Holy Scripture instructs us in all things to give thanks. Thanksgiving is to become the settled and normal habit of our souls.
It is ultimately thanksgiving that brings true healing to our lives. It is thanksgiving that separates us from those whose lives are spent in complaining and murmuring. The habit of complaining, after all, is profoundly unhealthy. Murmuring eats away the soul. Few things are more destructive of health than routine recourse to murmuring. It is no wonder that murmuring is the sin most condemned in Holy Scripture. Murmuring is never an expression of faith. Thanksgiving is.
Third, this faith, this thanksgiving, this health is an act of worship completely centered on the person of Jesus Christ. What, concretely, does our Samaritan do today? Let us read: “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.”
Please observe these particulars about the proper giving of thanks. We fall on our faces at the feet of Christ, and we shout with a loud voice. Thanksgiving is Christ-centered worship. It assumes the posture of humility and adoration.
The grateful Samaritan, we read, fell down on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Observe the correct posture of thanksgiving—our faces at His feet. This is the correct posture of God’s servant before his Lord. This is the correct deportment of a healthy human being.
The goal of evangelism is to bring every soul to this position, to bow every head—every mind—before the Lordship of Christ, to cause to rise from every throat the loud voice of grateful praise, to remove from every heart the last trace of that deep sickness called murmuring, and to replace it with it with saving faith in that only name under heaven by which we are to be saved.
Friday, November 26
Revelation 6:1-17: The opening of the first four seals brings forth four horses, variously colored in a way reminiscent of Zechariah 1:8-11; 6:1-7, though in Revelation the attention is directed more to the riders than to the horses.
The first, the mounted archer on the white horse, symbolizes invasion and war. The mounted archers contemporary with John were the Parthian warriors to the eastern border of the Roman Empire (verses 1-2), on the far side of the Euphrates (cf. 9:14; 16:12).
The second rider, which is like unto it, rides a red horse symbolic of bloodshed and fire. Whereas the first horseman carried a bow, the second carries a sword (verse 4). War invariably leads to famine and starvation, symbolized in the third horse, a black one, whose rider carries a scales to measure the scant remaining food (verses 5-6).
Green, the color of the fourth horse, is the color of white human flesh at the beginning of decay. The rider of this horse, therefore, is named Death, which perhaps is a metaphor for plague (verse 8), as in the common expression “black death” to mean bubonic plague. With war, famine, and disease, the populace is dying too fast to be buried; their rotting corpses are left for the beasts of the field. For this combination of evils, compare our text to Luke 21:9-11.
All these afflictions were visited on the world that John knew. In A.D. 62 the Roman legions were defeated by the Parthians to the east (cf. Tacitus, Annals 15.13-17), and there were shortages of food, such as those recorded in The Acts of the Apostles and in Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars (“Domitian” 7). In addition, there were earthquakes, such as those in Asia Minor itself in A.D. 60 (cf. Tacitus, Annals 14.27), volcanic eruptions, such as Vesuvius (cf. Pliny, Letters 6.16), civil war in Rome following the suicide of Nero in 68, and the war in Judea that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. All of these events, John is telling us, were the subjects of the Sacred Scroll opened by the Lamb. That is to say, they are all the fulfillment of prophecies in the final times.
Besides the evils that afflict the people of the world, John knows of a special harm visited on Christians. After his description of the four horsemen, therefore, he speaks of the bloody persecution endured by believers (verses 9-11). Their blood (in the biblical idiom, their “souls,” because the soul is in the blood, according to Leviticus 17:11) has run down the side of the altar of sacrifice and pools at its base. They are martyrs, which is the Greek word for “witnesses.” Like the blood of Abel, their blood cries out to God, “How long?” (Compare Isaiah 6:11; Zechariah 1:12; Habakkuk 1:2; Daniel 8:13; 12:6)
The vengeance for which they pray is not a personal vindictiveness (for Christians always forgive their enemies and wish them no harm; this is an absolute rule, allowing no exceptions), but a petition for the fulfilling of God’s righteous historical purposes.
They must wait, however, until the full measure of the martyrs is completed (compare Hebrews 11:40). Their white robes signify their participation in eternal life (cf. 7:13-17). The opening of the sixth seal declares those things that precede the end of the world and the final vindication of the saints.
First come the perturbations of the earth (verses 12-14), and then the effects on human beings (verses 15-17). The sequence of these afflictions follows the order of creation in Genesis 1: namely, (1) earth, (2) sun, (3) moon, (4) stars, (5) firmament, (6) land, (7) man. What John sees, then, is a kind of de-creation, a reversal of what God established— the collapse of the universe.
In the opening of the fifth, sixth, and seventh seals, we also detect the same four colors that accompanied the first four seals: thus, fifth seal, white robes; sixth seal, red moon and black sun; seventh seal, the green grass.
There is a great irony in the image of the “wrath of the Lamb.” Indeed, a wrathful lamb is unimaginable except to the enemies of God. The wrath, of course, does not come from the Lamb who shed His blood for the world’s redemption and who hates nothing that He has made. The wrath comes, rather, from within the enemies themselves, who insist on seeing God as an enemy.