Week 54: At the End, A Beginning

Readings for the week: Psalm 149, Zechariah, Malachi, Revelation 19-22Psalm 150, Listen to these passages

Opening Prayer:

Dear Lord, thank you for reaching out to us.  Thank you for committing to us. Thank you for how you have worked over the many centuries in calling people to you and back to you and back you again.  Your patience is astounding, your love ever inviting. As we read the last parts of Scripture this week, we’re not coming to an end, but realizing how deep a well it is that we’re drinking from. Remind us of what we read, call us into your rhythms of life, and hope, and peace, and community.  I’ll admit that if I look at my life, there are times it doesn’t seem clear that I believe everything I read over this past year. Show me where I need to grow in wisdom and consistency, help me to be someone who helps those around me better hear and respond to your calling.  Be with me in my struggles that I do not lose sight of the hope you give. Be with those I know who are struggling that they may experience your presence. Show me how to live in tune with you this week and ever onward. Amen.

1. Psalm 149

2. Reading through Zechariah and Malachi

As we read the final books of the Old Testament, the tension is at an extreme. While these books aren’t saying anything especially new, there’s a drama, a potency, in them that shows the heights of God’s continuing commitment and the challenge God is making to the people. Zechariah has a back and forth quality, an almost manic feel to it, where the telling of his visions very much reflects a similar genre to Revelation. The signs and symbols and scenes all have a distinct meaning, but don’t think these are limited to having the right opinion about how to interpret them. These are meant to gather the reader in, to pull the reader’s whole self (mind, emotions, body) into the passage. This isn’t stuff to mess around with, after all. God calls to repentance, and it’s not a shallow invitation. Judgment is happening and judgment is continuing, but for those who cling to God hope is also happening and continuing.

The contrast between the world and God’s call is at a breaking point. The world thinks it is winning, any who looks at the history of Israel thinks it is winning. But it’s not. God isn’t going to let the world win.  God is committed and will enter into the history even more dramatically than ever before. This is the message of the Messiah, the one sent who intervenes, who confronts the world with its brokenness while offering a path to new life.

What does this new life look like?  Being obedient to the calling of God.  This, again, isn’t just about having the right beliefs about certain doctrines. It includes this, but goes so far more, insisting that knowing is doing, that if we believe God is who he says he is, this will shape how we live in every part of our life, how we treat others, how we focus our priorities. This isn’t a private religion, there’s none of that in the Bible, it’s about a life lived in the way God calls and empowers. Otherwise…

All throughout there’s also this tension of talking about the future, and that itself can get us off track. Satan uses all sorts of tricks, after all, to keep us from focusing on what God calls us to focus on, and even the Bible (as shown in the temptation of Jesus in Luke 4) can be misused.  When we use talk about the future to feel self-righteous (we’re on the right side, and you’re not!) or treat prophecy like a continuing code book to figure out and adjust, rather than feeling the peace of God, we indulge frenzy.  Don’t do that.  These passages aren’t about frenzy, they’re about hope, calling us to stay committed to God when things seems out of control, and to realize that even when bad things are happening all around us, God anticipated and even warned us about these, so knows the way forward for us.  That makes the commandments to live in ways that match what God wants all the more important. These aren’t kindly moral lessons, these are marching orders.

We have a map. Will we stay on the trail?  Because if we don’t, there’s dragons and thieves and evil on every side.

With Malachi, all these lessons are given one last proclamation.  God’s covenant is the way of life and peace.  Those who say they speak for God but actually oppose him are all around. Don’t trust them. Don’t get caught in complaint about God being missing.  Don’t think God is absent.

Be people of courage, people of hope, people of patience. This is the message God told the people as they were leaving Egypt and as they were entering the Promised Land.

God is doing a new thing. God is calling out to the people.

What is God calling to you today? Where is the direction of life and hope and peace for you?

Pray for God’s peace and guidance so that you will hear and so that you will do what God asks of you.


3. Reading Through Revelation 19-22

These are the chapters of ultimate victory.  Everything we’ve read up to now, through this whole time of reading through the Bible, has been leading us here.  These chapters are the end of the Bible, and they’re also the end of history as we know it. Yet, we’re not there yet. God has given us a map of our journey and where we are headed.  It is not meant as a treasure map, if you interpret it right then you’ll get the treasure. We already have the treasure. We have a relationship with God and while much of the world tries to dissuade or discourage us, they don’t know what is really happening.

Given the style of Revelation, it’s entirely tempting to try to decode or assert some doctrines about exactly how everything will turn out.  We get co-opted by our own need to know.  But these aren’t really for that. These chapters are messages of hope for us, statements of God’s continuing work in fulfilling the Promise, and so we are given a vision of the ultimate Promised Land, even as there are still enemies to overcome. Don’t fret. Don’t panic. Even when we see the Promise taking shape, there might still be some issues to sort out.  Like so many of the prophecies and visions of the Old Testament, Revelation is intended to keep us on God’s path while offering an interpretation of the past and the future, which will serve as a confirmation when God does act.

The big caution for me in trying to nail down specifics is that many of those who knew Scripture the best, who knew all the prophecies we’ve read about in the prophets (including those we just read in Zechariah), actually opposed Jesus. He didn’t fit their interpretation, so they rejected him.  We can do the same. We can be so committed to some version of our faith, that we miss the author of our faith, who has told us what we do need to believe and what we are to do.  We need to be careful, after all, not to add to the prophecies of the book by making our interpretations part of it.

We should focus on what we do know.

We know, for instance, that God’s salvation isn’t about taking us away from this world or having us live as disembodied souls. There’s none of that in Christianity.  God is making all things new, and that means that we are physical and God’s salvation is physical.  The resurrection of Jesus was embodied,  and so will the resurrection of all.

We know that we are to have hope. God is faithful. God is loving. God invites us not to live lives of fear or rage but to live lives of transformation even now. Do we thirst? Do we hunger? Are we weary and overwhelmed?

God says to us he is the place of rest and refreshment, the hope that never ends.  This is the invitation. And this invitation is given to each of us right now, to live in light of God’s promise, and to celebrate the bounty of God’s salvation that never ends.

4. Psalm 150


5. Respond

If you’ve fallen behind in the readings or haven’t started yet, don’t worry.  Reading the Bible isn’t a limited time offer. Jump in this week. Start where you can and then continue on.

I highly encourage you to share your thoughts with others in your family, or immediate community. Talk about this stuff! 

Since I sometimes feel lonely, share your thoughts in the comment section.

Talking about your thoughts and questions is a very important part of the reading goal. Writing out our thoughts can help us remember what we read and keep our minds on the passage.

It helps to share as we learn from each other.

Our questions or confusion can bring us together, as we highlight what others may have missed or address what a lot of us are also wondering.   Don’t feel like you have to say or write a lot, or feel pressure to be profound. Respond with honesty and openness.

Just jump right in where you’re at, knowing that Christ invites you to respond without pressure or anxiety. It’s a journey not a performance.