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Saturday, February 8, 2014

How to "Eat this Book" (Revelation 10:1-11)

Nothing sweeter will ever enter us than God’s word, the content of the Bible.  The truth, the hope, the joy, the peace, the promise – all of it fills us and provokes change in us so that we infect one another and people outside our church family with a disease known as the Gospel.  Symptoms include salvation, Holy Spirit power, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and abundant life. 
          Nothing more difficult to swallow will ever sit in our stomachs than God’s word, the content of the Bible.  The Bible confronts us in our sin.  The Bible demands that we tell the truth about the damages of sin in the world, and in doing so, we criticize extremely popular institutions in our culture.  Being confronted is no fun.  Confronting others is no fun.  God’s word does the first – confronts us - and then commands us, followers of Jesus. To do the second – confront the world.
          Sweet in the mouth and sometimes tough to swallow – the word of God is both.  Overall, it is life.  Even the tough parts are truth.  When we swallow the tough parts, and by swallow I mean take them in and conform our lives – our speech, choices and relationships – to the tough parts, we discover joy.  It is not an easy joy, but a penetrating one, a lasting joy.
          Revelation chapter 10 serves us this metaphor of honey and bitterness – here we are invited to think of God’s word as both sweet and challenging. 

          Entering the chapter, it might be helpful for us to see the word rather than hear or read it.  Close your eyes and wake up your imagination.  John is in the throne room of Heaven, in God’s presence, surrounded by heavenly beings and by the apostles, all dressed in white robes. 
          What does that look like, Heaven’s throne room?  I have never been in a throne room of any kind.  I have to guess at it.  How about when John sees the visions – what does that look like?  Is it on a screen?  Or is it in 3-D?  Imagine John being shown things by God.
          The vision of chapter10 begins. 
          I saw another powerful angel come down from heaven. This one was covered with a cloud, and a rainbow was over his head. His face was like the sun, his legs were like columns of fire (v.1).
          A powerful angel … a cloud and rainbow … face like the sun, legs like columns off fire … what do you see?  Imagine you are seeing what John sees.  In your mind, describe it as if you were telling another person what you are seeing.
          With his hand he held a little scroll that had been unrolled. He stood there with his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. Then he shouted with a voice that sounded like a growling lion. Thunder roared seven times (v.2-3).
          I have walked along the shore, the lapping waves washing over my bare feet.  It could be said that I have stood with one foot on land and one on the sea.  That is not what I envision here.  I picture a great angel, gigantic, with an enormous foot planted in the sand and the other foot way out in the waves.  How tall is this angel?  20 feet?  50 or 100?
          I imagine my bones within me trembling at the angel’s thunderous roar.  Weakened as I am before this great one of Heaven, feeling small as I do, still I remember I am in John’s vision, seeing what John has seen.  He has already witness as seven wax seals on another scroll were opened.  He watched the graphic scenes of God’s wrath poured out as judgment on a rebellious world.  Then he saw it all again as seven trumpets were blown. 
          Seven seals of judgment, seven trumpets of wrath, and now seven thunders; John has been commanded to write down all he sees, so his picks up his pen again.  But we continue through the chapter and we see that this is different.
          After the thunder stopped, I was about to write what it had said. But a voice from heaven shouted, “Keep it secret! Don’t write these things” (v.4).
          Some things are not to be revealed.  God shares what we need to receive blessing and live as his followers, worshiping him and walking with him in love.  But God does not share all.  Some mysteries stay mysteries. 
          The angel I had seen standing on the sea and the land then held his right hand up toward heaven.He made a promise in the name of God who lives forever and who created heaven, earth, the sea, and every living creature. The angel said, “You won’t have to wait any longer. God told his secret plans to his servants the prophets, and it will all happen by the time the seventh angel sounds his trumpet. (v.5-7).
          As great as this magnificent angel that stands on land and sea is still, the angel is beneath the mighty God.  He serves God and speaks for God.  Here he promises that fulfillment has come. 
          Remembering the seven wax seals, after the 5th seal was opened, John saw the martyrs.  There in Heaven’s throne room were the martyrs who had died for their faith in Christ.  Many experienced torture before death, yet they did not speak against Jesus.  Even when it was painful to do so, they announced that Jesus is Lord. 
          Man of these martyrs lived in the first century, but many have lived in the two millennia since then.  In fact, there were more people killed for their testimony about Jesus in the 20th century than the previous 19 combined.  John saw the martyrs after the 5th seal judgment.  They asked, “How long, holy and faithful Lord, before you bring justice” (6:10)?  Here in chapter 10, we have the response.  But what we don’t count on is our role in God’s justice.
          Again, put yourself there.  See what John sees.
          Once again the voice from heaven spoke to me. It said, “Go and take the open scroll from the hand of the angel standing on the sea and the land.”
          When I went over to ask the angel for the little scroll, the angel said, “Take the scroll and eat it! Your stomach will turn sour, but the taste in your mouth will be as sweet as honey.” 10 I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. The taste was as sweet as honey, but my stomach turned sour (V.8-10).
          Eugene Peterson uses this text as a metaphor for living the scripture.  John is there, so small, and he is told to approach the mighty angel, he of the voice of thunder.  A voice from Heaven tells John to go and get the scroll from the angel’s hand.  I feel like I would be too terrified to move.  But John does as he is told and the angel tells him to eat the scroll.
          This is what Eugene Peterson writes about John, the 1st century Christian who was taken up in the vision that in our Bible is called the Revelation.
“He was the pastor of marginally, economically, and politically powerless Christians in a society in which their commitment to following Christ branded them as criminals of the state.  His task was to keep their identity focused and their lives Spirit-filled, their discipleship ardent, their hope fresh against formidable odds – the living, speaking, acting Jesus front and center in their lives.  He didn’t settle for mere survival, throwing them a plank to hang onto in the storm; he wanted them to live, really live – outlive everyone around them. This is what prophets and pastors and writers do, and it is never easy. No easier now than it was for John.[i]

          I believe the scroll tasted sweet because it is the Gospel – the story of our salvation, our life in Christ.  We are forgiven, made new, called to love, filled with the Spirit, and joined together with God and each other.  In Jesus we are one.  The gospel is a life we can savor. 
          But John immediately knew this gospel also meant naming the injustice of corrupt governments.  For us it means confronting racism and deception, materialism and exploitative sexuality.  The rampant craving for immediate satisfaction, the give-me-what-I-want-and-I-don’t-care-who-gets-hurt mentality, the lie that money and expensive stuff will satisfy – this all poisons our world and we have to speak against it.  To speak the truth about Jesus is also to confront sin. 
          In his quote, Peterson said this is what prophets and pastors and writers do.  I would add it is what eaters do – those who consume the word of God. 
          Peterson says,
Christians feed on scripture.  Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the body.  Christians don’t simply learn or study or use scripture; we assimilate it, take into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing, and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feed washed in company with the Son.[ii]

          To this I would add our consumption of the Word becomes our announcement of it and sometimes we have to make that announcement as prophets declaring “The Lord has said.”  The final word for John and I would contend for readers of Revelation has an ominous note.  This time it comes not from the angel but from other voices in Heaven.
          “Then some voices said, “Keep on telling what will happen to the people of many nations, races, and languages, and also to kings” (v.11).
          Following through Revelation what happens to kings, to some kings at least, is judgment and death.  Revelation 18 is a funeral dirge for Babylon.  “Fallen!  Powerful Babylon has fallen and is now the home of demons.  It is the den of every filthy spirit and of all unclean birds and every dirty and hated animal” (v.2).  Babylon is Rome, it is the Inquisition, it is Nazi Germany, and even, when our own beloved empire exports values contrary to the Gospel, it is us.  And it is not popular to announce Babylon’s fall prior to that fall happening.  Babylon does not like that and tends to punish the prophets who make that announcement with persecution, isolation, and dismissal.
          The day after judgment, after God has rendered final punishment to those who rebel against God and hurt people – that day is sorrowful for the prophet.  We do not rejoice at the death of sinners.  We weep for them as Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41).
          The word of the Lord can seem like a tough pill to swallow but swallow it we must. We must eat this book.  We must devour the word of God.
          It does not end with a funeral.  It ends with a wedding – an unending wedding banquet.  Revelation 21 sees the bride, the church joined to the groom, the exalted Lord Jesus.  The tears in this story give way to lasting joy in God’s embrace. 
          As we have talked about getting into the Bible and getting the Bible into us, I have proposed different pathways into Bible reading.  I offer another now as we close.  Take the Bible to bed with you. 
          I did this several years ago and will take up the practice again this week.  Psalm 63 is a prayer of great desire for God.  The singer says in verse 6, “When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches.”
          I took that literally.  For a period of time, before bed, I would take that verse or meditating on God, seeking God, praying to God.  It was the last thing I did before drifting off to sleep.  I did it every night.  Any time I awoke in the middle of night, I did not just go back to sleep.  I would sit up and meditate on that verse and seek the Lord.  When I woke in the morning, the first thing I did was to go to Psalm 63:6 and again seek the Lord in prayer.
          I urge this practice for you this week, but not necessarily with Psalm 63:6, nor with the command to eat in Revelation 10.  Remember, it is a metaphor, eat this book
          I recommend another passage in Revelation – 21:3-4.
Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:[a]
Look! God’s dwelling[b] is with humanity,
and He will live with them.
They will be His people,
and God Himself will be with them
and be their God.[
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will no longer exist;
grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer,
because the previous things[
d] have passed away.

          Before bed read it, think about it, pray it, especially as you contemplate your life.  If you wake in the middle of the night, go to this passage.  Read it.  Pray it.  The first thing when you wake – read it.  Pray it.  This is how we stomach and enjoy even the challenge of the word.  This is how we eat this book.  This is how we are filled.

[i] E. Peterson (2006), Eat this Book, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI, p.19.
[ii] Ibid, p.18.

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