A Brief Delay

Okay, so I have gotten a good start on the latest in my Revelation church letter reflections, to the Church at Thyatira, but this last weekend was something of a muddle. Our neighbor kept us up all hours with very loud music (no one who lives in a complex as tightly packed as the one we live in should have a sound system that good; there’s no point) and I have appointments this morning. So, I will have to punt on Thyatira right now, and it will have to wait.

Until then, I’d like to present you all with an excerpt from advertising executive Bruce Barton’s classic 1924 work about Jesus as salesman and business executive, The Man Nobody Knows. This is both compelling and horrifying, in that Barton is trying to punch through all the myth to the man Jesus whose followers accomplished such great things with hard work, organization, and moxie, and yet the Jesus he creates is the kind of man you would expect would succeed wildly selling farm implements, municipal bonds, or vacuum cleaners.

Theology has spoiled the thrill of his life by assuming that he knew everything form the beginning–that his three years of public work were a kind of dress rehearsal, with no real problems or crises. What interest would there be in such a life? What inspiration? You who read these pages have your own creed concerning him; I have mine. Let us forget all creed for the time being, and take the story just as the simple narratives give it–a poor boy, growing up in a peasant family, working in a carpenter shop; gradually feeling his powers expanding, beginning to have an influence over his neighbors, recruiting a few followers, suffering disappointments and reverses, finally death. Yet building so solidly and well that death was only the beginning of his influence! Stripped of all dogma this is the grandest achievement story of all! …

Success is always exciting; we never grow tired of asking what and how. What, then were the principle elements in his power over men? How was it is that the boy from a country village became the greatest leader?

“Whoever meets or exceeds quarterly expectations will inherit eternal life!”

First of all he had the voice and manner of the leader–the personal magnetism which begets loyalty and commands respect… . . We speak of personal magnetism as though there were something mysterious about it–a magic quality bestowed on one in a thousand and denied to all the rest. This is not true. The essential element in personal magnetism is a consuming sincerity–an overwhelming faith in the importance of the work one has to do… .

The second [secret of Jesus’ success] was his wonderful power to pick men, and to recognize hidden capacities in them. It must have amazed Nicodemus when he learned the names of the twelve whom the young teacher had chosen to be his associates. What a list! Not a single well-known person on it. Nobody who had ever made a success of anything. A haphazard collection of fishermen and small-town businessmen, and one tax collector–a member of the most hated element in the community. What a crowd! …

Having gathered together his organization, there remained for Jesus the tremendous task of training it. And herein lay the third great element in his success–his vast unending patience. The Church has attached to each of the disciples the title of Saint and thereby done most to destroy the conviction of their reality. They were very far from sainthood when he picked them up. For three years he had them with him day and night, his whole energy and resources poured out in an effort to create an understanding in them …

The Bible presents an interesting collection of contrasts in this matter of executive ability. Samson had almost all the attributes of leadership. He was physically powerful and handsome; he had the great courage to which men always respond. No man was ever given a finer opportunity to free his countrymen from the oppressors and build up a great place of power for himself. Yet Samson failed miserably. He could do wonders singlehanded, but he could not organize. Moses started out under the same handicap. He tried to be everything and do everything; and was almost on the verge of failure. It was his father-in-law, Jethro, who saved him from calamity. Said that shrewd old man: Said that shrewd old man: The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou and this people that is with thee, for this thing is too heavy for thee, for thou are not able to perform it thyself alone.

Moses took the advice and associated with himself a partner, Aaron, who was strong where he was weak. They supplemented each other and together achieved what neither of them could have done alone.

John, the Baptist, had the same lack. He could denounce, but he could not construct. He drew crowds who were willing to repent at his command, but he had no program for them after their repentance. They waited for him to organize them for some sort of effective service, and he was no organizer. So his followers drifted away and his movement gradually collapsed. The same thing might have happened to the work of Jesus. He started with much less reputation than John and a much smaller group of followers. He had only twelve, and they were untrained simple men, with elementary weakness and passions. Yet because of the fire of his personal conviction, because of his marvelous instinct for discovering their latent powers, and because of his unwavering faith and patience, he molded them into an organization which carried on victoriously. Within a very few years after his death, it was reported in a far-off corner of the Roman Empire that these who have turned the world upside down have come hither also. A few decades later the proud Emperor himself bowed his head to the teachings of this Nazareth carpenter, transmitted through common men.

Bruce Barton, The Man Nobody Knows (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1925), 8–9, 18–19, 23, 27, 29–31.

Jesus clearly had the Glengarry leads.

Speaking to the Churches

I liked doing my short Lenten devotions so much I thought I’d give myself the opportunity to do something like that again. So, here begins a week of short devotions from Revelation 1–3 and Christ’s letters, dictated through John, to the seven churches.

And so, the introduction.

9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:9–20 ESV)

Fear not. Because John is afraid. This is a fearsome vision, much like Daniel’s encounter with the “Ancient of Days” in Daniel 7. John is afraid, overwhelmed by his vision, by what is happening to him, by who he meets and what he’s told. He is overwhelmed by the one who is like a “son of man” walking in the midst of the church — the church that is to be light for the world.

The First and the Last speaks a fearsome truth that cuts, pierces, stabs, and divides. And he is to speak a word of the truth to the churches, to the lamps whose light he is in the midst of. Twice he commands John to write what he has seen. He is to write his vision in a book and share it with the seven churches.

Jesus his speaks his authority to John. “I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” The first and last, the Alpha and Omega, is a title claimed by God at the very beginning of Revelation. It is also claimed by Christ, who was dead, but lives forever. Who is and was and who is to come. First and last, dead and living, holding they keys of Death and Hades.

That is his dominion, and he is the master of those things we believe so final. Death is his, as is that place of the dead — Sheol or Hades. We need not fear death or the place of the dead. God holds them, has mastered them. And in our midst is one who was dead but rose, and now lives forever.

Fear not.

The church, the light of the world, is not light on its own. Christ walks in our midst, and we are overseen, by angels. We shine not by our own brightness, but by the brightness of the one who walks in our midst, who holds us as his ultimate concern, who has appointed angels to watch over, care for us, and protect us.

No matter what happens. We are not alone. We do not need to be afraid.