Pureppu Devotion ④ Prayer is like incense

Revelation 8:1-5

“When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.  Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.  And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne,  and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.  Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.”

As we enter December, approaching the end of the year, we have received some prayer requests from those who have been through spiritual battles. Prayer is still needed for us.

This message is to help us understand that our prayers are reaching God.

The passage we read is from Revelation 8. Before this, the book describes a grand chorus of praise to God by a multitude of angels. However, when the Lamb, Jesus, opened the final seal, there was silence in heaven. The word translated as “silence” here is the Greek word “σίγη” (sige), meaning a hush or stillness.

In that stillness, something significant happened – the sweet aroma of incense was offered. The smoke of the incense ascended before the throne of God, symbolizing the prayers of the saints. In the Old Testament, the priests used to burn incense in the temple as part of a ritual to symbolize the acceptance of the people’s prayers by God. This concept is also found in the Christmas story when Zechariah encounters Gabriel in the temple.

Luke 1:8-12

“Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.  And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.”

 

During the burning of incense in the temple, the people outside were praying.

Astonishingly, in Revelation 8, John sees the smoke of the incense ascending to heaven, and he understands that it represents the prayers of Christians on earth.

The idea is beautiful: our prayers, like the fragrance of incense, ascend straight to God. Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, emphasized that even groans and inexpressible prayers ascend to heaven and resound loudly in God’s ears.

Prayers ascend from below to above. Our prayers “stand before God.” And in response, there is a reverberation from above to below. The incense that ascended before God descends to earth, causing thunder, lightning, and an earthquake. This signifies the powerful judgment of God, where justice is executed, evil is destroyed, and the arrival of God’s kingdom is heralded.

The crucial point is that these events occurred after the prayers of the saints, symbolized by the incense, were received before God. Indeed, prayers have the power to move heaven and earth.

The vision that John saw in Revelation is something we can imagine when we close our eyes to pray. Our prayers truly ascend before God. Revelation, written to encourage the persecuted church facing challenges from the Roman Empire, reminds us that encouragement is needed in difficult times.

The eighth chapter of Revelation, which we read together today, encourages our prayers. It conveys through the vision that our prayers are not only reaching God but are also like the “smoke of incense.” Our prayers are a pleasing fragrance to God. The Lord desires to joyfully hear our prayers.

Now, the heavens are still open. Let us desire to lift up the fragrance of our prayers, like the smoke rising to heaven, before the presence of God.

古いものと新しいものの共存

この写真は、戦前に撮られたものらしいのですが、御茶ノ水に来られた人なら誰でもわかるであろう、御茶ノ水駅の駅舎(御茶ノ水橋口)の写真です。なんと、昭和7年に建てられたそうです。
そして、これが現在の御茶ノ水駅(御茶ノ水橋口)。

御茶ノ水駅の駅舎は、昭和初期に建てられたものをベースに増改築がされてきたようです。そして、またまた、大きな増築(新築)がされているのです。

先日、12月2日(土)には、新聖橋口改札がオープンしました。聖橋口改札は御茶ノ水口改札の真逆の方向に位置し、長年建設を進めていた建物が一段落したこともあり、聖橋口改札がとうとうオープンしました。

いかにも現代の建築という感じの聖橋口改札。

また、隣接する御茶ノ水橋、聖橋は、これもまた、昭和初期に架けられたものです。そして、御茶ノ水近辺には、様々な建築物が新たに建設中。少し歩けば、趣のあるニコライ堂(昭和初期完成)。古いものと新しいものが共存する街なんです。

JCFNは、この年末で33年を迎えます。私がこの働きに携わらせていただいてから、25年が経とうとしています。そうなんです。この界隈では「古い」ものになっていたのでした・・・。

それでも、神様が召してくださったこの働きに、「もう十分だよ」って言われるまで、新しいものと共存できるように、古いものなりに良い味が出せるよう、努力していきたいです。

Pureppu Devotion ③ The house of prayer breaks the horns

Zechariah 1:18-21:

“When I lifted up my eyes and looked, behold, there were four horns. So I said to the angel who was speaking with me, ‘What are these?’ And he answered me, ‘These are the horns that have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.’ Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen. And I said, ‘What are these coming to do?’ He said, ‘These are the horns that have scattered Judah so that no man lifts up his head, but these craftsmen have come to terrify them, to throw down the horns of the nations who have lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it.'”

Through the PREPPU platform, I am grateful to share a message for the third time today.

In the first message, we discussed a story from the Book of Jonah, emphasizing that God cares for the souls of those returning to Japan.

In the second message, we explored the question, “What can we do for returnees?” Drawing from Luke 11, we learned that even if we cannot provide the necessary bread for the traveler, we can ask a friend for bread, highlighting the power of intercessory prayer.

Today’s third message is titled “The House of Prayer Breaks the Horns.” In the Bible, the term “horns” symbolizes power. For many saved Japanese returning home, the challenge is not just the lack of necessities but the various difficulties they face upon return. Sinister forces work to prevent them from leading a life of faith, causing many to drift away from the church.

So, what can we do? Today, let’s turn to the book of Zechariah for guidance.

Israel, once held captive in Babylon due to their departure from God, repented in Babylon and turned back to faith. Through God’s miraculous guidance, they were able to return to Israel. Joyfully arriving in Jerusalem, they began reconstructing the temple, intending to center their lives around worship.

However, obstacles arose. The Samaritans, neighboring Israel, envied their new beginning and sought to hinder the reconstruction. Through threats and deceit, they tried to obstruct the rebuilding of the temple.

As a result, the people’s spirits waned, and the flame that should have burned bright dwindled. Facing difficulties upon their return, they were unable to engage in worship. To encourage the desolate Israel, God sent the prophet Zechariah, who presented visions.

One of these visions, the one opened today, depicts the scene of four horns, representing the threatening powers of Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, and Persia—the nations that posed a threat to Israel. The horns symbolize various forces that surrounded Israel, posing a threat to God’s people.

When we think of animals with horns, we may imagine deer, rhinos, or goats. When these animals fight, what do they use? Their “horns.” Thus, in the Bible, the term “horns” is used to symbolize a formidable power.

As those rebuilding the temple faced hindrances, horns approached from the north, south, west, and east. Forces opposed to the temple construction exerted pressure on those starting the work.

Similarly, in the journey of faith in Japan, various forces often hinder progress through worries, temptations, trials, and persecutions. In such times, what should one do? Should they rely on military strength, as Israel did in the past? Or should they seek help from a reliable kingdom?

No, that’s not the solution. God showed Zechariah a vision of four craftsmen breaking the horns in a way that was not accomplished by warriors or kings but by craftsmen.

It was the hammer wielded by these craftsmen that could break the horns. Upon waking from the dream, Zechariah likely heard the sounds of construction continuing outside his window. Quietly, the voice of God may have reassured him: “Do not be afraid; just build the temple.” Above all, build the “house of prayer.” This is the key to breaking every horn. God, through the vision, had already shown the victory.

In Israel, there were craftsmen building the temple to break every opposing horn. Therefore, prayer could be offered.

For EC, who are the builders of the “house of prayer”? It is us, isn’t it? So, let us, as God’s craftsmen, pray for the scattering of the souls returning to Japan, breaking every horn that seeks to hinder them.

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