January 15, 2017
When I was in high school, there was a movie that really captured my imagination and the imaginations of many. That movie was Star Wars. One really cool thing about this movie was the lightsaber Luke and Obi Wan Kenobi used. Who wouldn’t want a lightsaber? As cool as that lightsaber may be, this sword is even more powerful, but you have to know how to use it, just like how Luke had to learn how to use the lightsaber. He initially was not very effective at using it, so he had to learn how to use it. So, this sword, the Bible, is more powerful than any lightsaber ever was. If you ever want to learn how to use your sword, I would recommend starting with the Gospel of Luke. That is the easiest book in the entire Bible to understand.
Reading: Revelation 1
1 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,
2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,
5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,
6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
7 “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him,even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,
11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”
12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands,
13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.
14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.
15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.
16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.
18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.
20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
Well friends, I’ve been preaching for twenty years. Never once have I tried to preach on the book of Revelation. This is my first time because there is an old song and an old saying: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Most people keep the book of Revelation at arm’s length because it is maybe the most complex book in the Bible. It is the most difficult to understand. So, I’m a fool today. My point is that the book of Revelation is not to be messed around with, but after we have had our Advent and Christmas sermon series, I was asking God what I should preach on next. I was hearing the gentle voice of the Spirit telling me the book of Revelation. I kept asking, “Is there anyone else up there?”
So, I went on a retreat after Christmas, and I went to an arch abbey with a monastery in Indiana where the monks pray four times a day. When I was praying there, I had a couple days of downtime. When I was praying, one commentary said that the book of Revelation needs to be covered in one reading. For those of you who are page turners, that would be a job for you! In order to best study this book, you should not carve it up and do it in segments. So, I read Revelation from cover to cover in about an hour and a half because I needed a few breaks. The commentator said that is how the book was meant to be heard. In fact, if you have the time someday we’ll do that here too.
To be fair to all of you, I wondered how many weeks are between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday to do this series. I counted them, and there were seven Sundays. That might not mean anything to you, but everything in Revelation is a seven. There are seven stars, seven lampstands, and even seven beatitudes. One of them says this: “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy. Blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it.” Blessed are you who take the time to read Revelation. It also says in chapter 14, “Blessed are the dead who died in the Lord.” The third beatitude in chapter 16 is, “Behold, I come like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed.” There are also seven churches, seven angels, and seven trumpets. So, when I learned there were seven Sundays, I knew it couldn’t be more obvious that God was saying I needed to preach on the book of Revelation.
The book of Revelation is sometimes called the book of the Apocalypse. Now, apocalypse is a genre of literature. It is important for any reader to know what they are reading when they open the books. Am I reading a romance, a western, a historical novel, poetry, or satire? What am I reading? It is important to know what type of book you are reading. So, when you open up the book of Revelation, you should know you are reading apocalyptic literature.
Well, there are some books in the Bible known for their apocalyptic literature—Ezekiel, Daniel, Revelation, little pieces of the prophet Zechariah, and even little pieces of the gospel of Matthew. Matthew 24 is apocalyptic literature. It is interesting that in all 28 chapters of his gospel, only one is apocalyptic. Here is brief sample of that: “At that the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. And all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” Chapter 24 speaks of the second coming, and Jesus’ language is apocalyptic.
So, in Revelation you will hear about the four horsemen of the apocalypse. What is that all about? Or the seven bowls of wrath? Or Armageddon? What does all this mean? I’m going to make this as simple as I can. If you remember nothing else from this sermon, just try to remember that the book of Revelation can be summed up in a simple Bible song:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”
So, the people that John the Evangelist was writing to in the book of the Apocalypse were troubled people. They were persecuted people, and they needed some encouragement. The grand message of the book of Revelation is to turn your eyes upon Jesus. If you do so, you’ll make it through. You will be an overcomer. You will conquer anything you face in this life. We’ll talk more about that in the weeks to come. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, and things are going to work out. Persevere. Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged.
Next, we have the apocalyptic story of Ezekiel. He was preaching to the Jews in Babylon after their city had just been destroyed. They definitely needed encouragement. Then, there was Daniel at the time of the Greeks. They were the world power, and they made life miserable for the Jews, at least for a period. The Jews needed encouragement during their time of grief. Of course, the book of Revelation was written during the time of the Romans when the Romans were making the lives of Jews and Christians miserable. The Roman emperor was impossible. Caesar was demanding the people worship him as a deity, and that was something the Christians could not do. So, the apocalyptic literature that is Revelation is for people who are suffering and need some encouragement.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega” is one of the seven titles for Jesus in the first chapter of Revelation. Another is “Jesus is the Christ.” We know that one pretty well. He is the anointed One, the Messiah, the Promised One of the Old Testament. Jesus is the faithful Witness, the Holy One who has lived to be morally pure. He is the Author and Perfecter of our souls, raised from the dead. And He promised this for you too. He is the Ruler of all kings, the Almighty. He is the Alpha and the Omega, that is He is the eternal One who always was and always will be. He is the Word of God, and the kids heard a little bit about that in the children’s sermon. He is the truthful One, the omniscient One.
Finally, He is the Son of Man. That is the title Jesus preferred for Himself. In fact, the Son of Man is an apocalyptic title. Jesus calls Himself that title eighty-two times during the four gospels. What He is thinking about when He calls Himself that title is the book of Daniel. The Son of Man was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself. Why? Because it comes from apocalyptic literature. It’s a unique title He reserved for Himself, and the book of Daniel says this about it: “In my vision at night I looked and there before was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshipped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Jesus chose Son of Man for Himself because it had a unique take that the people would not be familiar with. Maybe He knew from the beginning what He was destined to be. He was going to be the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Alpha and the Omega, and the Son of Man. He would be glorified.
There is a History Channel special that was so amazing about the Vikings. The Vikings had a fearsome sword called the Ulfberht, which was a thousand years ahead of its time. It was unique because the blade was so refined that almost all the impurities were taken out of the steel. Today, our craftsmen know how to do that, but in the year 1000 nobody knew how to do that except the Vikings. The ulfberht, the Viking sword, was a fearsome weapon. If you saw somebody coming at you with an ulfberht you knew you were toast. Other weapons would fall apart because of impurities, but the ulfberht would not shatter.
Well, as awesome as a lightsaber is, as awesome as the ulfberht is, there is only one sword mightier. That sword is the Word of God. The vision John had included the Son of Man having a sword coming out of His mouth. In the dream John heard, “God’s Word conquers sin and death.” God’s Word is more powerful than a lightsaber. His Word is even more powerful than the ulfberht. God’s Word is alive and powerful. So, do not be afraid. Do not be afraid of the Roman emperor. Do not be afraid of the persecution. Do not be afraid of the volcanoes, earthquakes, and famine. Do not be afraid because the Son of Man has given you power and authority through His Word.