Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Sermon on Revelation 1:4-20, for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, "Risen Jesus Reigns from the Throne"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Despite signs that you might see, while driving to and around Lahaina, that say, “We are NOT in the end times,” Jesus told us that “no one knows the day or the hour”, and to always be ready for His return. The book of Revelation was written for times just such as ours—times just like the first century of Christianity, the times after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. In the decades after Jesus’ resurrection, while the apostles of our Lord Jesus were busy witnessing to all the world about Him—they encountered resistance. Resistance to the Good News, resistance to hearing that Jesus Christ had conquered the grave. This resistance often became hostile persecution. Sometimes imprisonment, sometimes loss of livelihood, sometimes loss of life. St. John the apostle, who writes the book of Revelation, writes it while he, probably in his old age, was exiled to the island of Patmos, for preaching the word of God and the witness of Jesus. And he writes to seven churches in what would be modern day Turkey, encouraging them by the Gospel. 2,000 years has done little to change Turkey’s familiarity with persecution, except perhaps, to witness today the near extinction of Christianity in the Middle East.
The book of Revelation was written for times of persecution, political strife, war, and chaos, just like our times today. From terror attacks targeting Christians, like the bombing this Easter in Pakistan, or the endless examples of terrorism and persecution in the months and years before, our times are ripe for terrible, hostile resistance to Christianity. But at the heart of our faith stands the risen Jesus, with His victory over sin and death. Death and the devil rage through history, as the book of Revelation portrays, and fiercely oppose Jesus’ kingdom. But the message of Revelation is not to scare or worry us about the end of times—but rather to consistently show us through all the turmoil—God is reigning on His throne, and will have the final victory.
Chapter 1, which you heard read today, is sort of the key to the whole book, and explains the first vision in it. In verse 1, it explains that this book is Jesus’ revelation, to show us the things that must soon take place. Chapter 1 opens with John seeing the heavenly perspective of the Risen Lord Jesus, in all His glory. In our Gospel readings during Easter, we see plenty of examples  of the earthly perspective of the Risen Jesus. Jesus comes in flesh and blood, eating, visiting, showing them His scars. But Revelation shows heaven’s perspective of Jesus. Still a son of man—a human being, but with blinding radiance—a white robe, golden sash, blazing white hair, eyes lit up like flames, legs like gleaming metal, and a voice like many waters. Holding seven stars in His hands, walking between seven lampstands, a two-edged sword coming from His mouth, and His face shining with the brilliance of the sun. Jesus is the central character of the book, and here is our introduction to Him.
So frightened by Jesus’ appearance, John fell down like he was dead. Wouldn’t you be frightened if Jesus appeared to you this way? But what does Jesus do, but speak comforting words, place his hand on John, and tell him, “Fear not.” And Jesus reminds John that He is the Living One, who has conquered death. Jesus comforts John with the knowledge of His resurrection. This opening vision of the commanding, all-powerful, radiant Jesus Christ, speaks courage to the fearful, the anxious and troubled, who face a world filled with trouble. And He speaks His, “Fear not” to believers, so that we know we stand in the security and confidence of His resurrection victory. Though we may die, though death will touch us all in this life, yet we will rise again and live eternally with Him, because He holds the keys to Death and Hades. Jesus’ resurrection is central to the promise of victory that fills Revelation. Take a moment, if you can, later, and look at all the references to Jesus’ resurrection in just this first chapter!
Backing up to verse 5-6, we see what this Risen Lord Jesus’ attitude toward us is. “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.” We are loved by Jesus. “Love to the loveless shown,” in the words of a hymn. When we were in our sins, without hope, and without love, we were first loved by Jesus. First loved by the firstborn from the dead, our Jesus. Set free from our sins, because Jesus died and rose. Jesus is the breaker of chains, the breaker of our bondage and captivity, as so many Easter hymns sing triumphantly! Who are we now that Jesus has freed us? We have an honorable role to live out—He made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.
We have a kingly role, and a priestly role! What is that all about? 1 Peter 2 calls us a “holy priesthood” and a “royal priesthood”—hitting those same kingly and priestly notes. The “royal priesthood” is an often forgotten favorite of the Lutheran Church. Martin Luther fought hard, 500 years ago, to restore this Biblical teaching to the Christian church—that every Christian has a kingly, and a priestly role. We all have a holy, a sacred calling to serve God and our neighbor. What was so controversial about that? Simply that holy service to God is not a matter of how close you are to the nearest church building, or having a church leadership role—pastor, priest, teacher or choir director. Rather, Christians serve God and their neighbor in countless callings in life—as blue collar workers, white collar workers, employers, employees, counselors, technicians, repairmen, caregivers, volunteers, parents, grandparents, siblings, children, students, teachers, and all church workers as well! In whatever godly calling you have been given, there’s a place for a “royal priest,” a baptized Christian, to live out their calling in Christ-like love and service.
What’s kingly about it? Jesus, ruler of the kings of the earth, showed His kingship in humble service, washing the feet of His disciples, and commanding them to do likewise, loving each other, as I have loved you. His kingship was not lording our power over others, or exercising authority like little despots. Rather it was displayed through courageous and self-giving service. His kingship lead to the cross, crowned with thorns, bloodied and beaten, but with a royal dignity that couldn’t be stripped away for all the abuse that was poured out on Him. This same Jesus, who was pierced on the cross, will be the source of joy, to those who belong to His kingdom as subjects, and the source of wailing or grief, for those who disbelieved His second coming. Our “kingly” or royal priesthood is to join Jesus in reigning forever and ever. Reigning with Jesus begins by walking in His servant way, because He taught that “the meek  shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
What is priestly about our role? Priests in the Old Testament lifted up prayers and sacrifices before God on behalf of God’s people. Jesus Christ, as our Great High Priest, offered Himself up for our sins, and He is seated at God’s right hand, where He hears and receives our prayers. As a priesthood to our God and Father, we are called by God to lift holy hands in prayer, to lift up prayers for all who need them, our rulers and authorities, our families, and all those in need. We are also called to lift up sacrifices before God. What kind of sacrifices? Not animals, or grain, as in the Old Testament, but the New Testament calls us to a living sacrifice of our lives being used in service to the Lord, and our lips making sacrifices of praise and declaring what Jesus has done; and by simply doing good, we sacrifice to Him.
Now look back again at that heavenly perspective of the Risen Jesus. John sees Him in almost frightening brilliance and glory, everything about Jesus blazing with light and holiness. But we’ve already discovered, with John, that Jesus was not there to terrify John, but to calm him and assure him of Jesus’ almighty power and victory over death. What do all those descriptions of Jesus mean? The gleaming legs, the voice like many waters, the brilliant white hair, the blazing face? They are almost all descriptions of God, as seen by the Old Testament prophets. These descriptions are also found in Ezekiel, Daniel, and Isaiah, and they draw a direct connection between Jesus and God. They inform us, like the rest of the book of Revelation will, again and again, that God the Father, and Jesus His Son, are the same God who rules from this holy throne in heaven, where all the angels gather to worship Him.
Finally, in verses 19-20, Jesus explains that the vision that’s about to unfold for John, what will fill the remaining chapters of Revelation, are a vision of both present and future things. And the first clue to the mystery, is that the seven stars Jesus holds are seven angels or messengers of the churches, and the seven lampstands where Jesus stands, are the seven churches, to whom John writes the letter. This very important clue that Jesus gives, helps us to understand the rest of the book, to understand how it communicates to us in symbols and visions. While the book of Revelation may remain one of the most confusing books in the Bible, until the end of time, and when Jesus actually returns to finally explain it all to us—we should never forget the blessing promised in verse 3: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” Jesus is at the heart and center of this book, as in all of Scripture, and the main message and blessing that echo through it is not a particularly confusing or difficult one to understand at all. It is that God and the Lamb are reigning on His throne, and that all glory, honor, and power belong to Him. Till that day when we stand in final victory with Him, we pray, “Amen, Come Lord Jesus!”.  

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. John, who writes the book of Revelation, is most often identified as the same John (brother of James) who wrote the Gospel of John, and the letters 1-3 John. Where was John, and why was he there, when he wrote this letter? Revelation 1:9. What day of the week was it when He had this vision? Revelation 1:10.
  2. Who speaks to John in this first chapter, and who does He command John to send the letter to? Revelation 1:1; 11-18. The place where these churches would be today, is the country of Turkey.
  3. The way that the Risen Lord Jesus is seen in Revelation is “heaven’s view” of Jesus. In John 20:19-31, and the other appearances of Jesus after His resurrection, the disciples saw the “earthly view” of Jesus. When did the disciples get a brief glimpse of what Jesus looks like in His heavenly glory? Luke 9:28-36
  4. What references to Jesus’ crucifixion are made in Revelation 1:5-7? What does it say Jesus accomplished for us?
  5. Verse 6 says that Jesus made us a “kingdom, priests to His God and Father.” How is the Christian life “kingly”? Revelation 5:10; 22:5. How is it “priestly”? 1 Peter 2:5; Romans 12:2; Hebrews 13:15.
  6. How does the interchanging of the same titles for Jesus and the Lord God (the Father), highlight the fact that Jesus is True God? Revelation 1:8; 22:13; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10; 44:6.
  7. When St. John sees the glorified Jesus, what features of His appearance also point to Biblical descriptions of God? Revelation 1:15-16; Ezekiel 1:24-28; 43:2; Daniel 7:9-14; Isaiah 11:4; 49:2.

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