Monday, April 18, 2016

Sermon on Revelation 7:9-17, for the 4th Sunday of Easter, "The Lamb will be their Shepherd"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In the past two sermons, we’ve introduced the book of Revelation and how the Risen Lord Jesus stands at the center of the book, and of all history, for that matter—and saints and angels in heaven surround the throne of God and of the Lamb, in holy praise and worship. Today, we again see a vision at the throne of God in heaven. In the bigger picture of the book, this scene is sort of an “intermission” or “interlude”, during a series of seven unfolding visions. A series of “seven seals” are opened one by one, with different judgments on earth unfolding at each seal. Our reading takes place during an “interlude” between the 6th and 7th seals. Similar interludes show up later in Revelation, between the 6th and 7th stages of later visions. So this is part of a larger pattern found in the book. It’s also a very bright scene that is surrounded before and after by dreadful scenes of judgment upon the earth—so we need to remember that context.
But while the “action” has paused, and scenes of judgment on earth are momentarily suspended—the camera returns to heaven, to show us this scene of a multitude around the throne of heaven. A multitude that is too great to count or number, and who are standing in victory and celebration, with white robes and palm branches, and singing a victory song: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Seeing this great crowd, the question is, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” The answer given is, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
This is where the crowd fits into the big picture—they are the saints that have been delivered to heaven, that have already passed through the great tribulation, or suffering on earth. They are what we call the “church triumphant” or the believers who have gone on to their victory and heavenly rest with Jesus. The fact that they have “come out of the great tribulation” points back toward us, and toward the other saints still on earth—those who are still in the great tribulation, the struggle, the persecution, and difficulty of being a disciple of Jesus.
The believers who still are in the world, but not of it, are what we call the “church militant”, or believers who are still in the spiritual warfare on earth. There is one church of Christ, but some believers are still living on earth, while others have died and gone on to glory. The church militant, or those on earth, show up in the first half of Revelation chapter 7. They are the 144,000 saints who are sealed on earth, and bear the name of the Father and of the Lamb on their foreheads. They still have to endure through the tribulation. Without getting too deeply into the numbers, just note that the 144,000 is a round number, made up of multiples of 12 X 12 X 1,000. As such it is a symbolic number to reflect the whole group of believers on church, as they are organized and lead by Jesus Christ. Organized like an army, “fully equipped and ready to do God’s work” (Brighton, 190). It’s not, as some have misunderstood, a literal number of the total count of people who will get into heaven, as the very first verse of our reading today shows that the multitude in heaven is, “without number.”
This Sunday, many churches across America are taking a special occasion to remember and to stand with the persecuted church—remembering that we are part of this same formation of believers. Remembering that the devil is prowling like a roaring lion, and that we are to “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9). We must not forget them or their sufferings. The scale of persecution is difficult for us to even comprehend, and it is majorly underreported by our media and our government. Just recently, our U.S. State Department officially went on record that there is an ongoing genocide taking place against Christians—the attempt for a wholesale extermination of Christian believers from certain countries and regions. Several million Christians have fled their homes in Syria, Iraq, and the Middle East. In some places there is no Christian community left, or it has been forced into hiding. Terror attacks aimed at Christians have been celebrated by the Taliban in Pakistan, and numerous terrorist groups in Africa, targeting schools, villages, and churches to eliminate Christians.
It is a fearful time for our Christian brotherhood around the world, and numerous Christian ministries to the persecuted church are calling for our prayers, our attention to the suffering and needs of brothers and sisters in Christ in more than 60 countries around the world facing active persecution, and our support for those persecuted and displaced from their homes. It is into this great tribulation, that the scene in Revelation unfolds. Out of the bloody and fearful mess on earth, our eyes are lifted with the Apostle John into heaven, to see the saints who have been rescued from the strife, and are at peace with God. Our eyes are lifted to see that there is an end to the struggle, and there is justice and rest for God’s people. And there is victory because of the Lamb who has conquered. There is courage and hope to overcome fear, and to be confident in tribulation, because Jesus holds the victory.
The way that these saints in glory, clothed in white robes, have made it through the great tribulation is because “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”. This echoes a beautiful verse, Isaiah 1:18, where God tells His people,  “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” What an interesting paradox! Our sins are like scarlet or crimson stains, but it is the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, that washes those sins out, and makes them white as snow or wool. Jesus’ blood is the most powerful cleansing agent on earth! It washes us clean of the foulest sin and the deepest shame, so that we can be presented pure and holy again, before God. Did you notice in our first reading, from Acts 20:28, that it refers to the “church of God, which He obtained with His own blood”? Did you get that? God’s own blood was the redemption price of the church! Jesus is God, and by His Godly blood shed for us, He has obtained the church—purchased it as His own, washed it from sin and every stain, and delivers it through the great tribulation. Such a glorious and amazing outcome for a body of believers who are besieged on every side by the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, waging war against God’s kingdom. But the victory is clear and certain, and it is our victory because Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!
Then in a beautiful description of heaven, that folds together a beautiful mix of promises from God, we hear this: Revelation 7:15–17, “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” At the center of their worship is Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. But now the Risen Lamb, who leads the sheep, as their shepherd.
The tender image reminds us of Psalm 23, where the Lord, our Shepherd, leads us through the valley of the shadow of death, and leads us to water and safe pasture. In heaven, all dangers, threats, and alarms have ceased. The Lord’s presence is our shelter from everything that once threatened us, and the sheep are permanently safe and at home. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. The tears are a reminder of this sin-filled and broken life. The hurts that we inflicted on others, the hurts we inflicted on ourselves, and those that others inflicted on us. Sin taught us jealousy, greed, selfishness, pride, hate and all other sources of trouble and misery. But Jesus teaches us humility, service, generosity, kindness, love, and forgiveness. Even now He leads us in the path of righteousness, and away from those things that would hurt or destroy us by sin. Even now He turns our actions towards peace-making, towards reconciliation, and towards love. And by the time we reach heaven, God will be wiping every tear from our eyes, causing us to forget the heartache, the trouble, the pain of the former things, but living instead in the blessedness where there is no more distress or sadness.
It is with Jesus as our Lamb and our Shepherd, that this blessed hope is ours. We cannot ignore that the world is everywhere filled to overflowing with suffering, but we have a reason not to fall into despair or hopelessness. The church that is persecuted today mirrors the description in the book of Revelation, but the darkest moments of that vision are contrasted by the brilliant glory of the Lamb and His redeemed saints, dressed in white, standing around Him in victory. We have reason for courage and confidence, to know that Satan and his plans cannot and will not win in the end, but that Jesus has secured the victory by His blood and by His resurrection from the dead. These scenes encourage us to stand and be counted with the 144,000, to proudly stand as Jesus’ disciples still on earth, bearing His Name, and living in His royal service. They encourage us to bear the cross bravely, and to rejoice in our sufferings, for the blessing we are promised in Jesus are guaranteed by Jesus’ resurrection. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-5, and note the 144,000 people who are “sealed.” This well-known number has met with a variety of interpretations in modern Christian churches. The Lutheran interpretation is that the 144,000 are a symbolic number representing the totality of believers on earth—what is sometimes referred to as the “church militant”, still engaged in spiritual struggle. The “multitude that no one can number” in Revelation 7:9, refers to the “church triumphant”, or the saints already at rest with God in heaven. Among which group are we numbered at present?
  2. What is the symbolism of the “white robes” that the saints are wearing? 7:9, 14; Isaiah 1:18; Galatians 3:28. What is the significance of them waving palm branches? John 12:12-13.
  3. In Revelation 5:3-5, and 7:13-14, something happens that is unique in all the book of Revelation. In just these two places, it is an elder, i.e., one of the human saints in glory, that communicates part of the vision to John. In both cases, the elder points John to Jesus and His victory for our human salvation. Why may it have been particularly meaningful for a human to communication this part of the vision to John, instead of an angel, as in other places? What would the elder also have been through?
  4. What is the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood? Revelation 7:14; Isaiah 1:18; Acts 20:28.
  5. In heaven, what troubles and sufferings will no longer afflict us? Revelation 7:15-17; Isaiah 49:8-10; Psalm 121:6; Isaiah 25:8. Instead of these, what is the positive picture of heaven look like?
  6. Jesus is again portrayed as “the Lamb”, but in a double metaphor, He is simultaneously “the Shepherd.” How does Jesus act as our Shepherd? John 10; Psalm 23. How does He protect and love His sheep? Where does He lead them, and what does He provide them?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Sermon on Revelation 5:1-14, for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, "Worthy is the Lamb"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Last week we met the Risen Lord Jesus, portrayed in Revelation 1. He’s introduced, and takes front and center position as the revealer of this vision and mystery, and as the central character. His resurrection victory promises His victory to extend to all believers. In Revelation chapters 4-5, we see one of the most exalted worship scenes in all the Bible unfolding. The scene takes place at the throne of God in heaven, surrounded by four angelic, living creatures, and 24 elders, or honored saints, who worship and praise God. God, exalted in all His glory, and surrounded by worship, holds in His right hand, a special scroll, sealed with seven seals. This scroll contains a message that is vital for the church on earth to learn—but no one is found anywhere in heaven or on earth, or under the earth, who is worthy to open it, and access its message. No one, until one of the elders announces Jesus—the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, who has conquered—He will open this secret scroll.
Just pausing a moment before we go any further, take notice of what’s happening in the vision—a detail that might have escaped our notice: in Revelation 5:1 and 7, God is holding a scroll in His right hand and gives it to Jesus, the Lamb of God. Scripture says that the “right hand of the Lord exalts, the right hand of the Lord does valiantly” (Psalm 118:16). Jesus at His trial before the High Priest, said that “from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). Standing at God’s right hand is no passing detail—it is the place that is reserved for One and only One individual—the Son of God. We confess in the Creeds that Jesus ascended into heaven, and “is seated at the right hand of the Father.” The “right hand” conveys power, authority, and honor—just as Jesus has been given, “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). No one else takes this honor, and no one in heaven, earth, or under it, in all the universe, was worthy to open this scroll, except Jesus, who has conquered. Revelation 3:21, Jesus says, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on His throne.” Jesus has sat down with His Father on His throne.
So in chapter 4-5, Jesus approaches God’s throne, both to receive this special message, but also to receive “power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” All the heavenly host gathered around God’s throne, break into worship and praise of God and the Lamb. This raises another major point that underlies the rest of Revelation—what does obedience to the First Commandment look like? “You shall have no other gods before me.” You may not realize it today, but for the first century Christians, it was a major question, how to understand the Trinity—God being One, yet three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If God requires and commands that we only worship Him, the One True God, and no other—where does Jesus fit into this? Does worship of Jesus conflict with the first commandment? Is Jesus a second ‘god’ and the Holy Spirit a third? Revelation shows us the answer, inside heaven’s worship—“‘to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshipped.”
Jesus is worshipped in heaven, by saints and angels, and His worship is so closely enfolded in worship of the Father, who is seated on the throne, as to be indistinguishable. Jesus is not an alternative object of worship, but He shares in the glory due to God, and as Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “Father, the hour has come, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1). The worship of Jesus is included in the worship of God. Jesus said, “I and the Father are One.” Nothing in Christian teaching, certainly not in Jesus’ teaching, or in the book of Revelation, ever questions or reinterprets this First Commandment—“You shall have no other gods.”  Rather, the New Testament affirms just as strongly as the Old, that there is only One God and that God is One and only object of our worship. When John mistakenly falls down to worship at the feet of a glorious angel, in Revelation 19:10, the angel refuses his worship and immediately corrects him, saying, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!”  Jesus never does this. Neither in His earthly ministry, nor in heaven, does He refuse worship and honor given to Him, because Jesus is true God and rightfully receives our worship. Obeying this commandment looks like this glimpse of heaven, worshipping Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three persons, but One God, One Being, One essence.
When Jesus receives the scroll from God’s right hand, the heavenly host break into song, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe, and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” In addition to recognizing these words from our liturgy, the song, “This is the Feast”—we should notice that the heavenly host are explaining to us, WHY Jesus is worthy. He is worthy, #1 because He was slain, #2 because He has ransomed His people by His blood, and #3 made them a kingdom and priests to God, to reign on earth. Jesus’ worthiness is directly tied to His death on the cross, accomplishing our salvation. His worthiness to stand at the throne of God and to rule and receive worship, is because of Jesus’ conquering victory, over the cross and grave. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! 
Jesus is deserving of all power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing. Everything is rightfully due and deservingly owed to Jesus because of the cosmic greatness of His self-sacrifice, as the only Son of God. One hymn sings, “were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a tribute far too small—love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” It’s perfectly true that all of creation would be too small a gift to repay Jesus for His love. We can never repay it, or earn God’s favor. My soul, my life, my all, are but small tokens of my gratitude to Him. What can Jesus do with such things? He makes us to be a kingdom of priests—remember last week we talked about our kingly and priestly roles? Here is the same thought—that we reign forever with Jesus. The meek shall inherit the earth, and so we follow the example of Jesus, our Servant King. The priestly service we make through our prayers, our praises, and our good deeds, in lives lived in service to God and our neighbor. In other words, Jesus uses us mightily to His service, because He is the Creator and Giver of all good gifts, and makes us vessels of His service, and moves us by His Spirit.
Seeing the Lamb who was slain, Jesus, the crucified One, standing at the throne of God, shows us that the death and resurrection of Jesus for us, belongs to the way God rules the world (Bauckham). God could rule by justice, with no mercy, and simply hold us accountable to His holy law—but there would not be one of us who could hope to be saved. God could rule through blunt power and force—yet He chooses, in this time and age of the church, until Jesus returns in glory—to rule in the mercy and mediation of Jesus Christ. The One mediator between God and man, and the One who opened the way for mercy by dying for our sins, and rising to defeat death. We live under the kingdom of God’s grace, with Jesus as our Servant King. We reign on earth together with Him, not as lording lords, but as servants bearing the almighty truth of Jesus.
As we look over this reading again, there are two final takeaway points, to emphasize. One is the make-up of the royal priesthood whom Jesus has redeemed. The other point is that we see that Worship is a “W”, not an “M”—I’ll explain. First, the royal priesthood, the redeemed believers, are from every tribe and language and people and nation. This four-fold phrase shows up several places in Revelation, and shows us the universal makeup of the people of God. The people who confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and who follow Him into eternity, come from every people group, nationality, and language on earth. The picture of heaven is a beautifully diverse family of the children of God, who are united in their worship of the One and Only God who is to be worshipped—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And why does this passage show us that worship is a “W” and not an “M?” This is a phrase I often use with our confirmation kids, to understand what worship is. Think of a capital “W” and a capital “M”. If you draw the lines as arrows, the direction of a “W” is from top to bottom, back up, and top to bottom, and back up again. (Continue illustration, with motions). Do the same for an “M”. Worship is a “W” because it begins and ends with God. It starts, centers, and returns to Him. He first gives to us His gifts and blessings. We respond in prayer, thanksgiving, and songs of praise. But we return it to Him. He continues to pour out His gifts, and everything begins and ends with Him. But worship is NOT an “M”, that begins and ends with us. We don’t originate worship by what we do for God, but on the receiving end of what He does for us. Worship doesn’t begin or end with us, but like a W, always returns to Him.
Jesus is Worthy of all our praise. He has shed His blood to redeem us, He has made us royal priests in His kingdom of grace. We live and serve by His gifts and under His rule. All our worship returns to Him. And He keeps us constantly supplied, fed, and nourished by His gifts, every generously proceeding from His hand to ours. We feast on His Word and at His table. We receive His forgiveness, His Spirit, and His life. And for all of it we thank and praise Him. Worthy is the Lamb!! Amen, and they fell down and worshipped.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Read Revelation chapter 5. In the first 7 verses, a little scroll with 7 seals is introduced. Who alone is worthy to open it, and what did He do that made Him worthy? Revelation 5:6, 9-10. See Revelation 6 for the opening of the first several seals. What is the content of this special scroll? What is revealed when the seals are opened?
  2. Revelation 5:6 and 5:8 give explanations to two symbols in the vision. What are the symbols and what do they represent? How our prayers like “incense” to God? Psalm 141:2
  3. The four living creatures that attend the throne of God, show up not only in the visions in Revelation, but also Ezekiel 1:5ff. What do the 24 elders around the throne likely represent? (hint: what did 12 and 12 represent in Old and New Testaments)?
  4. What was the value of Jesus’ “buying us back” or redeeming us? 1 Peter 1:18-19. Why was this a costly sacrifice for Him? The phrase “every tribe, language, people, and nation” appears in different order in Revelation 7:9; 11:9; (13:7); 14:6. What does this phrase tell us about the makeup of the church of God, that is redeemed in heaven? Where do they come from? Why is the number “4” associated with the earth, and people living on it? Revelation 7:1
  5. How do we reign as a kingdom of priests on earth? What is our “kingly” and “priestly” service? Revelation 22:5; 1 Peter 2:5; Romans 12:2; Hebrews 13:15.
  6. Who shares the throne with the Lamb? Revelation 3:21. Who shares worship and glory with the Lamb? Revelation 5:13. Why is this HUGELY important, in telling us who Jesus is? Isaiah 42:8; 48:11. What does the first commandment also teach us about this? What mistake does John make in Revelation 22:8-9, and how is it corrected?
  7. What should our attitude and posture toward God and Jesus be in worship?

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.