THE APOCALYPSE (REV 1:1-20)
My first Sunday back after Sabbatical. Wanted to take a moment to thank you as a congregation for allowing me to step back from the daily responsibilities of ministry for an extended period.
· I found it spiritually refreshing and physically refreshing. I honestly feel 10 years younger than I did and am excited to be back in active duty.
· I know that many of you had extra ministry responsibilities and went out of your way to make sure I was able to take a break – so thank you for your service to me and my family. I thank God for how good this church has been to me and my family over many years now.
· I was also encourage by seeing how the body of elders was able to function and give direction to the church in my absence. I have the highest respect for these men and count it as a great privilege to serve alongside them. Some of them have lost their jobs, or had to change jobs, of experience great pressure at the workplace in the last year and yet they have continued to serve the church sacrificially. So we can thank God for them as well. And of course to Henry and Frank who bore the bulk of the preaching load.
The last thing I wanted to be doing was preaching my first sermon to a camera….I don’t think any of us want to be facing another year of Covid-19 along with masks, lockdowns, restrictions, economic decline and a host of other realities. Whatever your perspective of this virus, I think we can all agree that it has impacted our lives personally, socially, spiritually, politically, educationally, economically, nationally and globally. The reaction of the world to the virus has had a far greater impact than the virus itself. But even if we disagree about how deadly the virus is, or how appropriate the government’s response has been, or where the virus comes from, or what we should be doing about it – one thing we can all agree on is that what we are busy experiencing is world shaping and life changing.
So this morning I want us to take our current reality, our current experience as a backdrop and from within it, look beyond it into God’s word and see 3 truths that should shape your thinking and living more than Covid-19 this year.
1. The Completeness of Christ’s Sovereignty
2. The Significance of Spiritual Realities
3. The Privilege of our Priestly Calling
To do that I want to turn to the book of Revelation. It is a book that was written to prepare the church for the reality of trials and tribulation. To show the church that Christ is on His throne over and above and in and through it all and to exhort the church to faithful service in the midst of the mess. So the opening chapters are obviously going to contain a summary of these themes that run throughout the book.
Turn in your Bibles to Rev 1:1-20
1: The Completeness of Christ’s Sovereignty
How is Christ’s sovereignty seen in this passage?
1: His revelation (1-3), 2: His character (4-8) 3: His appearance (9-20)
His Revelation: His knowledge of the future (1:1-3)
Read 1:1. God has made Jesus Christ the primary agent of His revelation, His apocalypse. Christ is the one who pulls back the curtains so that we can see God’s unique glory more clearly.
1:19 expands on vs 1, “write the things you have seen, those that are, and those that are to take place.”
· In this book we will see wave after wave of God’s judgment on the earth. God literally begins to dismantle the world by war, by famine, by pestilence, and by natural disasters through the seal judgments. A third of the sea, of the water, of the land and of the universal bodies are destroyed in the trumpet judgments and then the world is overtaken by death, blood, fire, darkness, demonic oppression and deception in the final bowl judgments.
· If ever there was a time to wonder whether God is in control and is good or whether He even exists, it is in the midst of the events that the book of revelation unfolds.
Yet we see here that God is in complete control over it all. He reveals to His servants beforehand exactly what He has planned and purposed so that there can be no doubt at all that everything that is happening is happening according to His plan and purpose.
We see Christ’s complete sovereignty in how He is described here in vs 4-8
His Character: The description of his nature and works (1:4-8)
Note here in vs 4-8 how God is described:
· 4: Him who is, who as and who is to come. Again in vs 8, the alpha and Omega, the one who is, who was and who is to come. That is how God is described in vs 4 and how Jesus is described in vs 17 showing His equality with God. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek Alphabet. In other words, God is the first and the last and everything in between. He is the beginning and end of all things, their author and perfector.
· 5: He is the one who is on the throne, not just “a” throne, but “the” throne. The place of highest rule and authority and power. That’s why vs 5 can call Him “the ruler of the kings on earth”. He is the king of kings, the Lord of Lords. His authority is above all other authorities, His glory above all other glories, His kingdom above all other kingdoms. From this throne, in the book of Revelation, we see God dispatch His servants who carry out His will on heaven and earth.
· 5: He is the faithful witness. He bears witness to God, He reveals God, He embodies God and His witness is faithful and true. He and he alone can be trusted.
· 5: Firstborn from the dead. He is preeminent from among the dead because as vs 18 says, He is the living one. The only one who has conquered death and who lives forever and who holds the keys to Death and Hades.
· 7: He is the one whom every eye will see and before whom every knee will bow and every heart prostrate.
This is how Jesus Christ is described here: eternal author and finisher, supreme ruler, the conqueror of sin and death and truest and fullest manifestation of God’s glory.
The supreme sovereignty that arises from who He is, can also be seen in His appearance, which John goes on to describe in vs 12-16
His Appearance: Glory radiates from Him (12-16)
12: His location: in the midst of 7 golden lampstands which we are told in 20, represent the 7 local churches which are addressed in the book of Revelation.
· So He is imminent, He is in the midst of His church. He is not far off and removed, He is not ignorant of what is happening.
· We see this as he addresses the churches in chapter 2 and 3. To the church at Ephesus write “I know” (2:2) to the church at Smyrna write “I know” (2:9), to the church at Pergamum write, “I know” (2:13). I know, I know, I know and in each case he provides a specific, personal description about what He knows about that church and its unique context and struggles, their strengths and their weaknesses, and He has a unique message to each one.
· To be sovereign is to know all things and to be in control of all things and we see Jesus Christ knows.
13: His Title: One like Son of man = title for the Messiah king.
13: His Dress: He has a long robe and golden sash both signs of royalty. The symbolism here depicts majesty.
14: His head and hair: White, like wool. Language which is often used to describe God in the O.T is now used to describe Jesus Christ. Grey hair symbolizes age, white hair is even beyond that. Eternal age. He’s from eternity, not time.
14: His eyes: Like flames of fire. Fire penetrates and refines, so the symbolism here is depicting penetrating, refining vision. Christ is all seeing, all knowing, nothing takes Him by surprise, nothing escapes His gaze, nothing is hidden from His sight. The symbolism depicts His omniscience, all knowing.
15: His feet: Like burnished bronze. Often in the Old Testament God is pictured as trampling on His enemies, squashing under feet those who oppose Him. Here Christ’s feet are of bright, shiny bronze emphasizing strength and purity. The symbolism depicts power, strength, might - His omnipotence.
15: His voice: Along with that His voice is like the rush of many waters – depicting His authority. God spoke and the universe came into existence, He speaks and all creation trembles. Everything does His bidding.
16: His right hand: The hand of authority holds the stars, which we are told in vs 20, are the servants, or the messengers of the 7 churches. He ultimately controls whoever and whatever happens in every local church.
16: From His mouth proceeds this sharp, two edged sword – the word of justice and judgment. By His Word will every human being judged, by His Word will every wrong be righted, by His Word will every soul condemned to eternal hell, or welcomed into eternal life.
16: His face radiates with the very glory of God. Glory which makes the sun seem like the light from a candle. Depicting radiance, beauty but more than that – this is the visible manifestation of the glory which is God’s alone.
So you get the picture here don’t you. He is all knowing, all seeing, all powerful, all wise, all good – all the time. And He is always present and always working in every situation for the good of His people.
Just let this picture of God’s supreme, comprehensive sovereignty sink in for a moment…..
· He is superman with a capital S and no Cryptonite. He is all the superheroes put together and more.
· There is nothing that escapes His attention, no place that escapes His presence, no event that thwarts His plans, no force that arrests His control, no opposition that rivals His power.
· There is nothing in all the universe that is not completely under His supreme sovereignty.
This truth should shape your thinking and living more than Covid-19 this year.
· Is your business going down?
· Have you lost your job, or your house, or your savings?
· Are you struggling with ill health, or cancer, or just the frailty that comes with old age?
· Do you have difficult relationships in your life? Children, or parents, or a spouse that is causing you much pain.
· Christ knows and He is ever present to help you through it, and has a good plan for you in the midst of it.
Do you believe this truth? Does it shape your response to your circumstances? Because if we do, then we can stop fighting with everyone and everything because of the way things are and say – things are exactly as they are meant to be for now.
The supreme sovereignty of Christ means that everything is exactly is it is meant to be for now….the question is simply, how does Christ want me to serve Him in this reality?
Illustration: the cross. Looked like God had lost control, looked like evil was prevailing, but everything was as it was meant to be at that time and Christ’s response was not to get down from the cross, or try escape the cross – but endure it for the glory of God and the good of His saints.
Take yourself out of the center of the universe and stop trying to make everything revolve around you – and in your thinking, put Jesus Christ there where He is in reality, front and center. And ask – how can I best serve Christ in the mdist of this?
The second truth that should shape your life and thinking more than Covid-19 this year.
The Significance of Spiritual Realities
When we struggle with what God is doing in our lives and circumstances, it’s a struggle of faith. We are struggling because we can’t see what God is doing, we can’t see how this is for my good, we can’t see where and how God could possibly be in control. So we struggle because we are living by sight and not by faith.
There are unseen realities that shape our lives, just as there are unseen realities that shape the events that unfold in the book of revelation. Which means we have to live by faith in the light of God’s revelation and not merely on the basis of what we can see and understand by human perception and reason alone.
What are the unseen spiritual realities that are seen in this text and which are what ultimately shapes the world and everything and everyone in it?
Decrees of god (1:1)
The decrees of God are His predetermined plans and purposes. Everything that happens, happens according to God’s decrees but He does not always reveal them to us.
In the text we have God revealing all that must take place in vs 1 and vs 19. Turn over in your Bibles to Rev 5 (read Rev 5:1-5). In Rev 5:1 we have a scroll in the right hand of God and written on this scroll are His plans for the future of the world….but in 5:2-4 nobody in heaven is worthy to look into them. And that is a calamity to John, because how can God’s plans and purposes remain unfulfilled. 5:5 Jesus, the lamb, the lion, the root of David, the one who has conquered death and hell – he alone is able to open the scroll. 5:9 Christ is worshipped because He alone is able to bring all of God’s plans and purposes to fruition, to their rightful end. 6:1-2 as Christ opens the seals one by one, what is written in the scroll is uncovered and begins to come to pass. Christ not only knows what God has planned, He is the one who ultimately brings it about.
We don’t know everything that God has decreed, we only know that nothing happens except by His decree. Go read about what unfolds in the book of Revelation, it would be impossible to make sense of it unless we see by faith what cannot be seen – that everything is happening according to God’s plan and purpose
In vs 1 we have angels taking the revelation to John, in vs 4 we have the 7 spirits who are before His throne. As the book of Revelation unfolds we encounter so many creatures, and spirits and forces for good and for evil – that are not visible to us in daily life. So much of what takes place visibly and tangible in our history and experience is taking place because of and through unseen spiritual realities.
Paul reminds us in Eph 6:12 that, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
The Bible shows us that there is a lot more going on than what meets the eye or what can be uncovered through careful research and simple reason. The world tries to make sense of life and events without any thought to these unseen realities which Scripture says are more significant than what we see.
The Kingdom and the church (1:6-7)
Vs 6 says God has made us a kingdom and priests to his God. Jesus Christ is here depicted as in the midst of His church and working all things for her good. Vs 7 reminds us that Jesus is coming again to rule the world in righteousness.
There are eternal, spiritual priorities that mean everything to God and mean nothing to the world. They live as if this life is all there is and that is why they miss the point completely.
The kingdom and the church mean more to God than the state of the nation, or the economy or the latest political scandal.
What is of supreme worth and importance to Christ in this world is His bride, His church, His people.
Does that truth shape your thinking and living more than anything else?
Eternal death and life (1:7,18)
Of course, with Covid-mania, people are more concerned about dying now. But again, the world is only worrying about what it sees, not what it cannot see. Vs 7 says Christ is coming again to judge the world and vs 18 says he holds the keys to death and Hades. There is an eternal death: conscious eternal torment away from the presence of the Lord. Conscious, eternal suffering without the hope of relief. Jesus warned us in Matt 10:28 “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
When we don’t take these unseen realities seriously we lose sight of what really matters and end up fearing the wrong things and pursuing the wrong things.
Then finally we have this reality, which, as believers, needs to inform our thinking.
The imminent goodness of Christ (1:5,17-18)
Vs 5: To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins – by the shedding of His own blood. To Him who has made us a kingdom and called us to be priest to our God. This supremely sovereign ruler of heaven and earth, over things visible and invisible – loves us and has demonstrated that love in the most practical, tangible way by dying to free us from our sins and not only has he saved us from this terrible eternity without God, but He has called us into a living, loving eternal relationship with Him.
Just look at how that is played out in a small way in vs 17 and 18. When John is confronted by Christ’s glory it hits him like a done of bricks and he falls to the ground as if dead. He can’t move, he can’t even raise His head. He’s so filled with fear….
And Jesus puts his hand on him and says, “fear not”
Because of Jesus, believers have nothing to fear. We have nothing to fear…. Our God is for us, who could stand against us? Our God is with us, who or what could overcome us?
That is why Paul can conclude in Romans 8: 37, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Which brings me to the final truth that needs to shape our thinking and our living more than Covid-19 – and that is the privilege of our priestly calling.
The Privilege of our Priestly Calling
What are the privileges and responsibilities of those who serve Christ in this text?
Our privileges are the one side of the coin, our responsibilities are the other.
1. To receive His revelation
2. To know His love
3. To be freed from our sin
4. To have citizenship in His kingdom
5. To made priests in His service
One sentence packed with incredible privileges. Which obviously gives rise to our responsibilities.
1. As recipients of revelation we are to read and study and believe His word and feed on it. (Vs 3)
2. As those who know His love, we are called to bear witness to this love as its seen in the gospel (vs 2)
3. As those who have been free from our sin we are to put off sin and pursue holiness. To trust and obey as (vs 3) puts it.
4. As citizens of His kingdom we are to serve God’s kingdom purposes, to give ourselves to the building up of His church among all peoples.
5. As priests we are to worship. To live our whole lives as an act of worship which magnifies God’s glory and invites people to know Him.
To summarize this in terms you are hopefully familiar with:
· Biblical teaching
· Fervent worship
· Active Fellowship
· Bold Outreach.
These are the things that should characterize every church, every year. These are the things that you should be giving yourself to. – now, today. Not next year, not once things have settled down at work, or once your kids are out the house, or you’ve recovered your health. NOW, TODAY
In whatever situation we find ourselves, we can affirm that 1) things are exactly as they are meant to be for now because Christ is supremely sovereign. 2) We can know that there are unseen realities which are shaping our lives and context but God’s kingdom priorities lie behind them all. So its our privilege to serve Christ in the mist of them.
By feeding on His word, fighting sin, actively connecting with the saints, holding out the gospel and turning our hearts to worship Christ in the mist o it all.
I’ve often asked myself over the last year – if everything is working together for the good of God’s people, what is God doing in the midst of this pandemic for the building up of His church.
I think, even before this pandemic, too many of us had become comfortable with a Sunday Christianity. Our worship and fellowship and service to God had been reduced to attending church on a Sunday and not much more….
But Christ saved us for so much more. So I believe He has turned our churches up and down not that we can exchange pew warming for couch warming and retreat into an even more passive kind of Christianity that merely consumes online sermons once or twice a week. But that we might take stock and see how shallow and weak and passive our faith has really become.
We can’t do this year like we did last year. We need to repent and find the channels that God is providing to feed on His word, serve the saints, witness to the world and live lives that magnify His Son.
What are you going to do differently this year. Before the day is out – tell somebody what your repentance is going to look like.
3 truths that should shape your thinking and living more than Covid-19 this year.
1. The Completeness of Christ’s Sovereignty
2. The Significance of Spiritual Realities
3. The Privilege of our Priestly Calling