Sermon: The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The revelation of Jesus Christ – these are the opening words of the book we know as “Revelation” or “the Apocalypse of John.” In these next several weeks, we will be listening to God speak through this incredible (and often confusing) book. But before we hear about lambs and living creatures, jasper, carnelian, and emeralds, two-edged swords and golden lamp stands, we need to know what we are dealing with. What is the book of Revelation?

It is the revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one doing the revealing and he is the one being revealed. Jesus gives John the vision and Jesus is the one seen in the vision. A veil is being pulled back and we are invited to see in such a way that we are changed. What we see, or rather, who we see is Jesus. All the talk about the past, present, and future are drawn together to help us see and trust Jesus. So I invite you to surrender yourself to the vision that the Lord Jesus Christ gave to the apostle John in Revelation, chapter 1. But before we do, please take a moment to pray with me:

Father, may your Word be our rule,

Your Spirit our teacher,

and the glory of Jesus Christ, our single concern. Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:

The revelation of Jesus Christ,

which God gave him to show his servants

what must soon take place.

He made it known by sends his angel to his servant John,

who testified to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ,

even to all that he saw.

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy,

and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it,

for the time is near.

John to the seven church that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace

from him who is and who was and who is to come,

and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,

and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness,

the firstborn of the dead,

and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us

and freed us from our sins by his blood,

and made us to be a kingdom,

priests serving his God and Father,

to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds,

and every eye will see him,

even those who pierced him,

and on account of him all the tribes of the earth will wail.

So it is to be. Amen.

“I am the Alpha and Omega,” declares the Lord God,

who was and is and is to come, the Almighty.

I, John, your brother

who shares with you in Jesus

the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance,

was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God

and the testimony of Jesus.

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,

and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying,

“Write down in a book what you see

and send it to the seven churches:

to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum,

to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodocea.

Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me,

on turning, I saw seven golden lamp stands,

in the midst of the lamp stands was one like the Son of Man,

clothed with a long robe,

and with a golden sash across his chest.

His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow,

his eyes were like a flame of fire,

his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace,

and his voice was like the sound of many waters.

In his right hand he held seven stars,

from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged swords,

and his face was like the sun shining with full force.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.

But he placed his right hand on me, saying,

“Do not be afraid,

I am the first and the last and the living one.

I was dead, and, see, I am alive forever and ever,

and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.

Now write what you have seen,

what is and what is to take place after this.

As to the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand

and the seven golden lamp stands:

the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches,

and the seven lamp stands are the seven churches.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God (You may be seated)

In our time together this morning, I believe we find in this passage something to embrace, somewhere to look, and something in which to rejoice. Something to embrace, somewhere to look, and something in which to rejoice.

I, John, your brother

who shares with you in Jesus

the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance,

was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God

and the testimony of Jesus.

John was done. It was over. He’d had a good run, but it was time to call it. John, who had been a disciple of Jesus, sat with him in the upper room and seen the empty tomb, who had listened as Jesus taught and stood by as Christ was crucified, this John was now exiled to the island of Patmos.

He was sent to a remote prison island to shut him up. He was exiled to eliminate his influence, to shut down his voice, to end his ministry. On a small island, hours from land, John was thought to be silenced, his ministry was thought to be over. He was at the edge, at the end, he was done.

And yet he wasn’t. It was here, on the island of Patmos, where the world thought his ministry was ended, that it truly began. It was here, at the end, in the place where John claimed that he shared in persecution and patient endurance under suffering, that Jesus Christ came and revealed himself to him. It was here, where he was thought to be silenced, thought to be obsolete, thought to have lost his influence, that God pulls back the veil and John sees Jesus in his glory.

The end wasn’t the end.

John’s stay on Patmos invites us to embrace obscurity, embrace the edge, embrace the silence. We are invited to embrace those places and those seasons where it seems like our service to God is ended, where our influence is gone, and nothing is left. We are invited to embrace those places, because that is precisely where God meets John, where he meets us.

No matter where we are, how far we might feel from the center, how much we are enduring, or how small we feel, it is there that God meets us and shows himself to us. It is in the suffering that we are brought comfort, it is on the edge that we are shown the center, it is in the small places that our eyes are lifted up to the one seated on the throne.

Many of us have been at the edge, been at the end. The kids aren’t talking to you. Your marriage is in shambles. You work harder and harder, finding no more satisfaction, but sacrificing family. We have been on Patmos – not always because of our testimony to Jesus Christ, but we have been on that island of exile.

On the Lord’s Day, Sunday, John was in the Spirit on the island of Patmos when he heard behind him the voice of Jesus. No matter where you find yourself this morning, embrace where you are, because it is in obscurity and exile, in suffering and in futility, that Jesus comes and shows himself.

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,

and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying,

“Write down in a book what you see

and send it to the seven churches:

to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum,

to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodocea.

Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me,

on turning, I saw seven golden lamp stands,

in the midst of the lamp stands was one like the Son of Man,

He sees Jesus. The vision John receives is beautiful and glorious. While there is a danger in over-reading into the images of revelation, there is also the danger of not reading them at all. So let’s take a few moments to see what John saw.

in the midst of the lamp stands was one like the Son of Man,

clothed with a long robe,

and with a golden sash across his chest.

Long robe and golden sash, John sees Jesus dressed in the garments of a priest, the same garments the High Priest Aaron was instructed to wear in the Old Testament law. Just like a firefighter’s uniform creates a set of expectations and responsibilities apart from how tall, short, skinny, pale, or dark-skinned they are, the uniform Jesus wears, that of a priest, tells us from the beginning who he is.

He is a priest. He brings together God and humanity. He opens up roads between God and men and women that had been closed by fear, guilt, ignorance, or confusion. He brings together what had been separated, he repairs what had been broken, and promises help where we have fallen short.

If the first image we are given tells us the role of the Son of Man, the second tells us his character:

His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow,

his eyes were like a flame of fire,

Head and hair white as wool echoes the image of the Son of Man from the book of Daniel – a glorious and powerful figure, but white as snow pulls us in a different direction. Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall we white as snow. Jesus is pure, clean, and holy. John turns to see whose voice it was that spoke to him and the one he saw is dressed as a priest and shows forth the purity and holiness of God.

He is both pure and purifying. His head is white as snow and his eyes are like a flame of fire. Fire penetrates and transforms. Fire refines and burns away impurities. The holy gaze of Christ gets inside us and changes us. We cannot look into the eyes of Jesus and remain the same. He does not look at us, but into us and consumes all that is impure in our hearts and lives.

his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace,

The earlier vision given to the prophet Daniel showed a statue that represented the nations. It had a head of gold, chest of silver, legs of bronze, and feet of clay mixed with iron. The statue was beautiful but unstable. It’s feet were weak and its weak foundation doomed it to topple and be destroyed. By contrast, the Son of Man has feet like burnished bronze. He stands on a strong foundation. Unlike the nations of this world, he will not falter or tumble. His kingdom stands on a firm and everlasting foundation, one that has been tested by fire and found to be sure.

and his voice was like the sound of many waters.

Before we know what he says, we know what his voice sounds like. His tone is not bored, angry, or gossiping. Instead, it is full of power and fits with his commanding presence, ‘like the sound of many waters.’

In his right hand he held seven stars,

The right hand is the hand ready for using something, for most of us. It is the hand for holding a pen when we write, a hammer when pounding nails, the hand outstretched for a handshake. In the right hand of Jesus, he holds the seven stars, which we are told are the angels of the seven churches. Jesus Christ holds the church in his right hand, this small community, ready to work in his kingdom.

from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged swords,

and his face was like the sun shining with full force.

Jesus comes not matching force with force, army for army, but with the weapon of his word. It is the word of Jesus that conquers, that quells sin and vanquishes death. It is the word of Jesus which cuts to the heart and transforms sinners into saints. It is the word of the Lord which penetrates to the very center of our being, cuts out that which does not belong, ends rebellion, and establishes the righteous reign of God. The war of God against sin is waged with the Word that comes from the mouth of Christ.

And it all ends with blessing. In beholding the face of Christ, we see his face shining upon us. Shining brighter and more beautiful than anything we can imagine. In the face of Christ there is light shining in the darkness. In the face of Jesus, we know that the light of Christ, not darkness will ultimately triumph.

This is who John sees.

This is the Jesus who stands in glory, who revealed himself to John on the exile island of Patmos. Jesus stands shockingly foreign and other in this vision. He is untamed and glorious.

But notice where Jesus stands. This is perhaps the most shocking and gracious image in the opening chapter of Revelation.

Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me,

on turning, I saw seven golden lamp stands,

in the midst of the lamp stands was one like the Son of Man,

As to the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand

and the seven golden lamp stands:

the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches,

and the seven lamp stands are the seven churches.

Jesus reveals himself standing in the midst of the lamp stands, standing in the midst of the church. It is in the church that Jesus chooses to reveal himself in his glory. We will soon see, if you didn’t know already, that the church is full of sinners and saints, full of obedience and disobedience, love and lack of love, over-scrupulousness, over-indulgence, and indifference – all at the same time. It is a mess – no two ways about it – and I can truly understand the temptation to want to get straight to Jesus and bypass the church. I can understand why many want everything to do with Jesus and nothing to do with the church. And yet, Jesus reveals himself standing in the midst of the church.

It is a stunningly gracious vision. Jesus chooses to show himself in his glory in the midst of this messy body of his. Jesus stands as pure and purifying priest in the midst of an impure people. Jesus speaks with a voice like many waters and a sharp sword coming from his mouth amidst a people who have some voices that sound like bandsaws and others like a leaky faucet. Jesus stands with feet like burnished bronze amidst a people who totter back and forth with every slight breeze.

It is here, in the church, that Jesus chooses to stand. It is here, among us messy people, that Jesus shows up in his glory. If you want to see Jesus, you will find him in the church, warts and all. You will find him here, shockingly and graciously and lovingly here. Jesus loves the church enough to stand in her midst and make her his bride, to purify and protect her, to hold and sustain her, to speak both harshly and gently to her, and to look upon her with his blessed face.

If you want to see Jesus, you will find him here, standing among the seven golden lamp stands. May we sit here at his feet. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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