July 8, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
7th Sunday after Pentecost
A Voice and a Vision
For the next four weeks, we will be peering into the book that seems to strike fear into even the most courageous Christian men and women, the Book of Revelation.
But the Revelation to St. John, who was exiled to the island of Patmos, off the coast of Asia Minor, is a book not to be feared, but a book to be cherished. Revelation brought hope to Christians in the midst of terrible trials, persecution, and tribulations around 95 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Domitian. You see, Revelation is not a book about the end times, it is a book about the time of the end; the time of the end of the persecution, when God would miraculously intervene in the affairs of men and women on earth and bring an end to the persecution.
This book of Apocalyptic Literature is laced with signs, numbers, and symbols that were very common from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. when Apocalyptic Literature was written. There is nothing secret or hidden in this book. Men and women of that time understood the meaning of the signs, numbers, and symbols. And what is more important, John’s prophecy in Revelation came true. God did intervene in the Christian persecution. The Emperor Domitian died a little more than a year after Revelation was written and the Christian persecution ended.
Biblical prophecy is God’s truth yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Biblical prophecy is God truth that explains the past, interprets the present, and guarantees the future. John even tells us this in the outline of the book in Chapter 1, verse 19: Therefore, write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. In other words, John tells us about the things we will see in Chapter 1, the things which are in Chapters 2 and 3, and the things of the near future, that is 96 A.D., which are in Chapters 4 through 22.
Our next four weeks are going to be exciting weeks as we apply the prophecies of Revelation to our Christian living today. Don’t be afraid of Revelation. You will not find the rapture mentioned anywhere in the book. You will not find the great battle of Armageddon fought anywhere in the book. You will not find the end of history and time anywhere in the book. After all, the world continued to exist after 96 A.D., didn’t it?
What you will find in this amazing book is Jesus, who was predicted in the Old Testament, revealed in the New Testament gospels, proclaimed in the Acts of the Apostles, explained in the letters of Paul and others, and finally, anticipated in the Revelation. Revelation is the voice of God bringing a vision of hope amidst very trying circumstances; it is a voice and a vision. Would you pray with me?
The first three verses of Revelation are the Prologue to the book. John is telling us from whom this revelation came. Listen to it again: The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him [meaning Jesus] to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon [Notice it says “soon.” Soon in apocalyptic literature means just that, in a year to several years, that is, during the lifetimes of the recipients of the letter.]…the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John. This revelation you and I are about to read was communicated from God to his Son, Jesus Christ, who sent the message through one of his angels to John. John was then to write the churches in Asia Minor what the angel told him.
John wanted the churches in Asia Minor to understand the origin and content of his letter. It was not just a letter from John. It was a letter from the very head of the Church himself, Jesus Christ. This was a letter to be heeded. It was a letter that was truth.
And then in verse three, we read the first of the seven beatitudes in Revelation. The number seven is a prominent number throughout this book. It is a perfect number that symbolized completeness or wholeness. These beatitudes will comprise the complete wisdom of God’s prophecy to John. Verse 3: Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.
This threefold blessing, or beatitude, tells the reader that what you are about to read is very important. You are to read it, you are to hear it, and you are to heed it, that is, do something about it. This letter will be important to your future as a church. This letter will be important to your own soul. Is this not true for us today? Should we not be sharing all of the scriptures this way?
What Jesus said to us while he was on this earth and what was recorded in this Bible are important for us to read and important for us to hear. But Jesus says there is more. We are to “heed the things which are written.” In other words, we need to take action. We need to change our behaviors. We need to change our attitudes. We need to change our relationships, so they are more like those of Jesus. This is what Jesus wanted for the seven churches in Asia Minor and this is what Jesus wants for our church.
Jesus wanted the churches of Asia Minor to rethink church. He wanted them to realize what their strengths and weaknesses were so that the inhabitants of those cities and all the cities in the Roman Empire would realize their need for a vibrant Christian worshiping community.
What if we rethink church? Not in terms of what it is, but what it could be. What would it look like? What would it feel like? What if all of our churches were vibrant, active places where people wanted to be, not just on Sundays, but all week long?
What if church were not just a place we go, but something we do? What if we were to go beyond the doors of the church to serve those in the world who are in need? What if we were able to engage the world through our faith? What if church were a verb? What if church meant action? We currently have a healthy church, but its health needs to be maintained. We have a healthy church, but we need to have a vibrant church in this mission field where we are planted. It is time to rethink church. In essence, that is what Jesus was telling the churches in this Revelation letter.
John heard the voice and saw the vision. The voice and the vision were that of a king, a ruler, the glorified Jesus Christ. It was the triumphant Jesus who is now head of the church. John wanted the churches to know that this letter was from God the ruler, from the Seven Spirits, meaning the perfect Holy Spirit, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. It is the Spirit and the Christ of a vibrant Christian community. Churches then and churches now are losing their focus on Jesus as the head of the church.
Would you turn with me in your Bibles to Isaiah 11:2? Before we look at John’s description of the glorified Christ in verses 5 – 8, let’s take a moment to identify the seven spirits. These are the seven Spirits about which John writes in verse 4. Please follow along as I read. Isaiah 11:2:
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – [“him” meaning the Messiah] the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord – These are the seven Spirits: the Spirits of the Lord, of wisdom, of understanding, of counsel, of power, of knowledge, and of fear of the Lord. It is these seven Spirits which comprise the Holy Spirit, the perfect Spirit, the Spirit which is Jesus Christ living in our hearts.
This is powerful stuff. The Holy Spirit needs to be an active part of everything we do in this church. The Holy Spirit needs to be a part of everything we are doing in the First United Methodist Church. The Holy Spirit needs to be flowing out these doors and sweeping this community and ultimately the world. But how are we as the body of Jesus Christ going to do this? John says this, “Do it through the risen Christ who sits at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Verse 5-6: 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 released us from our sins by His blood – and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father – to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. Our message, folks, to this community and to this world is Jesus Christ. It is the only message that releases us from our sins. It is the only message that saves us. It is the only message that people will understand as Jesus’ love flows through us and out into this community.
Romans 8 says this: If God is for us, who can be against us? [God] who did not spare his own Son, but gave him for us all – how will he not also, along with [Jesus], graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through [Jesus] who loved us.
John is saying in this letter that Jesus loves us. He loves us so much that he died and spilled his blood to wash away our sins, so that everyone who proclaims the name Christian, can be a priest in this world. John is saying, through Jesus Christ, every Christian now has access to God. No longer is the Temple High Priest needed, because we each have entrance into the throne room of God.
You see, the mission for this church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. That is the mission of this church: to give every unbeliever in this community the chance to read the Word of God, the chance to hear the Word of God, and the chance to heed the Word of God. That is the mission of this church: to give every unbeliever the choice to become a Christian, to be a priest, to have access to God. That is the mission of this church: to hear the voice of Jesus and to have the vision of “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
And lastly, in verse eight, God says,: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” God is the beginning and end of all things. He is the same yesterday, today, and for all eternity. As a church, we need to be focused on Jesus as we join the Almighty in his work in this community. And we can discern that work through the spirit, wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and fear which are the seven spirits of the Holy Spirit.
As we, the body of Christ, rethink First United Methodist Church, I am asking you to listen for the voice of Christ in your life and to see the mission God has for you as we move from these building walls and into a spiritually dark world in need of Jesus’ love. Church is no longer a noun. It is a verb, an action that needs to be lived out in this community. Church is a verb that needs to be lived out in you and me. Let God know. Let me know. Let our church community know how you are going to live out the love of Jesus. What will be your ministry? About what are you passionate? What breaks your heart and moves your spirit?
No longer is church just for Sunday. No longer is church just a rear end in a pew. Church should be what we do Monday through Saturday. And then on Sunday, we come to celebrate.
John heard the voice and saw the vision. Jesus is coming! We at Norwalk are hearing the voice and getting a glimpse of the vision. Jesus is coming to this community and we had better be ready. Jesus is doing mighty work! “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him…So it is to be. Amen.”