List to the sermon here: Revelation 1 Message
The Book of Revelation gets scant attention in the preaching of the church.
In fact, as Craig Koester notes, in the three year cycle, The Revised Common Lectionary includes only six short, dissected passages out of the 22 chapters of Revelation – starting this Sunday.[i]
In the Lutheran church, we sing Revelation regularly, without realizing it: by my count, 119 of the hymns in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship echo passages in Revelation.[ii]
But Revelation deserves more extensive and explicit engagement in our congregations – especially given the fascination with Revelation and the distorted interpretations of it in our culture.
If we preachers do not interpret Revelation for our fellow disciples of Jesus Christ, someone else will.
John Ortberg writes, “When it comes to the book of Revelation, people in the church tend to have two primary responses. Sadly, both of these responses are unhealthy. There are those who become obsessed with the book. They treat it like a prophetic jigsaw puzzle that will give them insider information if only they can put all the pieces together. They write up intricate timelines and diagrams that impressively chart out the last days and appear to offer answers to all of our questions.
A second response people may have to the book of Revelation is to avoid it all altogether, either out of frustration or confusion. They say, ‘I can’t make heads or tails of this book. It has bizarre images of strange creatures, beasts, blood, bowls of sulfur, people eating scrolls, bottomless pits, dragons, the four horses of the Apocalypse, war, pestilence, famine, and death!’ Sadly, these people are missing out on some powerful life lessons God wants to teach us through this book.”[iii]
We are going to spend time exploring the book of Revelation.
We will find that, even though Revelation has an amazing number of strange and confusing images, the book yet has a clear message.
We do not need to rely on so-called prophecy experts to decode the book.
For this Sunday, I have expanded the reading from Revelation chapter 1, from 5 short verses to the whole chapter, so that we can hear the full introduction to the book.
For next Sunday – read ch. 2 and 3…
The first sentence of Revelation sets the stage.
This book is a revelation, a revealing, an uncovering of that which is hidden from sight.
It is a revelation of Jesus Christ, given to Christ from God, made known to John by Christ’s angel.
John is revealed as a servant of Jesus Christ, called to bear witness to the word of God, to the witness or testimony of Christ, and to what he saw in this revelation.
A different John than the disciple and Gospel author.
This book is a specific message from John to his fellow servants of Christ.
We later hear that John has been banished to the island of Patmos because of his preaching the word of God, of his witnessing about Jesus.
It was on the Lord’s day – a Sunday – that John heard the voice of Jesus command him to write the words of this Revelation and send it to the seven churches in Asia.
It is ironic that the Lectionary never includes verse three in any reading:
3Blessed 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.
This is an urgent message that must be shared and kept.
Share it with one’s fellow servants of Christ; keep it in the forefront of your heart and mind.
You will be blessed when you do.
This is the first of seven blessings in the book of Revelation.
Six short readings from Revelation, passed over once every three years in the church, are not enough!
We are claiming this blessing here at Good Shepherd!
This book is something of a letter, from John, to seven representative churches in Asia – modern day Turkey.
Seven is an important number in Revelation.
It is a number of “completeness and totality.”[iv]
It’s a prime number.
It’s four plus three.
It’s the days of the week.
Seven is God’s days of creation plus the day of rest.
John’s writing to seven churches suggests that John is writing to the whole church, even while the book is directly addressed to seven particular congregations.
This book is, first of all, a message of grace and peace from God and Jesus Christ, the witness, the faithful one, “the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”
Revelation also glorifies Jesus Christ, the one “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.”
This is the foundation of this Revelation of Jesus Christ.
Jesus loves us, freed us from sin by his self-sacrifice on the cross, and made all of us into a kingdom of priests in God’s service.
Grace, peace, and forgiveness are given to us through Jesus Christ who loves us.
That’s the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.
That’s why we’re here today.
We are a kingdom of priests serving God.
What’s more: Jesus Christ is coming in the clouds!
That’s a central message of Revelation.
Christ will come again in glory – soon. The entire world will see his coming, and wail for the coming judgment.
At the end of this chapter, we hear the first of John’s visions, a heavenly vision of Jesus Christ in the midst of seven lampstands that represent the seven churches, with seven stars in his hand representing the seven angels of the churches.
Jesus’ hair was white like the vision of God, the Ancient of Days, in Daniel 7:9.
His face shone like the sun, and a sharp, two-edged sword came from his mouth: the sword of the word of God, the sword of judgment, the word of good news.[v]
This vision of Jesus overwhelmed John, and he fainted.
Jesus, however, touched him with his right hand and said,
Do not be afraid.
As God is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of all things, so Jesus is also the first and the last, the living one.
Because Jesus has passed through death to resurrection life, he has conquered sin and death and Hades, or Hell.
Jesus holds the keys to death and Hades.
Not even death or Hell can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.
The devil doesn’t have the keys to Hell – Jesus does.
That’s quite an Easter message, isn’t it!
Come Lord Jesus! Come First and Last! Come Living One!
You call us and make us a kingdom of priests serving God.
Come into our hearts. Come into our lives.
Enliven us with your Spirit.
Comfort us when we mourn.
Encourage us when we are afraid.
Strengthen us when we are weak.
Empower us to live and share you. Amen.
[i] Craig Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things, 32.
[iii] John Ortberg, Experience God’s Power, quoted in Toolkit, 4/15/2007.
[iv] The New Oxford Annotated Bible.