One of the challenges that confronts Christians is living in a post-Easter world which does not live up to the promise we find in Easter. How do we reconcile what we understand to be the future glory of God against a world which often seems to be stuck at Good Friday? Over the following weeks we will look at the Book of Revelation to guide us towards how we might live in expectation of God’s future glory.
Text: Revelation 1: 4-8
He Who Is, Who Was and Who is to Come
Today marks the beginning of Major League Baseball’s 2016 season. If you are a fan of the Boys in Blue then you probably already have all their home games marked on your calendar. Perhaps you have already bought tickets for a game. With last year’s push into the playoffs people maintain high hopes that the Blue Jays will once again perform well.
Baseball is an interesting games. Often referred to as a duel between the pitcher and the batters. It is often a slow paced game with hidden layers of complexity and strategy occurring that aren’t always readily apparent. Baseball, like other modern sports, also has its rituals. We hear the national anthem at the beginning of the game. A celebrity or other figure throws a ceremonial pitch to start the game. There are various musical cues which are used to get the crowd charged up.
Another ritual is the cleaning of the field that occurs during the fifth inning. Nine individuals rush out, clean the bases, rake the dirt and get the field in decent condition to finish the game. However, perhaps the favourite ritual is that of the Seventh Inning Stretch. It’s a time when the fans are encouraged to stand up and stretch in order to get the blood pumping for the remaining innings. The Seventh Inning Stretch serves as a pause before we get to the finale of the ball game.
The Seventh Inning Stretch is where I would like to suggest we are today. We are one week removed from the events of Easter. Last week we all proclaimed that Christ is Risen! On Monday many of us went back to our day to day activities. We returned to work, on Tuesday the kids returned to school and our lives went on very much the way they had before the events of Easter.
It is a challenging reality that on one day we proclaim the risen Christ and all that it means. However, for many of us it is hard to live out the reality of Easter on a daily basis. For some of us our day to day activities might appear more like Good Friday than Easter.
This is where we find ourselves on the second Sunday of Easter. Wondering what do we do next? How do we continue to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his triumph over death? When all that we see when we look around are problems and concerns. Where is the power and the truth of the resurrection?
This is the reason John of Patmos wrote the Book of Revelation. Today and over the next few Sunday’s we will look at Revelation and discover what God’s word for us in a book of the Bible that is often misunderstood.
First let’s clear up some misunderstandings about the Book of Revelation. First the title of the book is Revelation, not Revelations. Other titles given to the Book are the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Apocalypse of John or the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ.
Tradition names John the author of the Gospel of John as the writer of the Book of Revelation. However, scholars feel that this is probably not the case as the author makes no attempt to link his writing to that of the gospel. Additionally, scholars feel that the author of Revelation may not have been aware of Paul and his writing.
What we do know is that the author identifies himself as John and he tells us in verse nine that he was persecuted because of his belief in Jesus Christ and is now on the island of Patmos which is in the Aegean sea between Greece and Turkey.
Now if I say to you I’d like to talk about the Apocalypse of John most of you might get stuck on the word ‘apocalypse’. It seems the word apocalypse is being used in the modern world on a regular basis. Mention the words apocalypse now and many might think of catastrophic events and a grim future. Successful TV shows like the Walking Dead play up the notion of a Zombie Apocalypse. The Book of Revelation has been used by Christians and non-Christians alike as some sort of tool to predict the future. Often the future predicted is one that is full of grim events in the popular usage of the word apocalypse.
Unfortunately, this is the wrong way to approach the final book in the Bible.
Apocalypse or revelation is the first word of this book. In the Greek language the word for revelation is apokalypsis. In Greek it is the first word that appears. This book of the Bible is the revelation of Jesus Christ. So why does it get mixed with dire images of the future? If we know anything about Jesus from the gospels it is that Jesus preached a very different future. Jesus spoke about the coming Kingdom of God.
The final reason why we should not take this book of the Bible as a prophecy for future events or dire circumstances is because of its audience. John wrote this letter to seven churches in Asia Minor, now modern day Turkey, and it is pastoral in its intent. These seven churches were being persecuted by the Roman Empire and John is writing to encourage them to hold fast in their faith. Remember that John himself has been persecuted and placed into exile for his faith.
All well and good, what then does this letter written two thousand years ago to churches in Asia Minor have to tell us today? Well as I mentioned we are in the seventh inning stretch. We live in a post Easter time where we have witnessed God’s mighty acts in creation, we witness to Christ’s triumph over the grave and we find ourselves waiting. Like those early Christians we hold a clear sense of expectation of what is to come.
This morning we only have five verses of Revelation to consider, but I believe they convey a powerful message about God. Consider how John opens this section, words which I used just before the call to worship. “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.”
These words are powerful and they speak the mystery of faith which we have in Jesus Christ. Grace and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come again. In a few moments we will celebrate communion and as part of our prayer we will share the mystery of faith:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
It echo’s the words we find in Revelation. But just who is Jesus, well he is the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
John reminds us of the resurrection and here one week removed from Easter we need to be continually reminded of what God has done for us in overcoming the grave. But John presses the point further and these words must have been of comfort to those seven churches. That Jesus Christ is the ruler of the kings of the earth. John’s letter is one which challenges the power of the establishment found in the Roman Empire. By identifying Jesus as “the ruler of the kings of the earth” John is establishing that Jesus has power over the Roman Emperor. This is a reminder to those early Christians who would have faced persecution for their beliefs that the one they worship and follow is ruler of all things. A reminder of God’s sovereignty.
In the Old Testament we also acknowledge God’s sovereignty as it relates to the ancient Israelites or Hebrew people. However, in the era of the New Testament the Holy Land is occupied by a foreign power which exerts control and influence. To these new Christians or followers of Christ who do not have the history of the Israelites on their side they need to be told of the sovereignty of God to assure them of what they are doing and believe in.
Revelation was written to help these Christians who were being persecuted make sense of the world when the only thing they were witnessing was evil. These Christians were not alive at the time of Jesus and they like us did not witness the events of Good Friday and Easter. They, like us, have come to believe in those events and in God’s power. What they needed was reassurance.
This is delivered in the words found in Revelation that in Christ we are God’s kingdom. That God has moulded us into a part of his Kingdom. That our work and actions fulfil and fuel the work of the Kingdom. As Christians we are known as Easter people due to the power of the resurrection which informs our faith.
As an Easter people, what issues, globally and locally, will we stand behind? How will we as a community of faith battle the forces of evil? The wages of sin are death, how will we do God’s work to overcome the sin in our world so that people can know life? Not just life in the here and now, but for eternity?
How do we concretely embody Easter? What are the day to day activities and choices that we make which live out God’s mission and which set us apart as Easter people? We are God’s people and what we do reflects on God.
Part of our confession is the Christ will come again. Revelation points to that future coming of Jesus Christ. John writes, “Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him…” We prepare for that day by doing the work of the kingdom so that all people will be able to see Jesus and understand the significance of his coming. That his return will usher in fully the Kingdom of God.
We end as we began with words from God one of two times when God speaks directly in Revelation, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
The task on this second Sunday in Easter is to remind one another that we do not just say that Christ is risen. We know there is more to the story. We acknowledge the future glory of which we will be a part.
Theologian Scott Hoezee writes, “The Book of Revelation is filled with strange, wonderful, and ultimately hopeful things. But if somehow, by some accident of history, we had lost this entire manuscript except for just these first eight verses, Revelation would still be worth reading. For even just this much of this book reveals to us a most wonderful apocalyptic truth: the God in Christ who was and who is remains now and ever shall be also the one who is to come.”
– See more at: Centre for Excellence in Preaching
To put it in baseball terms, our pitcher is Jesus and he is currently pitching a perfect game. It’s the seventh inning and we are waiting for the team to go back out and close the game out. Our job is to keep the crowd interested in the game because if the first half of the game didn’t change everything, the final innings will.
Friends, we know how the story ends, live in the confidence of that ending. Trust in the one who is, who was and who is to come, the Almighty. Amen.