November 22, 2009
4 John to the seven churches 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,
5 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,
6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
In a “Family Circus” comic, the family is vacationing at the beach. The children, wearing personal stereo headphones, are digging in the sand. They are using all manner of toy steam shovels and other construction equipment. A sign propped up beside them reads, “Digging to Australia.”
Father and Mother are sitting in beach chairs off to one side, with Grandmother beside them. Dad looks at the kids and remarks to Mom, “We used to do the same thing with only a pail and shovel.”
Grandma says quietly, “I used to do the same thing with only a seashell.”
Change. Our entire life depends on it. People fear and work to avoid it. Our president was elected by promising it. Bookstores are crammed with guides on how to create it and how to manage it. The longer we live, the more we see of it.
When I was a child, I played the board game Monopoly a lot. Do you realize that because of Monopoly millions of people around the world recognize actual streets in Atlantic City, New Jersey? Without Monopoly, nobody outside of Jersey would know Marvin Gardens and Oriental Avenue. But alas change has come. Because 750 million people around the world have played the game, Parker Brothers has now released a globalized World Edition. City streets have been replaced by actual cities, which were determined by Web site voters.
Boardwalk is replaced by Montreal, Illinois Avenue by London, and Water Works and Electric Co. by Solar and Wind Farms. Instead of Dollars, players spend Monos, a fictional currency based on the Euro, and they no longer buy, sell and collect rent with cash; they do it by registering electronic transactions on their calculator-like personal banking units.
Another game that I used to play a lot, Clue, also received a face lift. The murder-mansion game board now has a spa and home theater. Professor Plum is Victor Plum, a billionaire video-game designer. Colonel Mustard is now former football star Jack Mustard. I liked the old game better, but I suppose that just makes me an old foggie.
Of course, the clientele for board games these days is shrinking. Everyone plays video games. Did you see that Modern Warfare 2 sold 4.7 million units in the first 24 hours following its release in the USA and the UK. In its first 5 days on the market, it made over half a billion dollars. Wow! That is a change.
Food favorites have changed as well. Recently, M&M’s began producing “Premium,” with new flavors including almond, raspberry almond, mocha, mint, and triple chocolate. The Premiums do not have a hard shell and come in an upscale, trendy box instead of that brown paper bag.
Another changing classic is the Bible. Think about the medium by which we read the Bible. In the ancient world of Judaism, scripture was memorized and passed on orally. Then the Hebrews took papyrus technology from the Egyptians and wrote on scrolls. Later, they wrote on dried animal skins, which tended to last longer than parchment. These were combined into very expensive booklike codices. In the 15th century, the printing press revolutionized the world by putting Bibles into the hands of the people for the first time. Today we beam texts onto PowerPoint slides, and people bring Bibles to church on their iPhones. Isn’t it a bit ironic that there is a King James Version app?
Think about all the ways technology has altered age-old interactions between people. We used to talk face to face. Then we created the telegraph and eventually saw a phone in every home. Now we carry our phones, ditch our land lines and send text messages to each other. Does no one talk face to face anymore?
Previous generations wrote letters. Do you remember those—actual personal letters? What happened was that back in the 1960’s, back in the computer stone age, the military started creating networks of computers. From that beginning, we got a worldwide internet and email. Now email is passé. People have moved on to MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien predicts that we will soon have one giant time-wasting Web site called: MyTwitFace.com.
I moved to York in 1980. There was no Wal-Mart in York or Rock Hill. Now we have three. There was a Winn Dixie across the street, across Madison street. Now Marshall has his Uniform Rental Place there. There was a Food Lion Grocery store over near the Manse. Now it is a Fred’s. There was a Belk store on the corner of Congress and Liberty. I guess that was THE major store in downtown. Now it is county offices. And we had a hospital. Do you remember that? Run by those beautiful nuns. Now it is a nursing home. Next year we are going to have a brand new High School. That is going to be a big change.
Some people handle change very well. Some people don’t. I remember, before I was in the ministry, applying for a job, and there was another man in that same company headquarters applying for a position also. We were filling out application forms, and we were required to list every job we had ever had. He was complaining because there was not enough room on the application. I guess he was in his early thirties. He said that he had had 42 jobs. I still remember that because it seemed so astonishing to me. Apparently, this person saw no problem with changing jobs every 2 or 3 months. Most of us do not like change that much or that often.
Some folks change relationships like they change clothes. As we say, “here today, gone tomorrow.” I have an uncle who died back during the summer. In one of the last conversations I had with him, he was lamenting the fact that we had lost contact with so many of our relatives, so much so that we do not know where they live or whether they are still living. Many families are fractured in this way. Many people are isolated and alone. We lose relationships too easily.
Now we have to say that change is not always bad, and sometimes we desperately need changes in our lives, but sometimes we feel overwhelmed by change. We feel like we are in a storm and we need an anchor.
Christ is that anchor. That is the essential message of these verses from Revelation. Revelation is a book that many Christians sort of wish was not in the Bible at all. The imagery of the book is somewhat like the work of a ’70s concert-poster artist on LSD. And many people think that Revelation is all about the future anyway, therefore, it does not have anything to say to us here and now. Revelation has been taken captive by too many end-of-the-world preachers and street crazies.
But there is a better way to view revelation that makes the book more meaningful to us. The book is obviously not primarily about the future. It was written to people in the late first century about their situation. It is a book of symbols, but the symbols specifically apply to troubles and upheavals of that time, of the time when the book was written.
John, the author, wrote in Greek which was the major language of the Eastern Roman Empire. He wrote to churches in the Roman Province of Asia, now western Turkey. Probably he wrote primarily to Gentiles, ex-pagans, people who were still trying to understand what Jesus was all about.
Their reality was imperialism. The Roman Empire ruled the world, and the empire recognized Caesar as God. Their reality was persecution. John was in exile on the isle of Patmos. The churches on the mainland were facing an uncertain future. You could be branded a traitor for comparing Caesar to Jesus.
So then we can see that it was very important to these Christians to have an anchor in their time of trouble.
Revelation tells us that humankind failed to recognize Jesus’ authority when he came the first time. However, when he comes again, there will be no mistaking his power. That being true, we are called right now, strengthened by the Holy Spirit right now, to continue his work until he returns in glory.
As part of the introduction to Revelation, 1:4-6 set the tone for the rest of the book by lifting up the identity and activity of Jesus Christ. The writer does this through a series of triplets, which provide a rhythm that emphasizes the message.
The first triplet in verses 4-5 describe Christ as the one who
And is to come.
He is here with us now, he has always been with us, and he will always be with us. John is writing with certainty to a church in uncertain times. He sounds a strong clear note of comfort. Christ is eternal, unchanging, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
A second triplet in these verses describes Christ as:
The faithful witness
The firstborn of the dead
The ruler of the kings of the earth.
Then in verses 5-6 we find another triplet about Christ, which spells out what Christ has done for us.
He loves us,
He frees us from our sins
He makes us a kingdom of priests.
In v7 there is a fourth set of Christic triplets, which depicts those who fear the impending judgment that accompanies Christ’s return:
He comes with the clouds.
Everyone will see him, including his enemies
All earthly tribes will wail.
There is still another triplet in v8 that is a forceful acknowledgement of the eternal presence and power of the Jesus.
He is Alpha and Omega
He is/was/is to come
He is Almighty.
So what is John saying to us with these triplets? These verses bear witness to a profound hope, a hope that endures even in — perhaps especially in — life’s most disruptive and disturbing experiences. This hope is rooted in Christ’s presence throughout all history. Revelation says to us his redemptive power has been proven to be trustworthy, and his glory will be fully revealed in the future with a power more trustworthy still. Such hope is not pie in the future sky. Such hope is the source of that strength that forms and transforms our lives, giving us the spiritual wherewithal to persevere right now, no matter what.
Revelation says, Jesus loves you, Jesus freed you, Jesus made you into royalty. That is the unchanging Jesus whom you should trust.
It’s difficult to trust anyone or anything that changes. The economy of the last year has proven that the job market, the housing market, and the stock market are no place for our faith and comfort. Because Jesus is the same yesterday and tomorrow, Jesus can serve as an anchor point to a chaotic life.
Jesus will not come out someday and say, “Hey, that whole thing about loving your enemies, that was a bad idea, just kill them. And ideals like justice and mercy are bad ideas, forget about them.” He is not going to say that. Following Jesus means we have a unchanging foundation for our lives.
Christ the King has established a throne in the middle of our filth. He “freed us from our sins by his blood” (v. 5). But that “us” is no longer just John’s seven churches. It is all believers of all times and places. It’s us today. It’s the church tomorrow.
If you think about it, our personal mess is pretty much the same as all the other people whom Jesus also redeemed. Paul reminds us of that saying, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Our individual sins do not surprise Jesus. Our sin is not outside his reach to forgive. You can depend upon that. Jesus is able to redeem us from all sin.
But we have not just been redeemed from. We have been redeemed to. Jesus redeemed strangers into his priests. In scripture, priests always bring God to the people and bring the people to God. That is what we are called to do, to bring people to God and bring God to people. That is our royal priesthood. What have we done this week that fits our role as priests?
Have we presented Christ as faithful no matter what our situation might be. This is a problem today. Many people in church are what we call “experience-driven Christians.” They see God in their situation and they think everything is going to work out and everything is going to be just fine. The situation of first century Christians was that everything was not fine and was not working out. Their “experience” did not justify their belief.
We can sympathize with that. We hesitate to believe that Jesus “loves us and freed us.” After all, look at our unemployment. I noticed in the newspaper yesterday that unemployment is still in the double digits in York County. Do you love us Lord? Look at our situation here. Look at our personal situation. Look at our loneliness. Look at our Saturday-night decisions. Look at our Internet-browser history.
But what Revelation says to us is that Jesus never changes his position on grace. Despite what we do, despite what we leave undone, despite what is done to us, Jesus is the same. Jesus loves us. Jesus frees us from sins. Jesus makes us royalty.
That is the message of Revelation. Always trust Jesus. No matter what the situation, no matter who is saying otherwise. Even if the Emperor is saying otherwise. Trust Jesus. That is your only anchor. That is the only thing that works. Trust Jesus.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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