“STILL EASTER?” (sermon preached April 7, 2013)
Over the past 32 years since I was ordained, I’ve either preached or taught from most books in the bible. That is except from Song of Solomon and from Revelation. I did teach through Revelation once about 10 years ago, but I can’t—for the life of me, remember much about it – except that TJ Grizzard was in that study and TJ was one of the best Bible teachers that church had ever known. He knew a great deal about the Bible and here I was leading a study on the most difficult book in the NT and he was to be present. But he was gracious and kind and added helpful tidbits all the way through. But most of all we learned that it isn’t just a book about end times.
A teaching on the Book of Revelation taught by Dan Erlander, a pastor offers this word of caution. He said, “Never let anyone tell you that they have Revelation figured out. Beware of anyone who tells you that.”
Revelation is a perplexing, intriguing, challenging book. One of my favorite authors, 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 time lines 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, since it is part of the Bible, it makes me want to ask, “What is God saying to us through Revelation? Is it just about end times? When I saw that small sections were included in the lectionary readings over the next 4 weeks, I decided to take the challenge. Usually these weeks are given to all the appearances Jesus made to the disciples and others after the resurrection. To the disciples in the upper room, then to doubting Thomas, then to the disciples on the shore when they had gone fishing and not caught anything. But why not look at what Revelation has to say to us – now?
So here’s what I do know: John is the writer of the book. He’s been banished by the Roman government to the Island of Patmos most likely for his involvement in this little first-century experiment called the Christian faith, perhaps for his preaching, his teaching if not certainly for his connection to Jesus Christ. When you think of Patmos, think Alcatraz, and you’re close. Patmos is a small barren rocky island 37 miles off the coast of Asia Minor. It is ten miles long and six miles wide, and was the perfect place for Roman emperors to send prisoners into exile. It most certainly was not a comfortable place. Historians tell us that the trip to Patmos was generally preceded by a severe beating. Life on The Rock was marked by constant confinement in shackles. Prisoners on Patmos had little or no light other than the sun—if and when they got to see that. John’s clothing—what little he had was inadequate, as was his food. He most likely slept on the cold, hard ground and he worked under constant guard. If ever there was the idea that John had a little writing shack near the beach somewhere and wrote down his amazing revelation, nothing could be further from the truth. The Book of Revelation is of a style of writing called “apocalyptic.”—a Greek word meaning “uncovering”. The word revelation literally means “unveiling”. It’s a book that unveils meaning about the past, the present and the future. And if we were to uncover, unveil or reveal the central nugget and message of this book it would be that Christ is the victorious Lord of all, from the beginning of time into eternity, the reign of Jesus Christ in the world and in the lives of believers. .
We can be tempted to come to this season after Easter and say, “Well it’s all over.” The lilies have begun to wilt. The tremendous crowd that showed up in their Easter best have gone back to their regular lives and most you will not see again until Christmas. Monday, we awakened to a world that looked like it had the week before and the week before that. If you read the newspaper and watch TV news and decide how you will feel that day on the basis of the top 3 stories, then there is cause for concern. John wrote Revelation to Christians like that. They were being persecuted by the Romans, the Temple had been destroyed (again) and even though Easter had happened, it looked for all practical purposes that God was on the ropes and down for the count. His book is like a drama designed to be read aloud in worship. He spoke in symbols and codes because it would have been dangerous and brought even more persecution to the church to come out and directly say, “Hey folks, the worship of the Emperor is in direct opposition to your faith but it you just remain faithful to the end, God has this emperor thing covered.
Life is a huge challenge at times isn’t it? We can too easily adopt the notion that following Christ will be this easy, stress and even pain-free adventure. Paul wrote about his hardships in life. He said, for the sake of Jesus Christ, I’ve experienced “imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked…” and it goes on.
Horatio Spafford, a businessman in Chicago, sent his wife and three daughters to Europe by ship while he remained back in the States, intending to join them later. En route there was a terrible storm and a shipwreck during which their three daughters drowned. Mrs. Spafford made it to safety and wired back saying, “All of our daughters have been lost. Only I have been saved.” He took the next vessel. As they came near the place where his daughters drowned, the skipper of the ship pointed to the place where the other ship had gone down. It was there on the deck of the ship he wrote these stirring words:
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
Paul greeted every Christ-follower in every church he ever wrote to with the greeting we hear echoing in John’s writing: Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ. Do you need grace in your life today? Do you need peace in your life today? In the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, he writes to remind any Christian, anywhere in any time that in Jesus Christ there is “Grace and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come.” Jesus Christ is the Beginning and The End…the one who was then, is now and will be in the future. It isn’t finished yet.
I’m the beginning and the end. I’m still in the business of redeeming the world. How can we participate in that redeeming as well? (Made to be a kingdom of priests. Psalms says, “I will tell what the Lord has done. I will give thanks to God. I will praise Him. I will rejoice and be glad. Same thing? No joy is an attitude of the heart. Being glad in an activity of the mind. Joy he gives. We decide to be glad and to spread it.
Microsoft launched a revision of its Windows operating system for PCs called Windows “Me”—short for Windows Millennial Edition.
One feature of Windows Me that caused a stir was the “system restore” feature. How does it work? Suppose you suffer a system crash on your computer. You’re not a computer expert, and you don’t know how to recover the last two weeks of financial information you entered the day before, your granddaughter’s history report she started writing Monday, or your favorite game. All you have to do is select “system restore” and specify the date to which you want your machine reset. Voila! Problem solved. All the things you somehow messed up are put back in their configuration as of that earlier day. Wouldn’t you like to market that feature for human lives? Do you think you could supply it fast enough to keep up with the demand? Bob would “system restore” to the day before he began the affair. Sue would go back to the day before she tampered with payroll data. Ivan would choose the day before the big fight that caused his son to run away from home. Maybe you can remember the day when things crashed for you—and you’d give anything you own to restore things to the way they were.
God won’t erase all the consequences of our actions, but he promises things far better: to forgive us, to work for the highest good even through what is bad, and one day to make all things new.
What Windows Me calls “system restore” God calls redemption.
God is still in that business and calls on us to be as well. To be/become a kingdom of priests, blessing people, helping bring them back from despair and death, helping them not to give up.
Rev. Mitchell J. Coggin