Click play to listen to the audio version of this sermon.
Archeologists have uncovered a letter from the 1st century AD that was written by the governor of a Roman City named Bithynia. His name was Pliny the Younger. The governor wrote the letter to the Roman Emperor whose name was Trajan. The letter is writing to inform the Emperor of what the governor is doing to stamp out Christianity in his territory. Pliny informs the emperor that when a Christian is identified, he or she is brought into a courtroom where there are statues of several Greek gods. The Christian is given three chances to bow to the statues and renounce their allegiance to Jesus Christ. If they do, they're free to go. If they refuse to so do, they're arrested and executed.
And you always thought that if you were a Christian and belonged to a church everything would go well for you.
One of those arrested was an apostle of Jesus whose name was John. While John was in prison on the island of Patmos he is given a 'revelation.' The word is 'apocalypsis.' It means, to uncover or to unveil something or someone that's been hidden or covered up. What no eye has seen nor ear has heard, John saw and heard.
This is the revelation (singular) given TO St. John. The revelation TO St. John is the revelation OF Jesus Christ and the things that must soon take place.
During the six Sundays in the season of Easter, the Epistle readings are all taken from the book of Revelation. And our intention is to follow these readings as the focus for our consideration of God's Word together on Sundays.
These readings from Revelation are perfect for the season of Easter because they show us that the victory that Jesus won by His cross and resurrection from the dead, is firmly set in the heavens.
A. The World We're Living In
A lot of people get nervous about the book of Revelation because what it contains some pretty scary stuff.
There are horses with riders with names like Death and Hades. There are angels who have power to do terrible harm on the earth. There's trumpets that blow and make it rain fire mixed with blood. There are beasts that rise up out of the sea. And there's a 7 headed, red dragon whose tail knocks the stars from the sky as it looks for a baby to devour.
Scary stuff, no doubt. But this is just figurative language that describes the world we're living in. This world is a scary place and the book of Revelation reveals the full extent of the trouble and danger and suffering that is all around us. We also see just where that trouble comes from and who's behind it.
B. Jesus Christ
But that's only a part of what John sees and hears. It's the part that most people pay the most attention to, which is a shame because it's not really the most important thing that John sees. The most important part of the book of Revelation is that John sees Jesus. He see's Jesus in all of His glory and power.
While He dwelled among us in the flesh, His glory and power was covered up and hidden behind the veil of His human body and His suffering and death, even death on a cross. He revealed His power and glory occasionally in the miracles He did and at His Baptism and Transfiguration. For brief moments the veil was lifted, but then it went right back again.
But in the book of Revelation, we see Jesus, with all of the humanity He took upon Himself when He was born of the virgin Mary, but here, His glory and power isn't hidden. It's fully exposed. And we see Jesus ruling and reigning over this world of trouble and danger and suffering. Or as John calls it, 'the tribulation.'
Notice that as John describes what He sees, He sees Jesus with all of the human body parts He had when He walked among us in the flesh. He has EYES like a flame of fire, FEET like burnished bronze, a VOICE like the roar of many waters and a FACE like the sun shining in full strength. Even in heaven, Jesus is fully man, in the flesh. But it no longer covers up His eternally divine glory.
Later as we'll see, He looks like a Lamb that has seven horns and seven eyes and looks like its been slain. Later still, He's a rider on a white horse wearing a bloody robe that bears the name, "King of Kings and Lord of Lords."
To those who do not know this Jesus like we do, this can be pretty scary stuff too. And we understand why Jesus chose to cover up His glory and power while He dwelled among us. It would have been too scary for the meek and the lowly, the sinners that He came to serve.
To those who know Him as He would be known by us, what John sees and shows us is a great relief to us and gives us a confident security in a very insecure and troubled world. Jesus our Lord and Savior reigns and is ruling over all things.
C. The Church
And there is one more thing that John sees in this Revelation. He sees the people of God, the holy, Christian Church. He doesn't see a Lutheran Church, or a Roman Catholic Church or a Methodist or Baptist church. He sees the people of God; all who put their trust and hope in Jesus Christ; this is the one, holy, Christian Church that John sees.
John unveils the part of the Church that we can't see. This is the part of the Church's membership that no longer needs to hear God's Word. They no longer live by faith. They see Him as He is and they hear Him speak to them face to face. John will tell us a lot about them, as we'll hear next week.
But he is told to write what he sees for our sake, not for theirs. This part of the Church still lives in the world where we daily struggle to live by faith in the face of constant temptation to chuck the whole thing and live for today.
The book of Revelation shows us what lies ahead for all who persevere to the end. Your salvation has been accomplished and you'll see everything clearly and it will all make perfect sense. You won't have to ask any of those questions you've been saving up for when you get there. It'll all be obvious and you'll join with the Church in Glory, thanking and praising God that He caused all things to happen just as they did, and faithfully sustained and delivered you, just as He promised He would.
So, John writes this letter to us, saying "I John, your brother and partner in the tribulation, and the kingdom, and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus."
Brother and partner
Just because John sees all of this doesn't mean that he lives in an ivory tower. He's not your advisor or coach. He's 'your brother and partner.' He's right in the thick of things just like we are.
He's a citizen of "THE kingdom" just like we are. "THE" kingdom is the kingdom of God that's ruled, not by Caesar or Pliny or even Satan, but by Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The privileges of citizenship in THE kingdom are strange privileges. As citizens in The Kingdom, you will have 'tribulation.' John's been cut off from his friends. He's lost his possessions and family and his freedom. Maybe you know something about that too at school or work or maybe even at home.
This is not just the pain and suffering that everyone feels to one degree or another as long as they live in this fallen world. This is "THE tribulation." The trouble and trials and suffering we experience just because we are citizens of "THE kingdom."
THE Patient Endurance
If you are a citizen of THE Kingdom of God, you're going to face THE Tribulation, and you're also going to struggle with "THE patient endurance."
Patient endurance is something that we all struggle with. We're all like that rocky ground that the seed fell on. It was good for a while. As long as the sun was shining and things were easy and there were no problems, we did just fine. But as Jesus says, "when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, we fall away." (Mk.4:16-17).
We see this happening all around us and sometimes even among us. Spouses not willing to patiently endure each other and so they call it quits or have affairs. Singles are not willing to patiently endure until they're married, share the bed reserved for husbands and wives. Parents not willing to patiently endure child-raising abandon them. Employees not willing to patiently endure the time it takes to climb the ladder resort to cheating and backbiting to get ahead.
And all of this refers to citizens of "THE kingdom" who experience "THE tribulation" who fail "THE patient endurance."
The medieval Catholic monk, Thomas a Kempis described THE patient endurance that John says is a part of our life of faith in the Church on earth like this: "He deserves not the name of patient who is only willing to suffer as much as he thinks proper, and for whom he pleases. The truly patient man asks nothing from whom he suffers, whether it be his superior, his equal, or his inferior…But from whomever, or how much, or how often wrong is done to him, he accepts it all as from the hand of God, and counts it gain!"
John's revelation assures us that Jesus Christ is in control of all things and that our patient endurance is not in vain. Despite all of our fears and failures, despite the fact that we love ourselves more than we fear God or love our neighbor, despite all of our weakness to stand firm against the temptation that surrounds us, John says, "He loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father."
The Jesus whom John sees in all of His glory and power is the same Jesus who hid His glory and power to free us from our sins by His blood because He loved us. Jesus knows "THE patient endurance" that we struggle with. He 'patiently endured the cross, scorning it's shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.' (Heb.12:2).
When John saw Jesus in all of His glory and power, "he fell at His feet as though dead." For now, we only see Jesus veiled in His Word and in the bread and wine, His glory and power are still hidden from our eyes.
Yet even by these means of grace we, we see His glory and power by faith, and so we also fall at His feet as though dead. Dead to all of our impatience that refuses to suffer for Jesus' sake; dead to all of our unwillingness to endure the cross that is ours in Christ; dead to all of our lusts and selfish ambitions that ignores what God's Word says; dead to our self-centered view of life that thinks everything should to be about me and for my good and refuses to be a servant to all even as Christ was servant to us.
"But he laid His hand on me, saying, 'Fear not, I am the first and the last and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore and I have the keys of Death and Hades." Here this morning, Jesus does not lay His hand on us. Rather, He lays Himself in our hands. We take and eat the "first and the last and the living one." We take and drink the blood of Him who "died and behold, is alive forevermore."
We join with angels and archangels and the whole Church in Glory in thanksgiving and praise to the One who "has the keys of Death and Hades," and who has opened the gates of heaven to all believers.