Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. I’m going to be honest, I’ve made a lot of dumb decisions in my life. One of those decisions I’ve always regretted was agreeing to run track my freshman year in high school. I can hardly think of a worse form of punishment—running in circles for hours on end to see who can get back to where they started first. Actually, I can think of something worse than running in circles endlessly…sprinting in circles endlessly. I started out running long distance, which actually wasn’t so bad. Our coach, Mr. Grossman, used to drive us several miles down the road to the next county over and make us run back to school. But at least that was interesting: running down the snowy, icy roads in January and February.
After spending the whole pre-season time training for long distance, the season started, and the coaches decided they should try me running some shorter distance races. I still remember my first practice with the sprinters. The coaches told us that the plan was to run 5 100-meter sprints—that was it. And I was thinking, gosh, I’ve spent the last two months running 3-5 miles per day, or more—this is going to be easy! So, we lined up for the first 100-meter sprint. The coach yelled, “go”, and I took off. To my surprise, I beat everyone! I was pretty proud of myself. But then I noticed a bunch of the upper classmen chuckling and saying to each other, “He’ll learn his lesson.” And by about sprint number three I did learn my lesson. And by the end of practice, I started to see the truth in that old phrase, “Slow and steady wins the race.” Just because someone or something jumps out in front doesn’t mean mean they’re going to prevail until the end.
2. In our first reading for today, the small portion of John’s vision that we heard is meant to take our focus away from things that look great for a while, but they turn out to be fleeting (like my track running career), and to focus our attention on that which endures for all time, which the angel in John’s vision calls “an eternal gospel.” But before we look at the verses from our reading and this “eternal gospel”, I want to help situate this reading in its context within the book of Revelation. Our reading for this morning occurs in the middle of a section which begins in chapter 12. This section describes the “end times”, which begins in chapter 12 with the description of the woman and the dragon, which we looked at about a month ago when we celebrated the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. This vision portrays Jesus birth, life, death, and resurrection and the cosmic, heavenly events associated with it. Chapter 13 then tells of two beasts, who join the dragon to form an “unholy trinity” and to torment God’s people. In verse 7 of chapter 13, John says, Also [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation (Revelation 13:7). John’s vision tells us that God’s people over all the world will be tormented by the dragon and the beasts and no one on earth will be able to stop them. Or, to use the famous words of Martin Luther, The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight; On earth is not his equal (LSB 656:1). In other words, Revelation 12 & 13 are painting a picture of “the old evil foe” jumping on top of Christ’s church and trying to prevail over it.
3. But John’s vision doesn’t end there because in chapter 14, the victorious Lamb enters the scene to proclaim victory over this “unholy trinity”. It’s then that our reading for today comes in: Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Revelation 14:6-7). So, what exactly is this “eternal gospel”? Well, first of all, this is a message that triumphs over evil. Just like in chapter 13, the beast has authority over every tribe and people and language and nation, so too now does this “eternal gospel” have authority over every nation and tribe and language and people. Christ proclaims an eternal gospel that triumphs over sin, death, and the power of the devil. But the second thing this “eternal gospel” includes is judgment. It looked like the dragon and the beasts were going to prevail, but Christ’s “eternal gospel” has the final word. Or, to use Martin Luther’s words again, He’s judged; the deed is done (LSB 656:3). But finally, this “eternal gospel” includes more than just the announcement of judgement, it also includes the promise of eternal rest in Jesus for all followers of Christ.
4. So, where does this leave us in regard to John’s strange vision? Well, John’s vision doesn’t give us an exact chronology of how all of this will play out, and so trying to determine exactly where we fall is nearly impossible. What we do know is, we live somewhere between Christ’s ascension and his return. That means that the dragon and his two minions know that they’ve lost, but they’re still on the loose trying to cause as much damage to Jesus’ church as they can. Regardless of what this “unholy trinity” precisely represents, what’s clear is the devil is behind it. And the devil’s goal is to try to avert your focus from Christ’s “eternal gospel” to anything else. If he can get you to lose sight of the victory that this “eternal gospel” proclaims, then your hope is gone. Don’t let him win. Don’t let him take your hope. Make this “eternal gospel”, proclaimed in God’s Word, the center of you lives. The devil can never triumph over the Word of God.
The Word they still shall let remain
Nor any thanks have for it;
He’s by our side upon the plain
With His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife,
Though these all be gone,
Our vict’ry has been won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.