October 20, 2013

Jesus Walks Among Us Still - Oct 20, 2013

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When I was a little kid, my older brothers liked to scare me. The house we lived in was heated by an old wood burning furnace situated in a big cement room in the basement. As you entered the furnace room, on your left was a wall of unfinished studs. Nails were driven into the studs, and we hung all of our winter coats and jackets there.

On the other side of the room, farthest from the door, there was a wood shoot and a little cement room where the wood for the furnace was stacked. In the center of the room was the furnace itself, and hanging above it, the room’s only light. You had to reach up and pull a string for the light to turn on.

Here’s how it would usually go. My brother Seth would say something like, “Caleb, mom wants me to get something from the furnace room, but I’m too scared to go in there. Will you turn on the light for me?” With all the self confidence in the world I’d reply, “Of course Seth, I’m not afraid. I’ll go in there for you.” And so I’d creep into the dark room. The only thing I could see was the fire glowing from the slats in the door of the furnace. That little pool of orange light was where I had to get in order to turn the light bulb on.

Little did I know, my brother Andy was hiding behind the furnace, waiting for me. As soon as I got within reach of the pull string Andy would growl like a rabid dog, at which point I would shoot about two feet into the air and tear back toward the door. But meanwhile, Seth had tucked himself in among  the coats. So, as I shot toward safety, Seth would roar out of the forest of jackets, pushing my speed past mach three as I rocketed up the stairs to the kitchen.

I used to have nightmares about dark things reaching for my feet as I raced up those basement stairs.

If there had only been a way to turn on the lights BEFORE entering that furnace room, everything would have been so different.

If there’s a recipe for fear written down somewhere, I’m pretty sure it says, “Just add darkness”. When we can’t see what’s going on around us, things can get pretty scary. When someone turns on the light, everything changes.
As adults, we’ve learned how to control our fear of the unknown to a certain degree. But when the events in our lives cloud the way before us, that fear of the unknown can come back. In our sermon reading for today, Jesus turns on the lights and shows us what’s really going on around us.

Though we can’t see him, Jesus Walks Among Us Still. He is almighty God. He calms our fears. And he carefully tends the light of the Gospel that we hold.

Revelation 1:9-20 (ESV)

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
The apostle John was an old man by the time he received this vision. Recently the events in John’s life had taken a turn for the worst. He had been exiled to small island in the Aegean sea.

John was a mature Christian by this time. It’s doubtful that his faith had been shaken by his present situation. But all the same, Jesus would now come to John and strengthen his faith through a powerful vision.

As is the case with visions, we may not understand all the fantastic details of what John saw. But one thing that comes out clearly is the fact that Jesus is Almighty God.

To begin with, John describes the voice that he hears as being like the loud blare of a trumpet, or like the roar of a huge waterfall, or like the crashing of many waves on a beach. The voice alone is overwhelming. But when John turns to see WHO is speaking, what he sees is even more breathtaking.

He sees a human figure, clothed in a long robe and a golden sash. Gold is, of course, a color associated with kings. And this mighty king that stands before John is an ancient king. His hair is the purest of white. And his eyes are not a captivating dark brown, or a striking blue. No, they are like fire. They are piercing eyes. Eyes that can see into the darkest corners of the night, eyes that can see into the darkest corners of one’s heart.

While human in form, this figure is different than any mere mortal. He is divine in every detail. Even his feet look otherworldly. John says they are like bronze that has been purified in a fire and then polished to a high sheen. There is no place where these strong feet are afraid to tread.

But when John’s eyes move upward, he sees more amazing things. In the man’s outstretched hand there are seven sparkling stars.

But even more striking than that, is the man’s face. John can barely stand to look at it, it’s so bright. Like the noon-day sun, this face shines with an inner, brilliant light. And this was strangely familiar to John. John had once seen Jesus of Nazareth shining like this on a mountain where they had gone to pray.

But before John’s mind could process all of this, the strangest thing of all happened—a great double edged sword slid out from inside the man’s mouth. The Word of God is said to be like a double edged sword, capable of cutting to the very heart of man’s inner motives.

This was too much shock for the old John to take. So terrible, so powerful, so glorious was this vision that John fell to the ground like a dead man.

But then John felt the touch of the figure’s hand, stronger than strong, and yet like the gentlest of caresses. And he spoke again telling John not to be afraid.

And why should John not be afraid? This figure is the first and the last, the eternal God. This figure is the one who died, but who is now alive forevermore. This figure is the one who can open the grave and restore life to the dead. This figure is none other than John’s old master—Jesus. The Jesus who died for John’s sins, and who promised him a place in heaven.  The Jesus who died to take away the sins of the world, and who also promises us a place by his side.

What is there to fear when the almighty and eternal God is on your side? This is the message that Jesus communicated to John. And this was the message John was to send to Christians elsewhere.
Remember when John looked back? He saw Jesus walking among SEVEN LAMPSTANDS. And Jesus explains what this means. The seven lampstands were seven church. The churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. The message is clear. Jesus is walking among you dear Christians. Though unseen, he lives where you live. So be at peace! Put your fears to rest. Your powerful Savior is alive, and is walking among you at this very moment.

The book of Revelation is full of striking images, many of which we don’t always fully grasp. But the overarching message of Revelation is crystal clear—there was a great fight between the Lamb and the Dragon, and the Lamb won. There was a great battle between the Son of God and Satan, and the Son of God won. And the thing he won was forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life for sinners like you and me. No matter what earthly dangers surround us, we can have peace, because our souls are secure in the hand of the Almighty Savior. He has washed our sins away by his blood, and has made us his people of faith.
For pastors this vision holds a special comfort. Jesus says those stars in his right hand are the “angels” of the churches. The Greek word for angel simply means “messenger”. The context tells us when the Bible means a spirit being who is a messenger and when it means a human being who is a messenger. The stars in Jesus’ hand are the human pastors of the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and all the rest. It was to these “angels” that John’s book was to go.

Now, we pastors don’t usually feel like shiny stars. We know how sinful and dirty our hearts really are, even if our congregations don’t. We know that we don’t deserve to proclaim the precious message of sins forgiven through Jesus. No pastor is worthy enough, or capable enough for this task. But the strong right hand of the eternal Son of God holds us up. We are weak, but he is strong. Our trembling and flickering light is surrounded by the brilliant light of the Gospel. And what a comfort that is.
There is also a special comfort here for every Christian congregation. Jesus says those lampstands are churches. They are GOLDEN lampstands, valuable to God. And they are shining beacons of light in a sin darkened world. This is the imagery Jesus uses to describe YOU. Precious, light bearing people. Caretakers of the souls saving message of Jesus’ cross.

Jesus once told his followers,

14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV).

And this is the same thing Jesus communicates through this vision: You are precious to me. You bear the light of the Gospel. SHINE OUT with the message of forgiveness!
Maybe there’s been some darkness in your life lately. Events and circumstances that have made you feel abandoned or alone. Maybe you’ve been feeling like God isn’t all that close to you right now. Maybe some heavy guilt has lead you to wonder whether God really has a place for you in his kingdom. Maybe you’ve doubted if God can really be paying attention to your little insignificant life.

Jesus has this to say to you, “You are golden, you are light, because you belong to ME.” He pulls back the curtain for us in this vision and shows us that he wasn’t kidding when he told his followers that he’d be with them to the very end of the age. He turns on the light in our darkness and shows that there is nothing to be afraid of here, for HE, the almighty God, walks among us still.
Jesus had a specific message for John to pass on to each of the congregations he named in our sermon reading. Jesus told John, John wrote it down. The messages were delivered to actual groups of Christians. We’ll be spending the next five Sundays, examining what Jesus had to say to these seven churches. May the Holy Spirit help us to understand what he said to the churches back then, and how it applies to our own congregation today.

May the Holy Spirit work through these words of Christ to surround us with his light. May he lead us to grow stronger in the faith, and to shine out with the precious Gospel in all we say and do. Amen.

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