Sunday, 5 May 2013

Sermon Series on Revelation 1

Easter 5 year C Sermon 
On the very first occasion… someone stood up in public … inspired by the Holy Spirit… to tell people about Jesus
they made it very clear…this message is for everyone.

It was a great day – sometimes called the birthday of the church. In two weeks’ time Lucy Davey and I will lead you in the celebration we all know as Pentecost.

The resurrected Christ had told his followers to wait
before taking any action…wait for the one I’ll send…he said …  and so at Pentecost the great wind of God’s Spirit swept through Jesus’ followers… and filled them with a new confidence and joy…and a sense of God’s presence and power.

Their leader, Peter…who only a few weeks before…
denied even knowing Jesus…found himself on his feet
in Jerusalem…telling to a huge crowd with great authority
that something had happened which changed the world forever.
What God has done for Peter…God’s beginning to do
for the whole world.

New lifeforgiveness…new hope
and powerdunamis…as Aung Mang said last week.
The explosion of God’s new thing had begun.
And Peter tells everyone within hearing
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‘This promise is for you…and for your children
and for everyone who is far away.’ [pause]
And within a remarkably short time
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this promise came true to such an extent…that the young movement of Jesus followers had spread
throughout much of the known world.

One way the promise spread… was through the writing of early Christian leaders. Short letters and stories about Jesus
were widely circulated… and eagerly read
thanks to those excellent Roman roads.

These writings were never intended…
for a religious or intellectual elite .
The good news they carried was meant to go out to everyone

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And that’s even true for the very last book of the Bible…the book of Revelation
a book we hear so much from… in these weeks after Easter

Many of us regard Revelation as the hardest book in the New Testament. Most of us don’t even get the name right: it’s Revelation singular… not Revelations plural. It’s full of strange, shocking, bizarre and sometimes violent imagery.

Maybe that’s why it took 400 years…for the church to allow it …to be part of the official canon of the New Testament.
Maybe that’s why we tiptoe ‘round the book of Revelation
why we worry so much about what it really means! [pause]

Most of us say…well… I can’t make head nor tail of it …
We worry the book is a happy hunting ground for heretics and fanatics…It seems to be full of rambling fantasies
and dark threats

But my favourite Biblical scholar Tom Wright… observes
the book of Revelation offers one of the
clearest… sharpest visions…of God’s ultimate purpose for the whole of creation… and reveals how powerful forces of evil…
are at work in a thousand ways…not the least…
in idolatrous and tyrannous political systems…and how these can be… and are being over thrown
through the victory of Jesus the Messiah…
and the consequent… costly victory…of Jesus’ followers.

The world you and I live in is no less complex and dangerous …than the late 1st century world when the book of Revelation was written
and as Jesus followers today…we owe it to ourselves
to get our heads and our hearts around John’s glorious vision …as we try to bear faithful witness to God’s love…in a world of violence and greed and indifference to injustice… [pause]

I feel strongly God’s called me to help us unpack the book of Revelation as a church family… over the next wee while beginning today…and I hope for three things

One that it will be an exciting adventure for all of us
Two…that we’ll be better equipped…not only in our understanding of scripture…but in the confidence of our witness to other Christians and our non-Christian friends.

And three… that by the power of the Holy Spirit
we’ll be able to hear what God is saying to the church today through the words of this book.

So let us begin…by reading prologue the greeting and the ancient doxology of the first eight verses of the book of Revelation… out loud together.
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The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
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Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

And now the greeting
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John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 

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and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from 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, and made us a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—

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to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

And then John quotes from Daniel 7:13 and Zech. 12:10
Lets read…

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Look, he is coming with the clouds,
    and every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
    and all peoples on earth will mourn because of him.
So shall it be! Amen.

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I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.

Ok…lets unpack this… starting with the very first word.
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Revelation… in the Greek apocalypse. apocalypse.

people are tempted… to insert their own understanding
of this word… and imagine it’s what John meant…
some kind of earth shattering apocalyptic event

But John the author… is picking up a way of writing
that was well known in the Jewish world at the time.
A way writing designed to communicate and make available
the visions and revelations… seen by holy prayerful people
who were wrestling with the question…
of God’s divine purpose.

They were called Seers…because every once in a while…someone would come along… who could see the wood for the trees… someone whose understanding
seemed to reveal what God was really up to…

So the book of Revelation is based on the ancient Jewish belief that God’s dimension…merges and melds…with our human dimension… in all kinds of ways.

Now I preached on that recently…remember…
that for the ancient Hebrew people… the ultimate place this intersecting happened… was the Temple in Jerusalem…

but we know the early Christians believed Jesus of Nazareth had become… in person…
the place where heaven and earth meet. A walking…talking Temple…remember?

Looking at Jesus…the early Christians… who of course grown up in the Jewish faith…looking at Jesus
and remembering his death and resurrection…the early Christians believed they could see right into God’s own sphere of operation…
Looking at Jesus….they could understand things about
God’s purposes …that nobody ever imagined before!

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But late in the first century…
as the Christian community grew and developed momentum, more questions emerged about God’s purposes…
like what is God up to now. What are God’s plans for the little churches dotted around the Mediterranean world.
Where’s it all going?

And they asked these questions because in many places it was getting tough to be a follower of Jesus…persecution and public ridicule was rampant especially in the arenas of Rome. Jesus followers wondered what line should they take
in the face of the fastest growing religion at the time…
the worship of Caesar…it was risky to resist.

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On the Island of Patmos…where John says he’s based…
40 K off the coast of Turkey... early Christians would have been mostly poor… right through what he calls the seven churches of Asia…

Jesus message of equality…was good news particularly
to slaves and to women…and rich or poor the early Christian’s met and worship in each other’s homes…while all around them…local politicians are building huge expensive temples… to Caesar and his family…to show Rome how loyal they are.

Christians had to keep asking… what Jesus would have said about all this. And again and again the same question would come up…Were they wasting their time… following a crucified Jew… rather than the one who known as the Lord of this world? Rather than Caesar.
Well…my friends… the book of revelation is written to say
a very loud and resounding no to that question. [pause]

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One day while praying on the island of Patmos…
his heart and head full of Israel’s scriptures
the author of this book finds himself face to face with the Christ.

And what is unveiled for him in his vision… is a beautiful and fresh revelation of Jesus… the Messiah.
And we’ll talk about that… next week.

But for now… we’ve dealt with John’s prologue, his greeting and his early confession of faith…and even in eight short verses…we already know five important things
about what sort of book this is… and how we are to read it.

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One – this book is a four-stage revelation. It’s about something God revealed to Jesus himself…which Jesus is passing on…through an angel…to his servants…one in particular…John. God Jesus angel John and the churches…the framework for the book.

Two – the book takes the form of an extended letter. There are particular letters to particular churches within the book, but the whole thing is a ltter from John the seer…to all the churches…telling them what he’s seen.
Three – the book is a prophesy [verse 3] And like many prophets in ancient Israel John draws freely on earlier biblical traditions…which were seen to be revelations of God and God’s purposes.
Four – the book functions as a witness and testimony…
both words used… both words invoke the image of a great heavenly lawcourt where the witness bourne by Jesus and his followers is a key to the ultimate judgement and verdict. And both words carry the sense of martyrdom…those who bear this testimony may well be called to suffer and die for what they have said.

And the fifth thing we have already learned in eight short verses…by far and away the most important thing…

Everything that is to come…flows from the central figure…Jesus himself…and ultimately from God the father…who is and who was and who is to come….

God…the Alpha and Omega [first and last letters of the Greek alphabet] Gods title at the beginning and at the end of Revelation.

Jesus… through his life death and resurrection has accomplished God’s purpose. Jesus love for his people…his liberation for them by his self-sacrifice…his purpose not just to rescue them but to put them to work in his service. All stated right there in verse six…

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To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father

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These five magnificent things we learn already today about the book of Revelation…insights to help us as we ask the same questions they did at the end of the first century.

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My prayer is that you will find this journey through the book…exciting…that you’ll read it at home in anticipation of each weeks fresh revelation…and that will build you and our church in faith and ability to witness and bear testimony
to Jesus Christ in our time.

I'm indebted to NT Wright for his book Revelation for Everyone, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.