How to Stay Faithful and Positive: Revelation 1 April 14, 2024

How Do We Stay Faithful and Positive?

Revelation 1

April 14, 2024

          In January I asked people to suggest sermon topics for me. I’m going to be getting to many of those in the next two months. Next Sunday I’ll start a two part series on Loving Those on the Other Side. That was something that Marilyn Poole has been pondering about lately. How do you relate to those who are so different from you politically?

Two people invited me to talk about how to stay faithful and positive in the midst of what appears to be a collapsing society.

In addition, Bennet asked if I could preach a message from the book of Revelation. This message is a response to those three requests.

Have you been discouraged lately?

          A while back, Lori and I were driving toward South Haven to see the sunset over Lake Michigan. While driving in the car, Lori said she was feeling a bit discouraged. She said, “I was listening to the news on the radio the other day. I got so discouraged. It seems like so much is going wrong in the world. It’s just depressing.”

          It’s easy for us to get discouraged –whether we’re listening to the news or dealing with some of the challenges we face in our own personal lives.

          Have you been discouraged lately?

          What discourages you these days?

          There’s a man in the New Testament who was facing discouragement – both in his personal life and in the news in the world at the time. His name is John and he is said to have written the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation.

          I’m going to preach this message as if Revelation was written by a solitary person in the late first century. The reality is that we really don’t know how this book was put together or by whom. But it’s written as if it was by this person named John on the island of Patmos.

          We usually don’t turn to the book of Revelation when we’re discouraged, but we should. Unfortunately, this book has been used by many people over the years to predict when the end of the world will be. But John didn’t write this book to be a roadmap describing when the end of the world is going to be.

John wrote the book of Revelation mainly for the people in his day. Fortunately, we all can find hope and encouragement in hearing again these words and seeing again these visions.

One thing we need to know before reading this book is what type of writing it is. We read things differently depending on the type of writing. I can remember when I was at college and Lori was finishing up high school. I remember cherishing the letters I would receive from Lori. I read those letters differently than I did the textbooks I was studying at the time.

John wrote about his experiences in a special form of writing. It was different than writing a letter like Paul’s letters or like the love letters I got from Lori. It was different than writing a biography like the gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It was different that writing a history like the book of Acts. It was different than writing a textbook article or newspaper account.

The type of writing in the book of Revelation is called “apocalyptic”. We don’t write like this anymore. Apocalyptic writing uses lots of symbolism. The number seven has special meaning. In Revelation, Rome is referred to using the symbol of Babylon. One reason for the use of symbolism is so the Roman authorities won’t confiscate it. Everything is described in vivid pictures or images. The images are often allusions to other Scripture passages. In fact, there are over 500 references to earlier Scriptures in the book of Revelation.

The other apocalyptic book in the Bible is the Old Testament book of Daniel.

The main theme of apocalyptic writing is the victory of God over evil.

John wrote the book of Revelation using this type of literature called “apocalyptic” to give a discouraged people some real hope.

If John was with us right now he might give an introduction to his book by telling a little about what was happening in the news and in his life. This is what he might have said:

“These are hard times to be a Christian. Jesus died and was raised again about sixty years ago. The church is still alive, but we’re just barely holding on. It’s because of these Romans.

Rome is so powerful. About twenty-five years ago, the Jews tried to revolt in Israel. But the uprising was harshly crushed. The Romans went through Israel and destroyed all of Jerusalem, including the beautiful temple Herod had built. Since then, the Romans have persecuted the Jewish people as well as the Christians who believe in a similar God to the Jews. Instead, the Romans want everyone to worship their leader, their Caesar instead.

Christians today are getting discouraged because it seems Rome is going to stamp out Christianity altogether. Many worry the church of Jesus Christ will die out. We’re feeling pretty hopeless.

I myself have been persecuted for being a Christian. I was arrested and put in jail. Then the Romans moved me to this island of Patmos so I couldn’t have any contact with other Christians.

I am getting discouraged sitting in this jail cell. I thought God called me to preach. Here I am with no one to preach to but the ants. I thought God’s power was unstoppable. That was until the officer arrested me and they locked me up on this terrible island. I thought God’s people would always be around me. Now, I’m alone, far from any believer. Alone, weak, and without purpose – I’m pretty much washed up these days.

But something happened that changed my life. Something that I want everyone to know about.”

If John was with us today, he might have gone into more detail and helped us understand all the symbols he was using. This is what he might say to us this morning:

“It all started one Sunday morning while I was turning to God in worship.

All of sudden I was not in control. God’s Spirit took control of me. I heard a voice that sounded like a trumpet. It said, “Write in a book everything you see. Then send it to the seven churches.”

I turned to see who was speaking to me. I saw seven gold lamp stands. There with the lampstands was a person. I immediately made the connection with the seven churches. This person was standing in the midst of the churches – to give them hope and strength. They were not alone. This person was not just an ordinary person. But someone like a king in splendor and magnificence.

For some reason, I thought of that Scripture in Daniel when he said: “I saw what looked like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven, and he was presented to the Eternal God. He was crowned king, and given power and glory, so that all people of every nation and race would serve him. He will rule forever, and his kingdom is eternal, never to be destroyed.”

I remembered that Jesus had referred to himself as a Son of Man. It seemed strange to his disciples for Jesus did not come across like the great king Daniel described. But now here Jesus was, a great king to rule over us all.

I kept staring at him. He had a long robe that reached all the way down to his feet. He had a gold cloth wrapped around his chest.  This Jesus was not just a king. He was a priest as well. That’s what he was dressed like. A priest who could bring us to God.

I looked at his head. His hair was white as snow or wool. I remembered the work of the Great Priest to cleanse us of our sin till we are white as snow. His eyes looked like flames of fire. Then it was like that fire penetrated deep into me and set my heart on fire.

I shifted my gaze down to his feet. They were glowing like bronze being heated in a furnace. What a strong foundation Jesus has. There is no stronger!

Then he spoke. Jesus’ voice sounded like the roar of a waterfall. He held seven stars in his right hand. A sharp double-edged sword was coming from his mouth. There was so much power coming out of that mouth – an awesome and commanding voice that could not be stopped. His face was shining as bright as the sun at noon. The darkness of my little cell was brought to life.

I fell at his feet like a dead person. But he put his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid.”

It’s the same words that Jesus said to Peter while he was on that storm tossed sea. “Don’t be afraid.”

I looked up as Jesus said, “I am the first, the last, and the living one. I died, but now I am alive forevermore. I have the keys to death and the world of the dead. Write what you see.”

I thought I was alone on this island of Patmos. But Jesus Christ showed up. Boy, did Jesus show up! God had not left me alone!

I thought I was weak and powerless, held prisoner here. But Jesus Christ showed up with all His power and majesty. I’m different. I no longer need to fear the power of my captors.

I thought I didn’t have any purpose. But Jesus Christ showed up giving me direction. I’ve been given a story to share.

I thought my life was winding down to an inconsequential end. But Jesus Christ showed up and that’s made all the difference.

I’m now focused again on Jesus Christ.

I’m now full of the power of Jesus Christ.

And it wasn’t just for me. Jesus Christ has come for you as well. That’s my message I want to share with you. Jesus Christ stands in front of you. Look closely. Listen closely. He’s here today.”

That’s the message of hope from John 1900 years ago. The hope is that in the midst of our discouraging, collapsing world – the God of the universe in the form of Jesus Christ can still show up.

The hope is that we don’t have to stay afraid or discouraged or depressed because God is still alive and at work.

It may seem like God has left the scene, that God is absent or defeated. But the final word has not yet been spoken. The final act has not yet come to pass.

God in Jesus Christ is still alive and at work.

Where do you see God still alive and at work in our world?

I want to hear your experiences: Where is God at work in our world today?

Let’s sing that old familiar hymn that points us to a hope in the midst of our discouraging world: God’s Eye is on the Sparrow #475

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