Sermon by Harry Goodhew
When the much read author, lecturer, and pastor Eugene Peterson turned his attention to the last book of the Bible, the Revelation of Saints John, he described the author as a prophet, a poet and a pastor. This threefold description appropriately captures the character and purpose of the book which closes the canon of the New Testament. It is prophetic because it speaks a word from God; it poetic because it delivers its message mainly in powerful and colourful visions and symbols; and it is pastoral because its aim was to strengthen and encourage men and woman at the end of the first Christian century who needed to maintain their loyalty to God and Christ in the face of increasing opposition and serious persecution.
In its threefold character it continues, under the influence of the Spirit of God, to fulfil its role of informing, inspiring, and sustaining those who seek to follow Christ.
Let me read you the first 8 verses of the opening chapter
1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near.
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, everyone who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
There stands here for all to consider the fundamental issue of life: does life, does my small and not so significant life, have any ultimate meaning or does it not? The question and its answer chart two very different paths for life. To ignore or to reject the perspective expressed in these words of John is to embrace ultimate meaninglessness. What does that approach mean for me day by day? It means I battle on as best I can. If I want to be anything other than perfectly self-centred I can be, but in the end it means nothing. In the end all actions will look the same, the meaningless gestures of creatures that happen by mere chance to occupy a place in this meaningless universe for a micro second of its apparent age.
This opening to John’s visions and letter has an altogether different ring to it. It abounds with majesty, splendour, purpose, and throbbing anticipation. Here the God who cannot be named or numbered by creatures like us, who is beyond all and in himself incomprehensible to such as us, makes himself known. He is, he simply “is”. He is the beginning and the end, the A and the Z, the Alpha and the Omega. Beyond all beginning and end He is the One who is, who was, and who is to come. He is the Almighty. All power belongs to him: power to create, power to dissolve. All things without exception owe their being and their continuance to him. John’s call is a call to rely upon this God.
Who is this God? He is the One who is, who was, and who is to come. Then our understanding of him is enhanced by seeing that he is also to be comprehended as the Spirit who in sevenfold form is before the throne of heaven and to be known further in Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
The ‘prophet, poet and pastor’ wants us to see this mental picture, not as a working drawing of the Divine mystery but as an expression of the complexity in simplicity of the divine, sovereign, creative “IS” that we call God. This One, present in our world as Jesus the Messiah, loves us. Ponder that. He loves us. He loves you and he freed you from your sins by his death. More than that, he has made us a kingdom, participants in the royal fellowship of the Great King, and priests to his God and Father. In that latter role we are called serve God and humanity in the Name of the One who has called us to himself. Without doubt, to him belong eternal glory and dominion.
John’s friends were suffering at the hands of the greatest power in the world of their day. He says to them hang on, persevere, be loyal because one day every eye will see him for he certainly will come to make visible to all what now is invisible, his eternal majesty and rule.
This letter, addressed to seven churches in the western part of present day Turkey, also contains seven separate letters, one for each of those churches. Each church had different situations to content with both within and without. However, the whole letter was for each, and the disclosure of what they might expect by way of opposition and where they should look for courage and strength was for each of them and, indeed, for all who would read this letter both then and right up until the present time
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews opens his eleventh chapter with these words:
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old received divine approval. 3 By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.
What is faith? Faith is that attitude and feeling which we naturally experience when someone we trust implicitly, and in whose knowledge and truthfulness we have absolute confidence, tells us something: we instinctively believe it. Now theologians tell us that faith is a gift from God and they are right. Yet, at the level of just plain ordinary life we trust the words of people whom we have come to trust.
These words of John issue from nowhere else but the throne of God and we are meant to see them with the eyes of those who trust the source. John’s immediate friends were under threat and you might be too at the present time. See the vision. See, with the eyes of trust in God and his word, the absolute, unconditional, loving and gracious, sovereignty that rules and upholds all.
When you begin your day, look at the vision. Accept that in spite of what or who you are, God in Christ loves you. He loves you with a love that is as wide as the heavens themselves. And he has loosed you from you sins. They are gone and gone for ever, and you can seek him to help you live a life of love and loyalty to him day by day. That Spirit who is before the throne in a sevenfold form has been placed in your heart and mind to guide and sustain you.
Believe, that by God’s mercy, you have the dignity and duty that are described in Revelation’s opening verses. It is not a matter of ‘feeling’ this; rather, it is “knowing” that you are a member of his royal fellowship. He has made you a kingdom: gathered you with others into his family, and he says to you, “You are mine”
And you are a priest in the temple of your God. That temple is his universe and his church. In each you have a role: you are called to practise love to God and love to others. You do not need to move anywhere or be anything other than what you are at the moment to exercise your “priesthood”. Just do it.
God may in his providence someday locate you somewhere else or call you to do a specific work, but for the moment, be what you are, where you are.
“I am the Alpha and Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. It was such a vision of God that sustained Paul and prompted him to write:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8).