Joy to the World: The Lord is Come

Sermon by Wiley Lowry on December 1, 2019

Revelation 1:1-8

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Let’s turn together to Revelation chapter 1. That can be found on page 1028 in the pew Bibles. And tonight, we are beginning a four week Christmas sermon series from the book of Revelation and so we’ll start in chapter 1. And as you turn there, let’s also, if you would look with me at the chart that’s found in your bulletin under the Evening Guide, the chart about the last days that’s in our bulletin. Because what says Christmas like an eschatology chart! This chart, it’s from the ESV Study Bible in the Introduction to the New Testament, but it’s from Geerhardus Vos, a seminary professor at Princeton in the late 19th century and early 20th century. I’ve already heard from Caroline that the picture is confusing, so we’ll do our best with what’s here! 

But what it basically is, it’s two parallel lines. And one line is this present age and the line above it is the age to come. And the age to come broke into this present age at the time of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. That’s symbolized or indicated by the cross. But the age to come will not be fully realized until the return of Christ. And you see the return of Christ with the line coming down from the top. And everything in between the cross and Christ’s return are known as the last days. We are living in the last days. Now is the last days. So Revelation, the book of Revelation helps us to live in the last days. In a sense, the book of Revelation is looking down from the right side of that line on the bottom picture, looking down from the right side and, in light of Christ’s return, helping us to live in our present days with our present concerns and the issues that are going on in our circumstances around us with the perspective of Christ’s return. Well we’re going to look at Christmas from that same perspective over the next few weeks. To view Christmas, to view Christ’s birth not as it was promised in the Old Testament, not from the shadow of the cross as the Gospel writers present it to us, but from the spotlight, the spotlight of Christ’s return and what that means for the Christmas message. What that means is that there is an urgency to hear this message. There’s an urgency to fully embrace Christ and to rejoice in Him.

So with that in mind, we’ll read from Revelation chapter 1, 1 to 8. We’re going to focus, actually, on the second part of verse 5 onto verse 7. We’ll see four things tonight. One is that the Lord has come, the Lord has come for salvation, the Lord will come in glory, and the Lord will come for judgment. So with that in mind, let’s pray and read God’s Word.

Father, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You for the revelation of Jesus Christ in all of His humility and in all of His glory. We thank You for the work of Christ on the cross and for His resurrection, for the gift of the Holy Spirit. As we come to the book of Revelation, we find many things that are unknown to us and maybe mysterious, and yet You have given us Your Spirit. You have promised to illumine Your Word to us, and so we ask that Your Spirit would do that work tonight, that we would see Christ and that we would grow in our love for Him. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revelation 1:

“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

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, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn 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 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

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

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.

The Lord Has Come

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” He has come. He has come, who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father. And He is coming, with the clouds. And every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. You see, these verses, the second part of verse 5 to verse 7, have in view both Christ’s first appearing over 2,000 years ago and also His future return on the last day. And the first is a doxology. It’s, “To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” The second is a proclamation. “Behold, He is coming.” And then both are followed by an, “Amen.” It is true. This is certain. You can stake everything on what is written in these few verses. This is the heart of the Christian’s hope. 

Isaac Watts – I’ve mentioned this before – Isaac Watts wrote that familiar hymn, “Joy to the World,” based on Psalm 98, a psalm which we read in our call to worship. It speaks of salvation, of the Savior, of the King, of the Judge, of joy, singing for joy. What Watts was concerned about, he was concerned about what he viewed as lackluster singing of the songs in the church. There was a dull indifference with which the members of the church sang the psalms of the church. So Watts published “Joy to the World” in 1719 in a collection that he called, “Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament.” And what he wanted to do was to take the psalms of David and to express them in a way as if David had written them in his own day, in our day, or in light of the New Testament revelation. And what the New Testament reveals about the Lord who comes is that it is Jesus who comes. It is Jesus who comes as Savior and King and Judge. It is Jesus who makes us sing for joy and it is Jesus who is the focus of John’s doxology in verses 5 and 6. “The Lord has come.” Jesus has come. It’s to Him, to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood. It’s to Jesus be glory and dominion forever and ever. 

And one of the great things about the book of Revelation, just in the few verses that we read but also in the chapters to come, is the way in which it floods our emotions, our imaginations. It overwhelms us with the names and the titles, the images and the words and the mission of Jesus. It’s so helpful, at Christmastime, to remember who Jesus is. It’s helpful any time to have all of these descriptions of who Jesus is. This is the One whose birth we celebrate. And one day I was struck by that and so I went through and I underlined all of the different names and titles for Jesus that we find in the first few chapters of Revelation. And you get a sense of the infinite facets of His beauty that can never be examined fully. We can never explore the depth of Jesus’ beauty and His majesty. 

Just in the verses that we read we read that he is the Christ, He is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth. If we were to flip ahead a little bit more and to read into the letters that John writes to the seven churches that are in Asia, Jesus is the first and the last; He is the living one, the Son of God, the holy and true one, the Amen, the beginning of God’s creation. Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, and the Lamb who was slain. That’s just a sample. And we could devote all of our time to unpacking each one of those things, but it would be like what John wrote at the end of his Gospel where he said that “there are many other things that Jesus did and were all of them to be written, the world itself could not contain all of the books that could be written.” All of these names and descriptions of Jesus and they’re not enough. But this is the one who was born in Bethlehem. This is the one who becomes flesh and dwelt among us. There’s a wonder and an awe to who Jesus is, and to think about the way in which the Scriptures, the Old Testament prophecies and the Psalms and all of the Old Testament are pointing the way to Him, are promising Him, thousands of years before Jesus was born the Scriptures are foretelling His birth. And His life unfolded just as God promised it would happen.

In a few weeks we’ll gather here for the Music of Christmas. It’s a familiar service of “Lessons in Carols” and it’s beautiful music of praise to God and to Christ. And also, mixed in there are those passages of Scripture that are read to trace the promise of God from the Old Testament into the New Testament; that Jesus was born of a woman, He was born of a virgin, He was born in Bethlehem. And we could add to those Scriptures that will be read those that show how His life and ministry, His death and resurrection, were the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus is unique and He is full of wonder and awe. J.I. Packer writes that, “The incarnation is the supreme mystery with which the Gospel confronts us.” It’s staggering that the Christian claim that Jesus is God become man. He says that in that there are two mysteries for the price of one – the plurality of God and the unity of God; the three and the one, the Trinity, and also that God is united to man. The union of the Godhead and manhood in the person of Christ – two mysteries for the price of one in the incarnation. And Packer says that the more you think about it the more staggering it gets. This is the One. This is the One whom John praises in verses 5 and 6. This is the One to whom belongs all glory and dominion forever and ever.

Malcolm Muggeridge was an English journalist in the 20th century. He was, for many years, an agnostic. And he covered many of the great figures and empires of his day. And later in life he became a Christian and he reflected back on some of the things he had seen. He said, “What do we see in history? We see that empires rise and fall. There are revolutions and counter-revolutions. There’s one nation dominant and then another.” He says, “I’ve seen a crazed Austrian proclaim to the world the establishment of a German Reich that will last for a thousand years.” He said he had seen an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar with his assumption to power. And he had seen a Georgian brigand in the Kremlin, acclaimed by the intellectual elite, as wiser than Solomon. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin – all in one lifetime, Muggeridge says. All in one lifetime, all gone. All gone with the wind. But here is Jesus who was before and after and above any worldly ruler. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords and to Him and Him alone belong all glory and dominion forever and ever. It’s this Jesus who has come. 

The Lord Has Come for Salvation 

And this Jesus has come to bring good news. Jesus has come to bring salvation. That’s the next thing we see in this passage – it’s the glory of the Gospel. We have, in these verses, a summary of the Gospel. It’s a summary of what Christ has accomplished. Jesus who loves us has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father. There’s a lot more that we could say about the Gospel but it really is a simple message. It’s something that a child can understand. In fact, it’s the simplicity of the Gospel that is the beauty of the Gospel – that Jesus loves us and gave Himself for us. He died on the cross to forgive us for our sin and our guilt. He was raised from the dead to give us eternal life in His kingdom and to restore us to God. That’s the good news for all those who believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. 

And we could talk about the electing love of God. We could talk about substitutionary atonement. We could talk about the priesthood of all believers. We could even talk about contextualizing what John writes to the seven churches in Asia and how the pressures that they face, their uncertainties and the opposition and the temptations can be applied to our own days and to our own lives. We could even talk about how the Gospel addresses man’s search for meaning and man’s deepest need – his need to be loved and to be forgiven; to have a purpose and to know his ultimate destiny. And all of that is there in these few words in Revelation chapter 1. And yet sometimes we forget the basic Gospel message in all of its clear and simple beauty – that Jesus loves us and that He has freed us from our sins by His blood and He has made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father. Anyone in here tonight can understand that message and believe it and rest in Jesus Christ for salvation – from the oldest cynic to the smallest child.

And I know pastors are not supposed to have favorite church members or favorite Sunday school classes, but the best Sunday school class, hands down, in this church – not even close – the best Sunday school class is the Special Friends class or the Special Needs class. And from time to time, Molly and I like to stop in there to see them. And I cannot tell you the encouragement that comes to us from hearing them pray and from hearing them sing and from hearing them recite from heart, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Or to hear them say, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” It’s enough to bring you to tears. It’s simple faith in a simple but profound message for salvation. That’s what Jesus has done, and that’s why John writes this doxology. That’s why he’s filled with praise.

And you notice he ends it with an “Amen.” It’s that little word, “amen.” It’s a word that we use all too flippantly perhaps, but there’s salvation in that word because “amen” means, “Yes.” It means, “It is true.” Yes, this is true. It’s in Christ that I rest for salvation. He is my confidence and my solid ground. We stand on what Christ has done because the Lord has come for salvation.

The Lord Will Come in Glory 

And then John shifts. And there’s a shift from the past to the future. The Lord has come. Now, a proclamation – the Lord will come; the Lord will come in glory. Verse 7, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds.” That’s one of many Old Testament references in the book of Revelation. Revelation contains more Old Testament references than any other book in the New Testament. There’s not complete agreement on all of the allusions and references, but some say that there are over 500 references from the Old Testament in the book of Revelation. One writer even says that of the 404 verses in Revelation, 278 of them contain an Old Testament reference of allusion. Well this is one of those that is clearly a reference to the Old Testament. It’s picking up Daniel chapter 7. Here’s what Daniel prophecies in the seventh chapter of Daniel. “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like the son of man.” Daniel says, “He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Coming with the clouds. “Behold, he is coming with the clouds.”

Jesus Himself spoke of coming with the clouds. And if you remember at the beginning of the book of Acts when Jesus ascended into heaven, on a cloud, the angels said to His disciples, “He will come again. He will come again in the same way that you saw Him go into heaven.” In other words, He will come with all authority, in all power and all glory. That’s what the cloud is symbolizing. It’s imagery for dominion and exaltation. Jesus will come not in humility and lowliness. He will come not to be rejected and mocked, not to suffer and die. He will come as the King, to reign and to rule and to receive His kingdom, to raise the dead and to restore all of creation. In a word, He will come to complete the work of salvation that He has accomplished by His death and resurrection. This is the Christian hope. And in a sense, all that follows in the book of Revelation is an unfolding of the hope of Christ coming with the clouds. 

And notice how John addresses his readers here at the beginning of Revelation. He says in verse 4, “Grace to you and peace.” Grace and peace. One commentator says “it’s grace and peace; it’s not perplexity in a puzzle.” It’s not what Sinclair Ferguson says, “a spiritual Sudoku,” that we have to work out all the details and know the fine points of it. It’s that Jesus is coming in glory. It’s grace and peace. And for all of the strangeness and the mysterious symbolism that we find in the book of Revelation, it’s a message of grace and peace and hope.

And there may be some things going on in your life, circumstances today, that you are burdened with grief and with sadness. Perhaps you’re burdened by stress or just busy and you feel like there’s no time, there’s no place, there’s no capacity for joy or for rejoicing in the Lord. And yet the purpose of the book of Revelation is to get us to look up. To look up from our day to day circumstances and the things that are swirling around us. Look up and to see the King of glory, to see the Christ of glory, and to see the bigger picture that there is to see and to know that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us. In fact, we sing about it in a hymn. “Lo, He comes with clouds descending, once for our salvation slain. Thousand, thousand saints attending, swell the triumph of His train. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God appears on earth to reign!” Yes, in that day there will be a hallelujah and there will be praise and there will be worship and there will be adoration, but isn’t it time to praise and adore Him today as we view and think about the return of Christ; a hallelujah to sing. Look up and rejoice. 

The Lord Will Come for Judgment

And yet you’ll also notice not only a praise, because the Lord will come in glory, but also there’s wailing. That’s the fourth thing to see from this passage, is that the Lord will come for judgment. “Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.” You see, when Jesus returns the opportunity for repentance will be gone; it will be passed. We read from Philippians chapter 2 this morning. “Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.” But not all will do so willingly. For some, it will be a bowing of the knee in judgment. Instead of praise, there will be wailing, mourning, a beating of the breast. And that’s part of the Christmas message too. It seems out of place, doesn’t it? We’ll soon be decorating with garland and poinsettias and there’s the celebration of Christ’s birth, the angels and the shepherds and the star, and then to talk of judgment and the wrath of God? But we can’t miss that. 

It’s almost like being at a wedding and there’s all of this appearance of a happy and joyous occasion and then what does the pastor do – he starts to talk about sickness and poverty and death. Because that’s what the vows are. That’s what a wedding vow is – in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, till death do we part. It seems jolting in the midst of such a joyous occasion. And the same is at Christmas – to be celebrating the birth of Christ and yet to talk of judgment. 

And yet this is what we find throughout the Bible. The manifestation of the glory of God is followed by the demonstration of His wrath. You can think about the book of Leviticus, following Exodus. The glory of God, the glory filling the tabernacle, and then there’s the death of Nadab and Abihu for disregarding God’s commands. There was, at Mount Carmel, Elijah, and the fire came down to burn up the sacrifice, and then there’s the execution of the priests of Baal. Or in the book of Acts, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, followed by God’s judgment on Ananias and Sapphira for their deception against the church and against God. You see, when God’s glory is revealed, all those who are not freed from their sins will be punished for their sins. And all those who have not trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation will face the awful wrath of God and will wail on account of Him. It’s terrible.

And so the Christmas message, the message of the book of Revelation is – do not refuse the One who comes. Do not reject Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, but look to Him, believe in Him, and be saved. Grace and peace are found in Jesus and in Jesus alone. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room.” So receive Him. If you have not received Jesus, if you have not rested in Him by faith for salvation, there is an invitation here for you tonight to see the glory of Jesus, to see the glory of the Gospel, to see the hope of glory and to bow your knee to Jesus, to call Him Lord and to receive the blessings of salvation that are ours in Him. And one day, on the last day, you will join all of the believers and all of the angels of heaven and heaven and nature will sing. Sing! Sing for joy and not wail, not mourn. The Lord has come. The Lord has come for salvation. The Lord will come in glory. The Lord will come for judgment.

And I’ll close with two stories of two different men. One is the testimony of John Piper. Piper said that as a young man he was conflicted. He struggled with the tension; the tension between, on the one hand, of the desire to do God’s will, but also his own desire to be happy. He didn’t know how to resolve that tension of doing God’s will or his own happiness. And so he said it was in 1968, he was reading Paul’s letter to the Philippians, that he came to the realization that those two things are not in competition; they are not alternatives to one another. But in fact if to live is Christ and to die is gain, you see, the loss of everything on earth that would promise to make us happy, when it’s gone at death, that that is gain, that Christ is gain, that Christ is better than anything else that could possibly make him happy, the greatest happiness is to be in Christ. He said upon making that realization, he said that his personal motto is, “Christ is most magnified in me when I am most satisfied in Him. Christ is most magnified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.” And Piper said a couple of years ago, “All I did for the last fifty years was write books about that.” 

He did more than that of course, but the point is that Christ deserves first place in our hearts and we have to fight; we have to fight against thinking that anything else can make us happy, can truly satisfy us. It’s not money, it’s not beauty, it’s not reputation, it’s not sports, it’s not a house or a vacation. It’s not even good things like family and good works that can truly satisfy us. Only Jesus will satisfy us and we need to remember again the glory and the wonder of Jesus Christ and to make Him our first love and to order everything in our lives around Christ – to order our relationships, to order our work, to order our worship around Jesus Christ. Can we say that? Can we say that we do that, or do we need again to renew our sense of wonder and awe at who Jesus is, at who is presented to us here in the book of Revelation. “Christ is most magnified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

The second story is the testimony of C.H. Spurgeon. F.W. Boreham tells the story of the first Sunday of the New Year and the whole town was blanketed by snow. There was a winter storm that had come in and on that Sunday the service was lightly filled; there was just a handful of people who could make it to the service that day. One of those who could not make it, who had been snowed in at home, was the pastor. The pastor could not make it, but there was a handful there. And one of those who was there was a fifteen year old Charles Spurgeon, and even he was there somewhat by accident. He would have normally gone to another church that day but the weather prevented him from going there so he stopped in at this congregation. He sat in the back under the balcony and he said that his mind was distressed. He felt that he had so sinned against God that there was no hope for him. But as he sat there in the back, under the balcony, he said that a shoemaker or something like that stood up and rose to go into the pulpit to fill in for the pastor that day. 

And this is what Spurgeon says about what happened that morning. He said, “The man was obliged to stick to his text for the simple reason that he had nothing else to say. His text was, ‘Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth!’ He did not even pronounce the words rightly but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in the text and I listened as though my life depended upon what I heard. In about ten minutes the preacher had gotten to the end of his tether. Then he saw me sitting under the gallery and I dare say with so few present he knew me to be a stranger. He then said, ‘Young man, you look very miserable.’ Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance. However, it was a good blow; well struck. He continued, ‘And you will also be miserable, miserable in life, miserable in death, if you do not obey my text. But if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then Spurgeon says that he shouted, and he shouted as only a primitive Methodist could have shouted, “Young man! Look to Jesus! Look! Look ! Look!” Spurgeon says, “I did, and then and there the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the Son. I looked,” says Spurgeon, “until I could almost have looked my eyes away, and in heaven I will look still, in joy unutterable.”

Look to Jesus. Look to Him in all His glory, in all the glory of the Gospel, in all the hope of the glory that is ours in Him, and find true and lasting joy. Joy that is unutterable. And John might add, “Amen.” Let’s pray.

Our Father, we thank You for our great Savior. We thank You for Your love which sent Him for us to seek us and to find us, for Your amazing grace, that when we were blind, when we were sinners, we were lost, You came and sought us to give us sight. That You would find us and make us Yours and that You would pour out to us all the blessings of the Gospel and eternal life and joy in Christ; that we would be in the presence, that we would behold the glory of Jesus for all eternity, that all eternity is not long enough to delve into the depths of seeing the glories of Jesus. And so we pray that in these next few weeks as we spend time looking at the book of Revelation and looking to Christ, that You would again renew in us a sense of awe and wonder. If there’s any here tonight that do not know Christ and have been running from Him, resisting Him, refusing Him, that You would humble them, bring them to repentance, that they would find salvation in Christ, that they would find rest in Him, receive Him; that they would prepare Him room and find life. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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