Good morning to you. I’ve told folks last night and this morning that our having sent you Molly and Wiley Lowry and their three cute kids, you owe us big time for that! I’m delighted to be here. It was a joy to be here this weekend for the Men’s Rally, something that Jim Baird and some others of you started twenty-nine years ago. It’s a great tradition. It was a joy to come into the building on Friday night and see fathers with sons and grandfathers with grandsons, carrying on the tradition of getting together every year, not only as First Presbyterian men, but as men throughout the presbytery and even beyond that region, having hundreds and hundreds of men here. It was a great time together and I was honored to be part of it just as I am to be with you this morning. I told the early service that the things that Wiley said about me this morning before the introit, the one that I appreciate the most - he called me a friend of First Presbyterian Church. I’m highly honored to be your friend and I’m bringing you greetings also from your friends, your brothers and sisters, your cousins, your aunts and uncles from First Presbyterian - I’m sorry that’s you! - Second Presbyterian in Memphis. They all send their greetings; they know I’m here and praying for all of us today as we pray for them as well.
Background to the Book of Revelation
I want you to turn in your Bibles to the book Revelation. If you don’t know where it is, it’s right after the next to the last book in your Bible! Which means it’s the last book of the Bible! And a lot of Christians will avoid this book because it’s kind of complex. Some think that John, the apostle, just had some bad pizza on Saturday night and didn’t get over it by Sunday and came up with these things that looked more like nightmares than helpful visions, but just the opposite is the case. It’s a very, very encouraging book as we shall see. John was on the island of Patmos, he’d been exiled there, and he had pastored the church in Ephesus for many years. He was an old man. He was probably around ninety years of age and he cared a lot about the church in Ephesus and the surrounding churches. If you’ve been to Ephesus, you can just go on up north - there was Smyrna, that’s a church he pastored, and he took care, you’ll remember, of Jesus’ own mother. And tradition teaches us that they came to Smyrna and there was a church there in memory of Mary the mother of Jesus because John took care of her there until she died and then he was exiled. And of course you have Pergamum and Smyrna and Thyatira and Laodicea, Philadelphia, the other churches where John had pastored much like a bishop.
Now he’s in exile; he’s concerned about these churches. They’re going through some difficult things - some of the individuals in the churches and some of the churches as a whole. And so he receives this vision that is a message for those seven churches that he pastors. And in that vision we have tremendous encouragement and we will see that in chapters 2 and 3, if we were to read through Revelation, which we will not do this morning, God addresses those seven churches in terms of their current status and some of the needs that are in those churches that John pastored. When you turn to chapter 4, you’ll see that John is shown an opening into heaven so that he has visions of things yet to come so he can tell those seven churches about the unfolding of history that will take place under the sovereignty of God. Oh what a great message it is! We’re simply going to be looking at the very first vision that John has and this vision is perhaps the most important one of them all, as we shall see. It’s greatly encouraging. Let us look to the Lord in prayer and then we will read our text and take a few moments to study it together.
Lord Jesus Christ, You love Your church, You speak to Your church through Your Word for which we are profoundly grateful. We are Your brothers and sisters, we are the children of God, and we gather before Your throne and ask just as little Samuel did, “Speak, O Lord, for Your servants listen.” Amen.
Revelation chapter 1 verse 9. Hear the Word of God:
“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. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 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.’
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 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. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edge sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
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, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 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.’”
All men are like grass and all their glory is like the flower of the field. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the Word of our God shall stand forever. Amen.
Wordly Encouragement vs. Biblical Encouragement
There was a farmer who had a very stubborn mule and he couldn’t get the mule to do anything, I mean nothing. He hit him over the head with a 2x4, he kicked him, he cajoled him, he tried to hold food out in front of him; he wouldn’t move. He went to the vet and he said to the vet, “Before I shoot this old mule, why don’t you give me some ideas for how I can get this mule on the move and do some good.” And the vet said, “I’ve got just the answer for you. I’ve got two pills - a red pill and a white pill. Now the red pill has always worked. This red pill ought to get that mule up and really get him going. But if it doesn’t work, I will guarantee you that the white pill will work; it’s about ten times as strong.” So about a week later, the veterinarian sees the farmer and says, “Well hey, how did it go with your old mule?” He said, “Oh man, those pills were amazing.” He said, “I have the mule the red pill and in about ten seconds he started kicking and screaming and he knocked the door down to the barn and he ran through the fence and he went over the fields all the way over the hills so I couldn’t even see him!” And the vet said, “What in the world did you do?” He said, “I took the white pill and I went out after him!”
I wish it was easy to offer encouragement to the saints today. To just have a little red pill and if you really need it, we could give you the white pill and you’d be greatly encouraged and motivated. And of course motivation’s a very important thing and we have many ways in which we get encouraged through life. I remember as a senior in high school being in English class and old Mr. Hitt, he was very old - not as old as I am now but he was very old! And Mr. Hitt said to this room full of boys, he said, “Gentlemen, do you know how to get the woman of your dreams?” We’re just juniors in high school and we’re thinking, “What does Mr. Hitt know about girls?” “No, Mr. Hitt, how do you get the woman of your dreams?” He said, “One word - perseverance.” And you know actually I think he may have been right. Some of the men you women marry can only be explained by the fact that they persevere! I can’t come up with any other reason why you would have married them!
We have many ways to motivate ourselves. My mother, my grandmothers, had many sayings. I mean of course they would quote Benjamin Franklin - “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Or the great philosopher of our own day, Joel Osteen, put it like this, he said, “You can’t explain victory and plan for failure.” So you have to be out there, you have to be motivated, you have to be encouraged - we have many ways to do this. But I want to suggest to you this morning that the Bible is full of encouragement and has some unique encouragements that don’t just come to us as common sense. There’s nothing wrong with common sense but there’s something wrong with it if that’s as far as your sense goes. And for the believers we have something much deeper than common sense. We have special sense. We have special encouragements. And we are primarily to attach ourselves to these encouragements as we live our lives. And just looking at this congregation and not knowing you like I know my own congregation, I do know this - that every pew has somebody on it with a broken heart, that there’s somebody in this room that’s facing cancer and it’s very, very serious, and some of you have people that you just lost to death and you feel very alone. And some of you have marriages that are just not working very well and to be honest, you’ve thought about it three or four times, “How would anyone get out of this?” And some of you have kids that you’re really worried about and some of you have jobs that you hate. And some of you are trying to make friends and some of you have just broke up with your girlfriend and you’re wondering, “What is the hope of life?”
Regardless of what it is, we’re always called back to the teachings of the New Testament to find our specific and special encouragement for how and why we live life. We find that throughout the New Testament because the New Testament is written to churches, it’s written to believers. It’s for the unbeliever. And if you’re not trusting in Christ this morning I hope you’ll listen in, because the Bible’s for unbelievers too, but it’s primarily written to believers. And to what purpose? To encourage them. You’ve been studying Hebrews. What’s the main point of Hebrews? To persevere. Why? Because you have a great High Priest who sympathizes with you and there are tremendous encouragements in Hebrews. You will find the same thing when Paul teaches on the doctrine of the resurrection for heaven’s sakes in 1 Corinthians 15. What’s the grand conclusion? Stand immovable. Let nothing move you. Always abound in the work of the Lord. For because of the resurrection you know that your labor is not in vain. And so on and so forth.
Revelation: a book to encourage the saints
And Revelation has to be one of the key books for encouragement. And how does it work? Well of all the zaniness in Revelation, what’s basically happening there as that John writes to the seven churches, he’s seeking to inspire their imaginations. Imagination is not about things that are not, but to inspire your imagination about things that are. You say, “Well why does my imagination need to be inspired?” Well because you walk not by sight but by faith. You are living by things that you can’t see. And if you have no imagination you’re not going to be able to live in the context of the Christian life. The Christian life is inspired by a pristine imagination, a glorious imagination that’s inspired by the Word of God itself. So I want you to look with me at this text and let’s see this amazing imagination that John himself had and conveyed to the church because he had these amazing visions that are reflective of reality. It’s not wishful thinking; it’s reality. And what did he see of all the visions that he saw? Here in Revelation, he sees the Lord Jesus Christ and he sees Him as He is. And every one of us to be encouraged this morning must turn to the real Lord Jesus Christ, see Him as He is, and be inspired by Him.
Now if you’ll look at the text with me, and if you’ve happened to have closed your Bible it’s page 1028. Please open it right back up; we’re going to be going verse by verse through the text that we just read. I want you to notice - you’re probably looking at the English Standard Version - there are three paragraphs in this text and I want us to make one major observation in each of those paragraphs and all of them have to do with how we are inspired and encouraged by the Lord Jesus Christ. In the first three verses of that first paragraph, 9 through 11, we’re going to see that we’re encouraged because Christ speaks to us. He talks to us. We hear His voice. Second, when you come to verses 12 through 16, you’ll see that Jesus Christ discloses Himself to us. He lets us see Him as He really is. Thirdly we’re going to see that we’re greatly encouraged by John’s vision of Christ because He cares for us and we’ll see some specific ways in this text - how He’s caring for you and He’s caring for me, which provides the encouragement that we need to persevere.
I. Encouraged because Jesus speaks to us
Now let’s look at the text. In verses 9 through 11, first of all, we’re greatly encouraged because Jesus talks to us, He speaks to us. Now I want us to notice the context in which He speaks, first of all. I want to make about three sub-observations if we could. Let’s look at the text. In verse 9 you’ll see that He speaks to us in our troubles. He’s not waiting for you to get on top of the world and have everything in order, even to have your sinful life in order. He takes you in the midst of your afflictions and your tribulations and this is where He talks to you. And I would say as a matter of fact, I think you actually hear Him better when you’re afflicted than you do when you have all the money you need and all the health you want and all your children are doing well and your marriage is smooth as silk. I’ve just noticed in my thirty-three years of pastoral ministry that God’s people seem to listen a little bit better when they’re afflicted. As one scholar said, “We Christians are like tea bags. We do our work in hot water.” That’s where we do our best work. And you’ll notice here what John says. “I’m your brother. Yes, I’m your pastor. I’m an apostle.” But John says, “My fundamental relationship with you, my eternal relationship with you is not apostle, it’s not pastor. My eternal relationship with you is brother. And right here in this life I’m also your partner. You think of me as teacher, pastor, administrator of the sacraments, as bishop, etc. But fundamentally in this life I’m your partner. What am I your partner in?”
Speaking to us in our afflictions
Look at the text. Three things - “I’m your partner in tribulation.” When we hear the word, tribulation, all of the Scofield scenes come out in our minds of dispensationalism. All the great tribulation, seven years - listen folks. The only people who could think of tribulation as being a sign of some great future date that’s going to occur in seven years or people who don’t understand the times. Everybody in the New Testament era understood they’re in tribulation. They’re not waiting for it to happen; it’s now! Since we in the West don’t feel as though we’re being tribulated very much we think, “Well this must be some other period. I can’t understand it.” You can’t understand it because your life is so easy. But Christians, the majority report of the church for two thousand years is, “We’re being killed out here! We’re being tribulated!” And John says, “I’m your partner in tribulation.” And ladies and gentlemen, no matter what you’re going through, I want you to hear this. That we’re all partners in your tribulation and mine. We’re all partners in the tribulation of the apostles. This is the Apostolic Church and we’re all partners in the tribulation, even of the Lord Jesus Himself. Paul says, “I want to know Christ in the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.” Why? “So I can become like Him in His death.” And so when we share the sufferings of Jesus in this life we experience partnership with the apostles and with Jesus Himself. And John honors us by saying, “I’m a partner with you in the tribulation.”
And then he says, “I’m a partner with you in the kingdom.” We’re all under the King, Lord Jesus Christ. We all have citizenship in another kingdom. We’re only passing through Jackson. We’re only passing through Mississippi and the United States of America. We’re only passing through this life. We’re pilgrims because we’re in the kingdom. And Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” So we have a citizenship in another place. We’re only carrying passports here. And then he says, “I’m your partner in patient endurance in Jesus Christ.” And all these things are in Christ - the tribulations, the kingdom, and the patient endurance. And if you would want to follow Jesus Christ today, if you want to give your life to Him, let me tell you it just begins with that decision to follow Christ. The rest of your life is perseverance and patient endurance with Jesus Christ and that’s what it’s about.
And so he says, “Brothers and sisters, you’re missing your pastor, I’ve been taken into exile on the Isle of Patmos, and you’re missing me; I’m missing you.” And if you’ve been to Patmos and you’ve seen the traditional place where John the apostle lived, it’s a little cave. And in those days it was not the beautiful Aegean island that it is today. In those days it was like Alcatraz. It’s where the governing people like Pilate and other people would send their miscreants, those who are causing political troubles, send them to Alcatraz, send them to Patmos, and that’s where John was. His heart was broken; their hearts were broken. And he’s saying, “Look, I’m not there with you but the Lord is still speaking to you in the midst of your tribulations.”
Speaking to us in our worship
Now secondly, under this same theme, verses 9 through 11, look in verse 10. And you will see here that he speaks to us in our afflictions as we worship. Look at verse 10 and what John says here. This is very intentional. He’s conveying this to them for a reason. He says, “I was on Patmos on account of my testimony, my preaching, I was taken into exile there,” but look at verse 10 - “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. The Lord spoke to me while I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” He’s saying this for a reason. He wants to be sure that these churches that he’s pasturing that they live in the Spirit, that they walk in the Spirit, and that they worship on the Lord’s Day. You say, “Well how can I be in the Spirit?” Brothers and sisters, He is very near to you and all you need do is say, “Holy Spirit, come into my life and take over. Holy Spirit, come and fill me.” It’s that simple. Has Christ ever turned anyone away who said, “Lord Jesus, forgive me for my sins. I want to trust in Your work on the cross of Calvary”? Has Jesus ever turned anyone away who made that prayer? Never, never, never. And likewise, God has never turned away anyone who asks, “Lord, fill me with Your Spirit.” Jesus put it this way. He said, “You wicked fathers, you sinful fathers, even you, if your son asks you for a piece of bread you’re not going to give him a rock. If he asks you for fish to eat are you going to give him a snake that will bite him? Even you who are wicked know better than that. Well how about our heavenly Father? If you who are evil will give good gifts to your children, how much more,” says Jesus, “will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to everyone who asks Him?”
And so John says, “I was in the Spirit. This is the way I was able to see. This is the way I was able to get my encouragement. It wasn’t from Benjamin Franklin. It was from being in the Spirit and being able to see things the eyes can’t see and focusing on the living God. And furthermore, I honored the Lord’s Day. You thought I honored the Lord’s Day because I was being paid by you to be a preacher. You thought I honored the Lord’s Day just because some of y’all showed up. No, I honored the Lord’s Day because it’s set apart to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ and to celebrate which y’all do even if I’m here by myself!” Some of us who are pastors and elders are aware of these realities but just in the term of my pastoral ministry of thirty-three years I’ve seen a trend among committed Christians with regard to their keeping the Lord’s Day and keeping worship as front and center in their lives. There have been studies that have been done lately that core, committed people in evangelical churches - these are not your Easter and Christmas people and some of you may be Easter, Christmas, and February 2, Groundhog Day, hey, that’s alright! If you always go to church on Groundhog Day we’re delighted that you’re here! But if you’re a regular person, let me tell you what the surveys show. About ten years ago, you used to attend church 3.2 times per month. That’s committed people - 3.2. And today, committed people go to church 1.8 times per month. That is a catastrophic slide in our thought about coming together.
Now it may have something to do with virtual realities - the websites, streaming, and those of you watching on TV we’re so glad that you do and especially those of you that can’t come. But let me just say to those of you on TV who can come, you need to be with the people of God on the Lord’s Day. Come, come to First Presbyterian Church and worship with the people. If there was anything on the apostle John’s heart that day besides focusing on Jesus Christ, it was longing to be with the people from whom he was exiled. He got His encouragement by hearing the Word of God on the Lord’s Day, and of course you hear it every day as you read your Bible, you hear it in your families if you have family worship, but the presence of God is thick with glory when His people meet to bow down before Him and worship Him.
Speaking to us through the Apostles
So we hear the Word of God in our afflictions, we hear it in our afflictions as we worship Him together, and then lastly notice in verse 11, we hear Him speak to us through the apostles. John was given a specific word by the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice Jesus is the author. You want to know who is speaking to you in the Bible? It is Christ Himself and He has chosen to speak through the apostles to all of the rest of us so that we are hearing the word of Christ through the ministry of the apostles. And he says to John, “John, this is for you to encourage you on the Isle of Patmos, but John, it’s much more than that. You take this word and give it to the people whom I love in Ephesus and Smyrna and etc, etc.” So we hear the word through the apostles. That’s the reason why we devote ourselves to the Bible because, as J. I. Packer says about the Bible, it’s one of the best descriptions I ever heard about the Bible, he says in two words - “God preaching.” And when we hear the Word of God preached we’re hearing it as a word imperfectly but real - the Word of God, the Word of Christ to our souls and we’re to be encouraged with the mysteries spoken to us by the Scriptures.
II. Encouraged because Jesus discloses Himself to us
Now secondly, then, this is the big secondly, we’ve seen in verses 9 through 11 that we’re encouraged because Christ speaks to us directly. Secondly, we’re encouraged because He discloses Himself to us and He does so to John in verses 12 through 16. Some years ago I was leading, just on a one time occasion, a number of pastors and missionaries and their spouses in a little Bible study and I was just the moderator. I can’t remember the text but I remember what I asked them to do at the very beginning of our study. I said, “Brothers and sisters will y’all just close your eyes for a minute? I want us to just take about thirty seconds in quiet. Just close your eyes,” I said, “and I want you to imagine Jesus Christ.” Now if that’s a violation of the second commandments, not making any graven images, if it’s heresy please make the best of it, but that’s what I asked them to do. And in thirty seconds I said, “Let’s just go around the circle and see what everybody saw in their imagination.” Well the first one said, “Oh, I see Jesus coming out of the water in His baptism.” Another one said, “I see Him sitting on the hillside teaching the Sermon on the Mount.” Another one said, “I see Him sitting on the hillside with children on both sides.” Another one said, “I see Him in the Garden of Gethsemane with His elbows on a rock and He’s sweating like blood.”
Now what was really interesting to me, first of all, in hearing all these descriptions is I realized that every single one of them represented a picture in my old, big, family Bible. I think we all had the big, same big, family Bible! Boy, the power of art! That’s how everyone remembers Jesus. But the more important distinctive of all of these imaginations is that every one of them were not only pre-ascension but pre-resurrection. And I think it may hint at how some of us imagine Jesus, that we read the gospels and we hear these wonderful stories of our compassionate Savior who took on flesh and looked just like us and if you didn’t know who He was you would just think He was a common, poor carpenter. What a majestic condescension! And we imagine Him that way and He’s accessible to us that way. He’s very human to us. And in all His weakness and vulnerability we find it easy to relate to Him and so we just naturally imagine just like the pictures in the family Bible. But Paul says to us in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 we no longer think of anybody after the flesh because we’re all eternal beings. And then he went on to say that we no longer even think of Christ after the flesh. And you know why? Because Paul himself had a grand vision of the living, current Jesus Christ on his road to Damascus and the light and radiance and power of Christ’s glory knocked him off his horse and struck him blind for three days. Because of the infinite radiance, the effulgent glory of the Lord Jesus Christ that he beheld. That’s who Jesus really is.
A Triumphant, All-Powerful Jesus
And what John is saying to the church - we have to understand something about how you get encouraged. Not everybody in the world has this. They think of Jesus like 97% of the American population who say they hold Jesus in high regard and they think of Him as a very fine prophet, a very fine teacher, a social radical, a lover of the poor. All of which He is, but the church has been given a divine secret - that we no longer know Him after the flesh because now He has resurrected to eternal glory and if one were ever to behold Him he would be struck blind without the protection of God Himself, that He is, with white hair that is pure like wool and has eyes that are blazing fire and he has a double-edge sword coming out of His mouth and His visage is so brilliant it’s like the sun in noonday. And John said, “When I saw Him, I fell down before Him as though dead.”
You might say, “What difference does that vision make?” Well let me tell you what difference it makes. It means that we hold Him in the highest estate, that we worship Him with all of our hearts. He is the emperor, the king, the president of all time and we willingly lay down our lives to extend and exalt His glory everywhere. That’s what it means. And that in catching one glimpse of His glory is enough to fuel us for the rest of life because we’ve seen Him and we know who He is. That’s what John is saying. So he says to the church in the midst of an absentee pastor, in the midst of a culture that is pressing you and persecuting you and marginalizing you, which Ephesus did to the believers, in the midst of all of that, “Don’t forget who the Lord of the church is.” And you know, sometimes senior ministers are called, “cats,” and people say, “You know, when the cat’s away the mice will play.” And what John is saying is, “The cat may not be there but the lion is and he is the one who rules and governs in the church.”
III. Encouraged because Jesus cares for us
Now lastly, please look with me at verses 17b really through verse 20. And quickly let’s just notice the third major principle. We’re encouraged because Christ speaks to us, we’re encouraged because He discloses Himself to us in all His glory, and we have disclosed to us this very day through the preaching of this day we see the glory of Christ and our imaginations are inspired. And then he says thirdly we should be encouraged because He cares for you; He really does, in all His glory. Look at verse 17. John says, “I fell down as though dead,” but look at the next word - “but, this divine adversity. Yes, I fell on my feet as though dead, yes, I didn’t deserve to be in His presence, yes, I was afraid I’d be struck dead because of my own sin, but the great and glorious Lord Jesus Christ took His right hand and set it upon me and lifted me up and said, ‘Do not be afraid.’” Some of us know what it’s like, even as senior men like myself, to have one of the old men come by and just lay their hand on you. Friday night before I preached, Jim Baird said, “Let me just pray with you.” How’s that? Jim Baird just laid his hand on me and prayed for me. Man, I felt like I was fifteen years old again being nurtured by my father. Let tell you, that can’t be compared to the Lord Jesus Christ in all of His glory, taking His omnipotent right hand and touching your filthy back and lifting you up and telling you don’t be afraid.
And why does He tell you not to be afraid? Well let’s look at several different reasons. First of all, verse 18. He says, “I’m the beginning and the end; I’m the first and the last. I was dead but now I’m living.” And that’s a wonderful thing. We saw Jesus die on the cross. Many, many of the people in the first century saw Jesus die on the cross. He’s no longer dead; He’s alive. Praise the Lord! But then He says, “I hold the keys to Hades.” Now in the hymn we’re going to sing in just a moment, Charles Wesley says, “He holds the keys to death and hell,” interpreting this text. Maybe so, but I think generally in the Bible, Hades is not hell, it’s the resting place of the dead - the Sheol of the Old Testament. And what Jesus is saying, “John, I’ve got the keys to let people out of the prison after death and they can be set free to go into the very presence of God,” which we do when we die. He says, “I’m holding those keys. Don’t be afraid. I’m giving you life!”
Encouraged because Christ has conquered death on behalf of His People
One of my dear friends, a lawyer in Memphis and an elder in our church died a few years ago, his name was David Williams. David would always bring his law partners to the men’s Bible study at six thirty on Thursday mornings because he said, “When I ask them if they’ll come with me to Bible study they can’t tell me they’re busy doing something else.” He said, “It’s wonderful - a six thirty Bible study. They have no excuses.” So you’d have two or three unbelievers there with him every Thursday morning at the Bible study. Wonderful man; tenderhearted man. He died of cancer and I’ll never forget when he came to my office when he was first diagnosed and he sat down on my couch - I didn’t know anything about his cancer - and he said to me, he said, “Pastor, now you’ve been here about ten years and you’ve been telling me how to live. Now I want you to tell me how to die.” What a man! So I got busy learning how to die and David taught me. I’ll never forget our trip to Israel just right around that time. David had his whole family there. We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which many scholars believe was the very place where Jesus was buried. And we waited in line like everybody else and we got our little trip into the Holy Sepulcher. And I went in and I came out and I was just kind of standing there in wonder and amazement. And David kind of strolls over next to me and he says, “Pastor I noticed something about that tomb.” And I said, “What’s that, David?” And he said, “It’s empty.”
This is what Jesus is saying. “I have life, therefore you have life, and I have conquered death on your behalf. And this is what encourages you is that you have life after this life. You don’t just go around once; you go forever and ever and ever and you don’t have to experience everything in this life and cram it into three-score and ten.” Oh no, my friends. We have ever and ever and ever. We have only one job here and that’s to glorify God who has saved us and washed us by His blood and given us eternal life by His death. That’s what Jesus is saying to the apostle John.
You know this afternoon there’s going to be a football game on I understand and there are two mighty fine teams playing. I’m actually going to be in church worshiping, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting back to Memphis in time to worship at six o’clock. And I grant, I’m making a point, but I also want to worship the Lord and have a vision of Christ. But later on the in the evening one of those two teams is going to be very happy and the reason is, one team is the best football defense on the face of the earth. The other team is the best offensive fire power on the face of the earth. One of those teams is going to be able to say, “We defeated the best defense on the face of the earth,” or “We defeated the best offense on the face of the earth.” Do you see what Jesus is saying? “On your behalf, I defeated death itself on your behalf!” We are greatly encouraged because He speaks to us, He discloses Himself to us, and He cares for us. He connects with us.
Encouraged because Christ rules history on behalf of His People
Keep reading it. We’re almost through. In verse 19, probably the key verse to understanding Revelation - because John is writing what is and that will be chapters 2 and 3 in the letters to the seven churches and what will take place after - that’s chapters 4 through the end of Revelation. But he’s basically saying here, “You be encouraged because the one who is glorious and happens to be in love with you controls this universe now and later and there’s not one thing out of His hands, not one thing out of His control.” You say, “Well my life seems to be pretty miserable.” Well that’s not out of His control either. And you’re just like a little child who’s miserable because his parents won’t give his dessert before he has his salad and he’s miserable. And you’re the worst parent on the face of the earth because you don’t give him a cookie before dinner. And you’re just like that, adults. You’ve got something not going well and you say, “My Father is miserable! He’s torturing me! He doesn’t care about me!” You’re just as petulant and immature as your three year old child because the fact of the matter is, He controls everything and He’s controlling it for you and He has revealed this so you can see the sweep of history. And when you get to the end of this story you will find out that conquering with Him are all of His saints who have suffered and been persecuted and marginalized in this life.
Encouraged because Christ cares personally for his People
Now lastly, we’ve seen that He cares for us in conquering death on our behalf, in ruling all of history on our behalf, but look at this in verse 20 - He cares for us because He lives with us for heaven’s sake. He says, “John, let’s go back to this vision of Me that you just saw. Did you see the seven stars in my hand? John, would you like to know what that is and would you please tell everybody else? Those are the seven angels for the seven churches.” You know there’s debate about what this means but most scholars suggest that these angels, the word just means messenger, seven messengers are the seven preachers or pastors in this churches. And He’s saying, “John, I hold those men in my hands. John, where do you think you came from? I had you in my hands and I sent you to Ephesus to pick up on the church planter, the apostle Paul, and to pastor those people and to extend the kingdom of God. I had you in my hand. You’re a star; I put you there. I took you out, John, but I have more stars.”
Where do you think John Reed Miller came from? He was a star in the hand of God. Where do you think Don Patterson came from? He was a star in the hand of God to you. Where do you think Jim Baird came from? He was a star in the right hand of God for you to hear the Word of God and to see the vision of Christ. Where do you think Ligon Duncan came from? He was a star in the right hand of God, given to you to hear the Word of God. And I’ve got some news for you. There are more where that came from! And Christ has them in His hand because look at the next analogy. He says, “You know there are seven lampstands which are to remind you of the tabernacle, and like a high priest, I was making my way through the tabernacle and so in my vision I looked like a priest with a long robe and the golden sash and so on.” He says, “You know what those lampstands are? They’re the seven churches you’re pasturing. And do you know who’s with them? You’re not with them, John, anymore, but you know who’s with them? Me! I’m walking among those golden lampstands, those churches. I’m caring for them personally.”
Wow. Think you have any grounds for encouragement this morning? Do you think you have a secret that the world needs to know? Doesn’t this encouragement make every other form of encouragement look very silly and superficial? It does and they are. And every religion of the world can be summarized this way, every religion except one - and let me summarize for you so you won’t even have to go to college and do comparative religious studies. Let me just tell you what they all say - Be good and don’t give up. All but one, and the one that’s just been revealed to us and which we celebrate this day is not made up of people trying to be good and not giving up on their own; it’s made up of a Savior who has been raised from the dead and loves His people so much He’s going to raise them from the dead. And that is where their hope comes from and they can face anything. That’s the encouragement for God’s people. Let’s us pray.
Father, we rejoice this day that there is a King and He rules o’er earth and heaven and He is our King. And we sing with glad hearts to worship You. Amen.
In celebration of the fact that there were twelve apostles, I thought it would be appropriate today for us to go twelve minutes over. Actually, I apologize. I know that Presbyterians should be out on time. And you don’t need to tell me because my people will tell me when I get back because the word will be out. It has been a joy to be with you this week and remember that what binds our hearts together is the common Lord who is glorious and who loves you and is bringing us all together to a glorious end.
And now the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit descend upon you and dwell in your hearts forever. And all God’s people said, Amen.
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