Sr. Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ (American, 1937?-), "O Root" (from the "O Antiphons" series). Of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Tags: Tree of Jesse. Source: http://csjstpaul.org/ansgar_holmbergs_o_antiphon_paintings.aspx; http://yokeofchrist.blogspot.com/2010/12/o-root-of-jesse.html

Saving Revelation: Lamb’s Roar

Revelation. I don’t know about you, but whenever I would hear the word ‘revelation’ growing up, and as I got, old enough to, kind of, understand, that this was a book in the Bible what I heard, what – the word association that came to my mind, was a song and it’s a song from 1987 but there was a song by a group called R.E.M and it was entitled “It’s the End of the World as we Know it”. And then, when I working as a Youth Director, DC Talk came out with a version of an older song, I believe was an older song, called “Wish We’d all Been Ready”. Whenever this song played I would use it to get youth to repent and pray and ask for forgiveness for anything and everything that they could think of that they had done wrong. Because, in this song, it depicts the stories and different illustrations of two people – two men walking up a hill and one of them disappears and the other one’s just left there and the tag line is: “There’s no time to change your mind, the son has come, and you’ve been left behind.” And so, they would play this song and, like, it’s like this massive alter climb: “Sorry, I didn’t study, and I said I did. And I’m sorry that I – you know – i didn’t clean my room like my mom wanted me to” and whatever it was. Whatever the sin was, big or small, it’s like, you’ve got to get it all out there and get it confessed, because, oh dear. If He comes and I’m not ready, that would be really sad. And that’s kind of the way I envisioned Revelation. That’s what it meant to me, and in honesty, and in ignorance, I didn’t know there was any other way to think about it. I didn’t know there was any other way to picture it.

So imagine when I enter seminary and take a class with Eugene Peterson on “Violence and Jesus.”  I couldn’t wait.  We were going to take about God’s wrath and how the earth was going to hell in a hand basket. But what happened changed my view point.  Basically you’re getting that class in this sermon series.  It changed my view of Revelation.

So, needless to say, I have not always had warm fuzzy feelings when it comes to revelation, and I really appreciate the fact that we’re taking time in this series to, kind of, go over it. And we’ve called this series “Saving Revelation”. And the reason why it’s entitled that, is because there are so many view points and there are so many things that have been taught that instill more of the feeling I had, of fear and intimidation, and we’re rescuing revelation from those things. And as a minor point of review, I just want to let you know what we’ve been talking about up to this point, cause we’re in week three and if you guys have missed any of these sermons, I encourage you to go and watch them.

But we’re saving revelation from using this book in the Bible as a crystal ball of sorts, to kind of, predict the end times. We’re rescuing revelation from the idea that there are a bunch of codes that we have to decode and we have to decode them the right way, cause if we don’t, oh boy, it’s not going to be good for us, we’re saving revelation from that. We’re saving revelation from the typical picture of Christ’s return. And the typical picture of Him coming back. He’s ticked off, He’s ready to kick tail, take names, you’ve got some explaining to do if you’re not quite lined up just right, He’s a warrior, and He’s ticked and He’s coming to take care of business.

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This is called “Death on a Pale Horse”, and it’s by William Blake, and it is a very famous picture, but this is, kind of the image that many, not everyone, have had when we’re talking about revelation, and so we’re rescuing revelation from these kinds of things. We’re saving revelation from the idea that when Christ returns, He’s coming back and He’s roaring like a lion, and He’s looking to devour whatever gets in His way. We’re rescuing revelation from those types of things and those types of ideas.

So instead, when we look at revelation, when we look over the different verses and the different chapters in this book, we’re going to do so through a different lens. Now, revelation is meant to reveal, that’s what revelation means, it’s a revealing, but we’re not looking at it through the lens of revealing all the stuff in the end, that you’ve got to try to figure out, it’s not that, but rather, it is revealing the Good News, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News. This is revealing the good news of who Christ is, revealing the good news of what Christ has accomplished, the good news of Christ’s heart for His people, for His people then and His people now, the good news of Christ’s character, what He’s about, what He’s made of. The good News is what we look to discover, when we look at this book, this revelation. And when we look through this lens, this lens of good news, of who Christ is and what Christ is about and what Christ has accomplished, when we do that, instead of, you know, anger and manipulation and conquering and – when we put all that aside and we just focus on the good news of who Christ is, the good news of what His character is about, the good news of His heart toward us, we can see Jesus, as the lamb who is slain.

Jesus, mighty warrior, as the lamb who is slain. We talked last week, John was weeping, he was sad, because he felt there were none worthy to open the scroll. And then the 24 elders came to him and said: “We have found the one who is worthy. It is the lion of the lamb of Judah. Look and see”. And so John turns, and he’s expecting to see this lion, and instead he sees this little lamb. There’s some obvious distinctions between a lion and a lamb, but I have not always been able to fully appreciate just what those distinctions are. I – yes I’m from the south – but I am from a big city and I know nothing about nothing about Sheep and how to raise them and what all that means, but I preached at my student churches like I knew sheep.  Regardless, I was set straight after the service.

So, then and there I learned about what it meant for lambs to be sacrificed. And that was just horrific to me, but that was just reality. So, when we’re talking about the lamb that was slain, I didn’t have a good background, or history, or knowledge of that, until that experience. But the people in the first century, to whom these letters were addressed, the people in the first century, to whom this stuff is being spoken to, they knew, very well, what that meant. This was their livelihood, they knew all about sheep and lamb, they knew. Their imagination, their frame of reference was vastly different than mine. They knew that, for instance, sheep are very vulnerable animals. And when sheep have babies, they have little lambs, so, lamb, sheep, same thing. They knew they’re very vulnerable. Not only that, you guys, but sheep have to be cared for personally, and very carefully. They can’t eat on their own, their food has to be monitored. Not only does their food have to be monitored, but what they eat has to be monitored. It has to be monitored because, if it’s out – if the food is out, the sheep will eat, and eat, and eat, and eat and they will eat until they die, they’ll just keep eating, they won’t know – they cannot self regulate. They don’t know when to cut themselves off. It’s kind of like me with, you know, some chips and salsa. I will eat and eat and eat. Thankfully I don’t die, and I do regulate at some point, but poor – they just don’t know how to regulate, and so – and they have sensitive stomachs, and so it takes someone taking very special care of them. They have little legs, without claws, so they can’t kick, or defend themselves, they don’t have fangs, to defend themselves in that way, either. And their wool is very, very heavy, so you have to keep shorn, and if you don’t, the wool gets very, very thick and they get very, very top heavy, and then if they get wet, they get so top heavy that they topple over. And they can’t get up by themselves, so it takes someone to come and pick them up and turn them over, so that they’ll be okay. They’re just very fragile animals, and they need constant care.

And so, whenever this distinction between lion and lamb is made, for this audience, in the first century, they fully got that picture. They fully got what that meant and what that looked like. And I think, when we really envision that, envision what it means, to be a little lamb, it kind of takes on a whole other dimension of this imagery. And so, we’re saying that Jesus is a lamb. He has come as the lamb who is slain. We’re not saying that He’s the lion that’s coming to roar and devour. And if we are followers of Jesus, it would make sense, then, that we are the people of God. We are the church. And if we are the church, then we are supposed to try to emulate and become more Christ like, and display His character. And that means that we need to try to become more lamb like, in how we respond to things in this world.

We’re looking at Revelation chapter 1. Verses 9 – 11 sets up where we are right now in this series. This is going to introduce, to us, the seven churches of which is the focus of our study today. So read this with me here:

John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient     

    endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos, because of the 

    world of God and testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s day, I was in the spirit, and I 

    heard behind me a loud voice, like a trumpet, which said: ‘Write on a scroll what     

    you see and send it to the seven churches: To Ephesus, Smyma, Pergamum, 

    Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.

Letters to the seven churches. In Revelation, these seven letters, or these seven churches, have been a very popular topic for preachers to preach on. They’re talking to churches, so we can make definite correlations between the church then, and the church now. And they were some things that, you know, pertained the that we can glean from now, today too. So, it makes sense that these have been very popular sources of preaching.

We may even find that we are able to identify, personally, with some of their story, and so, it makes sense that we could benefit from what was written to them, back then. But the problem is that, these letters, have typically, not always, but many times, been looked at through the lion lens. They have been used through that vantage point. And they’ve been used to preach and talk about the end of the world and instilling fear and it’s caused the people to be motivated because of their fear. And, they’ve been used in a very critical manner, they’ve been used in a very judgmental manner, people have taken these seven letters, to these seven churches, and really used it to beat up on folk, unfortunately. And, really interpreted these letters as, you know, God laying down the boom to these seven churches.

There are even those who have, kind of, calendarized these seven letters to these seven churches. And made them be that each of these churches, and each of these letters is a representation of an era, or a period of time. You can kind of see that with this time- line, ‘Seven Eras of the Church’

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And so, each church represents a certain period of time, and clearly, the seventh letter, is where we are today. It’s from about AD 1900 until now. And so, all of that, that we read about in that seventh letter, is pertaining to today’s time, to today’s church. And the problem with that is, if you’re looking at it through that lens, you have to admit, and you have to realize that over time, this time-line has had to be tweaked, and has had to be adjusted, because it hasn’t always lined up. I mean, people are kind of always guessing the time-line wrongly, so they have to readjust the time-line, and represent it. So, this is the way that things have typically been portrayed, and then all of that, is leading up to this one big event, called the rapture, and we’ve got to make sure that people are ‘rapture ready’, because we’re in that last bit of time, and we only have so much time left, before it’s all about to go down. And if we’re not ready, it’s not going to be pretty. And so, that’s kind of been the point of all of that.

Now, I think that in order for us to see these verses differently, that we’re going to be looking at, it’s important to know some background, and it’s important to know some history and some context. Now, first I just want to say that, the seven letters, to the seven churches, were actual congregations of people, real live people. This isn’t an imagery, that was given. These are actual real live people, living in first century Asia. Okay? These were not make believe people. These letters were prophetic and they were given by Jesus, through the Spirit, to John. And they were given to John, because John knew these people. He knew these churches and these congregations, he was kind of like an over-seer of sorts, for these sever churches, and so he knew them personally. They were a part of one another’s lives, they were a part of one another’s history, they were a part of one another’s stories, and so John was able to speak to situations that he saw in their lives, because they had a relationship. That’s really important to know.

And, during this time, in the first century, many of these churches had already been experiencing persecution. Some of them had already had members of their congregation martyred. Many were about to experience persecution. And so, these letters are written with those things in mind as well. And John’s emphasis, throughout these letters, is Christ’s knowledge of these churches. Christ’s knowledge of where they were, what they were about and what they were experiencing. That Jesus sees them and that Jesus is aware of their situation. And it’s against this backdrop, that we take a peek at what was spoken to these churches. It’s against this backdrop of Jesus being aware, and Jesus seeing and knowing, what’s going on in their lives. Not Jesus being angry, and frustrated and ready to kick tail. No, Jesus being aware, Jesus seeing, Jesus caring. It’s against that backdrop that we can take a look at what was spoken to these churches. These are words from a loving father, and this is where we kind of re-frame, and look through the lens of the lamb. These are words of a loving father to his people, during the first century. And it’s as if He is saying to them: ‘Understand who you are, in the midst of all of this. Understand who you belong to, truly, in the midst of all of this. Understand what you’re about. Understand that I am with you, that I have not forsaken you. Understand that you are a part of something that will be known throughout history. Understand your contribution, don’t lose sight, don’t grow weary and well- doing. I kind of like to envision, God the Father and Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit altogether and just looking down upon these churches, and just encouraging them and saying: ‘We see you. We know where you’re at. We know what’s happening to you. We know that you’re being faithful. We get the hard times, we understand there’s a struggle, but just keep on and have faith and persevere. Be encouraged in knowing, the very things that you’re experiencing, that you’re going through, will be known throughout history and will known – used – to encourage others. I just envision them just having this little encouragement rally over these seven churches, during this time.

And that brings me to something that I think is really appropriate and will help us transition into what we’re talking about, specifically for us today. But there’s a clip from this movie, ‘The Dead Poets Society’, and it’s just an encouragement that I think is really, really relevant for us today. So take a look at this:

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. You see, the seven churches, these seven congregations were a part of a kingdom story, and they had a contribution, they got to contribute a verse. And I want to say to us, today, we too are a part of a kingdom story, and we get to contribute a verse. We get to choose how we will participate, we get to choose how we will respond, we get to choose the part of our story, this kingdom story that we’re living now.

And so, as we look at these churches, and as we look at some of these letters that were spoken to them, we’re going to be asking ourselves the over arching question: What will your verse be? When we look at situations that they were facing and then relate that back to our situation, we will ask ourself the question: What will your verse be?

First we’re going to look at Smyma. Now, listen, there are seven churches, like we’ve said and there are seven letters, and if we delve into each letter, to each church, we’d be here all day. Your children would be hungry, momma needs to eat lunch, and so we’re not going to do that, but what we are going to do is highlight three of these churches and it will give us a good overview of the point. Now, first to Smyma. Smyma was a city that was actually very wealthy during this time, and they had become a leading sight for emperor worship, but there was a strong congregation, a strong church there. Now, the city was very wealthy, but the church itself was not. They were against worldly standards, they were not seen as very wealthy at all, they were actually seen as poor and needy. And so, it’s interesting that this church, that was poor and needy, hears this, from the word of the Lord:

To the angel of the church of Smyma write: These are the words of Him who is 

    the First and Last, who died and came to life again. I know you afflictions and 

    your poverty – yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are 

    Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what 

    you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test 

    you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of 

    death, and I will give you the crown of life.

This is a church, who is experiencing great suffering. They were poor, financially, they were being persecuted, by others, they were being thrown into prison, and God’s word to them was: ‘I see you. I know your afflictions. I know that you are seen as poor, and living in poverty. Yet, you are rich, because of your faithfulness. You are rich because of your faith and in your endurance.’ They were victims of slander and verbal abuse, but there was still a promise of victory that came to them. And where would this victory come? Was the victory in the fact that they weren’t going to be persecuted? Was the victory in the fact that they weren’t going to be imprisoned? No, because we know that they were, and they had been, and continued to be so. But the victory comes through the fact that Christ died and rose again. Because He lived, because He went to the cross, because He died and because He rose again, the victory, the battle, had been won. And that same victory, that same resurrection life, was available to these people, who were suffering, in Smyma. To this congregation of people who were poor and didn’t have very many means, and were being persecuted. In the midst of their suffering, God was saying to them: ‘I see you, I know your afflictions, but don’t grow weary, because the victory is coming. And the victory is already yours. The victory has already been won, you may not be experiencing it yet, you may not see it yet in the midst of your suffering, but know that you’re not alone. Know that you’re not alone and that you will not be – just – led along this path for nothing. Know that the victory is coming, and your faithfulness will win out in the end. This church needed this letter. This church needed to hear in the midst of all that they were going through, that the victory was right around the corner.

They needed to know that the victory was theirs. That the lamb who was slain, paid the price already, and they get the benefit of that.

It’s important to know God’s heart, in the midst of suffering. It’s important for us today to know. When things are not going right, when we’re in the midst of our own hell, when we’re in the midst of struggle, when we’re in the midst of not understanding what’s going on around us and we see pain or there’s anger, or there are things that don’t look very Kingdom like, we need to know God’s heart toward us in the midst of suffering. Just like this church did, and through the letter, Christ said to them: ‘I know your afflictions, I see your suffering, but don’t worry. I am there with you, and victory will come’. And He says that to us today. He says: ‘I know you. I see you. I see what’s going on around you, but this is not the end. This is not where your story concludes. Victory is yours. You can have it, in the midst of the struggle, in the midst of the darkness, in the midst of the pain, the anger, or whatever it is. In the midst of suffering, God’s heart is toward you. God’s heart is for you, and God desires to be with you in the midst of that. (Audience applauds*)

And so we ask ourselves: “What will – what will our verse be?” What will our verse be in the midst of suffering, what will we trust? What will we rely upon? We can rely and trust upon the lamb who was slain. Right there in the midst. Right in the middle of it all. He’s not waiting for you to get through it, He’s not waiting for it to end, He’s right there in the midst of it. What will your verse be?

We look next to the church in Thyatira, The city of Thyatira was probably the least significant of all the seven cities – that the seven churches were located in. But during the time, when John was involved with them, the city itself had become a town of trades and crafts, and that’s how people made their living, by offering their trade or their craft, and so it’s important to know here that when the trades and the crafts, the way they function, the way they operated, was that there were groups of them that got together, kind of formed, kind of like a local union, and it was through those little local unions, they call them guilds, that these were where the social structure came, and this is how the artisans and their families were supported and received support and this was just the kind of social structure of how it ran in that town, and so, there were a lot of social events, in which people could come and perform their craft or their trade, and during these events, there were a lot of festive meals, these meals were sacrificed to pagan deity. And during these meals, many of which were for men only, there were women, made available to these men, so this was kind of the setting in which this church was functioning. And so, this is what is said to them, if you look with me here:

To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of 

    God, whose eyes are like a blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I 

    know your deeds, your love and your faith, your service and your perseverance, 

    and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this 

    against you:

And then he goes on to talk about some things. And so Jesus saw their love, and He saw their faith in the midst of everything that was going on around them. He saw their service to one another. And he saw their perseverance, through the midst of everything that was going on around them. But, nevertheless, there were some problems, and as you read on, you see they were tolerating some things, they were allowing some things to go unchecked. They were misled to believe that one could follow Christ, the teachings of Christ, but also engage in some pagan practices as well, kind of mix the two up a little bit. But they were doing so for the sake of accommodation, they were doing so for the sake of survival. They knew that, if they were to really stand up against some of those activities that their very livelihood was at stake. They wouldn’t be able to participate in these guilds and they wouldn’t be able to use their trade or their craft, so taking care of their family would be at stake, if they took a stand and didn’t compromise. In order to not lose friendships within the community, and their position in the trade guild, a lot of them were allowing certain things to go unchecked and to happen. And it’s understandable why, we know, we can see why, they were tempted by this economic pressure, but Jesus is saying to them: ‘Hey, look, I see you. I know your deeds, I’ve seen your faith, I’ve seen your perseverance, I’ve seen your service, I see your love, so lets not compromise, lets not mix in some of this other stuff, lets really be the Kingdom people that you’re called to be, really follow the teachings of Christ, and trust that Christ will provide. Trust that when you don’t give into the compromise, that you’re going to be okay.

And that’s a hard place to be. We can look back on them and think: “Oh, they should have done better, they shouldn’t have compromised, but, we’ve all been there, I’m sure.” Maybe not to this extent, or this exact thing, but man, there are times when it does seem that it would be easier, just to compromise, just a little bit, and not be the full on Kingdom person that we’re called on to be. But that’s what Christ is saying to do. Don’t compromise, you know what you’re called to be, you know what’s in you, you know what I’ve called you to. Trust that I will provide. Trust that, when you follow the ways of Jesus, trust, that provision will be there, trust, that you’re going to be taken care of, trust, that you’re not going to be left, in a lurch.

And, what we can learn from that today, I believe, is this: I think God is saying: “Hey, you guys. Don’t become so self-sufficient that you don’t look to me. Don’t become so self- sufficient that you don’t look to one another. Don’t shut yourself up in your little palace of security, because you’ve got what you need, all that you need, and just think that you’re good to go.” When life is rolling good, and you feel blessed, What will your verse be? When things are going well, and you don’t have struggle and you’re well taken care of, you’ve got enough food to eat, and you’ve got enough money in the bank and you’ve got all that you think that you need, what will your verse be? Will you allow God to be with you, in those joyous and good and prosperous times? Or will you be so self- sufficient, that you don’t even realize that you’ve shut Him out. What will your verse be? I believe that God is saying to us: “Don’t think that you can go at this alone. Let me in. I want to come in, I want to be there. I want you to not be complacent.” We need to work at this relationship. Just like they had to work at the water to be useful, we need to work at our relationship with God. And all I mean by that, is this: We need to rely upon one another, as kingdom people, and as a community. We need one another. That’s a part of working on our relationship with God. Not only do we need to pray and not only do we need to study and not only do we need to seek His face and learn all that we can of Him, but we also need one another. We need to be a community, we need to be brothers and sisters, we need to be strong when others are weak. And when we are weak, we need to let others in and let them be strong for us. We need not be self- sufficient, we need not pick ourselves up by our boot straps, and think that we can go at this alone. We need to invite others in, and we need to invite Jesus in, because He’s knocking and He’s saying: “Hey, you’re my kid, I love you. I want to come in and I want to do this thing with you. It’s going great. Awesome. I want to be there for that. You’re struggling. That’s fine, admit that. Let me in, let me be there for that.” We are not meant, and not wired, just to be self-sufficient and going at this alone. We need one another, we need Him. We need to open the doors of our hearts, let people in, let God in, let the love of Christ in, and then give that out to others.

If we’ve learned anything, from the revelation of Christ Jesus, it is this: He was all powerful. All power had been given to Him, under Heaven and earth, it says. He was all powerful. But what He did with that power was, He laid it down. He became a slain lamb. What He did with that power was, He took to the cross. And He died. And He rose again. What He did with that power, was to make Himself a servant to all. To wash feel, to accept and embrace those who sere outsiders, to accept and embrace those who had no position, no authority. He became love, to the unlovable, He became light in the darkness. The one who is all powerful, who very well could have come in, and just swooped it all out and taken care of all the bad and just made it all good. No, He came as a little slain lamb.

The testimony of who Christ is, the good news of what He has done. The good news of His Character and His heart, toward you and toward me. The good news about the victory that we have in Jesus, because He’s already won the battle. In the midst of where we are, in the midst of what we’re going through, in the midst of whether it’s great or bad, He is right here, and He’s spurring us on to victory, because He’s already won the battle.

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