Evangelism is one of those words that strikes a little fear (or maybe a lot) in the heart of Christians. Maybe the fear arises out of rejection from past attempts. Maybe the fear comes from possibly not knowing all the answers that could be asked. Maybe the fear and possibly the biggest reason of all is that we aren’t sure who Jesus is in the first place. Sure, we know the titles: Lord, Savior, Lamb of God, etc. However, do we know what the titles mean for life and their consequences? If we use a politically charged word like “Lord,” how then do we relate to those wanting to push political agendas? Is Jesus the giver of power and wealth to those managing to get life straightened out? Is Jesus the One coming with a purifying fire and judgment or with welcome to the sinner and compassion for the outcast? The church season is Epiphany which is about revealing Jesus and making him known. The best gift we can give to ourselves in Epiphany might be to take the effort and move beyond simply knowing the titles to understand the impact of the ones we use. Then, conform to who we say Jesus is in life.
In the reading out of John, John the Baptist sees Jesus passing by and points him out saying, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This happened again the next day. The result was that a few disciples wanted to know where Jesus was staying. In other words, they were wanting to learn more from Jesus himself. Jesus’ response was simple, “Come and see.”
When John the Baptist pointed Jesus out from the crowd, he was giving to Jesus more than a title, “Lamb of God.” He was doing more than showing God’s sacrifice so we don’t have to continue sacrificing lambs. John the Baptist was pointing out Jesus as the One taking away our rebellion from God and the consequences. Knowing a title is nice. Not having to sacrifice lambs is a relief. Knowing Jesus as the One where our rebellion against God comes to an end is life changing which is why it takes a lifetime to know Jesus by heeding his invitation to “Come and see.”
Epiphany is about making Jesus known to the world. This is more than having a title to stick on him. If we are to make Jesus known, we must know him too. How do we do this? We take him up on his invitation, “Come and see.”
“Come” is a word of invitation and I think this sums up much of Revelation. The book has been encouraging the church to remain faithful to its witness and to come out of the world. This isn’t an invitation to live as a hermit in isolation but to enter into a new way of life that is defined by the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven to us. There is no more crying or mourning or dying there because those old ways will be no more. The beasts and the wars and the plagues and the rest of the violent images represent the judgment of this world slowly dying away; giving way to the New Jerusalem. All will be judged based upon our loyalty to the old or to the new. “Come” is the invitation for those thirsty for this New Jerusalem. “Come” is the invitation for those wanting to drink from its river of life. “Come” is the invitation to live in the new of Christ’s return.
“Come” is what the Spirit says. “Come” is what the bride says. This invitation is for Christ to bring the fulfillment of what is underway in the New Jerusalem. I won’t give a list of the mourning or the crying or the dying that is going on around us. You can fill that list out yourself. The job is easy enough to do. However if your passion is for what is coming in Christ, then let “come” be your breath’s expression.
“It is I, Jesus…” who gave this revelation to John. The revelation is from Jesus Christ who died and who was raised from the dead and who will never die again. The message is a personal one to each of us to come out from this dying world and to live with anticipation of what is to come. The violent images of Revelation show the struggles but a new creation is being born with no more crying or mourning or dying.
So John ends Revelation with these words, “The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Genesis tells us that creation begins with Adam and Eve in a garden. Revelation tells us that all things are brought to fulfillment with a city. I have lived in several cities and they are amazing places. They provide the opportunity for the enjoyment of the arts, culture and entertainment. They are also places where the poor are held in the prison of their poverty. The wealthy are imprisoned literally behind gates caused by the fear of others. The dividing line may be a simple street but it might as well be a wall thirty feet high. There are sections that are still called the Polish or German or Italian or etc. part of the city. This continues even if the designation hasn’t been true for decades. Cities are amazing places but from Revelation we read of a city that is like no other.
This city is the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God to us. It is described as a place where there is no more crying or pain or mourning or death. These former ways of life are gone. The city has been measured and found to be solid to its foundation. The city is beauty having been constructed out of precious gems. What stands out is the way life is lived out under the light and guidance from the throne of God in the center.
There are walls and gates but they are never closed for fear and need of protection. The nations are no longer relegated to their “section.” Rather the nations are free to bring their honor and glory to the city. A garden like feel is described with a river that is the water of life. The tree of life covers both sides of the river and the leaves bring healing to the nations. Life is no longer guided by the sun and moon marking the seasons but by the Lord God who is the light. This really is a city like no other. This is a city where life is sustained and flourishes.
John wrote down Revelation to give encouragement for Christians to remain faithful. Rome is called the “Eternal City” because it is believed that it will continue forever. The city of Rome was an amazing city in John’s day. However John describes a city far greater where life and healing are brought to this world of crying, pain and death. This is the new Jerusalem where we will finally see the Lord face to face.
So what do we do with a vision like this today? Well, instead of continuing the ways of division, fear mongering, us against them, that dominate the world today we choose a different way to live. We work to bring healing to the polarization. We dismantle the walls that propagate fear. We look to the honor and glory of what other nations can give for the whole. In other words, we prepare for what life will be like in the new Jerusalem.
I struggle to comprehend what these verses are describing. Why? The reason is that while life is indeed a blessing and filled with so much grace, trying to comprehend life with no more crying or pain or death is difficult to really imagine. Now I mourn for those I’ve lost to death. Now I witness on the news broadcast the crying and pain brought by our inhumanity to each other, our refusal to recognize the image of God in each other. Yet as Revelation draws to a close an image is given of a wedding with the reign and presence of God united with us. The old ways will be no more. Instead, they will be replaced by the ways of a new heaven and new earth where the old ways will no longer be. Christ, the Lamb, is the light by which the nations will come and go. What will this life be like? What the brain can’t comprehend, faith holds on with hope for the promise of what is to be.
“…and there was no longer any sea.” The sea is often referenced to as a place of chaos. It stands in contradiction to the goodness and order of creation. The opening verses of Genesis tell of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters and God first called forth light and creation began with order, goodness and teeming with life. We, created in the image of God, are to care and tend for this amazing creation. The chaos of the sea works to oppose God’s creative goodness.
Whenever hate filled shouts or mockery is made against each other, then we deny God’s image. This is chaos.
We are reminded over and over of how we are changing the climate of the earth. A recent estimate is that one million species is at risk of extinction. Whenever we fail to care for creation, this too is chaos.
So often heaven is thought of as a place we go to but Revelation tells us that the abode of God comes to us. The result is that the ways of the old heaven and the old earth and the sea will be no more. The death and resurrection of Christ Jesus has begun a new creation. The final end will come in a new heaven and earth where the old ways of pain and crying and death will be no more. What a beautiful promise! The brain may not comprehend but what an amazing hope for faith to cling.
We need a break. Not the moment to relax and get through the stresses of another busy day but a break from Revelation. The previous chapter is a difficult read. The Lamb opens the seven seals. We read of God’s wrath. The four horsemen riding horses colored white, red, black and pale bring war, famine, plague and death. A vision of the slaughtered martyrs. An earthquake and the sun turning black and the moon blood red. The people of earth from the greatest to the least call on the mountains to fall on them rather than face the wrath of the Lamb. Then there is a break.
The 144000 (representing the church on earth) is sealed. Then we have this reading from Revelation of a multitude from every tribe and nation shouting praise to God and to the Lamb. They have passed through the great tribulation.
Revelation is a calling for the followers of Christ to be faithful and this will not be easy. Jesus stood before Pilate and declared that his Kingdom was not from here. Pilate showed what the kingdoms from here do and that is crucify. Jesus showed what his kingdom does which is very different and still causes ugly debate today.
Jesus fed the hungry. In this country, we throw away nearly 40% of our food but can’t find ways to feed the hungry.
Jesus reached out to the outcast. Bring up gay, lesbian, immigrant, etc. and be prepared for a tough discussion.
Jesus healed the sick. Want to talk about healthcare? The debate will go on and on and on.
Jesus said that his kingdom is not from here. He is so true. To follow Christ, is to walk down the path of a different kingdom. The result can be persecution ranging from mild to martyrdom. This is the tribulation. We return to the multitude before God and the Lamb in Revelation.
The multitude will be before God and his protection will cover over them. Christ, the Lamb, will be a shepherd leading them to living water. There will be no more hunger or thirst or beating sun. The hand of God will wipe away the tears from our eyes.
So we take a break from the judgments of the Lamb against the world. The next chapter will have the judgments resume. For the moment, there is a much needed break. The faithful in heaven and earth will be protected from the judgments. They come to the reign of God where the tears of the struggle will be no more.
So what kind of music do you like? What is the song that your heart wants to sing? Singing reaches deep into our being. We sing when we are happy. We sing the anthem before a sporting event. We sing during a worship service. Songs of justice are sung by those enslaved to inspire hope. Singing does something to us. Singing enables us to express what comes from the heart. The Revelation reading is full of song. In particular, a new song.
John is still recording the revelation that is being given to him. The One who sits in glory on the throne has a scroll waiting to be opened and read. Who is worthy to do this? None in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll. Then came a Lamb looking like it had been slain appeared and took the scroll. All of heaven burst out in song.
The living creatures and the elders bowed down and began singing a new song. Angels numbering in the tens of thousands joined in the song. Every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the the sea, and all that is in them – all of creation – joined in the song. It was a new song to worship the Lamb.
The book of Revelation helps to refocus our attention upon the One who is worthy of worship. It wasn’t Rome or Caesar, or any other power at the time. The Lamb who was slain alone is worthy.
We are constantly being divided by identity. Our allegiance is demanded as Democrat or Republican, as liberal or conservative, as evangelical or none. The demand for identity doesn’t permit critical thought over who is worthy of our support, or allegiance or worship.
All of heaven and creation is singing a new song. The Lamb who was slain has done what none other can do. Jesus Christ is the Lamb. He unites us from every tribe and language and nation. His blood has given us a new identity as children of our God. He is our salvation from the sinful division. He has given us a new purpose and that is to serve God. He is worthy of our worship.
So as we find ourselves ever more divided for the sake of power. Remember who is worthy. Sing a new song.
A week has now passed since we sang the “Alleluias” celebrating Christ’s resurrection. Pastors, worship committees and music leaders are taking a rest from the many Holy Week and Easter services. So as we move on down the calendar from Easter Sunday, the question comes up “Now What?” What do we do and where do we go from here?
Part of the assigned readings for the next couple weeks will be from the book of Revelation. I plan to be concentrating on these. Today we begin from the first chapter of Revelation. Revelation means “revealing.” The book is the revealing of Jesus Christ as the Alpha and the Omega, the first born from the dead. John, the recipient of this revelation has been exiled to the Island of Patmos which was a Roman penal colony. He was there likely for his missionary work and refusing to submit to the rising tide of emperor worship. This revelation was for the church to remain faithful to Christ who will return as the great victorious Lamb.
The book of Revelation was recorded about sixty years after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Sixty years is a long time in human terms. Over sixty years we lose focus. We get busy with other things. Our exuberance fades away. We begin to question the level of our commitment. Whether sixty years or two thousand years, the challenge for the church is to always remain faithful. Last Sunday worshipers in Sri Lanka were victims of bombings while they celebrated Christ’s victory. For others in the church, the challenge is far more subtle to turn allegiance over for political influence or cultural power. The pull from the world around us is strong and never gives up. Yet we are reminded that Christ’s rule extends over the defiant kings of the earth.
Last week was Easter. This week we might be asking, “Now what?” The answer from Revelation is to remain faithful witnesses to the One who we’ll see coming in glory with the clouds… the One “who is and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”