Sermon preached on April 17, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
One of the great characteristics of our age, even among some who call themselves Christians, is a very low regard for God's Word. Richard Dawkins, one of the leading proponents of evolution has just written a book called, The Greatest Show on Earth. In it he calls people who don't believe in evolution as 'history-deniers'. (p. 7) He believes that Adam and Eve never existed that they were made up by people who were trying to teach certain theological ideal like 'original sin' or the virtues of innocence. He writes,
"Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence for the Holocaust, even allowing for eye witnesses to the Holocaust. It is the plain truth that we are cousins of chimpanzees, somewhat more distant cousins of monkeys, still more distant cousins of aardvarks and manatees, yet more distant cousins of bananas and turnips…"
Dawkins boldly tells us that if you believe the Bible's account of creation you are insane, uninformed, stupid and unintelligent. Dawkins has a very low view of the Bible's teachings.
Of course he's not the only one. We see this in regard to the great sins of our society. I find it remarkable that some of the publishers of pornography are now admired and adulated by large portions of our society. Most porn is not even considered sinful anymore.
The world will tell you that the biblical teaching on abortion, premarital sex, divorce, homosexuality, capital punishment, parental discipline are all outdated. The day is already here where if a parent disciplines a child according to the biblical directive—he will be charged with child abuse.
Last week Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 for yelling a gay slur at a referee. That was despicable. But I find it interesting that if Kobe had shouted our Lord's name at the referee to express his anger and frustration—I doubt he would have been fined at all, certainly not anything near $100,000. It's like blasphemy has been redefined in our society.
It's bad enough that the world ignores God's commands, downplays them, and insists that we don't have to obey them. But what is especially troubling is that many who call themselves Christians do the same thing. Some professing Christians live together without being married. How can anyone do that and call themselves a Christian? But of course, many of us here would never consider breaking the commands I just mentioned—but isn't it true that we hold many of God's other commands in low regard? Do we gossip? Do we speak unkind words? We slander one another. Instead of being joyful we allow ourselves to be depressed when things don't go well for us. We aren't thankful to God like we should be. Instead we do the exact opposite of what the God says—we complain and grumble. We don't forgive those who sin against us. We don't keep our minds pure. We even have bad words come out of our mouths. Some Christians husbands don't exercise loving leadership. Some Christian wives don't submit to their husbands. Some Christian parents exasperate their children. Some Christians don't like the biblical teaching on hell—so they disbelieve it. Some Christians don't like the biblical teaching on church authority—with men being in positions of authority, so they totally ignore it.
Sadly, many, many Christians hold God's Word in very low esteem. They don't believe parts of it, they don't follow parts of it and yet they somehow think that that's okay, that they're going to be all right. They're forgetting who they are dealing with. The Holy Spirit reminds us in this passage. We read, (Revelation 1:10–11)
"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…'"
John then describes what Jesus looked like. He is seen, not in a way that John was familiar with from the days when Jesus was with him on earth—but in a way that absolutely overwhelmed John. When John saw Jesus he was filled with dread—so much so that He fell at His feet as dead. This was not a familiar, friendly vision. It was absolutely overpowering. Jesus revealed Himself with such purity, with such power, majesty, and authority—that John was terrified. It so profoundly disturbed him, so much so that he was paralyzed with fear. That's what the expression means. Matthew used the same expression in Matthew 28:4 of the guards who were protecting Jesus' tomb so that the disciples wouldn't steal the body. He tells us that there was a violent earthquake and an angel came down from heaven and rolled away the stone. The angel's appearance was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they,
"shook and became like dead men."
So it was with John. He was so filled with dread that he became like a dead man.
One of the great truths that we should learn from this is that
we must not take God's commands lightly because the One who gives them to us is absolutely awesome and He is deadly serious about His commands being obeyed.
Whatever you do, don't miss the force of John's vision. It's true that immediately after John became frozen in fear that Jesus told him not to be afraid. But we must understand that that only applies to those who are faithful to Jesus—people like John. The whole context shows us that those who disobey Jesus—both Christians and non-Christians—will face His wrath. That this applies to Christians is clear from chapters 2 and 3—the messages to the seven churches. In them we see warning after warning to Christians—warnings not to disobey. Jesus tells the churches to be obedient—or else. He repeats, over and over to the seven churches, (e.g. Revelation 2:7)
"He who has an ear,
let him hear what the Spirit
says to the churches."
Consider His message to the church to Ephesus, Jesus said, (Revelation 2:4–5)
"Yet I hold this against you:
You have forsaken your first love.
Remember the height from which
you have fallen!
Repent and do the things you did at first.
If you do not repent,
I will come to you and remove
your lampstand from its place."
We see the same thing in the message to the church at Pergamum. Jesus said to them, (Revelation 2:15–16)
"Likewise you also have those
who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
Otherwise, I will soon come to you
and will fight against them
with the sword of my mouth."
Five of the seven churches were told to repent. He told the church at Thyatira that He would make those who followed Jezebel suffer intensely. He told them that He would strike her children dead. He told the church at Sardis that if they did not repent He would come to them in judgment like a thief. He told the church at Laodicea that He was going to spit them out of His mouth.
Judgment of the churches is one of the great themes in the messages to the churches. Vern Poythress writes, (Revelation, p. 79)
"With the justice and discrimination of a judge, he weighs the good and the bad among the seven churches, and promises suitable rewards and punishments (chapters 2-3). He has the key role in judgment, not only for the churches, but also for the world at large (6:1; 19:11-21)."
To get the churches to listen and obey, Jesus has John write to them and tell them what He is like. All of the details compel obedience.
The description of Jesus here shows us that we must not take His commands lightly. Consider the details here.
The first thing that shows us that we must not take God's commands lightly is the fact that
John heard a loud voice behind him, like a trumpet.
Revelation is full of allusions to the Old Testament. Very often a single verse will be based on two or three Old Testament passages. It's incredible. The apostle John knew the Old Testament and takes us back there time and again. The imagery here brings us back to Exodus 19 and the giving of the law by God on Mount Sinai. In verse 16 of Exodus 19 we read,
"On the morning of the third day
there was thunder and lightning,
with a thick cloud over the mountain,
and a very loud trumpet blast.
Everyone in the camp trembled."
Then in verses 18-19 we read,
"Mount Sinai was covered with smoke,
because the Lord descended on it in fire.
The smoke billowed up from it
like smoke from a furnace,
the whole mountain trembled violently,
and the sound of the trumpet
grew louder and louder.
Then Moses spoke and
the voice of God answered him."
At the giving of the law to the people of Israel, God commanded their attention. They needed to be extremely attentive to the details or they faced death. The people were warned to pay strict attention to God's Words. They were told to consecrate themselves for two days and the third day to appear before the mountain. None of them were to approach the mountain or to touch the foot of it—if anyone did he would be put to death. So here, the trumpet warns Christians that they need to pay attention. The trumpet calls us to hear God's Word.
When I played organized hockey I had one coach that was very strict. He was quite a disciplinarian, a real no nonsense guy. You had to do exactly what he said—immediately. During practice we'd sometimes be lined up shooting pucks. When the coach blew the whistle you had to stop and go over to him. If you shot the puck one extra time after he blew the whistle, you'd be in big trouble. As soon as you looked at him you knew you were in trouble. He'd glare at you, like you were the only person on the ice. When you approached him, very quietly he'd say something like,
"Do you want to play for this team or not?"
And that was it. That was the last time you'd get away with that infraction. After that you were gone. You were off the team. It was as simple as that. You had to obey. You had to obey immediately. When that whistle blew, you had to stop and pay attention. The coach was going to speak and you had to do what he said.
The point of John's reference to the trumpet is that we had better pay close attention to what Jesus says and obey Him. Jesus is speaking and He's deadly serious. He has messages for the church. The trumpet calls you to listen.
The second thing that shows us that we must not take God's commands lightly is the fact that
Jesus walks among the lampstands, with fiery eyes, bronze feet and a sharp double-edged sword coming out of His mouth.
According to verse 20 the seven lampstands are the seven churches. Verse 13 tells us that among the lampstands was someone 'like a son of man'. The point is that Jesus is present with His church. He is present with us. He walks among the 7 lampstands. He watches what you do. As Proverbs 15:3 says,
"The eyes of the Lord are everywhere,
keeping watch on the wicked
and the good."
You'd better take what He says to heart because He knows if you're disobedient. Verse 14 tells us that His eyes are like blazing fire—they penetrate everything, they see all things, even the secrets of your heart.
His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace. The picture here is that He crushes all who do not obey Him. Bronze is a hard metal and was frequently used in weapons. Thus it is associated with war and judgment.
This is further illustrated by the fact that Jesus has a sharp double edged sword coming out of his mouth. Why is the sword associated with Jesus' mouth? Poythress says, (p. 80)
"It signifies the swordlike capability of Christ's powerful word to bring punishment or reward."
People had better listen. Again, this is a weapon of war, of judgment. Revelation 19:15 says that a sword comes out of Christ's mouth 'strike down the nations'. In Revelation 2:16 Jesus says that if Christians who sin do not repent,
"I will soon come to you
and will fight against them
with the sword of my mouth."
The thrust of all this is that as Christians you'd better listen to what Christ says. You'd better do your duty. A lampstand that does not give out light is not good at all. Vern Poythress writes, (Revelation, p. 77)
"The lampstands symbolize the churches in their light-bearing or witness-bearing function… The churches are the reality to which the symbolic lampstands in the tabernacle and the temple pointed forward."
Jesus commands the churches, our church, to shine for Him. If we do not, He will remove our lampstand.
The third thing that shows us that we must not take God's commands lightly is the fact that
Jesus is referred to as someone like 'the son of man'.
The Son of Man reference comes from Daniel 7:13–14.
"In my vision at night I looked,
and there before me was one
like a son of man,
coming with the clouds of heaven.
He approached the Ancient of Days
and was led into his presence.
He was given authority,
glory and sovereign power; all peoples,
nations and men of every language
worshiped him. His dominion
is an everlasting dominion
that will not pass away,
and his kingdom is one
that will never be destroyed."
Daniel saw the Son of Man as an exalted, mysterious, divine human figure who would bring to an end the successive pagan, world-dominating kingdoms, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome. (Poythress, p. 78)
Jesus is the Son of Man. He is a divine figure—absolutely pure, absolutely awesome. He has been given all authority. He is subduing all His enemies and bringing everything under His authority.
Again, this means we need to listen to Him. As we read in Hebrews 12:25,
"See to it that you do not
refuse him who speaks.
If they did not escape
when they refused him
who warned them on earth,
how much less will we,
if we turn away from him
who warns us from heaven?"
For those of you who are not Christians, what you should understand from this is that
you shouldn't fool yourself about your future.
If you don't go to Jesus, one day you're going to come face to face with this glorious, majestic and terrifying Jesus that we see in our text. It's going to be absolutely dreadful for you—more dreadful than anything you've ever experienced. You will wish with everything in you that you had embraced Him when you had the opportunity. But then it will be too late. You will fall at His feet absolutely terrified, echoing the words we see in Isaiah 6:5,
"Woe to me!
I am ruined!"
For you, there will be no words of comfort from Jesus, no words of "Do not be afraid." Instead you will be filled with shame, with humiliation, with dread. You will be condemned. You will be commanded to depart, into the lake of burning brimstone.
Jesus holds the keys of death and Hades. (verse 18) He has the power to destroy you and cast you into hell forever. If you don't go to Him in repentance that's exactly what He will do.
Whatever you do in your life—make sure that doesn't happen to you. The only way to avoid it is to go to Jesus. Believe in Him. Take to heart the words of Psalm 111:10,
"The fear of the Lord
is the beginning of wisdom;
all who follow his precepts
have good understanding."