Sermon preached on March 6, 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.
The house where we lived when I was a teenager was a big house on a hill. The house was heated by coal. In the basement at the back of the house we had a coal room next to the furnace room. The furnace room had a big hopper that you'd fill up once or twice a day. The hopper had an auger which would automatically take the coal from the hopper into the furnace whenever the thermostat called for heat. It was a nice system.
But the problem was that our coal room would only hold so much coal. We'd get it filled in the fall and it would last us all winter. At least that was the plan. But one winter when I was a young teenager we had a particularly cold and long winter. Sometime in March of that year my dad realized that we were going to run out of coal in a week or two. The problem was that our long driveway was blocked with snow. That meant that my brother and I had to shovel out our driveway. Some winters we tried to keep our driveway clear, but this particular winter the snow got ahead of us. There was no place to put it and that winter, instead of shoveling the whole driveway, my dad decided that we'd just shovel a little bit of the driveway by the street and park the car there for the winter. It was a long driveway on a hill that went up beside our house and then around back of it. That's where the entrance to the coal room was. What a job it was! The snow was over our heads. Every day after school my brother and I had to go out and work on it. It took us over a week to get the driveway clear. I'll never forget that job.
The house that I live in now is the first house that has ever been hooked up to a constant and reliable fuel supply. We're connected to a natural gas pipeline. I love it. I don't have to worry about running out of fuel. I don't have to worry about supply problems at all. Whenever you need to turn the heat up, you don't need to worry about hitting empty. I don't have to worry about keeping my driveway clear or anything like that. It's a constant supply. It's always there when you need it.
At least that's the theory. I suppose the gas line could blow up or something like that, but barring that, the system is pretty reliable.
But of course, in the grand scheme of things, having a reliable source of natural gas in not that important. What is much more important is having a reliable source of grace and peace. This is what our text is about. John assures Christians that they have a constant, reliable and unending source of grace and peace available to them. John writes,
"John, To the seven churches
in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you
from him who is, and who was,
and who is to come,
and from the seven spirits
before his throne,
and from Jesus Christ,
who is the faithful witness,
the firstborn from the dead,
and the ruler of the kings of the earth."
John tells us that grace and peace come to us from the triune God.
Christians, how blest you are! The triune God sends you blessings of grace and peace.
As far as the supply of grace and peace goes you can't have it better than this. What John states here is that nothing can stop this grace and peace coming to you. William Hendriksen writes, (More than Conquerors, p. 67)
"This grace and this peace is provided by the Father, dispensed by the Holy Spirit, and merited for us by the Son."
The full force of the triune God is determined to send you grace and peace. In the counsels of the Trinity the salvation of His people has been determined. Every eventuality and contingency has been taken into account—God has determined that grace and peace will flow to you and assure your salvation. John's words here remind me of Romans 8:29–31,
"For those God foreknew he also
predestined to be conformed
to the likeness of his Son,
that he might be the firstborn
among many brothers.
And those he predestined, he also called;
those he called, he also justified;
those he justified, he also glorified.
What, then, shall we say
in response to this?
If God is for us, who can be against us?"
Grace and peace. Where would you be without these things?
Grace—what is this? Although the biblical words for 'grace' are used in a variety of ways, grace basically denotes undeserved favor granted by a superior. Herman Hoeksema writes that grace here, (Behold, He Cometh! p. 16)
"denotes a power, an operation of the Spirit of Christ within the elect, whereby they become partakers of all the benefits of salvation…"
God's grace encompasses the strength, power and favor that God grants so that Christians can stand against evil and against the troubles of this life. G. K. Beale writes, (p. 187)
"The Christian readers need grace to persevere in their faith in the midst of tribulation, especially pressures to compromise."
Christians, without grace you would have no hope. Grace is everything. Without grace, you'll fall, you'll be destroyed. If you don't have grace it means that you're totally vulnerable and it means you'll absolutely fall. Without grace your sinful nature has no restraint on it and it will lead you into great sin and eventual destruction. Without grace you're totally vulnerable to the assaults of Satan and other outside external forces. Without grace there's nothing to stop them and keep them at bay. You're totally open to them and they will have their way with you. They will destroy you. How wonderful that the triune God gives us grace.
The second thing mentioned here is peace. Those in Jesus Christ are no longer God's enemies. In Romans 5:1 the apostle Paul wrote,
"Therefore, since we have been
justified through faith,
we have peace with God
through our Lord Jesus Christ,"
Not only that, but we have inner peace. No matter what troubles come our way, we know that we are safe in Jesus. As we read in Psalm 46:1–3,
"God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth give way
and the mountains fall
into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake
with their surging."
G. K. Beale writes on the peace that Christians need in the face of persecution, (p. 187)
"in the midst of such external turmoil they need the inner 'peace' that only the eternal God who is sovereign over the vicissitudes of space-time history can give."
William Hendriksen writes that peace is, (p. 67)
"the reflection of the smile of God in the heart of the believer…"
Peace helps us to have confidence in spite of any opposition.
Now the great thing here is how the source of these blessings are described to us. To help us see the surety of the grace and peace, John tells us that they come from the triune God.
First, notice how the God the Father is described.
God the Father is described as being eternal, the Lord of time.
"Grace and peace to you
from him who is, and who was,
and who is to come,"
Vern Poythress says the fact that the Father is described this way, (The Returning King, p. 72)
"underlines the absoluteness of God in his being, his sovereignty, and his relation to time."
It tells us that, (Poythress, p. 72)
"God is the lord of the present, the past, and the future."
What John writes here reminds us of what God said to Moses at the burning bush. In Exodus 3:14–15 God said,
" 'I am who I am.
This is what you are to say to the Israelites:
'I am has sent me to you.'
God also said to Moses,
Say to the Israelites,
'The Lord, the God of your fathers—
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac
and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.'
This is my name forever,
the name by which I am
to be remembered
from generation to generation."
In other Old Testament passages God speaks in a similar vein. In Isaiah 44:6 we read,
"This is what the Lord says—
Israel's King and Redeemer,
the Lord Almighty:
I am the first and I am the last;
apart from me there is no God."
And Deuteronomy 32:39 God said,
"See now that I myself am He!
There is no god besides me.
I put to death and I bring to life,
I have wounded and I will heal,
and no one can deliver out of my hand."
G. K. Beale writes, (Revelation, p. 188)
"All these expressions are used in their respective contexts to describe God, not merely as present at the beginning, middle and end of history, but as the incomparable sovereign Lord over history, who is thus able to bring prophecy to fulfillment and to deliver his people despite overwhelming odds, whether from Egypt, Babylon, or the nations."
What John says here reminds me of what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:38–39,
"For I am convinced that neither
death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us
from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Time is not a barrier to God like it is to us. I'd love to go back in time and undo some of the things I've done. I'd love to go back and spend time with my grandfather and ask him a lot of questions that I should have asked when I had the opportunity. In many ways, time for us in a great barrier. It stops us, frustrates us, limits us in so many ways.
That is not the way it is with God. Time is not a barrier, an obstacle, that can frustrate and stop Him. Of course, we don't want to think of God in terms of needing to go back in time to change something. He doesn't make mistakes that need to be changed. But the point is that He is not bound by time. God is eternal. He controls time. Time is something God created and He is outside of it. He is not bound by it. Michael Horton writes, (The Christian Faith)
"God transcends the very categories of time and space… God can freely enter into time and space without being circumscribed or contained within either."
Nothing can frustrate God's plans. He controls time.
Let me give you an example. We see it in the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt. In Genesis 15:13 the LORD said to Abraham,
"Know for certain that your descendants
will be strangers in a country not their own,
and they will be enslaved and mistreated
four hundred years."
You all know the story of Joseph and the famine and how Joseph provided for his family in Egypt and how after Joseph died, the Israelites were oppressed in Egypt. Four hundred years after the Israelites went down into Egypt they were still there and there didn't seem to be any hope of relief. What about God's promise to Abraham? The Israelites were in Egypt 400 years, then 410 years, then 420 years and still not hint of help from God.
Sometimes we may think that God's plan isn't working out, that His promises aren't coming true. I'm sure some of the Israelites felt that way.
But you'll remember what happened. God sent Moses to Egypt to lead the people out. Yet, even then, they were hit with delay after delay. Pharaoh wouldn't let them go. He hardened his heart. In spite of the first nine plagues, Pharaoh refused to let the people go. During the plagues of Egypt, after a particular plague, Pharaoh said he would let the Israelites go, but once the plague was removed, he went back on his word. But after the 10th plague, the plague of the firstborn, what happened? He let the Israelites go. This is Moses' commentary on it. In Exodus 12:41 we read,
"At the end of the 430 years,
to the very day,
all the Lord's divisions left Egypt."
Four hundred and 30 years to the very day! How exact God's plan was! It was on the exact anniversary of the day when Jacob and his family arrived in Egypt.
God's promise came true. The 400 years given to Abraham was an approximate number. The Israelites shouldn't have been disheartened after 410 years, after 420. They shouldn't have worried about God's promise failing. Some might have thought that it had to be 400 years exactly, but to do so was wrong. God had his timetable. He followed it exactly. His plan with Moses, the delays with the plagues of Egypt, with Pharaoh hardening his heart—they were encompassed within God's plan.
Christians, God's plan is exact. Pharaoh could not thwart God's plan. As Moses said in Deuteronomy 32:3–4,
"I will proclaim the name of the LORD.
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he.
His ways are perfect."
We never have to feel that it's too late for God to give us grace and peace or that there's a situation where it's impossible for Him to give it to us. No situation can ever thwart that. I'm sure it seemed that way to Jairus when his daughter was near death and he went to bring Jesus to heal her. Remember the delay with the woman who had the issue with bleeding, who touched the edge of Jesus' cloak? Jesus stopped and questioned the people around him. Can you imagine how long that delay must have been for Jairus? Can you imagine how he felt when messengers arrived telling him that his daughter was dead? (Luke 8:40f) God's timing didn't seem very good.
It was the same way with Mary and Martha when their brother, Lazarus was sick. Jesus didn't arrive and Lazarus died. When Jesus did arrive, Martha said to Jesus, John 11:21,
"Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died."
God's timing did not seem right to Martha.
That's often the way it is with us. But the fact that God is eternal, the fact that He rules over space, time and history—means that you should obey God, trust in God, and be confident in His promises even when it seems impossible for them to be fulfilled.
Remember how God promised Abraham that he would have a son, and yet God delayed fulfilling the promise until he and Sarah were very old? Did that stop Abraham from believing? In Romans 4:18–21 we read about Abraham's faith.
"Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed
and so became the father of many nations,
just as it had been said to him,
So shall your offspring be.
Without weakening in his faith,
he faced the fact that his body
was as good as dead—since he was
about a hundred years old—
and that Sarah's womb was also dead.
Yet he did not waver through unbelief
regarding the promise of God,
but was strengthened in his faith
and gave glory to God,
being fully persuaded that God
had power to do what he had promised."
G. K. Beale writes, (p. 187)
"Confidence in God's sovereign guidance of all earthly affairs instills courage to stand strong in the face of difficulties that test faith: this is the point of the Old Testament expressions which lie behind, 'the one who is and who was and who is coming.'"
God the Father is the ruler of history. Time itself is under His control. Nothing, no contingency, can prevent Him from sending grace and peace to you.
The second thing we see in our text is that
grace and peace also come to us from the 'seven spirits' before His throne.
How can this be? Doesn't the Bible teach that there is one 'Spirit', not seven? Why is the reference here to seven spirits?
G. K. Beale suggests that the phrase 'seven spirits' is a paraphrased allusion to Zechariah 4:27,
"which identifies the 'seven lamps' as God's one Spirit, whose role is to bring about God's grace."
In Zechariah 4:2–7 the angel asked Zechariah, (HCSB)
"What do you see? I replied,
'I see a solid gold lampstand there
with a bowl on its top.
It has seven lamps on it
and seven channels for each
of the lamps on its top.
There are also two olive trees beside it,
one on the right of the bowl
and the other on its left.'
Then I asked the angel
who was speaking with me,
'What are these, my lord?'
'Don't you know what they are?'
replied the angel
who was speaking with me.
I said, 'No, my lord.'
So he answered me,
'This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel:
'Not by strength or by might,
but by My Spirit,'
says the LORD of Hosts.
'What are you, great mountain?
Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain.
And he will bring out the capstone
accompanied by shouts of:
Grace, grace to it!"
Grace in its fulness comes from the Spirit. Seven is the symbolical number of fulness. The Spirit is described here as seven as, Beale writes, (Revelation, p. 189)
"figurative designation of the effective working of the Holy Spirit."
The message of Revelation is to the seven churches in Asia. I suspect that the reference to the Spirit in His 'sevenfold fulness' (Poythress, p. 73) has to do with that, so that each one of them would know that God's Spirit is with them. Beale writes, (p. 189)
"The Spirit is the means by which God effects 'grace and peace' and by which the church is encouraged to obedience and witness."
The seven Spirits are before the throne. The spirits have the authority of God.
The effect of all this is that nothing can stop the fullness of the Spirit from giving abundant rivers of grace and peace to God's people.
The third thing we see from our text is that
grace and peace also come to us from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
Christ is described first with reference to his ministry on earth—the faithful witness; then in connection with His death and resurrection—the firstborn from the dead; and then in terms that express his present exaltation—the ruler of the kings of the earth. (Hendriksen) This is a summary of Christ's ministry.
The idea here is that this grace and peace will surely come to us because Jesus, by His life and death, and exaltation—has merited these blessings for us. They cannot be withheld from us. They are ours. Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. His resurrection guarantees our resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15) Christ rules over the kings of the earth—all His enemies, including the satanic forces behind the kings of the earth. (Ephesians 6:10f, Daniel 10)
All of this means that grace and truth will surely come to us and stay with us. This reminds me of what David said in Psalm 23:6, (ESV)
"Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me all the days of my life,"
Grace and peace in abundance will surely come to those who belong to Jesus.
Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians,
you should see how much you need grace and peace.
Right now you are receiving grace and peace from God. God gives you all the good things you have. But if you're not in Jesus, this grace is temporary. It's like our old coal room that winter. It will not last.
All the good things God has given you so far have a specific purpose—to get you to repent and turn to Jesus. As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 2:4
"do you show contempt
for the riches of his kindness,
tolerance and patience,
not realizing that God's kindness
leads you toward repentance?"
Go to Jesus. Believe in Him. In Him you will received grace and peace that will never end. Go to Jesus now.