JESUS IS COMING
We’re going to finish off today with the last of a series of messages from the last few chapters of Revelation. As I said earlier, a lot of people misinterpret the book of Revelation. It is not primarily a book that talks about the end times. It is, at its heart, a discipleship manual that tells the Christians in Asia Minor in the second century how to live faithfully in times of persecution. It does this through vivid imagery that would have made perfect sense to the people of that day in a way that it does not for us. So, our challenge with Revelation is to read it through the eyes if the people to whom it was written and to understand what the images meant to them. We have to read it in context because, if we don’t so that, it makes no sense. When we do that, this amazing book explodes in beauty and we understand it the way that God intended.
But that’s not to say that none of it is about the future. Truly, the last three chapters are all future oriented. In these chapters, we see the New Jerusalem descending from heaven to earth. In fact, it is heaven coming down. Out of the old heaven and the old earth, God creates a new heaven and a new earth.
In this New Jerusalem, there is no persecution because the persecution will end. There is no sickness because sickness will end. There is no sin because sin will end. And perhaps most importantly, there is also no temple or altar because there is no need to shed the blood of sacrifices in order pay the price of our sins. That’s because they have already been paid by Jesus on the cross.
In today’s passage everything is settled. Jesus has returned in glory. Satan is defeated. The New Jerusalem is established. The river of life is flowing and the tree of life is growing. The gates of the New Jerusalem are wide open waiting for God’s people to enter, the ones who overcame and have the name of Jesus written on their foreheads.
And so we turn to Revelation 22:12-14 (NIV). Remember that these are Jesus’ words. John may be writing them down but he is simply recording what he hears Jesus say. After giving John a vision of the future glory of the New Jerusalem he says:
“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.”
Jesus says, “I am coming soon.” He doesn’t tell us when. He just says it will be soon. He’s not suggesting that we should try to guess. Soon is a relative term. Soon for a four-year old is about fourteen seconds away. Soon for a twenty year old may mean next year. Soon for a forty year old may be sometime in the next month. Soon for eighty year old could be any time in the next year or so. The older we get “soon” seems to get longer and longer. But soon for an eternal God is something quite different. When you’ve existed forever, a thousand years is but a drop of time in the ocean of eternity. “But,” you might ask, “What about all those people who claim that the signs are all there now, that Jesus is coming in our lifetime? How do we respond to that?” That’s actually pretty easy. Don’t be rude. Don’t argue with them. Just smile and nod your head. They’ll find out soon enough that no one can predict the time when Jesus returns. But also affirm that we are agree on one thing, that Jesus is coming soon.
And then Jesus says, “My reward is with me, and I will reward each person according to what he has done.” What is this talking about? Is this salvation by works? No, this is not. So, let me explain. Basic biblical Christianity teaches us teaches that we are saved by faith alone and not by works. That’s what Jesus is getting at in verse 14 when he says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” “Those who have washed their robes” is just another way of saying “those who have put their faith in Jesus”. Their sins are washed away. That’s what the image of washing is all about. Those are the ones who have the right to enter the gates of the city and eat from the tree of life.
There is nothing that we can do to save ourselves. There are not enough good works in the world to pay the price of even a single one of our sins. That’s why Jesus paid the price for us on the cross of Calvary. That’s basic Christianity 101.
So, if there is nothing that we can do to enter the gates of the New Jerusalem than what’s all this about Jesus rewarding each one according to what he has done? Here’s the difference. Salvation is by faith alone. But salvation and rewards are not at all the same thing. We’ve gone over this before but we can do it again because it is one of the least understood concepts in the Bible. Faith gets us through the gates of the New Jerusalem. No matter when we come to faith in Christ, whether it is as a child or the week before we go to meet our Maker, salvation is exactly the same for everyone. You’re either saved or you’re not. There is no in between. It’s one of those all or nothing propositions.
But people sometimes ask, “You mean that if Adolph Hitler gave his life to Jesus an hour before he died, would he still be saved?” That answer is that, yes, Hitler would be saved if he gave his life to Jesus at the very last moment because Jesus is more powerful than all of the evil that Hitler ever perpetrated. The Bible teaches that Jesus died for all of the sins of humanity for all time and all means all.
So, how is salvation different from rewards? While our salvation is not based on our works, our rewards are. Rewards refer to our places in the New Jerusalem. While it is true that faith gets us through the gates, each of us will have our own unique place in that great city. Some will have higher places and some will have lower. Those who have done more to follow Jesus in this life will have higher places; those who have done less will have lower places. So, how we live our lives really does make a difference. If Hitler did indeed give his life to Christ just before he died, his position in the New Jerusalem would be secure but it would probably be the lowest of the low.
But that leads to another question. Won’t that make people jealous, that some have higher places than others? No, it won’t because those places are given out justly and everyone will expect justice and everyone will appreciate and accept it. It will be fair and when things are fair, there is no need for jealousy. Unlike this life, people will not think they deserve what they have not earned. That’s what Jesus means when he says that he will give rewards to each one according to what he has done.
But then Jesus identifies himself: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” This is no big surprise. Jesus said the same thing at the beginning of Revelation. In Revelation 1:8 he said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” He said the same thing in Revelation 21:6 that we read two weeks ago. If you want to know what those are, the alpha and the omega, they are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet.
But it’s also more than that. Back in those days, when people talked about extremes – like the alpha and the omega – they also meant that everything else in between. So, when Jesus says that he is the Alpha and the Omega he means all of the letters, everything. Jesus is everything. All that there is in creation is drawn together in him. And why not. After all, in the first chapter of the gospel of John, we learn that Jesus is the author of creation so, of course, it is his. Whose else could it possibly be?
The same holds true when he says that he is the First and the Last. That also appears in Revelation 1:17. What’s between the first ant he last? Everything else. So, again, Jesus is everything. This appears in the first chapter of Revelation and it appears in the last. The implications are clear. Jesus, at the end of Revelation, is the very same person he claimed to be at the beginning of Revelation. Who is he? He is everything, all that we need, through whom all of our needs are met and all of our sins are forgiven. He is our all in all.
JESUS INVITES US TO COME
And then Jesus says this in Revelation 22:16-17 (NIV):
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
Jesus did indeed send his angel to tell the people these things. He said so right at the beginning in Revelation 1:1 (NIV) where we read:
The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.
So again, Jesus is just reminding us of something that we already know. The message of Revelation is God’s message sent from God to John through an angel.
And then, once again, Jesus identifies who he is. He is the Root and the Offspring of David and the bright Morning Star. These are all names that the people of the day used for the Messiah who would save his people. They aren’t names that we typically use anymore but they would have been abundantly clear and readily identifiable to the people who first heard these words.
Jesus gives three hints about who he is. Three times he uses imagery that points to himself as the Messiah. Have you noticed how many times this happens in Revelation? Something is said not just once but over and over again? Why is that? It’s because it’s important. The more times something is said, the more likely it is that people will hear it. And Jesus wants people to hear this because it’s important.
And then, once again, the people are invited to come. “Come,” Jesus says. Come where? Come into the gates of the New Jerusalem to drink from the waters of the river of life and to eat the fruit of the tree of life whose leaves do not wither but are for the healing of the nations. “Come and drink from the river,” says Jesus for this gift is free as salvation is free. It is a gift of God for those whose robes have been washed white in the blood of the Lamb who is Jesus.
In the end, Jesus will come to us and the gates of the New Jerusalem will be opened and the justice of God will flow like a mighty river and reign over all. And there will be peace. What good news this must have been for those facing persecution. The persecution will end. Peace and justice will reign for those who follow Jesus, whose robes are washed in his blood, who enter in the open gates of the New Jerusalem..
JESUS IS INVITED TO COME
And finally, we get to the last two verses in Revelation 22:20-21 (NIV):
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.
Once again, Jesus uses that same word. Come. In fact, it is used twice in these verses. The first time is he says, once again, that he is coming soon. Why does he say it again? Because it’s important. He wants to make sure we understand it.
And then John, who has seen these visions of the New Jerusalem and has written them down makes his own plea when he affirms the words of the Lamb and writes, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus.”
The word “Amen” is an important word, often not completely understood. We, of course, use it as a traditional ending of a prayer. But it is so much more than that. It is an affirmation that something which has been said is correct. It is an expression of agreement. In fact, it’s ever more than that. It is an exuberant affirmation. It’s like saying, “Right on!” or, “I couldn’t agree with you more.” I liken it to an affirmation fist pump.
Again, what good news this must have been for the persecuted Christians of Asia Minor. God gave them hope by letting them know that it would be worth it to face the persecutions and persevere to the end, to be overcomers. The thirsty will be satisfied. The hungry will be fed. Those who were persecuted and suffered for their faith will be rewarded in the New Jerusalem. It’s the message that they needed to hear.
JESUS CALLS US
The obvious question, however, is this: What does this have to do with us? Some people today might try to claim that the church today is being persecuted like it was in Asia Minor 1900 years ago. And while that is definitely true of the Church in some parts of the world such as China, North Korea and Indonesia, it is clearly not the case in North America where Christians can still worship freely from state control and where we get breaks on our property taxes and even clergy get special income tax exemptions. And while it is certainly true that the Church does not weld nearly as much power in our society as it once did, any issues that we face are mere annoyances compared to what the people of Asia Minor faced.
So, what do we make of this from our relatively privileged place? I want to point to two things. First, just because we are not the position of being persecuted, that does not mean that it can’t or won’t happen. Society can change rapidly. The post-postmillennial society in which we live today is far less tolerant that the postmillennial society of the late 20th century. We see it in the political divides that separate people. We see it the cancel culture where disagreements and differences of opinions are simply not tolerated.
The experience of the Christians in Asia Minor can quickly become our experience and we need to think about how we will respond if that ever happens. Will we bow the knee to Caesar or will we remain faithful to Jesus even if it mean that we might suffer or even die for our faith? Those are tough questions that I hope we never have to answer. But what if we do? What choices would we make? It’s worth thinking about.
That’s the first point. The second is more immediate. While we may not face severe persecutions, each of us will face hardships. Many of us know what that’s all about. If you don’t understand that, then you just haven’t lived long enough because I don’t believe that anyone who has managed to get through life unscathed.
Even in a relatively free society, we still face suffering. We face illnesses and the deaths of loved ones. We face broken relationship and estranged children. We face job losses and financial uncertainty. We face gun violence and racism. And those thing can weigh us down as individuals just as much as the systemic persecution faced the those early Christians in Asia Minor.
Whatever challenges you face, whatever hardships come your way, whatever barriers block your path to full humanity Jesus still calls you to come. If Jesus can deal with the major issues that the Christians of Asia Minor faced, how much more can he walk with us through the trials that we face.
The gates of the New Jerusalem are open to all who put their faith in Jesus, those who overcome and whose robes are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Let those who are thirsty come and drink from the waters of the river of life and those who are hungry come and eat from the tree of live which yields its fruit in season and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
“Come,” says Jesus. “Come unto me all of you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Jesus has opened up for us the gates of the New Jerusalem. Know that he can take whatever burdens load you down and he will bring healing and wholeness. “Yes,” says Jesus, “I am coming soon.”
And with John, we say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus come.”
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, we come to you this day with great thanks in our hearts. You have blessed us abundantly and given us more than we can ever use. You also have given us eyes to see that this world is filled with people who do not have enough. Grant us the courage and the wisdom to share what we have out of our great wealth. Your good gifts are given to us to share and we thank you for the privilege of being stewards of your creation.
We desire, O God, to understand things as you would see them and not to judge them by the criteria of our limited understanding. Enable us to perceive things as you see them, looking beyond mere appearances to see the truth. We want to discern and follow the teaching and leadership of your Spirit in every area of life so that we may learn more of your ways and become more like you in our thought, word and deed.
We would pray also for the people of Ukraine as they continue to face he ravages of war. Give the strength to throw off the ravages of the aggressor and to find justice and lasting peace. We would also pray for Putin and the Russian leadership that you would touch their hearts and change their actions.
We lift up the sick of our congregation and community into your care. We pray, especially, for Carol, Mark, Ron, Charles and Hazel. Bless them with a special measure of your Healing Spirit that they and their families may know your love and experience your blessing.
Father God, though there are times when it seems that you are slow to act, help us to have patience, trusting in your unfailing love and the absolute certainty of your promises. Circumstances may appear to be insurmountable today, but we are grateful that you promise that times will change and that, until they do, you are with us both now and forever. Remind us that we can depend upon your promises for you never fail to fulfill your word in our lives. We lift our prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
June 12, 2022 / Trinity Sunday (Readings from Easter 7)
Psalm 97; John 17:20-26; Acts 1:16-34; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
CALL TO WORSHIP
Shout to the Lord all the earth!
Come before God with laughter!
Come to God’s gates with thanksgiving!
We enter God’s courts with praise!
God of Light, shine upon us in your glory. Bless our worship with your Holy Presence and your awesome Spirit. It is a wonderful comfort to know that your compassion and understand surround us in every moment of life. We can trust completely in your unconditional love, and come to you without fear of rejection. Your love for us is so great. Your peace is beyond our understanding. Come to us in power and lift us anew to the glory of the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Your Mercy flows, O God, like a fresh flowing stream in the desert of life. When we seek to live by our own wisdom and discretion our mistakes add up and we miss the mark that you have made for us. Enable us to avoid the errors of the past by learning to make righteous and holy decisions. It is our desire to daily grow stronger in our relationship with you. Make us aware of the hurt that you feel when we forsake your Word and guidance. We are grateful for the unconditional and limitless love that is always ready to forgive our mistakes when we have the courage to repent and confess our sins. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The grace of God is boundless, far more powerful that our deepest and darkest sin. There is hope in God. There is hope that we can be lifted above our sins to experience the new life that is ours in Jesus Christ. All we need to do is repent. When God hears our heartfelt confessions, we are forgiven. The slate is wiped clean and we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Our gifts we offer out of gratitude for all that you have done for us. All that we have comes from you. All that we have received is given back, represented by these tithes and offerings. Accept our gifts and bless them for your holy purpose in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Jesus left the disciples with a wonderful commission to go into all nations. By the power of the Spirit, they changed the world. May we be so inspired that we, too, may make a difference in our corner of creations. Go, in the love of Christ, to love and serve the Lord.