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, the 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 about just that. In these chapters, we see the New Jerusalem descending from heaven to earth. In fact, it is heaven coming down and out of the old heaven and the old earth, God creates a new heaven and a new earth.
In this New Jerusalem, there will be no persecution because the persecutions will end. There will be no sickness because sickness will end. There will be no sin because sin will end. And perhaps most importantly, there will also be no more temple or altar because there will be no need to shed the blood of sacrifices in order pay the price of our sins. That’s because they were all be paid by Jesus.
Last week we talked about the river of life that flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb who is Jesus. And beside the river of life is the tree of life that supplies food for each season and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. You may remember how we talk about the need for healing in the nations today. That’s what the river of life and the tree of life are all about: the healing of the nations. Bringing people together in God’s love.
In today’s passage everything is settled. 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 have the name of Jesus written on their foreheads because they have believed in Jesus and lived according to his commandments.
And so we come to Revelation 22:12-14 (NIV). If you have a red letter Bible, these words are written in red. That means that they are the words of Jesus. Let’s listen to what he has to say: “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 guess. Soon is a relative term. Soon for a four-year old is about fourteen seconds away. 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, 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. Let me explain. We believe that the Bible teaches that we are saved by faith alone and not by works. That’s what Jesus is getting at 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 are the very same ones who have put their faith in Jesus. Their sins are washed away. That’s what the image of washing is all about.
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 sin. That’s why Jesus paid the price for us on the cross of Calvary. That’s basic Christianity.
So if there is nothing that we can do to enter the gates of the New Jerusalem than what 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. 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 inbetween. It’s one of those all or nothing propositions.
But people sometimes ask, “You mean that if Hitler gave his life to Jesus an hour before he died, would he still be saved?” That answer is that, yes, Hitler would also be saved if he gave his life to Jesus because Jesus is more powerful than all of the evil that Hitler perpetrated. The Bible teaches that Jesus died for all of our sins and all means all.
So how is that 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 in the gates, each of us will have our own unique place in that city. Some will have higher places and some will have lower. Those who have done more good in this life will have higher places; those who have done fewer will be lower. So what we do 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 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 know 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. No surprise here. Jesus said the same thing at the beginning of Revelation. In Revelation 1:8 he said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” If you want to know what those are, they are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet.
But it’s also more than that. Back in those days, to talk about extremes – the alpha and the omega – also meant that everything else in between is also included. So when Jesus says that he is the Alpha and the Omega he means all of the letters, everything. Jesus is everything.
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 is at the end of Revelation the very same person he claimed to be at the beginning. Who is he? He is everything, all that we need, through whom all of our needs are met and all of our sins forgiven.
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 two hints about who he is. Twice he says that he is 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 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 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 white robes have been washed in the blood of the Lamb who is Jesus.
Do you see how it all fits together? Do you hear how God’s salvation plan for creation is outlined and completed in Jesus? That is why the people of Asia Minor who faced persecution were invited to come. Because, in the end, Jesus will come to us and the gates of the New Jerusalem will be opened and the justice of God shall 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 when 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 get 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.” We talked about the word Amen last week. We talked about it with the children and we sang about it in a song. Do you remember that we said it is more than just a traditional ending of a prayer? It is an affirmation that something which was said was 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. 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 tax breaks on our property taxes. And while it is certainly true that the Church does not weld nearly so 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 being persecuted today, that does not mean that it can’t or won’t happen. Society can change rapidly. As we talked about last week, the post-postmillennial society in which we live today is far less tolerant that the postmillennial society of the late 20th century.
The experience of the Christians in Asia Minor can quickly become our experience and we need to think about how we would respond if that happened. Would we bow the knee to Caesar or would we remain faithful to Jesus even if it mean that we might suffer or even die? 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 know of 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. 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, 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.”
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 offer our thanks this day for the the wedding yesterday of Diane Bell and Mike Hunter. Bless them, O God, as they begin the dance of marriage together.
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 the prairies and now Ontario as they deal with a devastating forest fire. Give them hope, O God, and thank you for the many brave people fighting those fires. At this point, we would also pray for cooler temperatures and lots of rain that will help to bring these fires under control.
We also pray for the farmers of this area who are desperate for the rains to stop so that seeding can be done.
We lift up the sick of our congregation and community into your care. We pray, especially, for Sharon, Mary and Herb. 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 2, 2019 / 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!
PRAYER OF APPROACH
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.