MY FAVOURITE BOOK
Starting today, I’m going to do something a bit different. We’re going to do an eight week series of messages based on Revelation 2-3. I actually did something similar back in 2007 – that was a long time ago – and if you were part of Cottam United Church back then, you might remember it. But there are a whole lot of people in our congregation and community who have joined since then so this is all going to be brand new for you. And that’s why I thought I’d brush off this series off and take a fresh look at it.
I’m actually excited about doing this because Revelation is my favourite book in the Bible. It really is. I say that to people and they sometimes look at me like I’m nuts. But it’s true and over the course of the next eight weeks, I hope my love of this book will become contagious for you and I trust that your eyes will be open to the amazing message of hope that is contain in this very last book in the Bible.
I confess that I didn’t always feel that way about Revelation. Like a lot of people, for a long time I thought it was the scariest book in the Bible. It’s too controversial. It’s too weird. There’s too much imagery and symbolism. How are we ever supposed to understand it? It just doesn’t make sense. I get that because I was once in that camp.
That changed in the spring of 2007 when I was challenged to lead a Bible study on Revelation – something I had never done before. I reluctantly agreed and began to study Revelation in earnest that summer. What I discovered was a rich treasure trove of teaching that is as relevant today as it was when it was first written more than 1,900 years ago. I found hope and grace and a profound expressions of God’s love. And more than anything else, I discovered that God calls us to overcome. And not only does God calls us to overcome, God equips us to overcome.
That is a message that we need to hear today in an era when many churches are struggling in all kinds of ways. The good news is that the church has been here before. It has faced hardship and adversity, struggles and persecutions. And yet, it survived and thrived and continued to share God’s message of love and hope and peace with the world. As people of God, as followers of Jesus Christ, we have been here before. This pandemic is just another in a long line of hardships we have face. We need to remind ourselves that, in Jesus Christ, we are overcomers.
The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 tell us all we need to know about how that is possible to overcome. Over the next seven weeks, we will be looking at each of those letter, one every week. We’ll tackle the first letter next week. For the rest of this message, I’m going to give you some of the background information to Revelation as a whole that will help you to understand this amazing book and how the letters to the seven churches fit into its message.
The initial audience for Revelation was a church that was struggling with how to be faithful in a time of hardship and persecution. Domitian was the Emperor of the Roman Empire, the Caesar, and he was not happy with Christians. He wasn’t happy because not only was he the Emperor, he also was considered to be divine. That’s right, they thought of him as a god. As a god, the people were expected to worship him. To be honest, it didn’t take much to do that. All the people had to do was bow down before an altar set up for that very purpose in most cities. Do that and everything would be fine. Go home and get on with your life. Eat, drink and be merry.
But the Christians couldn’t do that because they believed in one God and believed that only God was worthy of worship. And so many refused to bend their knees to Caesar. That was no simple decision because Rome did not take kindly to people who did not do as they were told. This resulted in the persecutions that are referred to throughout Revelation. This was a problem, a big problem because Rome could be brutal with those who disobeyed.
There is also a second problem, an internal one that arose when some Christians chose to bow down to Caesar rather than face his wrath. How would the church deal with these brothers and sisters who did not remain faithful but, instead, bowed the knee to the Emperor Domitian? That was not easy because these issues threatened to divide church and even families. How would the church remain faithful in this time of persecution and hardship? How would it overcome and be the people that God called it to be? These are the choices that they faced.
But God, as always, is faithful. God sent an angel to John who was in exile on the island of Patmos. Patmos is a small island in the Aegean Sea between modern day Greece and Turkey. The angel’s mission is described in the first three verses of Revelation which say this:
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, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
This says a couple of things we need to remember. First, the book of Revelation may have been written by John but it is not John’s words. He is only the scribe. These are the word of Jesus Christ. They are his words to his church and that thought must always be foremost in our minds.
The second thing is that this revelation is intended to tell the church what must soon take place. One of the mistakes that people often make with Revelation is that they read it as though it were written to 21st century North Americans. It wasn’t. It was written to Mediterranean people 1,900 years ago who saw the world very differently than we do and also understood truth very differently. For us to understand Revelation we must understand how they read it. Only when we first do that, can we understand what it means for us today. That step is vital and we will pay very close attention to it over the next seven weeks as we unpack the seven letters to the churches.
APOCALYPSE & PROPHECY
In order to appreciate the book of Revelation, we need to understand the meaning of two words. The first word is apocalypse. The second word is prophecy. The book of Revelation is an apocalypse. It says so in the very first phrase of the book which says, “The revelation of Jesus Christ”. The word that we translate as revelation is the Greek word apocalypse. When we hear the word apocalypse what usually comes to mind is mass destruction and devastation. Do you remember the 1979 war movie “Apocalypse Now”? That’s what most people think of when they hear about an apocalypse.
But that is not what it means here. To the early Christians, an apocalypse did not signify destruction. To them, it meant an unveiling, the opening of a door, the pulling back a curtain to see what is behind. Could there be destruction behind the curtain? There could be but not necessarily. In fact, in Revelation, that’s not at all what is behind the curtain. What is revealed in Revelation is a reason for hope and the revealing of what the church had to do in order to overcome the hardships that it was facing.
As we read the letters to the seven churches, and what they meant to the people who initially read them, we will discover what they mean to us as the curtain is pulled back and the truth that is contain in this book is revealed to us as well. This apocalypse is not to be feared. It is to be cherished as Jesus’ revelation to us and the church of every age and generation.
Apocalypse is the first word that we need to understand. The second word is prophecy. The book of Revelation is an apocalypse but it is also a prophecy. But this word too needs to be explained because it is not well understood today. Many people today think that prophecy is the foretelling of events that will happen in the future. And sometimes it is, even in the Bible, but foretelling is not the main function of prophecy. Biblically, the purpose of prophecy is almost always the same. It is to call the people back to faithfulness. That is abundantly clear in the Old Testament prophets who railed against the kings and people of Israel when they wandered away from the God who promised to rain judgment upon them if they did not return.
There are those who try to read Revelation as though it is a crystal ball telling us about the future. To be honest, part of it does that, especially the last three chapters which talk about the final judgment and the establishment of the New Jerusalem with the river of life and the tree of life that yields its fruit in season and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. That tells us about the final destiny for those who put their faith in Jesus Christ.
The rest of Revelation, however, is crystal ball into which we can somehow place the events if today. It is a call to faithful living in the midst of hardship and persecution. It is a call to faithfulness that is just as important today as it has ever been. There is more here than meets the eye and we are going to try to unpack some of it over the next seven weeks.
The seven letters were written to churches in Asia Minor, in what is now modern day Turkey: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Over the next seven weeks we are going to follow the postman as he delivers each of these letters. He will get off the mail ship at Ephesus which is the closest port of call from the island of Patmos. Then we will follow him as he travels what in what is basically a clockwise pattern delivering each of the letters to the respective church.
My prayer is that you will discover, on this journey, why I have grown to love this amazing book called revelation and what it says to us today. Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We give you thanks for the joy of this season, for longer daylight and warmer evenings, and for flowers sharing their blooms as they poke their heads above the earth. Even for rain we thank you for it is all part of your great purpose.
We offer our thanks for the wonder of this Easter season. This is a time of resurrection and new life. May your Spirit so infuse us in a new ways that we will be vividly aware of your presence and praise you for all of the ways in which you have blessed us so abundantly.
You are the Potter and we are the clay. Mould us into vessels of your love so that we might share your Good News with honesty and integrity. You have given us an image of what we can be in the person of Jesus Christ. Through faith in him and by the power of the resurrection may we fulfill your mission for us in our day and generation. May we not shirk from duty but enter into your service with passion and zest.
We pray for those who suffer this day from Covid-19, from the pause in other medical treatments, from economic hardship and loss of jobs. We pray for those who are lonely and feeling isolated and ask that you would guide each of us to make a difference whenever and wherever we can.
Help us, O God, to keep you as the focus of our lives; not only of our worship but also of our work, play and relaxation. In all things, help us to look towards you for you alone can fulfill our needs and make us whole. Only through the power of the cross are we able to come to you as whole and forgiven people. We lift our praise. We lift our voices. We lift our hearts to you. Do your will within us and guide us in the way that we should go. We ask these prayers in Jesus’ Holy Name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
May 17, 2020 / Easter 6
Psalm 66:8-20; John 14:15-21; Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22
CALL TO WORSHIP
Praise the Lord! Praise God in the Temple!
Praise the Lord! Praise his strength in heaven!
Praise the Lord! Praise the mighty things of God!
Praise the Lord! Praise his supreme greatness!
Praise the Lord! Praise God with harps and drums, flutes and cymbals.
May all living creatures praise the Lord!
PRAYER OF APPROACH
The earth rejoices and the heavens declare your greatness. The hills sing and the valleys cry out in gladness. The sea is yours for you made it. Your hands prepared the dry ground. You have opened to us your Holy Kingdom. You have made us citizens of your Heavenly Realm. Come to us now, Lord Jesus. Fill us anew with your Spirit as we worship and lift our lives in praise and thanksgiving.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
You, O God, have created the mountains heights and the depths of oceans. You have strung the stars together and caused the planets to spin our their axis. Yet, like Thomas, we doubt. We ask for proof of your existence. We want evidence that your love for us is real. We demand that which we should already know by faith. Forgive us, God of Mercy, for our untrusting hearts. Help us to come, in faith, to your table with the gifts of assurance and grace.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
When we doubt, Jesus comes to us and assures us of God’s love. When we mourn, Jesus comes to us, offering the soothing balm of God’s touch. When we repent and confess our sins, God forgives, forgets and brings healing to our brokenness.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Creation rejoices in the works of your hands. We, your people, praise you for the goodness of your abundance for us. We give, now, a portion of your gifts to the work of your Church. Bless these gifts and each giver, in Jesus’ name.
Praise the Lord, all you people. Praise God in your comings and in your going. Praise God in the waking and in your sleeping. Praise God in your sorrow and in your joy. Praise God in your shouting and in your silence.