Christus Victor: A sermon on Revelation 1:9-20 prepared by Joe Ellis, Jan. 17, 2020

When life gets difficult — which it always does — how do you see Jesus? When life gets difficult, when the world seems like its unravelling around you, how do you picture Jesus? When you are in the pit of despair, how would Jesus appear to you and I if only you had eyes to see? In those moments are you able to hold on to the truth that He is there by your side, through thick and thin? If so, how do you image he is with you? Many images might come to mind. Growing up, there was a picture in my room that said, “Christ is our pilot”, with a painting of Jesus standing behind a young captain steering a ship through a raging storm. You may have grown up with a painting of Jesus holding a lamb in his arms, or a kid (a human kid) — and he was laughing. Perhaps the image that comes to mind is the crucified Jesus, bleeding on the cross — suffering for you? Yet sometimes our pictures of Jesus aren’t born of faith. Sometimes wen picture him not there. In seminary, Mark, one of my professors, told us a story of when he was starting out as a pastor. He was called to go to the hospital to be with a family as their child was dying from a horrific accident. As Mark was in the hospital room amidst that horrific pain and suffering, he pictured Jesus standing outside the room, smoking a cigarette. When Mark would come out of the room, Jesus would take a drag on his cigarette and say, “how’s it going in there?” Mark said that was the beginning of his journey of learning what it means for God to be with us in suffering. How is God with you? In the 1

Revelation, John gives us quite a powerful image, doesn’t he? In the Revelation, John shows us an incomparably powerful picture of God with us, as we travel through the valley of the shadow of death. John has received a message from the exalted and risen Jesus, and he is to write on a scroll everything that he sees. He is to then send this letter to the churches throughout Asia Minor — especially the churches of Ephesus. Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodocia. The letter is a warning. The warning is that the suffering these churches are presently experiencing are a sign of things to come. Persecution is about to get far worse. John is concerned, Jesus is concerned, that these churches are not ready for what is to come. They need to be reminded who in fact it is they serve — if they are able to hold on to the heavenly reality, the reality of Christ on the throne — they will be able to endure what is to come. Which is perhaps why this letter opens with one of the most powerful images of Jesus ever recorded. The Kingdom fo God is not in trouble — Christ is on the throne — the people of God will be victorious. John is walking the walk. John’s is not an armchair general — warning the church of great persecution from the comfort of his easy-chair. John calls himself a brother in the suffering. He is their brother in the suffering. He is their companion in the suffering as he and his fellow believers face pressure not only to worship the emperor — but as they experience ridicule and suspicion and intolerance from their neighbours because of their witness for Jesus. Those in these churches are accused of being atheists (because they 2

don’t worship an image), they are accused of being cannibals (because they celebrate the Lord’s Supper), they are accused of frequent orgies (because they call the Lord’s Supper the Love Feast and outsiders assume the worst). These churches are suspected of political sedition, because they won’t honour the emperor with worship, and they call Jesus Lord — not Caesar. John is their companion in all this suffering — yet John also says he is their companion in the Kingdom. Their suffering is not a sign that the Kingdom of God has failed. If only we have eyes to see what John sees, we would be strengthened to endure everything. So John writes this letter, with strong hope that his churches will see that their suffering is the means through which the Kingdom of God advances. It’s an utter mystery, but that’s why in chapter 12 we hear that the saints have a role in conquering Satan himself: “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.” John is calling his churches to be steadfast in endurance, join him as a companion in suffering and the Kingdom. For in their perseverance they are participating in the victorious advance of the Kingdom of God! John reminds his churches that he is walking the walk. John the churches where he is: on the island of Patmos. Patmos is a small island off about 60 kilometres off the cost of Asia Minor. It was a place where Romans would banish those suspect of political sedition. It was intended to send the same message as crucifixion: Don’t mess with Rome. John says that he was banished to Patmos “because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” John is on Patmos because he is a political prisoner of the Roman Domitian. 3

The Roman Empire had begun to be deeply suspicious of Christians — as a careful reading of this letter will show us why — Christians worshiped One who not only claimed the title of Lord over and against Caesar, but this One whom they worship was executed as a criminal by the Roman State. Now these Christians say that this Jesus has risen from the dead and has been given authority overall Kingdoms. These Christians will not worship Caesar, they are loyal to this One whom they call the Lord Jesus Christ. John was a political prisoner, and he warns his churches to stay awake — things are going to get worse before they get better. But the Kingdom of God is not in trouble! John says, “I was in the Spirit On the Lord’s Day.” Before that moment, how do you imagine that John pictured Jesus as with him in His suffering? Do you think that he remembers reclining next to Jesus at the last supper? Do you think he remembered Jesus lacerated on the cross? Do you think he remembered Jesus as he appeared to the disciples after the resurrection? Maybe John was meditating on these images of Jesus, as many Christians have throughout history, when he suddenly heard a voice coming from behind, a voice like the a trumpet. Blaring into the silence of the island. “Write on the scroll, all that you see.” A voice like a trumpet — remember in the book of Exodus — the way that God summoned the Israelites to comes upon the Holy Mountain called Sinai. “There was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people in the camp trembled.” This trumpet-voice blares into John’s solitude “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches.” He turns to see the 4

voice, and the barren rocky landscape is now furnished with seven golden lamp-stands (which he later learns are the seven churches he’s writing to). And he’s no longer alone. He turns to see the voice, and the Revelation begins with seeing someone like a “son of man" — Son of man, the name Jesus continually used for himself on earth, we see the son of man also in Daniel 7. We see the son of man goes before the Ancient of Days, God, and receives dominion, glory, and kingship. John shows us Jesus then as he is now. This is how Jesus is with us, our companion in the suffering. Throughout this next section, I’ll invite you to close your eyes. Try to picture with your mind’s eye the exalted Jesus that John describes Nearly every part of the description comes from either Ezekiel 1, Daniel 7, or Daniel 10:5. Picture the white flowing robe Jesus wears. This robe which reaches down to his feet. Picture the beautiful golden sash around his chest. Can you picture the white flowing robe with the brilliant sash draped from shoulder to hip. Can you picture this robe that was only worn by the Chief Priests of Israel, this robe that speaks of Jesus holiness, this robe reminds us that Jesus is our priest who has opened the way to God. Now shift your minds gaze to the head of Christ. In Daniel 7, as the Son of Man approaches the throne, the Ancient of Days is described as having hair like pure wool. Here the Son of Man has the same appearance, hair white like wool, white as snow. Picture the radiance of snow on bright sunning day — you have to squint your eyes to take it in. Remember how on a sunny day, the snow just bathes you in light. Now this same radiance shines forth from the one standing before you. What is it like to stand in that 5

kind of bright, warm radiance? Now, if you dare, turn your attention to His eyes. His eyes burn with a different type of radiance. His eyes burn with fire — they are all seeing, they are ever penetrating. They see deep into your soul. They warm and burn. His gaze will purify you like a refining fire. Try to stand as He gazes into your heart and soul. Bear it as long as you can before you have to look away, and as you look away you see His feet. His feet are like a fiery furnace — the image of strength and stability. Keep your eyes closed and listen. Remember that time you stood before a raging, thundering water fall. Remember the deafening sound of water pummelling water. Remember the power of that sound as it dominates and drowns out every other sound. Now listen, that’s the sound of the voice speaking to you. Hear that watery voice command: — “Do not be afraid.” Imagine deep enough and you might have a sense of what John heard as he stood before the risen Jesus in His suffering. Keep hanging on, persevere in the vision and you’ll see the right hand of Jesus, this right hand of power. This right hand which holds the stars representing the seven angels of the seven churches this letter concerns. From the mouth of Jesus comes a sharp double edged sword — “for the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” John stands before this One like a Son of Man, “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” This is the Christ who stands with you in your suffering. This is the Jesus who is with you. This is the Jesus who is always at your side. 6

And the only possible response is to do as John did — John says, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” That’s the only appropriate response when you stand before Divinity — falling face down on the ground in worship. When was the last time you did so? Let’s try it this week — as an act of total surrender and worship to Christ. It was when John was lying in this position that He felt a hand on his head. He felt the same hand that moments before was holding the stars of the seven angels. Now this hand is placed upon his head — giving power and blessing. John heard the voice of the rushing waterfall say, “Do not be afraid. I am the First, and the Last. I am the Living One.” This is language only to be used for God alone, and here they are on the lips of Jesus. The voice of the waterfall says: “I am the First and the Last. I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” Death and Hades are synonyms — they refer to the realm of the dead. That realm which no human has ever escaped. Yet Jesus has not only broken the chains of death, He has taken the keys! He says that He holds the keys of death! He has stripped death of its power. Imagine Satan on that easter morning when word came that not only is the tomb empty, not only has He gotten away — he’s got the keys! He’s got the keys, not the enemy. The risen Christ has the keys to death. When you picture Jesus with you in your suffering, do you remember that Jesus is holding the keys to death? Christ will set you free! The living one will liberate you to life eternal. So Jesus commands John to tell the seven churches what he has seen: what is now and what will take place later — and its not especially good news. 7

Things will get worse before they get better — but the churches can persevere because their King has the keys! What can man do to us? What can sickness do to us? What can persecution do to us? What can death do to us? The risen and exalted Jesus has vanquished death and hell. He holds the Keys. If you believe this, you are hearing the most terrific news ever announced to human beings. Jesus has the keys. The suffering, the death, the tragedy, the difficulty, the hardship, the sickness, the trouble that we face in this days life will not have the last word. Jesus has the Keys. This Jesus, this one who’s eyes are burning fire, who’s voice is the thunderous waterfall, who’s face is brilliant light — He is the victor. He has stormed and vanquished Hell — he has done so for you and for me, and he has emerged with the keys. Death has no hold over us. Our victory is in the blood of the lamb. When we talk about God with us in our suffering. This is who we are talking about. Do not despair: Our King is on the throne and He says, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

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