Sunday, May 01, 2016

When Christ Comes to Us (Understanding Revelation, Part 5)

Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27
In today’s message, the last of our five-part series on Revelation, I’ll be departing from my usual verse-by-verse consideration of the lesson. I’m going to try to summarize what I think should be the big take-away from what God is telling us in the last book of the Bible.

I once read about a reporter who spent time with a young man whose life was, in many ways, a sad inner city cliché.

His father left when he was a baby. He and his mother lived in decrepit housing. All around him were kids his age involved with drink, drugs, and crime. His classmates regarded doing well in school as a waste of time.

Yet this young man was an honor student. He kept out of trouble. He had dreams.

The reporter wondered why this young man was so different. So, he followed him for a week. The reporter had been with him for several days and still didn’t know what made the teen different.

But then he accompanied the young man one Wednesday evening to the balcony of a local church, where there was a prayer meeting. The reporter watched as this teen, often tempted to depart from the straight and narrow, shared the enthusiasm of several hundred others that night in worshiping God.

At times, the teen sobbed with other worshipers over the challenges and tragedies that are an undeniable daily inner city reality.

At others, he called out to God in songs and with fervent amens as he listened to God’s Word being preached.

He sang God’s praises at the tops of his lungs.

The young man had arrived for worship crushed by his burdens, tempted to give in to the easy sins of his environment. But as he praised the God made known in Jesus Christ, he abandoned his fears, sins, and temptations, and took the hand of God to walk with Jesus.

We all need to know that God doesn’t want to be separated from us.

We all need to know that if we truly want Him, God will come to us always, and when He does, He will lift us up!

These are the very things of which God has been assuring us as we’ve looked at the book of Revelation these past five Sundays.

And I believe that the apostle John, exiled on the island of Patmos, back sometime between 81 and 96AD, needed to be assured of these same things as he lived as a prisoner of the Roman Empire for his faith in Christ.

And I believe that for John, it was easier to believe that God was with him when he worshiped God, whether he did so in the company of others or during Quiet Time he spent studying God’s Word and praying.

The book of Revelation was born in worship! I’m not making that up. Scholars tell us that whenever the phrase “in the spirit” is used in Revelation, it narrates a time when John was worshiping God.

In verse 10 of our second lesson for today, John writes: “[One of seven angels]...carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”

Listen: John worshiped God and God came to him.

Consider some of what John saw. First: He saw what he calls “the new Jerusalem” come down from heaven. God came to him.

Second: John describes this new Jerusalem, which we talked about last week. In this new Jerusalem, there will be no temple, because, John explains, “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”

This is what Jesus had been talking about when once, knowing that a conspiracy was being hatched to kill Him, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

Jesus, God in the flesh, is the temple.

Even today, before God sends the new Jerusalem, all who believe in Jesus are part of it and Jesus can come to us where we work, where we go to school, where we live.

If God can come to a man in chains on a little Mediterranean Island, he can come to us when we worship God too!

Third: John tells us that the new Jerusalem will be a place in which the blazing light of God will illumine everything.

Unlike ancient cities, the gates will never be shut. There will be no reason for gates to be closed, locks to be secured, or alarm systems set. There will be no night, no fear.

And, beyond the gates of death, in the new Jerusalem, life as it was meant to be will belong to all who have trusted in Jesus Christ.

God wants to come to you and me with this promise and His presence each day; He will, when we worship Him.

John presents us with staggering images in Revelation. And even if we can’t sometimes fully understand them, when life lays us low or when death stares us in the face, or even when the everydayness of life overwhelms us, these images can sustain and encourage us because in them we see the promise of the new Jerusalem we have in Christ. We are not forgotten ever. Christ will come to us when we reach up to Him, when we worship!

Many know the name of George Frideric Handel. Handel was already writing cantatas when he was nine years old. Not long after that, he presented his music to the king of Prussia.

But then, things took a turn for the worse. His father died. Handel’s music was no longer appreciated. If he were around today, we’d day no one was favoriting his music on iTunes or Spotify. He was yesterday's Elvis to today’s Beyonce. He was passe.

Bankrupt and hopeless, Handel locked himself away for twenty-four hours and in the end, emerged with an oratorio, The Messiah, based partly on John’s vision as recorded in the book of Revelation.

Something like 15% of all adult Americans living today have sung the The Messiah at some point in their lives. That’s pretty good for a musician who died 257 years ago!

But think of that: A work of art composed at what was a low point in Handel’s life has lifted millions of people into an experience of God and of what it means to be blessed by God’s love.

When asked how he was able to compose The Messiah, Handel said, “I [saw] the heavens opened and the great God himself seated on his throne.”

Handel worshiped God and, as he did so, God came to him.

Imagine how God might come to you and me if we daily spent time worshiping God, studying His Word and praying over those words and praising God for being God, for sending Jesus, and for caring about us and everything that happens in our lives!

One of my favorite twentieth century Christian heroes is a man named Frank Laubach.

Laubach was a missionary concerned with the grinding poverty in which most of people lived. He wanted to do something about it, but had no idea what it might be.

So, this man of prayer turned his eyes on Jesus, asking for guidance. It was while praying that God gave Laubach a vision: Teach adults to read, God seemed tell Laubach, and they could learn...about agricultural methods, about the importance of clean drinking water and hygiene, about the God Who loved them in Christ and Who could help them pursue love and justice in their everyday lives. Teach adults to read!

Laubach began what became a worldwide adult literacy movement still active today. Frank Laubach worshiped God and God came to him! (Are you beginning to detect a pattern?)

One of the lessons God is teaching me is that when we take the time to worship God, praise God, thank God, study His Word, and seek the will of God, it displaces things on which our minds and lives would otherwise be focused.

You don’t have as much time or energy, for example, to feel sorry for yourself when you’re intent on worshiping God.

There’ll be room for people you would otherwise ignore when you worship God.

Resentment is replaced by gratitude to God and compassion for others when you worship God.

In short, when we focus more of our lives on God and less on ourselves, we become a lot less distasteful to ourselves and more useful to God and to the people around us.

When we worship God, we learn that God is still God, still there, still for us!

Do you need assurance that God won’t turn you away, now or in eternity?

Do you have a problem you’re trying to figure out?

Is there some need in your family, our community, or our church you’d like to address, but you’re uncertain how?

Do what John was doing when God gave him the book of Revelation.

Do what that inner city youth did when facing the challenges of growing up.

Do what Handel did when his music was hated and his life seemed meaningless.

Do what Laubach did when he wanted to address poverty.

Worship! Reach up to God!

Give yourself over to the praise of God.

Worship God by reading God’s Word, loving God, loving neighbor, surrendering your life to Christ, making disciples, doing your best for everyone because, in fact, whatever good we do for others, we really do for God.

Worship! Reach up and give God the opportunity to descend to you the way He did in the new Jerusalem to John.

Worship, always on Sundays with others and on your own every day!

Reach up and you’ll be strengthened in the knowledge that God really is with you.

Worship and you’ll know that all believers in Christ belong to God forever, including you.

Worship! Reach up to the One Who is always reaching out to you.

And even when things seem dark, God will lighten your way. If we will come to God, God will always come to us.

Besides, one day in the new Jerusalem, we will be constantly worshiping and enjoying God's fellowship. So, we may as well start practicing worshiping and enjoying God right now, here, each and every day!

That, when all is said and done, is the ultimate message of Revelation: Worship God and live! Amen

[This was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, earlier today.]

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