Monday, October 6, 2014

A Clear Vision of Where Jesus Stands When It Comes To The Church (Revelations 1;9-20)... What The Spirit is Saying to the Churches! Words for Today from the letters to the Seven Chruches in the Book Of Revelations.. (part 1)

We’ve just had a long and hard election campaign here in New Zealand, and if you are a member of a particular political party that didn’t do so well in the polls you are just about to start an equally long and laborious leadership primary. …Amidst all the weird stuff that seemed to be the defining feature of this year’s election people, me included, really wanted to know where the various leaders and parties stood on the pressing  issues.  

 Where do you stand on the housing crisis in Auckland?

Where do you stand on climate change issues?

Where do you stand on education?

Where do you stand when it comes to child poverty in New Zealand and doing something about it?

Where do you stand when it comes to foreign ownership of New Zealand land?

Where do you stand on the living wage issue?

We needed to know where they stood so we could decide into whose hands we should trust the future of the country.


The book of revelation was written as encouragement to a church facing persecution, suffering and tribulation. Both pressure and opposition from outside and difficulties and divisions from within and in the face of that it starts with a clear vision of where its leader stands. Both one of its earthly leaders, John the elder and more importantly its founder and true head… Jesus. Amidst all the weird and wonderful images and visions which are the defining feature of the style or genre John chooses to write in, first century apocalyptic language… a bit like sci-fi or science fantasy…there is a clear vision of Jesus and where Jesus stands when it comes to the church in its trials and troubles. .


We are starting a series today on the seven letters to the seven churches at the beginning of the book of revelation.  Looking at what the Spirit has to say to the churches, both those facing persecution and trouble in the province of Asia at the end of the first century and also for us today, equally facing struggles and hard times as a Church at the beginning of the third millennium. What does the spirit have to say to the churches? then and now…And just like then we need to start by having a clear vision of Jesus and where Jesus stands when it comes to the church.


John’s vision of Jesus is like the opening act of a play or what are known as establishment shots at the beginning of a movie …it sets the scene for what is to come and we are introduced to the main characters.


Firstly, John introduces himself, to a certain extent he had already done that at as revelations starts in a formal letter writing style, he tells us who is and who he was addressing, and has an opening prayer of praise, and we used part of that as our call to worship this morning. Maybe that is like the film credits we know who the actor is but know he tells us where he is in terms of the action and the story…now he introduces himself relationally and situation-ally.  


 He tells his readers that he is their companion and brother in suffering the kingdom and the patient endurance that is ours in Jesus.  John identifies himself as being with his readers, as one commentator puts it ‘he is not cheering them on from the side-line he is involved in the same struggles.’

 John tells them his situation that he is exiled on the island of Patmos. When we think of the Greek isles these days we might conger up idyllic holiday destinations, but Patmos was just a barren mountain top  where political prisoners were sent, some forced to do hard labour in the mines, but others like John who was old , were simply sentenced there to keep them out of the way till they died. The picture of Robbins Island off the coast of South Africa where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned springs to mind.


And Just like with Mandela John’s body was in prison but he tells us that his spirit was not. John tells us that on the Lord ’s Day, and this is the first mention in the New testament of this term, John is not only is he with the churches  in their suffering but their worship as well. On the Lord ’s Day he is caught up in the Spirit. He may be cut off from being with God’s people, with the churches on the mainland, but he is not cut off from the presence of God. The barren landscape of Patmos maybe there to discourage him, but he is encouraged as he is transported beyond that to the very presence of the risen Jesus. 

John’s introduction is helpful because before we can see where Jesus stands in relationship to the church we need to know where we stand as a church. John does that by telling us he is right there with us.  We are first and foremost called to be people of the kingdom, who because we know Jesus as our king live that out in our lives… as Jeremy Teat helpful explains it like it “the self-giving love of God displayed in the cross creates a people who lovingly give of themselves for the wellbeing of others. The kingdom of God is marked by justice, and those who have been justified before God have more reason than any to seek justice for the weak, the poor, and the oppressed.’” To live that way puts us in conflict with the powers of this world, to live that way in the face of opposition it takes  patient endurance, fortitude to keep on. We live in the tension of between being on Patmos and in the spirit, knowing suffering and knowing God presence with us.  The reality of Jesus words (let’s say them together)  “in this world there will be trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world”


Now we are introduced to the main character of the book of revelation John hears a voice like a trumpet that tells him to write down what he is to see and send to the seven churches, in the province of Asia; Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea .


 He turns round to see the voice speaking and we get a picture that John paints for us by uses Old Testament Images, like a code for those in the know he tells us it’s a vision of the risen Jesus without saying it out loud.


He sees seven lampstands, in the Old Testament the lampstand in visions represented Israel as God’s people, amongst them he sees one like the son of man. This was a term that Jesus used of himself in the scriptures and comes from Daniels vision of heaven that we had read out to us as well this morning.  He goes on to describe Son of Man in way that tells us the divinity of this figure,  that is dressed as a high priest


This description is backed up by John’s response and Jesus words. In scripture the response to an encounter with God is to fall down as if dead, that is what John does… Often you’ll see people who are prayed for actually fall over and this is because they have meet the real presence of God at their point of need in such a way as they are overcome. Just like John had introduced himself now the one like the son of man introduces himself. John had finished his prayer of praise by having God proclaiming that he is the alpha and omega the beginning and the end and here is the son of man doing the same. The son of Man calls himself the living one, a title from the Old Testament for God, but here pointing to Jesus, who once was dead but is alive for ever and ever. Who holds the keys of death and hades, the roman expression of the underworld in his hands. Which is a very powerful image for John and a church whose very life and death seem to be in the hands of the political system of the roman empire… but are actually in the hands of Jesus.


Then the third section of the vision, introduces us to the last characters to the churches. Jesus tells us the mystery of the lampstands and the stars that they represent the seven churches and the stars represent the angels of the seven churches. Now scholars down through the years have wrestled with the idea of the seven angles of the seven churches, does it mean the messengers to those churches that are carrying John’s message, or the seven bishops and leaders of the church or is it that each church has a guardian angel or is it a way of speaking of the spiritual condition of each of those churches. In the end we don’t know but between the lampstand and the star we see that we have those churches represented.


And in this vision of Jesus we see where he stands when it comes to the church. He stands amongst them and with them.  He stands in the centre of them and holds them in his hand. Here is the great encouragement for the church for you and I this morning… God stands with his people. In recent weeks we’ve been using some very tactile, touchable things in our sermons and of course today there is no better way to acknowledge Christ being with us than in the symbols of bread and wine in  communion.


Maybe we might be tempted to think that somehow Jesus is stand offish. As we wrestle with being the church warts and all and when we face opposition and trouble individually like John, or as a church community,  it’s easy to think that Jesus is absence or far off. One of the cries that seemed to haunt and taunt David in the Psalms was when people would mockingly say well where is your God? God’s gone missing… But here in this vision of spiritual realities we see that is not the case, Jesus meets John on Patmos, Jesus stands amongst the seven lamps stands he holds their stars in his hand.


Maybe we might be tempted to think That Jesus uses stand over tactics when it come to the church. There is that mind-set that if only we work harder, if we were better, more holy, more prayerful, more spiritual.. thinks would be better,  I find myself relating to the character ‘Boxer the draft horse in George Orwell’s great  story Animal Farm… AS the animals work out their freedom, Boxers response to every situation is “I must work harder”. But this vision of Jesus for a church facing hardships and hard times is not that he stands over them  to crack the whip but that Jesus stand with them. It is the glorified Jesus, he is the one who has already done the work has already won the victory.


We might be tempted to think that Jesus is outstanding. That somehow Jesus stands apart from the church and it’s Ok for us to walk away from this institution we call the Church, and go it alone, that it is more about our individual relationship with Jesus, individual spirituality. But in this vision we are reminds us that Jesus stands amongst the candle sticks, Jesus stands amongst the Church. We are called to community,  John who was  physically isolated still identified himself with the church as brother and companion. While it we have our faults and foibles, the solution is not to walk away,  as we will see in this series it is to the church that Jesus speaks and Jesus calls.


We should be encouraged to know that Jesus understands when it comes to the church. In Christ we have someone who has experienced the depth of spiritual suffering, who knows about rejection and persecution, who has blazing eyes that see and comprehend, but we might be tempted to think this means Jesus stands under the church, and supports us in anything we do… But as we will see as we look at the letters to the seven Churches Jesus understands each of their situations and circumstances and speaks into them as the head of the Church, he sums up their spiritual condition and calls them to change, calls them to come back so that while he is standing amongst the churches that they and we should come back and stand with Jesus.  When it come to the church we know where Jesus stands and he can be trusted as he has our future in his hand.

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