Howard Carter is a Presbyterian minister and church planter in Auckland New Zealand. In this blog he reflects on God, life, the scriptures, family, Church and church planting, film and media and other stuff. Join him as he reflects on the Journey.
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)
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 pressingissues.
Where do you stand on the housing crisis in
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
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. .
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.
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.
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
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
topwhere 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.
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.
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 takespatient 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.
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
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.
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
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 incommunion.
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.
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 greatstory 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 wasphysically 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
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
Howard Carter is a Presbyterian Minister in his early fifties. He is the minister at St Peter's Presbyterian Church Ellerslie Mt Wellington. A congregaion that is wanting to face the challange of being Christ's body in a twenty first century, multi-cultural, multi-generational, suburban environment. "it's challanging", says Howard, "I feel totally inadiquate, but rely on Jesus, who is able to be strong in my weakness".
Yes he's married to Kris and has four children. So he'sboth blessed and busy.
Howard posts the messages he preaches on Sundays (the long posts with heaps of images), the occasional reflection, prayers he writes for services (when he's in a liturgical mood) and movie review.