Yesterday’s message …
- Opened the Brave series, a series that is itself based on the book of Revelation;
- Explained that the genre of Revelation is more Virtual Reality Tour than it is Crystal Ball Study;
- Contrasted John’s use of “was, is, is to come” and “Alpha and Omega” with the marvelously delicate touch God gives him with his “right hand” in Revelation 1:17;
- Led to this pointed point: God goes to INFINITE lengths to give his INTIMATE touch.
Have you ever had those times when you needed a steady hand? When there was so much turbulence & uncertainty that you couldn’t stand up straight WITHOUT a hand on you? Like this guy? (Vid clip weather guy in hurricane).
Other times, I guess, you need that steady hand in ways that are slightly less literal. Julie and I were maybe 24, married a couple of years, and were visiting her parents for Xmas; at that time they lived in PA. Anyway, I got some kind of stomach something, it actually got kind of serious, and I had to spend a night or two in the local hospital. Merry Xmas! (The lengths some of us will go to avoid holidays with in laws!) Anyway, her g-mom was there visiting as well, and was in declining health & often had a tenuous relationship with reality. So there I am at the hospital and Julie falls asleep on the couch (because taking care of me is EXHAUSTING) and she wakes up to g-mom hovering over her and saying, “He was so young! I am so sorry for your loss! Such a young man!” Well as you might imagine, groggy Julie needed a steady hand to process THAT.
Of course, even with Julie, there have been more real times of needing that hand: dad has a real heart attack, brother in NYC during 9.11, son has an anaphylactic shock. We certainly have not had a large # of crises or even setbacks, but there are those moments when you’re so overwhelmed, so bewildered, so unsure of what’s next, that you need someone providing a steady hand.
You know what I’m saying. It’s when you get that diagnosis, either about your own body or the health of someone you love. It’s when you get the pink slip. It’s when you’re a newcomer to the city and you’ve got to navigate traffic insanity. It’s even at the beginning of yet another year and the pace of change in culture is so rapid (no one TOUCHES music anymore!!) and the wide polarities of our land and people and politics and even increasing opposition to Jesus AND to apple pie. When life is so uncertain and head spinning, it robs you of courage. You can’t be brave; you’re just trying not to drown. You need a steady hand.
Which is precisely where John finds himself as Revelation opens up. This John is probably the same John as John 3:16 John but he is a great man & author nonetheless. Now: most of us come to Revelation with so much misunderstanding, the primary one of which is that it is some kind of bewildering chart of future events involving Russia, North Korea, the European Union, ISIS, and the Kardashians. You decipher its codes and you’ll know precisely what will happen next & when it will happen. Nope. It’s the real experience of a real man who wrote from a real place to encourage a group of real people who were going through a real hell. And before this real guy, John, could write of his real experience to encourage those real Xns, he need a real steadying hand. Here’s why.
Look at 1:9:
9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
You know what “the isle of Patmos” was? Antiquity’s version of Alcatraz. Why is John there? NOT for the same reason ppl got sent to Alcatraz! But because of Jesus. For his faith, he’s exiled to rocky, barren, stormy, gloomy Patmos. The only reason they hadn’t killed him outright is that he was too old and feeble already. We could excuse him for lapsing to despair.
As if the setting wasn’t difficult enough, there’s so much more. Look what happens next in 1:10:
10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,
Minding his own business, communing with the Spirit, most likely in some kind of Sunday worship experience when he hears something BEHIND him. Then 1:11:
11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”
READ. Write what you see. Do you know how hard that is? You’re better able to write what you HEAR but taking the visual and making it literary … tough task! About to get tougher. Look at 1:12:
12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me.
I turned around to see the voice. Again, it’s all chaotic and confused: you don’t SEE voices. You HEAR them. He’s twisted, everything is upside down and inside out and the wrong senses are coming from the wrong body parts & it’s about to get worse. It’s like he’s gone from 1930s black & white to 2019 VR Overload and done it in an instant … and it’s too much.
Because look, oh look, at what he SEES THE VOICE:
And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man,[d] dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
READ 1:12b – 16. (AV of image???) I love all the “likes” there! Is John a Valley Girl? Actually, what I think is going on is that the sights are so astonishing that human language is inadequate to capture it. So: let’s tally everything going on that rocks John like a hurricane: the setting is Alcatraz, he prays, he gets turned around, he sees voices, and the voices he sees look like this craziness: AV. So can you possibly blame him for what happens at 1:17a???
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.
I would too! And then I think from the perspective of hindsight, Yo, John, if you knew of all the ways ppl have misused your book through the years, you might have wanted to stay that way! He’s turned around, inside out, upside down, and now just plain fall down dead. He needs a hand out before can even think of a hand up!
But before I show you what happens next, can I show you one other pattern from Rev 1? Just before all this head spinning, knee buckling supernaturality takes place, look at what John writes in his sort of prolog:
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits[a] before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Oh wow. Was, Is, Is to come. Alpha & Omega (meaning A & Z). What is fascinating about A & O there is 22:13:
13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
So John BOOKENDS his book by declaring that the Lord BOOKENDS reality. John wants to be clear from the outset, as he writes to bewildered, head spun, knee buckled Xns suffering persecution! That through him God says I did not begin. I will not end. Take THAT all you pretenders to my throne. John is deliberate to let us know at the beginning that the God he experiences is vast, immense, infinite, eternal, the only being ever who DID NOT BEGIN. You began. I began. The Pacific Ocean began. The President began. Only God has no beginning. So all of that is already percolating in Rev : we are dealing with the immensity of the God of infinity (AV of infinity symbol).
But remember where we had left John? After he’d seen THIS (AV of 1:12-16 creature), he’s fallen down as though dead. He’s disoriented, dislocated, discombobulated, dis whatever! One thing he is NOT is brave. He’s terrified. He’s seen things he’s never seen before, the rate of change & imagery is way too much, his VR is “like totally” overloading and he’s groveling. Yet in the middle of that sound and fury & VR overload, look what happens next, the REAL climax of the scene:
Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.
An overlooked, unappreciated gesture that says EVERYTHING about the nature of God & our connection to him. He placed his right hand on John & I just envision it on his shoulder. Poor guy is in VR overload and he gets the steady hand he needs that says, “I’ve got this, son. This and everything else to come.” There it is AGAIN!! More infinity. More eternity. More bookending! He made it all, he manages it all, he’s gonna renew it all, yet he touches the one. What a contrast, what a spectacle, what a BIOGRAPHY OF GOD. Hallelujah! The smallest gesture confirms the grandest power!
And here’s where it takes us, everyone of us who thing the world is going to hell in a handbasket, all of us who are fearful of our shadow today and our outcome tomorrow, all of us who look to the future with a mixture of fear & paranoia: God goes to INFINITE lengths go give his INTIMATE touch. The proof of his awesomeness is his tenderness! We believe God is so majestic because he’s also so microscopic! His greatest power is the same as his smallest touch. The God of everything and everyone and everywhere WHO WILL WIN IN THE END, is the God of you. His intimacy confirms his authority. It separates Xnty from every religion and every philosophy every invented. Because it’s inherited.
God goes to INFINITE lengths go give his INTIMATE touch.
It’s like this: Smithsonian video microscopic to intergalactic??? Help me find
Because, really, who doesn’t need that kind of gesture? Who doesn’t long for the assurance that when things are bigger than you there is in fact someone better than you who has it under control? Like the young AF recruit in Germany a number of years ago. No church background, not much clarity or direction. And the “right hand” comes when a friend invites him to a church BBQ & through that touch that same AF recruit is now your Worship Arts Pastor. Or the teen from a family where no one had gone to college goes on a mission trip to Haiti and on a Haitian hillside hears clearly: You. This. Ministry. And now he’s your Student & Family Pastor. Or even that time when I’d already been preaching in Monroe abt five years and had the opp to come to the big city of Charlotte and when I knelt to pray the hand came on my shoulder and said without any ambiguity at all: STAY. Needed four more years of seasoning.
God goes to INFINITE lengths go give his INTIMATE touch.
You know what is great about 1:8 & 22:13, the bookends to end all bookends? READ. What’s great is what they DON’T say. They don’t say I point to the Omega. I give directions to the Omega. Follow me and I’ll show you the Omega. Nope. I’m it. You’re unsettled, you’re unsure, you’re bewildered, you need a steady hand because people keep telling you to look for SIGNS of the end when instead you should just look for ME. I am the END. All of life and history and sin and goodness and glory will all one day be summed up in ME. Not my way. Not my example. In ME. Colossians 3:11 says it this: Christ is all and is in all. Yep. I love how the library connects.
God goes to INFINITE lengths go give his INTIMATE touch.
This is why you don’t need to spend one moment asking does God have a plan for my life? Not one. Change it to this: does God have my life for his plan? Because his plan will win out in the end, he will have the last word and I simply marvel at how the God of the last word is also the God of the close touch.
None of us will be brave with out soaking up that lovely truth. None of us will really be confident of his ultimate victory until we are sure of his temporal touch. Like the grandfather of one of GS’s sweetest saints used to say to her when she was a little girl: “The Lord loves the little things.” And so he does. That’s how he proves he controls the big things. REFRAIN.