THE KINDNESS OF GOD

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Chapter 8 in Phillip Yancey’s book “Vanishing Grace” begins like this…

A monologue has been floating around in cyberspace, sometimes credited to George Carlin, sometimes to a Columbine High School student, and sometimes to the Dalai Lama.  ‘The Paradox of Our Time,’ it turns out, actually originated with Dr. Bob Moorehead, a retired pastor near Seattle.

We have taller buildings but shorter tempers; wider freeways but narrower viewpoints; we spend more but have less; we buy more but enjoy it less; we have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, yet less time; we have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge but less judgment; more experts, yet more problems; we have more gadgets but less satisfaction; more medicine, yet less wellness; we take more vitamins but see fewer results.  We drink too much; smoke too much; spend too recklessly; laugh too little; drive too fast, get too angry quickly; stay up too late; get up too tired; read too seldom; watch TV too much and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values; we fly in faster planes to arrive there quicker, to do less and return sooner; we sign more contracts only to realize fewer profits; we talk too much; love too seldom, and lie too often.  We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life; we’ve added years to life, not life to years.

One of the things that has been sacrificed to the altar of busyness and our current lifestyles is “kindness.”

We live in a confrontative world…it seems that many times people are looking for an excuse to get mad and leave or criticize…even in the Church world it seems many do things to cover the fact that they are not kind…or stay obscure to avoid the pain of unkind people…neither of these work.

As I was writing this sermon the number 1 topic of discussion on social media was about Ellen Degeneres…a gay comedian talk show host…sitting next to former President George W. Bush at a Dallas Cowboys football game.  The question…“Why would a gay liberal TV star be friends with a conservative Republican president?

The premise is…after all, we’re supposed to hate those we disagree with…ostracize them…humiliate them…hurt them!  I really like Ellen’s response:

Degeneres said just because she doesn’t agree with someone on everything, doesn’t mean she’s not going to be friends with them.  “When I say be kind to one another, I don’t mean be kind to the people who think the same way you do.  I mean be kind to everyone.”

And as you can guess some famous people immediately drew up sides…some praised Ellen…some attacked Ellen…(some put up tweets and then immediately took them down – Reece Witherspoon).

It seems being kind to everyone isn’t everyone’s forte.  And supporting someone who promotes kindness to your enemy should be destroyed.

It’s a really good thing for all of us that God, the Father, doesn’t deal with us like that…Listen to our text concerning the kindness of God:

EPHESIANS 2:4-7 (p. 814)

I. GOD’S KINDNESS FLOWS FROM HIS GREAT LOVE

So the first 3 verses of Ephesians 2 paint a picture of someone whose not real lovable.

EPHESIANS 2:1-3 (p. 814)

Dead…sinful…following the ways of the world…influenced by Satan…disobedient.  Doing what we want because we feel like it or its what we desire.  All of us deserved one thing from God…wrath…punishment.

BUT…

God doesn’t give us what we deserve because of His great love for us…In mercy He extends to us the gift of life…even in our deadness.

Think about how different God is from the world…How different He is from all of us… “You hate me…therefore I hate you.”  “You hurt me…therefore I will hurt you.”  “You’re my enemy…I’m gonna be at war with you.”

BUT God has a great love for those who hate Him, hurt Him.  He loves those who are His enemies and deserve wrath.

Please let me share that the first and primary attitude of a Christian is love…It’s the first fruit listed produced by God’s Spirit (Gal. 5:26).  It’s the way we are identified as disciples according to Jesus. (John 13:35)  “All people will know that you’re my disciples by your love for one another.”  Not our doctrine…not our zeal about what we believe is politically right…not our works…BUT our love.

Religious people do stuff to feel good about themselves…Christ followers love people so God can be seen.

Listen to what Jesus tells us…

MATTHEW 5:13-16 (p. 677)

It’s important for us to realize the context of Jesus’ words…according to Matt. 5:1…these are words meant for His disciples…not the crowd.  It’s a message for those who are part of the Kingdom of Heaven…and different than those who are part of the world or just religious.

Salt brings flavor and preserves things…light illuminates so you can see what’s hidden in the dark.

Jesus looks at us and says“You are to be those things in this world…and if you’re not…what good are you?”  “Your job is to shine so others can see God’s glory.”

He lets us know “Doing right things is always right…but if you’re doing them for your ego instead of God’s glory there’s a problem!”

MATTHEW 5:20; 43-48 (p. 677, 678)

God’s kindness flows out of His great love for us…and if He lives in us…our kindness to others flows out of our great love for Him.

And the kindness that makes us most like our father…perfect…is when it’s directed at those who are unkind to us…it’s also the most difficult because there will be a struggle between our flesh and His Spirit.  Our flesh wants to slap the one who’s hit us in the cheek.  The Holy Spirit says, “Turn the other one toward them.”

In other words unless you fall deeply in love with Jesus and His love flows out of you…your righteousness is just noise…and it profits you nothing.

1 CORINTHIANS 13:1-13 (p. 800)

Why is love the greatest of these 3?  Because someday we won’t need faith…we’ll see Jesus face to face…one day we won’t have to hope for our inheritance in Heaven.  One day our hope will become a reality!  But love never ends…love remains…love is forever!

Verse 5 in Ephesians 2 lets us know that God’s purpose for us is:

II. A RESURRECTED NEW LIFE WITH JESUS

God…“made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.  It is by grace you have been saved.”

Once again let me remind you that dead people can do nothing to save themselves…dead people don’t need medicine, they don’t need a doctor…dead people need life.

[Wayne Smith used to tell the story of three elderly gentlemen who were sitting around talking to each other about their funerals…the topic was…What do you want people to say at your funeral?  The first guy said, “I’d like for people to say I was a good husband and father.”  The second guy said, “I’d like for people to say He helped anyone who had a need!”  And the third guy said, “I’d like people to say Hey, look He’s still breathin’.”]

Life is precious…we’ve only got one shot at it…and if there’s breath then there’s hope.

God is in the business of resurrecting spiritually dead people through the gift of His Son…This has nothing to do with our worth…It has to do with His kindness…“This is not from yourselves…it is the gift of God.”  (v. 8)

I read something the other day that helps us understand what this means.

“Remember that we are not a body with a spirit…but we are a spirit that lives in a body.”

The real us…created in God’s image.  (By the way, “God is Spirit,” according to John 4:24, “and those who worship Him must worship Him in the Spirit and in truth.”)  Spiritually, by nature, we are sinners.  We followed the god of this world, we served the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is still at work in those who are disobedient…all of us lived among them at one time.  (Ephesians 2:1-3)

We were dead spiritually in our transgressions and sins.

You can’t resurrect your spirit with good deeds…you can’t change the fact you’re dead spiritually by acting like you’re alive.

The Creator must breathe life into your soul…like He did for Adam in the Garden of Eden…His Spirit takes up residence in this temporary body and “God raises us up with Jesus in the heavenly realms.”

One day this earthly body will die…but our spirit is eternal…this is exactly what Paul means when he writes to the Corinthians:

2 CORINTHIANS 5:1-6 (p. 805)

You see when we repent of our sins and are baptized into Christ, we receive His forgiveness and we receive the promised gift of His Spirit.  (Acts 2:38)

Our resurrection spiritually takes place because “The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead now lives in us.”  (Romans 8:11)  It’s God’s deposit on our souls… And if He lives in us…we are led by Him…this is what makes us God’s children (Romans 8:14-15).  We’re not slaves anymore to death and sin.  We are sons and daughters of God, born again with a heavenly inheritance.  And we live like it!

When we die physically…our spirit goes to be with Jesus…in the heavenly realm…but God will resurrect our physical bodies one day.   Listen…

1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-14 (p. 825)

God will bring with Jesus as His return the spirit (that which is really us) of those who have died beforehand…

1 THESSALONIANS 4:14-18 (p. 825)

This is the fulfillment of God’s kindness towards us…Resurrection…transformation…with the Lord forever!

How quickly will spirit and body be united…

1 CORINTHIANS 15:51-54 (p. 802)

A forever body now houses our forever spirit…a resurrected new life with Jesus.

DESIRE HEAVEN DEEPLY

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As we come to the end of this study together concerning The End Game of John’s Revelation from Jesus, one word kept coming to my mind and it’s the word “dichotomy.”

The word “dichotomy” simply means “a division or contrast between two things that are entirely different or opposed.”

Here’s an example of what I mean…Tomorrow morning your alarm will go off and as you wake up you have to make a decision between two things…Do I shut it off…stay in the blessed bed of slumber enjoying the warm sheets and comforter, or do I get up and go to work.  The bed is soft and inviting…work is well…work.  It’s a dichotomy…a contrast between two things that are entirely different…we’ve got to choose.

And because most of us are like Snow White’s 7 dwarfs…“I owe…I owe…so off to work I go!”

We choose the harder thing because of the paycheck at the end of the week…maybe not always, but almost.

The book of Revelation is a presentation of “dichotomies.”  Good vs. Evil, Heaven vs. Earth (and ultimately Hell), God vs. Satan, The Church vs. The Word, The Kingdom of Eternity vs. The Kingdom of the Temporary.

The book of Revelation is an “Apocalyptic” book.  Apocryphal means “to uncover” or “to remove the veil.”

The book of Revelation pulls back the curtain between the earthly realm we live in and a heavenly realm involving spiritual warfare and reveals humankind’s ultimate destination.

It’s essential we remember this book is originally written to 7 churches in the Roman province of Asia.  Culture had infiltrated and subverted them…and many of them were experiencing life threatening persecution.

They needed a reminder that in the dichotomy between the world they live in and Heaven, Heaven is the choice they need to focus on!

I believe that’s true for believers today don’t you?

I. HEAVEN IS ALL ABOUT WHO’S ON THE THRONE

REVELATION 21:1-14 (p. 872)

Eugene Peterson said, “If a toothache can eliminate the awareness of health in every other part of the human body then think of how much constant harsh treatment could have blotted out everything else for these hurting believers!”

John’s Revelation from Jesus is given to remind these believers and us that heaven is real…It’s an appetizer to stir spiritual hunger…Hopeful anticipation is necessary for survival whether you’re dealing with cultural seduction or outright persecution.

It’s why Jesus reveals a “new heaven and earth.”  It’s beautifully prepared like a bride on her wedding day.  BECAUSE IT IS!!!  This is the wedding day for the Church!

And it’s the Groom who sits on the throne…The King of kings and Lord of lords who speaks with all authority and power…“I AM making everything new”…the struggles, hurts, pains and death and tears you dealt with are gone.

“Write this down John because these words are trustworthy…these words are true!”

“I know you thirst for something better in the desert of life…I will give you the water of real living.”

“No more murders…no more cowards or unbelievers…no more sexual immorality or seekers of the occult…no more false god seekers…no more liars.”

“If you overcome all this and trust me…I will be your God…and you will be my son.”

The authoritative Alpha and Omega…the Creator who had a plan from the beginning now says…This is The End Game I planned for you!

But for those who have rejected me – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur…this is the second death.

Old time preachers used to say…“If you’re only born once you will die twice but if you’re born twice you will only die once…or maybe not at all!”

The Lamb that was slain…to save all people will “separate His sheep and goats” on this great day.

MATTHEW 25:31-46 (p. 695)

I don’t have to say much about this…but it’s supremely clear Jesus is talking about what Revelation 21 & 22 describes here in Matthew.  And He clearly knows those whose belief became love and whose hasn’t.

“He will sit on His throne.”

John’s Revelation from Jesus ends with a spectacular uncovering of what is in store for the people of God.  It’s…

II. THE FOREVER HOME FOR THE BRIDE OF CHRIST

One of the 7 angels who had the 7 bowls full of the 7 last plagues came and said to John…

“Come I will show you the bride, the wife of the lamb.  And he 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 to it’s description:

REVELATION 21:11-27 (p. 872)

[I love the fact that Jesus uses the illustration of His love for His people like a husband for His bride…It makes me think back to June 27, 1981…I stood up front with my dad as my best man, my two best friends and my brother in law David who was the minister.  And then they started the bride march…everyone stood up…the doors in the back opened…and Kari stepped out with her dad, Ken…and my knees buckled and my heart exploded…all the waiting was over…]

The dichotomy is do you wait for this or settle for the “Great Harlot.”

This is the New Jerusalem…This vision of the beautiful promise of God is the exact opposite of Babylon!

John describes the city as being 12,000 stadia long, high and wide (1,400 miles).  It’s a perfect cube…complete.

And the city itself is the Holy of Holies…there is no temple.  God lives in relationship eternally with His people…His glory is fully evident and complete…and we live with Him as sons and daughters.

Verse 27 tells us nothing impure will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Heaven is also described as a Garden.

REVELATION 22:1-7 (p. 873)

I know that heaven isn’t about what’s there…It’s about who’s there!!!  If seeing Jesus isn’t the primary motivation for heaven, the peripheral stuff won’t really matter.

But I love this description…I feel closest to Jesus when I’m in His creation…and that crystal river, the trees that bear 12 crops and leaves that heal nations.

There’s no longer any curse on creation…It’s new!

Maybe as Austin Moore asked in His song… “God will give me at least one dirt road.”  And after I get up off my face from the feet of Jesus my Savior, I’ll find my dad sitting next to the honey hole of a pond at the end of that road.  I like that thought.  After all…It’s not just a new heaven…it’s a new earth as well.  No wonder Romans 8 tells us that “all creation groans in anticipation of this day.”

Let me end today with a final exhortation from Jesus who said…

III. I AM COMING SOON!

The Apostle John closes Revelation with these words…

REVELATION 22:8-21 (p. 873)

Revelation is written to show the servants of God what “soon must take place.”  (v. 6)

Jesus Himself says, “Look, I am coming soon!  My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.”

“I, Jesus have sent my angel to give you this testimony FOR THE CHURCHES.”

What’s the mission of the Holy Spirit and the Church (the Bride of Christ)?

We say to the world “Come!”  If you’ve heard this message yourself…Your mission is to say to people “Come!”

Are you thirsty for eternal life…Jesus offers living water…It’s offered to EVERYONE…COME TO HIM!

You think 2,000 years is a long time?  It’s 48 hours in heaven!  And the message from Jesus to John and to the 7 churches in Asia…and to Gardenside Christian Church… “It’s worth it!”  “Heaven is worth it!”  Jesus is worth whatever we go through here so others can see His face as well.

Matt Proctor ends this chapter in our study with one of my favorite stories:

William Dyke was a witty and handsome young man.  Though struck blind at the age of ten, he did not allow his handicap to keep him from living life to the fullest.  While attending graduate school in England, William met the daughter of a British admiral, won her heart, and proposed.  She happily accepted.

Before agreeing to give his daughter’s hand in marriage, however, the admiral insisted that William undergo a potentially dangerous surgery to restore his sight.  William agreed, but he too had a condition.  He insisted that, after the surgery, the gauze remain on his eyes until the moment of the wedding.  He wanted his bride’s face to be the first thing he saw with his new sight. 

The surgery was completed, and the wedding day came.  William’s father stood next to his son at the front of the church, and the bride’s father began to lead her down the aisle.  As she walked, William’s father began to unwind the gauze from his eyes.  No one knew if the operation had been successful.

Just as William’s bride arrived before him at the altar, the last strand of gauze was pulled away.  He stood face-to-face with his beloved, and the entire congregation waited, breathless, wondering if William could actually see.

Finally William spoke, words those in attendance never forgot:  “You are more beautiful than I ever imagined.”

A day is coming when that story will be ours.  The roles will be reversed, for we are the Bride who now can only see our Groom as “through a glass darkly, but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).  In heaven, the Holy of Holies, the veil will be removed, and we will look fully into the face of the One we love.

He will be more beautiful than we ever imagined.

“Come, Lord Jesus.”

WELCOME SALVATION JOYFULLY

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The Gaither singer and comedian Mark Lowry and I have at least one thing in common…he said the scariest sound of his childhood was “the sound of his father’s belt going through the loops as he took it off quickly.”

I remember someone telling my dad that he shouldn’t spank us when he’s mad.  And his response was, “Are you kidding? What fun is that?”

Punishment at my house growing up was usually dealt with on the spot.  

SHOW SPATULA PICTURE

This spatula hangs in my office.  I asked mom if I could have it, because it was the instrument she used to bring punishment…and I was afraid she’d still use it.  The only time she would wait for dad to get home to administer the punishment was if my deeds reached a “nuclear” level.  “You’ll never guess what your son did today!”  The story would be related.  My dad’s head would start to turn red, the vein on the left side of his head would pop out and then the sound.  The dreaded Mark Lowry, Rick Burdette feared sound—his belt going through the loops…quickly.

Listen, I was never abused.  Every time the discipline came down I deserved it.  The things I did had consequences.  One of them was my father’s wrath.  My father loved me without a doubt.  But there were times he got mad, he administered discipline and punishment.

The wrath of God isn’t a popular topic in our culture today.  Maybe it’s a reaction to people like the Westboro Baptist Church who picket soldiers’ funerals with signs that say, “This is God’s wrath against America.”  We look at their cold, bitter, judgmental faces as we read…“God Hates Homosexuals.” (only they don’t use that word)

Maybe we want to make sure that the world doesn’t see us that way.  Maybe so many here come from abusive homes with a broken view of the word “father” and those broken people desperately need a whole new concept for that word, “Father.”

Not bad reasons.  And my favorite hymn, like yours, is “Amazing Grace,” but I believe when we avoid the truth of God’s wrath and His perfect judgment we’ve lost sight of something important.  We forget…

I. GOD WILL BRING JUDGMENT TO INJUSTICE

My brother Sam is 10 years older than me.  He’s amazing, but has some disabilities. And I’ll never forget the day a guy got mad and started screaming at Sam, “You’re retarded.”  I was 8 or 9 and I got so mad I went after him.  I hit him as hard as I could and he just shoved me into the bushes.  That’s when I saw Chuck Marks, “Chucky,” go after this guy.  Chucky was about 6’4”, two fifty, and drug him out of our yard.  Chucky was angry too.  I’d never seen him angry.  He was always the one who let me play even though I was so much younger.  I’m not promoting violence, but on this day justice was brought to injustice.

REVELATION 19:1-4 (p. 871)

If the book of Revelation has taught us anything so far it’s this:  God’s wrath isn’t something we should take lightly.  It’s holy and terrible, full-blooded, just, fair and completely unstoppable.  But in truth don’t we want a God of wrath?  Remember the martyred ones underneath the altar of God who cried out, “How long, Oh Lord, Holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Rev. 6:10)

When we look at some of the things that happen in our world, we too wonder, “How long Lord until you deal with the evil and depraved?”  Ten year old girls sold into sex slavery in Cambodia.  Three girls locked up and imprisoned for a decade, beaten, impregnated, abused.  Three year old Congolese boys forced to become soldiers and brainwashed to kill.  3,000 moms, dads, sisters, brothers who all went to work one day only to be murdered by hateful Islamic extremists who hijacked and flew planes into buildings…Murders, kidnapping, rape, Iranian pastors martyred, Chinese pastors thrown into prison, starving children, genocide, drug addicted babies…when will it end?  When will it stop?  Who will make things right?  GOD WILL.

We have a God who is coming to save us.  A God who sees the people He loves being bullied and brutalized by Satan.  And some day He will bring the “big stick.”  He’s bigger than Chucky Marx.  And He’ll wade into the middle of His enemies and whip the lot of them.  I want a God of wrath.  I want a God who will judge those who commit atrocities on the evening news.  I want a God who will put Satan in his place.  And for “the god of this world” that place is very bad news.

But for those who belong to Jesus that is very good news.  To the persecuted churches in Asia Minor, who are surrounded by tormentors and are outnumbered and afraid and need someone to come to their rescue, these chapters 19-20 remind them and us—the hero is coming on a white horse.

REVELATION 19:11-12 (p. 871)

You see we can either be part of the harlot of Babylon or part of the bride of Christ.  For the bride of Christ..

II. SALVATION IS A WEDDING AND A VICTORY IN BATTLE

Last week we met Satan’s ally “the great harlot” symbolizing the hedonistic culture of Rome.  In Chapters 17 & 18 we see her extravagant excesses, her voluptuous materialism, her seductive idolatries and wild orgies of persecution.  Rome is a looker on the outside but she’s a diseased street walker in the heart.

Rome was called “the Eternal City” and if you looked at Rome through the eyes of John’s readers you would behold the most powerful city in the world.  The coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Circus Maximus still filled with 150,000 spectators.  The Temple of Jupiter with its gold-gelded roof dazzling in the sun.  Rome was at its peak, enjoying undisputed sovereignty and prestige.  No one could envision its fall.  No one could imagine that this city would become a distant memory, its buildings turned to rubble…no one except John the Apostle who saw her fate revealed.

REVELATION 18:1-2; 9-10; 16-17; 19-24 (p. 870)

This is why John tells his readers don’t be seduced by the harlot of Babylon.  “Come out of her my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues.” (18:4)

John knows that people will be tempted by this sharply dressed high dollar hooker.  So what he does is show them a more beautiful woman.  The faithful, spotless, radiant bride of Christ who has an eternal future with her groom.

This wedding will be more joyful than any earthly union.  Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!  For the wedding of the lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.  Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear (fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s people).  Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the lamb.”

[Kari and I waited to be one with each other until our wedding day.  I longed for her and loved her beyond what I thought was possible.  And it was worth the wait.  That day, our wedding, the joy with no guilt, the newness, the goodness of God.  We used to refer to ourselves as “the King’s couple, each for each other…both for God.”  I cannot tell you how rewarding the waiting was spiritually, physically, emotionally.  It was just…right.]

But our salvation will be the greatest wedding banquet ever imagined, beyond imagination!  Why?  Because we will become one with the one whose love never ends. Perfect! 

Hallelujah!!

Let me end by talking about the most lopsided battle victory in history.  In Revelation 19 & 20 Jesus faces off against all our greatest enemies.  But there is no long drawn out Armageddon conflict.  Jesus just destroys them in an instant.  The enemies are many, they are horrible and wicked.  But Jesus destroys them all in the wink of an eye.

III. OUR FINAL THREE ENEMIES DESTROYED

1. Jesus destroys demonic allies. – Revelation 19:17-21 (p. 871)

We’ve already seen the prostitutes’ demise and now we see the first beast (godless government) and the second beast (false religion) thrown into the lake of fire.

All the armies gathered with them are slaughtered.  Scrap for the birds of prey who eat their bodies as “the great supper of God,” a grim contrast to the wedding banquet of the lamb. (19:17)

2. Second, Jesus destroys the Devil.

Here’s what Matt Proctor shares in his devotion on Revelation:

[“This happens after a “thousand years” during which Satan is bound and Jesus rules with the Christian faithful (Rev. 20:1-6).  Some Christians believe this “millennium” is a literal 365,000 days of Christ’s reign (inaugurated at his return) as a global kind on earth, Christian faithful physically resurrected at his side, all while Satan serves a physical 365,000 day sentence in the Abyss.  At the end of the 1,000 years Satan will be released, rally his troops for the great battle, and then is defeated by Christ, who at that time establishes the new heavens and the new earth.

Other Christians (including me) believe the “thousand years” like other numbers in Revelation, is figurative, representing the long period of time between Christ’s ascension and his return, the church’s chapter in redemptive history.  During this time, Christ reigns from his throne in heaven (as we’ve seen in Rev. 5) with the Christian faithful who’ve experienced spiritual resurrection in heaven, but not the resurrection of their physical bodies on earth.

Satan is bound spiritually during this church age by the preaching of the gospel, which hinders his “deceiving the nations” (Rev. 20:3).  As the gospel flourishes, satanic strongholds diminish and the dominion of darkness falters.  Right before Christ’s Second Coming, Satan will be unbound, succeed in greater deception among the nations, and gather them for battle.  Then in an instant, he will see them destroyed by fire from heaven as Jesus returns to inaugurate the new heavens and new earth.

Either way, the devil takes an eternal swim in the lake of fire.  Either way, our enemy Satan is defeated.  Either way, Jesus wins.”]

3. Jesus destroys death itself. – Rev. 20:14 (p. 872)

Death is the universal enemy of everyone.  No one escapes it.  One out of every one person dies.  Hebrews 9:27 says, “Just as people are destined to die once and after that to face judgment.”

But at the end of time Jesus defeats this universal enemy.  He throws our last enemy into the lake of fire.  Hebrews 9:28 continues “so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many, and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.”

With Christ’s first coming He died and He was resurrected.  With Christ’s second coming his people are resurrected and our death dies forever.

When I was younger I used to pray Lord, Jesus come.  Just not yet.  I had things I wanted to do before he came back—get married, graduate college, have children.  I wanted to live some of my life.  I look back now that I’ve lived some of that life, and I’m so much like the little boy who heard the preacher exclaim, “If you want to go to heaven, stand up.”  And the entire congregation stood up except for this little boy in the first row. The preacher was perplexed.  Looking over the pulpit he said, “Son, do you mean to tell me that when you die you don’t want to go to heaven?”  And the little boy responded, “Oh, when I die, yes!  I thought you were getting a group together to go right now!”

But the longer I live here on earth the more I long for heaven.  The more my heart yearns to see Jesus.  The more I’ve grown in my love for Jesus, the less attractive this world has become.  When I was a new Christian my picture of heaven was a very long church service.  And I was attracted to the things on earth.  But now I’ve seen the world for what it really is…a place diseased with sin’s cancer.  I’m heartbroken and tired of famine, Alzheimers, abortion, murder, deceit, natural disasters, cancer, death, sin,  Satan destroying families and lives because He knows His time is short.  I believe Jesus is sick of it too.  The day is coming when he will crash through the clouds, the angelic army in tow.  Time will screech to a halt in an instant.  Armageddon is over.  Satan, his allies, sin, death and Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire.  And a new world will be ours…A new heaven.

SEE EVIL CLEARLY

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I don’t know if any of you have ever had to go to the eye doctor and have those drops put in your eyes that dilate your pupils.  Anyone ever had that done?  Me too…once as a child and once as an adult.

When I was a child I was diagnosed with astigmatism which caused me to have a lazy eye, a slightly crossed eye.  They dilated my pupils, did tests and gave me glasses. Glasses in the 60s were a little like tennis shoes.  You could have black or white Chuck Taylors, high top or low top (I always got Chuck Taylor high tops—black).  With glasses you could have black plastic rims or brown plastic rims.  I chose the black. (They matched my tennis shoes).  But I hated them. 

They helped me see things clearly, even after that horrible dilating stuff wore off.  But I lost six pairs between my 8th and 9th year.  And mom finally gave up.

As an adult I had my pupils dilated.  The doctor asked how long I’d gone without glasses and I told him about 45 years.  He did some tests, told me I still had that astigmatism and prescribed bifocals.  When I put them on it was like 3D, high def television.  “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.”  Seeing clearly had removed “all the obstacles in my way.”

If there’s one thing the devil, our enemy wants to do, it’s to keep us from seeing him clearly.  He wants to disguise his true identity.  And because each of us have a “sinful astigmatism” (yes, I made that up) of the heart, we’re easily deceived when, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 11:14, “Satan masquerades as an angel of light.”  The word for masquerade is similar to the word hypocrite, “someone who wears a mask.”

Satan knows if we ever saw him unmasked we would run in terror.  We’d be overcome with disgust.  We’d recoil at his real appearance in terror.

So “Satan, the serpent of old, the great dragon who’s been thrown out of heaven to earth because he was not strong enough to take God’s place in heaven, even with the help of one-third of the angels he lost the war, was cast to earth, and so were those angels who followed him.” (Rev. 12:9)

REVELATION 12:1-9 (p. 867)

In Revelation 12-14 John rips back the veil on the spiritual realm and the

l. ANGEL OF LIGHT IS “UNMASKED”

“Behind Satan’s mask is a blood red, murderous, grotesque dragon.  He spreads his leathery wings, malice and hate drip from his jagged teeth and he sears his enemies with fiery, sulfurous breath.” (Matt Proctor)

He is huge and hideous and intimidating.  We jump back in revulsion.  There is nothing subtle or hidden in his appearance here.  The absolute “evil one” has been unmasked. When you see this picture of the devil, even a child would recognize this creature is wicked to the core.

My wife collects manger scenes.  She has crystal ones, Precious Moments ones, she even has an Eskimo one.  But what if I did this—inserted a horrible dragon in the middle of the manger scene.  The birth of Jesus is a familiar, heartwarming story, until I put something hideous in the middle of it.  Something that towers over the happy faced Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus.  An evil monster in the loveable nativity changes it from a Norman Rockwell picture into a Stephen King novel.  What does it mean?

In Revelation 12 we sense a shift in the book.  For the past six chapters we have witnessed mayhem on planet earth, but now the camera points upward to the heavens. And we discover that wars and rumors of wars also take place in an invisible world as large as the cosmos itself.

In Chapter 12 John suddenly sees “a great and wondrous sign” in heaven, a large pregnant woman wearing a crown of 12 stars preparing to give birth “to a son who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” (Rev. 12:5).  The baby described here as in Psalm 2:9 is “the Messiah.”  Who is the lady?  She’s too big to be little Mary.  She is probably Israel, the Messiah’s mother nation, and the 12 stars represent her 12 tribes (Gen. 37:9)

Matt Proctor in his devotion on Revelation writes a description better than I ever could. Listen:

[So we are at the nativity, Christ soon to be born.  But suddenly a great red dragon appears—so large his tail sweeps a third of the stars from the heavens—bent on killing the almost-born child.  “The reptile is a crimson gash, violating the sky,” and we cringe, anticipating the baby’s bloody, violent end. The child is born, the dragon lunges, we hold our breath…and at the last possible moment the child is rescued by God!

In the living room with my kids that December I explained.  It wasn’t just King Herod trying to kill the baby Jesus; it was the devil himself.  Praise God that Jesus was protected!  But when the dragon can’t kill the baby boy and is thrown out of heaven by Michael the archangel, Satan turns to devour the woman.  God miraculously rescues the woman, too, so finally in frustrated fury the dragon attacks the woman’s offspring.

I told my kids: that’s us.  The church is the offspring of God’s Old Testament people.  We are the descendants of the woman Israel, and that means we are square in the devil’s crosshairs.  The scene vividly pictures this truth:  we have an unseen enemy bent on our destruction.  Revelation 12 graphically depicts Satan’s malice.  “He longs to drink the blood and eat the flesh” of God’s people and craves the terror of your children.”  This is serious stuff!!”

The birth of Jesus was not meant to inspire cozy little Christmas carols while we hold hot chocolate in our hands.  It inspired a great war across the heavens, and now we are part of the battle.  By all means we should sing praises thanking God for the gift of his son, but we should sing them armed and on guard against the dragon.

The fact is we live near the dragon.  Thrown from heaven he now prowls the earth, and if you want to remain faithful you’d better be prepared when he attacks.  Paul warned us in 2 Cor. 2:11 “We must not let satan outwit us, for we are not unaware of his schemes.”]

Starting in Revelation 13 John helps us be aware of three such schemes of the devil:

1. Godless Government

2. False Religion

3. Hedonistic Culture

Two grotesque creatures and a “harlot”…

II. THE THREE ALLIES OF THE DRAGON

John once again unmasks evil so that once again we can see that which looks harmless is really hellish and deadly.

The first beast is godless government with its goal of physical persecution…listen to:

REVELATION 13:1-4 (p. 867)

This first beast looks similar to the dragon, both have 7 heads and 10 horns and the beast from the sea has what appears to be a fatal head wound, but which now has healed.  (Nero died of a self inflected head wound and a myth continued after his death that he would someday come back to life).

John’s point is simply that this beast represents the godless Roman government.  The beast demands worship and utters blasphemies just like emperor Domitian demanded worship and declared himself “Lord & God.”  When believers will not participate in the Imperial cult, the “beast then makes war against the saints.”

REVELATION 13:7-8 (p. 867)

John’s audience is enduring persecution from the bloody hands of Rome.  But this beast represents any godless, oppressive government that exalts itself above Christ.  Think of the 400,000 Christians who were persecuted in Uganda by Idi Amin.  Think of modern day Iran, Cuba, China, India and Muslim countries like the Sudan.

I love America.  I am the son of an American soldier and the father of an American soldier.  My favorite movie is “Saving Private Ryan.”  But John’s warning is clear.  When a government opposes Christ it becomes a grotesque beast.  As I pledge allegiance to America I’d better make sure I’ve pledged allegiance to the cross first.  We live in a nation that censors the Bible in schools, passes out free condoms to children, requires a background check for weapons but allows abortion without parental consent.  A nation where marriage is no longer between one man and one woman.  A nation that seems increasingly hostile to biblical faith.  The dragon stalks us all and we’d better keep our eyes open.

The second beast uses false religion as its weapon to undermine a culture…the earth.

REVELATION 13:11-18 (p. 868)

This beast has two horns like a lamb (He’s trying to imitate the true lamb, performs miraculous signs and promotes worship of the 1st beast).  If the first beast’s power is persecution, the 2nd beast’s power is deception.  He deceived the inhabitants of the earth (13:14) and is called the “false prophet” in Rev. 19:20.

For John’s readers the Imperial Cult and the Roman pantheon of gods were the work of the 2nd beast.  He was a powerful ally because Satan uses false religion to enslave billions of people through deceptive systems like Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, the occult and secular humanism.  Any false philosophy is his tool.

He is the father of lies and instead of physically attacking people, he wages a war of propaganda. “Earn your way to heaven; all religions lead to the same place; there is no God; God doesn’t love you and He’ll never forgive you; God just wants you to be happy.”  His whispering voice lies behind every despicable philosophy of the world.  The dragon stalks us; we’d better keep our eyes open.

Satan’s third ally is found in Revelation 14:8 “fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries.”  But she’s not fully introduced until Revelation 17:1-5 (p. 869).

The harlot (sorry if this offends you, but it’s a much better definition than prostitute). Prostitute can mean Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” but harlot clearly defines this ally of the dragon.  Revelation 17:1 calls her the “Great Harlot.”  There we discover she is Rome herself—“the great city that rules over the Kings of the earth and sits on “7 hills” as Rome did.  The harlot represents Rome’s Hedonistic culture.  Monetary success in Rev. 18:23, acquiring luxuries (18:3), drinking (18:6), pursuing sexual pleasure (17:27), attaining power and fame (18:7).  She’s all about herself and she wants John’s readers to think only of themselves.

The first beast uses power to physically persecute and the 2nd beast uses propaganda to intellectually deceive.  Then the great harlot uses temptation to morally corrupt. Through the harlot, Satan the dragon tries to gradually seduce us into increasingly selfish, pleasure seeking, greedy habits.  If sexual promiscuity, perversions, lack of courtesy and crude humor become the cultural norms, he wins.  He does this gradually. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot without any sudden turns, without milestones, without signposts.”

Right now in our culture I believe the score is in Satan’s favor.  We’ve gone from Lucy & Ricky in separate beds to 50 Shades of Gray.  We didn’t get there overnight.  The bar lowered little by little over time.  That’s how the harlot works.  John knows it.  The culture which looks so attractive is actually a cheap, diseased street walker and Satan is her pimp.  Stay away from her.  The dragon stalks us.  Keep your eyes open.

The mark of the beast is 666.  Kyle Idleman gave a great definition.  “If 7 is God’s number for perfection then 6 is incomplete.  If 777 is complete perfection, then 666 is complete imperfection.  The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit…perfection 777.”

Satan disguises himself so he looks like an angel of light.  Physical power that persecutes.  Deceptive philosophies that deny the true Savior.  Cultural immorality that seduces.  666.  Complete imperfection.

We have an enemy.  But he is not God’s equal – not even close!  God had a plan, a Son, a Savior, the Messiah.  Perfect…Sinless.  And Revelation 12:11 tells us how we defeat this foe.  “They overcame him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony.  They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”

The worst thing Satan can do is kill us.  The best thing that can happen to us is death.  That must drive him crazy.

BEAR WITNESS BOLDLY

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These two chapters can be hard to understand.  So, how can they help me in my Christian life…first notice the main characters:

REVELATION 10:1-11 (p. 866)

John is the featured character in chapter 10…but in chapter 11 we read “I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophecy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.  They are the 2 olive trees and the 2 lampstands, and they stand before the Lord of the earth.” 

(v. 3-4)

The 2 witnesses are the featured characters in chapter 11.  Who are they?  Enoch, Elijah, Moses, Abraham?  We don’t know but all three are commanded to speak the message of God, but all three discover that preaching is not all about congratulations and conversions…

Notice when John swallows God’s message its bitter…when the witnesses finish speaking their testimony, they get killed.

REVELATION 11:5-7 (p. 866) 

What do I learn from this?  Witnessing means telling God’s truth no matter the consequences… As Frank Smith Jr. said, “The Church must be prophetic or it will be pathetic.”  Here is the vital question…

I. WHAT IS OUR PROPHETIC WITNESS TO THE WORLD TODAY?

I wrote a blog on Facebook after the Supreme Court struck down the DOMA about legalizing same sex marriages in California…

Here’s my blog:

I understand you cannot legislate morality…no law can be created, proposed, and signed into effect that will make people obey it.  Laws are meant to be foundations and fences.  Foundations, because they are solid…fences, because they protect.  For those of us who believe that God’s Word is an absolute authority, and foundational, and God’s Word is a protective fence…its heartbreaking when…men and women create legislation that deteriorates His law.  Yes we all are sinners, yours truly included…Big Time…but trying to legitimize something that God says is clearly sinful, doesn’t change the fact that our authoritative foundation and fence says, “Yes, it is!” Loving people, all people doesn’t imitate the relationship in denial of sin…it goes forward seeking redemption, not ignorance.  Just my thoughts about today’s Supreme Court ruling.

We live in a world today…especially when it comes to “millennials,” 16-25 year olds… who believe that people should be able to do what they want to do.  The overwhelming majority within this age group have non-Biblical world views when it comes to social issues like abortion or homosexuality.  Many of my non-Christ following friends had immediate and harsh reactions to my blog…(What are you afraid of…Why would you deny people love?

So, what happens if in two or three years from now saying that homosexuality is a sexual sin, like adultery…and yet we believe homosexuals can be redeemed and restored by the saving blood of Christ…is then labeled hate speech…and I’ll be fined or imprisoned for speaking those words.

You see, our prophetic witness for the world today is:  We are all sinners…we are all broken…we are all in need of healing and rescue…Jesus died on a cross to pay for the debt my sin created between myself and God…He rose from the grave conquering sin’s punishment:  DEATH.  WHETHER YOU STRUGGLE WITH HOMOSEXUALITY OR PROMISCUITY…WHETHER YOU’VE HAD AN ABORTION OR COMMITTED ADULTERY…or if your heart is filled with greed and pride…God has given his son as the remedy, for our sin.  Won’t you accept His Lordship…His Kingdom.  THERE IS NO SIN BEYOND IT’S REDEMPTION!!!

He will write His laws on your heart of flesh…He will enter you…So His Kingdom is in you.  He will begin to reign even now…and when the 7th angel sounds his trumpet and there are loud voices in heaven which say…

REVELATION 11:15-19 (p. 866)

You have nothing to fear…the nations were angry but judgment time has arrived and your servants will be rewarded, those who have revered God’s name…and judgment will destroy the earth and those who have destroyed God’s name.

[It’s time we take Mark 8:38 to heart.  Jesus said, “If anyone is ashamed of me in this adulterous and sinful generation, the son will be ashamed of them when He comes in His father’s glory with His holy angels.”

It took great courage to not kiss Caesar’s ring and proclaim “Caesar Is Lord.”  In your heart you must have already “Set Christ apart as Lord and you must be ready to give a reasonable answer for why you believe that…with gentleness and respect.” (1 Pet 3:15)

Either we are prophetic or we are ashamedly pathetic.

I don’t know about you, but I need to be reminded of that.  Our world does not like to be reminded of that.  Our world does not like to be reminded of God’s truth and can get pretty hostile…One witness for Christ said, “If you are the light of the world, you’re going to attract a few bugs.”

Or as Wayne Smith said, “If you carry the ball for Christ, you’re going to get tackled.”

Revelation 11:7 says, “Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them and overpower and kill them.”

John was given a mission…

REVELATION 10:10-11 (p. 866)

The 2 witnesses were given a mission…“prophesy for a set period of time (1,260 days) clothed in sackcloth” (the attire of mourning and repentance).  They are described as the 2 olive trees and the 2 lampstands and they stand before the Lord of the earth.  

Olive tree is the symbol for Israel.  Olive trees bring nourishment and the oil for healing.  Lampstands (the Church) brings the light and God protects these witnesses and gives them power…

REVELATION 11:5-6 (p. 866)

We have the same promise…“All authority has been given to me,” Jesus says…“Go…Make disciples, teach them, baptize them…I’ll be with you always.”

Whether you are John the beloved Apostle whose mission was to prophesy again about “many peoples, nations, languages and kings,” or the 2 witnesses for God in chapter 11 who share their testimony with great power…Nothing touches them unless God allows it, nothing happens outside of God’s control.

How long do you have?  I have no idea…for you or myself…but the 2 witnesses are killed, martyred…and their bodies put on public display.  Why?  So those who hated their message…those who were tormented by their truth could gloat..how long did they gloat…3 days…

REVELATION 11:11-12 (p. 866)

Since Genesis 3 the future of mankind has been summed up in a single word:  Death.  It’s the destiny of us all…Statistics show 1 out of every 1 human dies.  No one escapes (except Enoch & Elijah…that’s why many believe they are the 2 witnesses).

[I read about a lady in Greenville SC who received the following message from the Department of Social Services…“Your food stamps will be stopped effective March 1992 because we received notice you passed away.  May God bless you.  You may reapply if your circumstances change.]

Sorry, but circumstances don’t change…Death is our greatest enemy.  But then Jesus came…and at first it seemed death won again.  At the end of the day Christ was dead, no pulse…rigor mortis setting in – rigid on that cold stone tomb…no pulse…lifeless…Friday night…Saturday morning…Saturday night…But then Sunday came.  As the first rays of sunshine broke the morning…A voice rumbled – a whisper from God Himself… “Arise my son.”

And a heart that was still began to beat again…blood thick and cold began to warm and rush through his veins again.  A chest heaved upward, taking a first giant breath…stiff fingers moved, eyes opened, arms raised…leg swung off the table…Jesus standing…life radiating from Him like heat from the sun – He’s alive…Christ is risen!!!

The witness in Revelation 11 hears his voice…“Come up here…and they go to heaven in a cloud.”

Death doesn’t win because Jesus conquers even it…our last and greatest enemy.

Let me end with something that happened a few years ago on the streets of downtown Louisville…Our young adults minister Ben Lakin and I went downtown to share in a street corner ministry…to provide a meal…hand out clothes.  He helped lead a time of worship with an acoustic guitar and afterwards I shared my redemption story.

After it was over I was approached by a 6 foot 3 inch African American transgender person names Jerome…Jerome and I sat and talked about Jesus…He was broken, in tears and begging for a life change.  He kept saying I’m gonna die if I stay in this lifestyle.

Jerome needed to know that the blood of Christ can make him brand new.  He didn’t need me to tell him it was OK to remain where you are…I told him that I was the recipient of Christ’s forgiveness…That Jesus had transformed my life and that I believed with all my heart that Jesus could do the exact same thing for Him.  I connected him to a ministry that could help him through the transition…and we prayed together.

Here’s my only point…either we believe that Jesus can save the Ricks and Jeromes of this world…or we don’t.  Either we believe that Jesus can transform sinners to saints or we don’t…because if we will not boldly proclaim this truth to the Jeromes of this world…then we cannot boldly proclaim it to anyone.

ENDURE SUFFERING PATIENTLY

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Last week we ended the message with Jesus, the Lamb which was slain, opening the 7 seals of a scroll…In absolute selfless worship, the 4 living creatures, the 24 Elders around God’s throne, the countless number of angels call out with praise…“Worthy is the lamb…to receive glory, honor, power, wealth, wisdom and strength”…and every creature in heaven, and on earth and under the earth and on the sea says, “To Him who sits on the throne…and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever. AMEN!”

John has been called into heaven’s throne room to witness uninhibited, selfless worship of God on the throne, and Jesus, the Son who has accomplished God’s purpose of salvation through His death, burial and resurrection…“The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29)  “The Lamb looking as if it has been slain.” (Rev. 5:6)

The Lamb, Jesus, is worthy…He’s worthy to receive all power, authority and praise because of His obedience and sacrifice for the One on the throne…He, and He alone has earned the right to open the seals which reveal God’s plan for the future.  Listen as we read Rev. 6:1-17.

REVELATION 6:1-17 (p. 864)

That sounds a whole lot more like the Revelation we know and love, huh? Seals, trumpets, 4 horsemen, scrolls, famine, disease, and wild animals…What does all this mean?

I’ve never been real good at ignoring the elephant in the room…My nature, call it what you want, usually walks in the room, looks around at all the other people ignoring a giant elephant…and says, “Hey, what’s with the elephant?

Revelation 4:1 finds Jesus telling John…“Come up here and I’ll show you what must take place, after this…I’ll show you what will happen next…The elephant?  When is “after this”…when does “next” happen?

I don’t know….I have opinions and beliefs just as everyone else does…but I won’t stand behind this pulpit sharing an opinion as if it is “the Word of God.”  Almost all views of “the when this will take place,” flow from this passage of scripture and some others…

REVELATION 20:1-10 (p. 871)

When does Jesus return?  When is the 1,000 year reign here on earth?  That’s where the word “Millennialism” comes from.  Is it a literal 1,000 years or figurative?  Does the church go through the Great tribulation recorded in these chapters or is it “Raptured” (word never used in scripture by the way) before the horrible stuff or half way through the horrible stuff? John does not relate his revelation in chronological order…John jumps back and forth in time, and he also takes us back and forth between heaven and on earth.

John uses repetition to emphasize a key theme:  When Christ returns he will come in judgment – to reward those who are faithful and punish those who are not.  The conflict between God and Satan and their followers flows through the entire book.

I. THERE IS ONLY ONE FINAL COMING OF JESUS…THERE IS ONLY ONE END OF THE WORLD

Hebrews 9:27-28 records these words, “Just as people are destined to die once and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

The lamb was slain to take away our sin, all sin…but when he returns as the risen Lord of lords and King of kings it will be to bring judgment.

REVELATION 6:15-17 (p 864)

As the Lamb opens the 7 seals…the first 4 are horses and riders.  A white horse whose rider holds a bow, has a crown…conquering and bringing conquest.  As the second is opened, one of the 4 living creatures says, “Come” and the rider of a fiery red horse comes out…taking away peace, people killing one another.  The 3rd rider is on a black horse.  He has scales in his hands…bringing famine and financial difficulty, and with the 4th seal…the living creature says, “Come” and there before John was a pale horse…It’s rider was death…and Hades was following close behind him.  People would die by the sword, famine, plague and wild beasts of the earth.

Much of what John records has an immediate fulfillment…you could see each of those things taking place under the Roman Empire but there is also an ultimate fulfillment…yet to have occurred before Christ returns…when?… Well.  

Jesus even answered the disciple’s private question about when all this would take place and what signs they should look for in Matthew 24.

MATTHEW 24:3-14 (p. 693)

John witnesses those martyred for their faith under the altar of God when the 5th seal is opened…They cry out…“How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the earth and avenge our blood?”

Each of them is given a white robe and told to wait a little longer until the full number of their fellow servants are killed, just as they had been…and as the 6th seal is opened John is taken to the brink…The great day of judgment…“The great day of their wrath has come.” (6:17)

It is the souls of those who have been slain that John sees…there’s been no resurrection yet.  And these souls have been martyred because of the Word of God…and because of the testimony of their faith…they cry out in a loud voice.

“How long oh sovereign Lord until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”

Revelations 6-9 is filled with war, famine, earthquakes, suffering…persecution and difficulties…

Maybe like the church at Philadelphia we have gone through suffering patiently…

REVELATION 3:10-11 (p. 863)

[Someone wrote that years ago our world had Bob Hope, Johnny Cash and Steve Jobs. Now we have No Jobs, No Cash and No Hope.]

How long Lord?  Maybe you’ve experienced those moments of “No Hope” financially, a physical illness, family conflict…Jesus’ promise is true…“In this world you will have trouble.”  Acts 14:22 records Paul saying, “We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”

You might know those hardships well!

Maybe you’ve struggled with a sinful habit that won’t let you go…you’ve poured yourself into another person and that person walks away…you’ve prayed for a lost friend for years, spent hours building this relationship, but she continues to resist.

Every spiritual leader I’ve ever known has experienced discouragement, pain and brokenness…Ministry is a contact sport that will leave you limping away in pain…some even limp off the field…not sure if they’ll return.

This is why Revelation is written…may we not get so lost arguing over millennial views that we forget Rev. 1:1. “The Revelation from Jesus Christ which God gave Him to show His servants what must soon take place.”…Take this prophecy to heart because the time is near. (Rev. 1:3)

Revelation is written to believers besieged by a corrupt and hostile culture…they are under attack from the inside and out…“How long O Lord?”

The Powerful answer:  “No matter how bad things get, at the end of the story we win!”

7 is used over and over again to show perfection before God, and it’s in the 7th chapter we are transported before the throne again to be reminded of God’s Victory through Jesus, the Lamb. Listen:

REVELATION 7:1-9 (p. 864)

Sealed by God…144,000 from every Jewish tribe…12,000 x 12,000…perfection squared.  Is this what Romans 11:25-27 refers to?  

ROMANS 11:25-27 (p. 789)

Clearly God has a salvation plan for Israel but also heaven’s praises will come from every nation, tribe, people and language…

REVELATION 7:9-12 (p. 865)

Then one of the 24 elders asks John, “These in white robes–who are they?  Where’d they come from?” John says, “Sir…you know.”

And He said…

REVELATION 7:14-17 (p. 865) 

It’s those who have come out of the great tribulation…their robes have been washed white in the blood of Jesus…

John sees an end of times of tribulation unlike anything we can imagine…“The great tribulation” before Christ’s return and the end of the world.

As the 7th seal is opened the prayers of God’s people are answered.

REVELATION 8:2-5 (p. 865)

How long O Lord? The answer to those prayers of “All God’s people…NOW”

Chapters 8 & 9 have the 7 trumpets being sounded, at least 6 of them anyways…John sees huge mountains being thrown into the sea, hail, fire mixed with blood, the water being bitter…darkness.  It’s very similar to the plagues sent upon Egypt in Exodus…and Revelation.  Chapter 9 verse 6 says, “During those days people will seek death but will not find it, they will long to die, but death will allude them.”  And possibly the saddest words in these 4 chapters is found in Rev. 9:20-21 (p. 866)

“Still they did not repent.”

How could you not repent through this experience?

There’s something special about the human heart…It can be hardened or it can be cut.  Hardened hearts cannot be cut by God’s Spirit…

When God judged the world the first time in Noah’s day, Genesis 6:3 has God saying, “My spirit will not contend with humans forever.”  And verse 5 says, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil, all the time.”  I believe Rev. 9:20-21 is very similar to Genesis 6:5.

So my conclusion this morning…Jesus will return…He will come as the Almighty Lord of lords and King of kings…And for His people He will be “the Lamb at the center of the throne…He will be our Shepherd…He will lead us to living water…He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

But for those who have been given the opportunity time and time again to repent and have rejected His call…He will judge them on their own merit…each accountable for their own sin…All those who have followed Abaddon, the destroyer here on earth…will encounter the same judgment as He…

I’m not trying to avoid anything, but as God’s people we’d better be more concerned about being His witnesses until the Eastern Sky rips open than arguing about Amillennialism, Premillenialism, Postmillennialism…

We’re not on the planning committee…God is the planning committee…We are on the welcoming committee…and there is a lot at stake!

WORSHIP GOD SELFLESSLY

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A man named Bill Crockett was delivering a motivational lecture to a group of young Navy Corpsmen…He says, “I spoke in great detail about my love for our country and about why joining the military meant so much to me…finishing my story, I pointed at a sharp looking sailor out in the audience and asked, “Son, why did you decide to go to sea?”  “Well chief” he said, “My old man’s a farmer…and when I saw him put lights on the tractor, I knew it was time to leave the farm!!!”

That sailor knew how to read his future…He knew his future by watching his dad.  And when he saw his dad put lights on the tractor he knew his future and the decisions he had to make.

It’s interesting that when John’s Revelation from Jesus begins to focus on the future the first thing it focuses on is the Father.

REVELATION 4:1-11 (p. 863)

Jesus shows John “what must take place after this.”  In the first chapters, 2 & 3, we see the risen, glorified Christ walking among His churches on earth…Now the scene shifts to the throne room of heaven…Jesus opens a door for John to leave earth and enter heaven.  It’s the same Niagara thundering voice that beckons John…“Come up here and I will show you what must take place after this.”  Instantly John falls under the influence of God’s Spirit and he sees a throne…and the one seated on it.  Instead of war, pestilence, famine, death and destruction that people associate with Revelation, we find ourselves in God’s throne room witnessing the most amazing worship service recorded in scripture.  The focus of that worship…

The One who sits on the throne, “The Lord God Almighty,” has the appearance of jasper and ruby.  A rainbow that shines like an emerald encircled the throne…from this throne comes flashes of lightening, rumblings, and peals of thunder (4:3,5).  Surrounding this throne are 24 other thrones, and seated on them were 24 elders.  They’re dressed in white and have gold crowns on their heads.  In front of the throne of the Almighty seven lamps were blazing, these are the seven spirits of God.  Also in front of the throne was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal?”

And when you read on you discover 4 Living creatures in the center, around God’s throne…

REVELATION 4:6b-11 (p. 863)

John’s fascinated with this picture…no darkness, no shadows, no flaws…with these 4 living creatures.  The word that’s used to describe them is Z Oa – Living Ones (we get our word “zoology” from this word).  These personal guardians, attendants, are worshippers around the throne…It’s not important what category of angel they are, Cherubim or Seraphim, unique characteristics only to serve here, but these creatures are the closest to God, nearer than the elders…If closeness to God indicates importance…these are the most important beings ever created!  These living ones are full of eyes front and back…all seeing.  They take in all of God and everything else. Verse 7 describes them:  the first, like a lion, the second like a calf, the third had a face like that of a man, and fourth, was like an eagle.  They each have 6 wings…they can travel, man!  Why these creatures…well remember my advice to look through simple historical and emotional associations?

They are like the lion, the mightiest of beasts.  The king (or leader) of the jungle indicates majesty and power.  The ox or calf or bull, is the strongest domesticated animal, typical of faithful labor and patience.  The greatest bird, the eagle, represents supreme sovereignty and supremacy.  One was like a man, indicating intelligence.  The four beings “suggest whatever is noblest, strongest, wisest and swiftest in animated Nature” (Swete, 71) or the created order.

So what’s going on here?  If Jesus is showing John “what must take place after this…after the Churches…Why would the first place Jesus takes John to be “a worship service?”  Why, not just get down to “brass tacks…the nitty gritty?”  We want to know about the battle between good and evil, Satan and God…but instead the first scene is the Throne Room of God and a worship service!  Why start here?  Because Jesus knew this is where we had to start!

I. OUR FOCUS NEEDS TO BE ON THE RIGHT THINGS

When we read Revelation it’s possible to focus on the wrong things…to get so caught up in the “mark of the beast” things that we lose sight of the big picture…the reason for the Revelation…People love juicy, scary, wild stuff…they like attaching real names to the beast…Hitler, Nero, fill in the blank with someone you hate!  666…Rev. 13:11-18, take the mark, worship the beast or die…it doesn’t sound like something that happens accidentally…it’s a choice.  But when I looked up “Mark of the Beast” on the internet, here were some of the comments…

One of the prominent speculations was that “the mark” was to be an implantable microchip.  And that this chip would identify who you are.  It would be similar to the photograph in your driver’s license.

Another speculation was that it would be a number like your social security code similar to your credit card number.  Only you have that number.

Some conjectured that it would be like a password or PIN number.  You’d need it to take out money, or to authorize transactions.

One sight showed a picture of a bar code, indicating that each bar code in existence had 666 imbedded within it (beats me, maybe they do).

Often it’s associated with the government and “Big Brother” watching and deceiving us…It reminds me of this joke.  “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me!!”

Revelation can be a scary book…I wouldn’t read parts of it to X or peanut as a bedtime story…

God knows that…and that’s why the vision begins with worship…a reminder.  “Focus people.”  “Focus on the God who is “Holy, Holy, Holy…The Lord God…ALMIGHTY!!! Who was and IS and IS to COME!”

He is awesome…unearthly.  There are odd creations in this picture.  Yet somehow comforting.  24 elders in white robes and golden crowns, somewhat like us.

God is worshipped by everything and everyone in Heaven and on Earth…Everyone and everything is to surrender and subject itself to His majesty…not because we must, but because He is worthy…It’s voluntary, spontaneous…filled with excitement, joy and wonder…

There is a sense of supreme power here…and because of that a sense of assurance… “If this is my God…my enemies better watch out!”  Ephesus needs to remember this first love.  Smyrna finds hope in its affection and poverty with a God who is dressed in this splendor and power.  So does Philadelphia in its weakness and open door.  Thyatira needs to return to the Word of God and stop letting Jezebel and the world sway its people…and Pergamum needs to keep the faith, but stop being polluted by the Balaam in the church.  Sardis needs to stop living on its reputation and wake up…and Laodicea needs to stop being lukewarm and tepid, making Jesus want to vomit…and hear Jesus’ voice, open the door and invite Him in!  Seeing God the Almighty on His throne makes you repent of anything you’re focusing on instead of Him!

Revelation is written to churches, Christians…Christ followers who have struggles in this world…remember Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

This is the focus of Revelation…John in his first letter, chapter 4 verse 4 says, “You are of God…and have overcome…because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.”

You are going to have trouble…the world, and its god will seek to overwhelm and overcome you…This is an inseparable truth.

But take courage…because of God…because you belong to Jesus…you will overcome!

And one of the primary ways we overcome is through worship…singing praises, focused on God, fixing all our attention on Him…everything, including the throne is centered on Him.

He is bigger than our circumstances…His power and providence shatter our difficulties.  In Him hopelessness and despair are conquered by faith and endurance…He is the God who takes care of the past, provides for the now, and promises for the future.

That’s why the 4 living creatures cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, who is, and who is to come.”

That’s why the 24 Elders cast down their crowns before His Throne and say this praise…“You are worthy, our Lord and God to receive Glory, and Honor and Power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (v. 11)

Loose paraphrase…“You made everything…and you hold everything together…It’s your plan. You are worthy…take the glory, the power and honor…it all belongs to you!”

Because of this providential plan and God’s all encompassing purpose for creation…we come to this truth…

II. THE LION IS A LAMB

REVELATION 5:1-10 (p. 863)

It takes strength to open some things…We men love it when our wives ask, “Would you open this jar of pickles for me?”…We flex, grip, twist and exult in our power!!!

In Revelation 5 it’s a scroll that needs to be opened…It has 7 seals.  “Is there anyone who can open the scroll…anyone who can break the seals?”  No one could be found…in heaven, on earth or in the underworld…John weeps because of this…it breaks his heart…and one of the leaders, the Elders says to John “Don’t weep…Look, the lion from the tribe of Judah, the root of David’s tree has conquered…He can open the scroll…He can rip through the 7 seals.”

So John looks and there surrounded by the throne, 4 living creatures and the elders (in the center) is a Lamb, bearing the marks of being slain…with 7 horns and 7 eyes… (These are the 7 spirits sent out into all the earth)…And the Lamb comes to the one seated on the throne and takes the scroll from God’s right hand…and when He takes it the elders and the 4 living creatures fall down in worship at the feet of the lamb…each were holding a harp and a golden bowl on incense…filled with the prayers of God’s people.

It takes physical strength to open a new jar of pickles…its takes the authority and power won by the “Lamb of God that was slain” to open the scroll and its 7 seals.

Without getting lost in seals and horns and scrolls and creatures…the point of this apocalyptic scheme is…All creation…everything and everyone…praising Jesus for purchasing God’s creation.  He paid for its redemption in His blood.  He purchased people from every tribe, language, people and nation…He made the Kingdom of God real, and called us to be priests and servants in it.

[Xzavier and I watched Jack the Giant Slayer…and we really liked it.  I won’t give away all of it, but you already know there’s a Beanstalk and Giants…in the movie there’s’ a headstrong, independent princess…she goes to the marketplace…gets into trouble…she’s accosted by some lowlifes…Jack comes to her defense, but gets beaten up…that is until the lowlifes fall to their knees…Jack says, that’s better…(Behind him on horseback is the entire royal army, led by its captain) and Jack says, “There’s someone behind me, isn’t there?”  And he turns to see the regal, armor clad soldiers that really put the lowlifes on there knees…

That’s the message to each church mentioned in chapters 2 & 3 and to each of us who live in this rebellious world…“There’s’ someone behind me isn’t there?”  When trial and tribulation, famine and persecution attack…when Satan tries to overwhelm and overcome…remember whose behind you.  When Satan and those attackers take a knee…“It’s the One on the throne, and the Lamb who was slain…It’s their praise, honor, glory and power that has your back…

ENCOUNTER CHRIST POWERFULLY

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6 years ago I had the privilege to be the Co-Executive Planner for the North American Christian Convention in Louisville, KY.

The theme for this convention was “Victorious…When life seems hopeless read the end of the story…”

The message of Revelation is all about “The End Game.”

Because of my position as co-chair for local planning, I got to meet and become friends with Matt Proctor, that year’s President of the North American.  Matt’s the President of Ozark Christian College and he and his wife Katie have 6 young children…

Just as we were about to kick off all the preparations, Katie was diagnosed with a rare cancer…It would require surgery.  When Matt shared with our group for the first time it was right before the surgery.  With great emotion he said, “I hope to share with you great news about my wife Katie at this year’s convention…however God works it out.”

Clearly Matt was in pain because of what his wife and the mother of their 6 children was facing…but he was also clearly announcing God’s victory in life and death.

Our hope is that cancer, surgeries, struggles in this life are not the victors for those of us whose hope is in Christ for all eternity.

By the way…Katie’s surgery was completely successful…and six years later she is doing well.

Matt was not the same man when the convention opened that he was 2 years earlier when we began planning for it…little did he know the struggles, the pain, and the faith testing he would go through in preparation to speak about Victory.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ to John the Apostle has a similar story.

Listen…

REVELATION 1:1-3 (p. 861)

It’s not the Apostle John’s revelation…It’s the revelation from Jesus Christ, given to Him by God.  It’s given to reveal what must soon take place and…Jesus has sent an angel to John, who has been exiled on an island called Patmos.  Revelation in Greek is “Apocalypse” literally “unveiling.”  Jesus unveils…reveals to John who testifies to everything he sees.

The Book of Revelation places a blessing on the person who reads it, v3, but even more than that it puts a blessing on the person who keeps it (takes it to heart)…because the time is near.

So why are we (me), others, so afraid to be “blessed” by Jesus’ Revelation?  Apparently I’m not the only one who has avoided Revelation.  Fred Craddock says that reading through the New Testament is like walking down the street.  The Gospels are first, and they are warm, inviting, well-lit homes – a familiar neighborhood.  Next come Paul’s letters, still friendly territory.  But as you move down the street through the Epistles, the shadows grow deeper – 2 Peter, 1 John.  The houses are small and neglected – 2 John, 3 John, Jude. Then suddenly at the end of the street, shrouded in darkness, stands the frightening, haunted house of Revelation.

1) Most of the time we just figure it’s smart to stay away from the haunted house! The reasons…it’s hard to understand.  The church father Jerome said, “Revelation has as many mysteries as it does words.” Martin Luther said, “Revelation ought to be kicked out of the Bible because it doesn’t reveal anything!”

Let’s face it…weird images of strange creatures, a beast with 10 horns and claws of bronze, stars falling from heaven, a great red dragon with 7 heads, 666, blood, bowls of sulfur, people cutting scrolls, bottomless pits, the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse, war, pestilence, famine and death…Man, that’s strange stuff…hard to understand…2) And the book of Revelation has been terribly abused…strange teachings, obsession, wild speculations…Revelation seems to attack wild eyed speculators like Waco’s David Koresh.  G K Chesterton remarked, “Though St. John saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.”

So many of us have avoided it…like one Christian woman who said, “I don’t need to read Revelation…it doesn’t make any sense and the rest of the Bible already tells me what I need to know.”

But Jesus’ Revelation is part of “all Scripture.”  It is “God breathed,” it is “useful for teaching” and is part of the whole counsel of God.  It’s an amazing culmination of the Old and New Testaments, and it answers the essential human question…of “What is this world coming to?”

Revelation tells how the story of God’s people ends, and only when we know the end of the story can we make sense of the story’s middle where we live right now. If a rut is a grave with both ends punched out, then Revelation rips the bandage off the routine and ordinary…It reveals the terrors of Hell and the glory of Heaven…

It is in this setting that we powerfully encounter Jesus Christ…

I. THE ALPHA AND OMEGA 

(Who is and who was…and who is to come…the Almighty)

John is writing to the 7 churches in Asia Minor…they’re listed by name in verse 11 and addressed personally in Rev. 2, 3.

But the message to these 7 churches isn’t John’s message…It’s a message from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth…

The one who loves us…has freed us by His blood.  He’s made us priests in His Kingdom to serve God the Father…and someday He’s gonna return…coming with the clouds…everyone will see Him, even those who pierced Him…and all peoples on earth will mourn because of Him…so shall it be.  AMEN.

These 7 churches face two threats near the end of the first century…the first threat is persecution. The Jews targeted “these heretical Christians.”  Paul examines this persecution in detail…and although Roman persecution isn’t empire wide yet, it’s real, especially for those who will not worship Caesar as God…Christians were viewed as traitors because they would not recite the pledge “Caesar is Lord.”

Revelation deals with real suffering…not minor irritations or inconveniences…they’re facing death, not a flat tire, deep despair (not) minor slights…The dogs are being released, the Jews are being hidden from the secret police, the diagnosis is cancer and there is no treatment.

But the 2nd and greater threat John teaches here is cultural seduction…leaving your first love; conforming to the priorities and values and lifestyles of the culture around them. If persecution cannot destroy these churches then the enemy dilutes them through subtle compromise. Why put them in the electrical chair when a lazy boy is as effective.  They can be lukewarm not hot….not cold…vomit temperature is just right.

Revelation is written to a comfortable church in an immoral culture and the application for American Christians is clear.

Ronald Sider’s book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience:  Why Christians Are Living Just like the Rest of the World, cites surveys showing that Christians aren’t living much differently than the culture—percentages of spousal abuse, giving habits, cohabitation, divorce, racism, and addiction to pornography are almost the same as those among non-Christians.  John writes to challenge his readers.  There are 72 second-person imperatives in the book…not to give in to the world.  This book is not a crystal ball but a megaphone in John’s hands…a trumpet call to faith and endurance and radical holiness of life.  When you understand the historical setting, you will begin to see Revelation’s relevance.

John is a fellow Christian, a companion in the struggle and the suffering…He’s exiled remember, on the Isle of Patmos, because of God’s Word…because of His testimony about Jesus (v. 9).

And then verse 10 says, “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice, like a trumpet.”

John’s told to write on a scroll what he sees and send it to the 7 church’s in Asia Minor…and then John turns so he can see the voice that’s speaking to him…Listen:

REVELATION 1:12b-18 (p. 861)

I was a B U I C K…that stands for (Brought Up In Church Kid).  I saw flannel graph pictures of a gentle, kind, brown flowing haired Jesus in a white robe and sandals…Usually holding children or a lamb…A gentle “Mr. Rogers” Jesus.

And while I know Jesus is gentle and humble of heart…Have we theologically declawed the Lion of Judah and made him a household pet?  Have we lost our reverence, fear and awe of the “Ruler of the King of the Earth?”

In Revelation Chapter 1 Jesus is not a house cat…He is a roaring Lion.

In Revelation 1, I am overwhelmed by this glorious, dreadful vision of Christ.  This is not the gentle Jesus with children on his lap.  This Jesus speaks in Niagara thunder.  He blazes with blinding supernova brilliance.  This Jesus could play kickball with our planet. This Jesus could flick his finger and send our solar system spinning off into space.  He is clothed in glory and majesty and splendor and power and authority, and this is not a Jesus in whose presence you can just casually stand around.  This vision of Jesus washes over you, crushing you like a tidal wave and leaving you fighting for your life, your very breath.  John fell at his feet as though dead (1:17)

It’s this Jesus who places His hand on our shoulders and says…

II. DO NOT BE AFRAID!!

“Then He placed His right hand on me and said, “Do not be afraid”…

I’ve got to be honest…I’m not sure how you do that! How do you go from “on your face as a dead man” in abject worship before the King of kings…and not afraid?

Well for John it might be the memory of that right hand, and the way “Do not be afraid” is said…Both would be familiar wouldn’t they.

Have you ever gone from terrified to relieved in an instant? From fear to thanksgiving in the blink of an eye? We all have haven’t we?

Let Jesus take the wheel a moment and then the side of the road where the baby is safe in the rear seat, prayer of gratitude…

John has seen, heard, touched, and witnessed God in the flesh; it’s why he writes his gospel and letters…He proclaims…He testifies “The life appeared…We have seen it!” 

(1 John 1:2).

He says, “I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) (About all that Jesus did)

But on this Sunday, while he is in the spirit…He does not encounter the Nazarene Carpenter, not even the word that became flesh and made His dwelling among us  (John 1:14).  John encounters the risen, resurrected, and glorified Alpha & Omega, the One who was ,and is, and is to come!  The all Powerful “Shekinah” Holy King and Lord of Lords…

He encounters this powerful Jesus as a fellow sufferer…He’s being commissioned to reveal a message of hope…and its to 7 churches in Asia Minor, and all these who suffer or struggle to remain culturally pure.

John’s been exiled, punished…persecuted for his testimony about Jesus and the word of God.

This conquering, powerful, risen, glorified Jesus has his back…and his future.  This King has all authority…more authority than Caesar and the Roman Empire!  “He holds the keys to death and Hades.” “He’s the living one.”  He says, “I was dead, but now look I am alive forever and ever.”

[Hope isn’t found in present circumstances…Hope for John, the 7 churches, for every born again child of the King in…what will take place later…

My earthly Father has been gone almost a decade and a half…but he taught me a great deal about hope, hope is revealed in endurance, patience…“stick to it-ness.” Some might even say “stubbornness,” an orneriness that will not let “circumstances” or “trouble” win.  That is the overall message to the churches in Revelation and us.  Nothing happens accidentally to you…trust and be faithful to this powerful, almighty, providential Savior…

15 years ago as my father ended his earthly life in a battle with cancer I was asked to write an article for our Christian radio station’s newsletter.  Here’s what I wrote:

Our Father Knows No Accidents

Our God is such an awesome God!  He is so amazing in His care and comfort, and I know without a doubt that your prayers have interceded for the Burdette family.  My Dad is about to go to heaven.  In fact yesterday I told him to give Jesus a hug for me until I can get there and do it myself.  He assured me he would.

I’ve thought a great deal about God’s providence.  I know it’s not a city in Rhode Island. It’s God’s plan and purpose for our lives.  If you’ll forgive my nostalgia for a moment I would like to share with you from a letter I read today.  Dated March 6, 1945, it begins:

Dear Mom and Dad:

I am now in a general hospital here in France as I said in the letter I wrote Fern (Fern’s my dad’s older sister).  I do hope you received it O.K.  I am feeling fine and am getting the best care.  Uncle Sam really takes care of his boys, never fear about that.  But better still I am in the hands of a person greater than all the powers on earth.  I have all my faith in Him and I know he is seeing me.

Mom, don’t worry about me.  I am going to be as good as new! (The whole US Medical Dept. backs me up on that.  If you ever felt like worrying Mom, remember this, it’s a phrase I learned once and have always remembered “God Know No Accidents.”  I’m coming home Mom, and so many of the boys are not.  I’m not going to be a cripple; I’ll be as good as new.

I’ll say so long for now.  Give my love to all the folks.  I’ll be seeing you in the states soon.

All My Love,

Jack

My Dad wrote that letter to his Mom nine days after losing his leg in Germany.  He knew without a doubt God’s providential plan was perfect.  Minus a leg, but with a faith forged in battle and the promise of home.  He still believes, “God Knows No Accidents!” and he has the promise of going home.  This time, not just to see Granny, but to see the Heavenly Father who has guided His steps for almost 80 years.  By the way, Dad providentially met my Mom in that hospital he was sent to stateside.  Is God awesome, or what?

I love you dad,

Rick

It’s the truth for John exiled on Patmos, each of the churches in Asia Minor, for Rick Burdette and each Christian in the spiritual fight for their families…“God knows no accidents…He is powerfully at work.  Trust Him…serve Him…until you get Home!

MORE THAN CONQUERORS

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On my second trip to Haiti I met a 16 year old young man named Max that lived in the orphanage called Christianville where we were serving…Max told me that his father was a voodoo high priest and his mother a priestess.  I remember on my first trip to Haiti trying to go to sleep on the first night while I could hear voodoo drums and muffled chants from the communities outside the orphanage walls.  I remember coming across a voodoo shrine decorated with a shot glass full of whiskey, cigarettes, and some tarot cards…strangely enough there was a St. Christopher’s medal too.  Paul Ronk, the missionary, explained to me that voodoo in his region had become a strange mixture of spirits, catholicism and blood sacrifices.

Max had found his way to a church service in a remote village called John John.  Max had continued to come, even after his parents forbid him…and when Max made a decision to give his life to Christ, his father and mother threatened his life and kicked him out of their home.  He was forbidden to speak to or see any of his family.

So at 16 Max came to live at the Christianville orphanage because he chose Christ over being separated from his life or his family.  That’s quite a choice for anyone…much less a 16 year old.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, many of them were having to make the same decision as Max…

Stephen Neill, in his History of Christian Missions, wrote “Undoubtedly Christians under the Roman Empire had no legal right to existence, and were liable to the utmost stringency of the law…Every Christian knew that sooner or later he might have to testify to his faith at the cost of his life.”

John Piper in the book Don’t Waste Your Life says…“There was a risk.  It was always there.  Maybe you’ll be killed for being a Christian…maybe you won’t.  It is a risk, and to become a Christian under those circumstances was right.”

Clearly, even today in places like North Korea, Afghanistan, and Somalia, being a Christian “might” cost you your life.

Here in America that would seldom happen.  Culturally there is a shift that might cost us popularity or even ostracism in some cases…but the risk physically isn’t as costly.  I knew that when I gave my life to Christ, coming from the lifestyle I was living, that it would cost me most of my friends…and there would be an instant separation, but I also believed it was worth the risk.  Jesus is always worth the risk!

Our study through Romans 8 started with the soul rattling truth…that “we are no longer slaves to the law, but set free from its chains…Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Our judgment has been transferred to Him.  Our minds have been radically changed through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.  We’ve been resurrected to new life.  God is our adopted Father…we have a glorious future…that we and all creation “groan for.”  In our struggles the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t know how to pray…but we can be assured “God is working.”  He’s got a plan to make us like Jesus, His Son.  And it’s on the heels of all these truths the Apostle Paul says…

I. WHAT SHALL WE SAY IN RESPONSE TO THIS?

If my wife ever says to me…“Did you hear what I said?” my response is “absolutely!”  And then I pray that I can remember enough of it to answer the next question…“What did I say?”

I don’t want to be like the guy who said, “My wife told me there are two things that really bother me about you.  1.  You don’t listen to me and 2.  I can’t really remember the second one!”  (LOL)

Paul is saying, “Were you listening to me when I shared all that God has done and is doing and will do for you?”

“What shall we say in response to this?”

“If God is for us…who can be against us?”

Some might think…“Well, if God is for us, “No one can be against us.”  And my response….that’s not true at all.  Clearly it’s not true for the Roman Christians, or Christians in Somalia or North Korea…it’s not true for American believers either.  The Apostle Peter writes…“Your adversary, the Devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)  He tells us to be sober and alert because of this truth…

This worldly culture is against us.  Jesus said so…

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  (John 15:18-20)

The Apostle Paul is presenting teams again.  On one team is God and those whom He’s called, justified and will one day glorify.

Individuals on this team are filled with the very presence of God through His Holy Spirit…Jesus Himself has promised…“In this world you will have trouble, but take heart…I have overcome the world…Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.”

But on the other side is the one who brings charges against the individuals that God has chosen…Listen again:

ROMANS 8:31-34 (p. 787)

Who brings charges against God’s chosen ones…Satan does.  He has a team also…Ephesians 6 specifically says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  (Eph. 6:12)

The name Satan means “Accuser” or “Condemner.”  He accused Job before God in the Old Testament…He wanted to sift Peter like wheat in the New Testament.  It requires all of the armor of God to fight him, his schemes, and the spiritual forces of evil.

But the amazing truth for the born-again, Spirit filled and led follower of Christ is…NO POWER COMPARES TO GOD’S POWER IN US, OR HIS PLAN FOR US.

Satan will “accuse, attack, bring trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger…even the sword.”

Paul says, “For your sake we face death every day, all day…like sheep going to the slaughter.”

Our team is under attack every day, all day, from the accuser and his forces…But he does not win!  (Romans 8:37-39)

On one side of the battle is evil…a murderer, a liar whose native tongue is untruth…He’s a thief that comes to kill, steal and destroy…Revelation 12 describes Satan’s attack…along with those angels who followed his rebellion.

REVELATION 12:10-12 (p. 867)

Our enemy is filled with fury and hatred…He knows his time is running out…He’s the accuser, the schemer, the liar and murderer…the original rebel.

But we as God’s spiritually adopted sons and daughters have overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.

Our testimony is “No matter what this world or the god of it throws at us…Jesus is Lord…He is worth the risk…Nothing is stronger than the bond of His love.  NOTHING!!!

Let me end with this truth from Romans 8, in the midst of this worldly struggle, where Paul says:

“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  (v. 36)

Where he faced trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and the sword.”

It’s his answer to this life…It’s his answer to Max, Rick, the Roman Church and each one who is a child of God…

II. NO MATTER WHAT, THE LOVE OF CHRIST HOLDS US

Here’s the powerful truth God’s Word promises to all true believers…“He who did not spare His own son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him graciously give us all things?”

[If I gave Ricky, Tyler, Cyndi, or Karissa to save your life…is there anything after that I wouldn’t give to save you?]

“For God so loved the world He gave His only son…that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)

He didn’t do that to condemn us…He did this to save us…and after Jesus died to save us…He rose from the dead.  He conquered death so we could also be raised to life.  This is our inheritance…no matter what this world throws us, this amazing love holds on to us.

Jesus beat death, rose from the grave…He is victorious…He is King of kings and Lord of lords…and even now is at the right hand of God, interceding for his followers.  He’s connected with them through the Spirit the Father provided to make them one.  What can separate that person from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord?

Death can’t, life can’t, angels and demons can’t, the present or the future can’t, no powers in the world can or any other world!  Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from that kind of love.

You know…the kind of love that gave His only son to provide an eternal adoption process for mankind…for me…for you.

So today will you answer His call, believe His Word, repent…turn from your old life to Christ for new life.  Would anyone die, be buried and rise again?  Filled with His Holy Spirit…crying out in testimony “Dad.”

I will not tell you life will be easy following Christ as Lord…but I will tell you it’s abundant, freeing, filled with purpose, hope, and you will never ever regret doing it!

THE SPIRIT WHO INTERCEDES

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Anyone here ever have to depend on someone else for something? I know that’s almost a rhetorical question, because all of us have!

But think about a time where you were sick…or injured…or had just gone through surgery…(I’ve got a bunch of those memories in my internal filing system.)

The time I remember being physically the weakest was before my back fusion surgery…I’d taken epidural shots for 3 years, they’d helped for a while, and then they stopped helping…I spent a week in the Old Methodist Hospital in Louisville having spasms and intense pain…the only option I had back then was surgery…but I couldn’t walk, couldn’t sit, couldn’t stand…if I wanted to get somewhere I tried to crawl…

If I wanted to eat, someone had to fix it or get it for me…If I wanted coffee, the same thing.  If I needed a book across the room, I needed help to retrieve it.  It was the one time in my stubborn, self sufficient life that I could not do what I wanted to do without someone helping me…

I think of that time in my life when I consider our text today and the description the Apostle Paul gives of the Holy Spirit…it even starts out…

“In the same way, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.”

Last week we talked about suffering…and what it has to do with our glorious inheritance.  This world is decaying…it is sinful…our bodies are temporary like “jars of clay”…Because those things are true, life will bring its share of troubles, scars, and trials…Jesus clothed himself with the same temporary flesh, so he truly understands…

And there is also suffering because you are a servant of Christ.  You step into the world, you lift up the middle rope and enter the ring as a Spirit-led child of God.  By intentionally doing this…it’s not if you get hit…it’s when.

This truth is the inescapable reality…it’s what causes the born again, Spirit-filled follower of Jesus to hope for a future glory.  Those of us who seek to live Christ-directed lives long for a face to face meeting…“We wait eagerly for our adoption as sons…the redemption of our bodies for in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has. But if we hope for what we do not have, we wait for it patiently.” (v. 24-25)

And just as I needed Kari to be my helper during the physically weakest time in my life…God’s Word says, “In the same way…”

I. THE HOLY SPIRIT HELPS US IN OUR WEAKNESS

The Apostle Paul creates a bond between believers and God and each other in this scripture…He uses two words very powerfully…“Us” and “our.”  It’s not just “me,” or “mine,” or “I.”  It’s “us”…it’s “our.”

You remember verses 16? 17? “The spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children…Now if we are children then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…”

And then that suffering thing came up…Even creation itself is groaning like a woman in the pains of childbirth.  Hoping…waiting…for redemption.  Weakness…it reminds us of our inability.  It’s humbling because it lets us know you can’t do it all…you need someone else.

[I knew this kid who had feet and legs so crooked he had to wear special shoes attached to braces as he learned to walk.  He was cross-eyed and had special glasses to help correct the astigmatism.  He constantly had his family in the emergency room…He ate paint one time, got hit in the leg with a shovel in boy scouts, smacked his head on the side of the pool while diving…not once, but twice.  He put the handbrake lever through his side while riding a mini bike…almost 100 stitches…missed his lung by less than an inch.  He was burned over 50% with 3rd degree burns.  He broke his hip when he was 18.  Both knees have been surgically repaired.  He had a heart attack when he was 34.  After years of epidurals to relieve the back spasms and pain that left him almost an invalid, he had his spine fused.  At 42 they discovered he needed another knee surgery.  They discovered that all of the major arteries in his heart were so blocked, they were almost severed, so they put in 3 stints.  In the last 4 years I’ve had my back fused, both hips replaced, rotator cuff surgery and another serious heart attack 8 days after that shoulder surgery.]

Folks, there are a lot of things I don’t know, but I know about weakness…at least where this mortal body is concerned.

No one likes to suffer, no one likes to be weak, but its in this place that we discover the power of God…Paul understood that as he begged God 3 times to take away a “thorn” that ravaged his body.  God said, “No,” but he said more than no…

2 CORINTHIANS 12:9-10 (p. 808)

Weakness is the area where God flexes His muscles and shows His children how strong of an “Abba” Father He is.

It’s the place we discover…

II. I DON’T ALWAYS KNOW WHAT’S BEST FOR ME

Romans 8:26 says, “We don’t know what we ought to pray for.”

I can tell you what we all pray for in a time of trouble, weakness and suffering.

“GOD GET ME OUT OF THIS NOW!”

It’s important for me to emphasize this scripture is provided for Spirit-filled, adopted sons and daughters who are heirs of the Almighty God.

The Holy Spirit will convict those outside the family of God…but He only intercedes for those who are born again.

When the Spirit intercedes…it’s from within the temple/our bodies.  When He groans with a power beyond words…it’s from within.

And as God searches our hearts…He knows how His Spirit thinks…it’s His Spirit!!!  Remember the Spirit himself testifies with our Spirit.  God’s Spirit interprets our wants, needs, desires, hurts, inabilities, weakness through the filter of God’s will.

And God’s will is always to form us into the image of his son (Romans 8:29).  And God’s will is always to give us what’s best for this to happen.  We think what’s best is healing, comfort, riches, and ease.  How can suffering be what’s best?  How can pain be in the favor of God?

I’ll tell you how…weakness lets us depend on God’s power over ours.  Suffering helps us let go of this present world and makes us long for a better home.

When Paul says, “We don’t know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

There have been two times in my life where I hurt inwardly so badly that I could not understand what was happening, or a way out where God could be glorified.

“Wordless groaning” is the perfect description of what the Holy Spirit did in my soul.

[There are times I’d like to just put some cute little story in my sermon that doesn’t cost me emotional and spiritual transparency.  But this isn’t one of them…one of the two times I experienced “the wordless groaning” of the Holy Spirit involved my youngest daughter coming to me when she was 15 years old and telling me she was pregnant.  2007 had been a really hard year and this put me on the floor in tears.  All I could imagine was…it’s over for her…the white picket fence, perfect marriage and great life I had planned for her in my mind…it’s gone…over.  Kari and I laid on the floor and just groaned in pain…But we still trusted God in the midst of what we thought was a situation that would change Karissa’s future forever.  We were right, but not in the way we thought.

When we trust God in the midst of our weakness and brokenness, He goes to work…It doesn’t mean He instantly snaps His fingers and does what we believe He should…He begins to do what He knows is best.

He did this as we lifted “groanings of the heart” to His throne.  A beautiful baby boy named Peyton.  Karissa experienced forgiveness and grace as she raised this child…with us.  She got in a great school for teenage moms, she began to excel and grow.  She became the recipient of a huge scholarship…graduated college…fell in love with an amazing man who is Peyton’s daddy.  A year and a half ago he was joined by Oaklynn, who loves her brother more than anyone else.

Here’s the truth…I couldn’t see or imagine any of this…but God already could.  I think that’s exactly what Paul was saying when he wrote “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever!  Amen.” (Eph. 3:20-21)

I promise you I wouldn’t have prayed for God to work like this…for my daughter…but I wouldn’t take a billion dollars for the results to be changed.  It was a million times beyond what I could ask for or imagine.  She genuinely met Jesus through this journey and then shared a message of hope with thousands of other young girls who were where she was.

“The Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

III. SO, WHY IS PRAYER SO ESSENTIAL?

So why pray? Well if you’re lost…if you’re in the midst of conviction…the place where God’s Spirit is drawing you into a relationship…then prayer is essential.  It’s the first surrender in the process of salvation…with whatever words you want.  It’s I surrender…I’m guilty…I need a Savior…I want to be your child…I want to follow Jesus.  It’s not all there is, but…conviction leads to confession…repentance is the real sorrow for sin, our sin that turns us around toward God.  Baptism is visible union with Jesus. Death, burial and resurrection…through the gift of the Holy Spirit…and if there has been a true rebirth…our life afterwards bears fruit…in our attitude or in our actions.  We begin to grow up into mature Spirit-filled and led followers.

So why did and do I pray?  As a Christian…why do I pray when there is such a thing as God’s Will?

I’ve genuinely had people say to me…“If it’s God’s will, there is really no need to pray about it…God’s not going to change His will.”  It’s kind of a “Que Sera Sera…whatever will be” approach to our relationship with God.  It doesn’t create the closeness of a Father and son or daughter sharing their hearts intimately.  It views God as removed, but in control…nothing like Jesus’ (God’s only Son) relationship through prayer with His Father while here on earth.

God’s perfect.  He is all knowing…all encompassing and all powerful…

Satan’s goal is to create distance between human beings and God for those that are eternally separated with him in Hell…but also for carnal (worldly) Christians who sit on their own throne, making their own decisions with worldly wisdom (sometime very successfully) but keeping Christ at their feet.

No need to communicate intimately…I’ve got this!  If that’s true, why (and I’m looking ahead a touch) does Romans 8:34 say, “Who is he that condemns?” (Satan condemns.   His very name means “Accuser.”)  Verse 31 asks “If God is with us…who can be against us?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?” (v. 33)

God’s goal, His all encompassing purpose of heart, isn’t to condemn us to Hell…it’s to save us.  He gave Jesus, his only Son, for that purpose.  “Christ Jesus, who died…more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us!”  (v. 34)

“Jesus is the one who searches our hearts…He knows the mind of the Spirit…because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s Will.” (Romans 8:27)

You see the goal of the born-again, Spirit-filled and Spirit led child of God, the one who is a co-heir with Christ in a future inheritance…is to become like Christ Jesus.  That’s God’s plan for us as well.  That’s why the Holy Spirit works from the inside out.  Jesus wasn’t much to look at outwardly…but inwardly He was grace and truth…He was and is God in the flesh…God with us.  He left His Holy Spirit (Holy is His work, not His first name).

That’s why in our weakness…He groans…for answers that go beyond words.  There is a connection between our intercessor in Heaven at God’s right hand…and His eternal Spirit in our hearts.  Why would we need intercession if God cannot be moved to answer, to protect, to work, and to change us and circumstances for our good and His glory?

Paul writes to Timothy, the pastor, leader at the church in Ephesus…and says, “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” 

(1 Tim. 2:5)

This statement is right after he tells Timothy…Pray! I urge you that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for everyone…

Intercession…mediation…someone who puts themselves in the middle of two people who are separated…and works to reconcile.  Jesus is the only mediator between us and the Father…not Mary, not the Pope, not select clergy.  Jesus alone works for the reconciliation continually for his people…a people who have his Spirit molding, working, comforting, teaching, counseling, interceding…especially in our weakness.

What do we then do…? We plead for others…kings, those in authority…my neighbor across the street, our enemies.  Why…because if God is not breaking the person’s heart we’re pleading for…no conviction or realization of sin can occur…

And this kind of prayer changes our hearts to be shaped like Jesus.

Let’s pray for that…