Dear Savior, as we bask in the afterglow of Your ascension into heaven, Your glorious homecoming, we still remain stuck in this world of physical and emotional pain. Today move us to look beyond that pain, to not get caught up in it, by focusing our gaze upon Your perfect love for us and the joy that it brings. And then, so armed with heavenly power, cause us to use that power by fearlessly and tirelessly proclaiming Your truths which set us free! Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR RISEN AND ASCENDED LORD!
TEXT: Revelation 22: 12-17, 20
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Have you ever been to a Greek island? Recently I read an article about someone who had visited the isle of Patmos, the same place where the apostle John was exiled late in life and penned the words before us. This person had a wonderful time there! It was in the spring of the year, everything was green and in bloom and the weather was fabulous. They concluded: “Not a bad place to be exiled in!” But then someone showed them pictures of what it was like during the rest of the year and explained the climate. Once the rains cease, it becomes hot and desolate. Likewise, during the winter months it’s cold, forlorn, and almost devoid of life. Definitely a lousy place. And that’s why the Romans picked it for John.—To get him out of their hair and put Him in what they thought was “hell on earth.”
John lived out his days there in what can be termed the “in-between time.” That is, the time after Christ’s glorious ascension into heaven and His glorious 2nd coming return to this earth. Likewise, you and I also live, today, during that “in-between time.” Although John was cut off from civilization, he knew what was going on in the world of his time. He knew the fledgling church was under attack from false teachers within and from evil people on the outside. The Roman persecutions had begun. The rest of the disciples had already been struck down and killed for their allegiance to Christ. In order to uplift John’s sagging spirits, God the Holy Spirit came to comfort him. Christ Himself spoke to him to strengthen his faith. Since God’s Word is for all peoples at all times, these words also apply to us. And so, today, let us examine:
THE IN-BETWEEN TIME OF ASCENSION: A STUDY IN CONTRASTS
The basic problem we all face, right now during this in-between time, is that we live in this evil-filled world. Our hearts and souls long for heaven and are filled with great joy over God saving our souls by dying for them on a cross and then rising to life in order to take away our uncertainty over our futures. And yet, all around us evil intrudes into our happy, little world. Sometimes it comes from our old sinful nature which second-guesses God at every turn. “Did God really mean for me to go without sex before I’m married? Did He really mean it when He said that coveting, being greedy, was wrong? Does He really expect me to go out and put my emotional well-being on the line by trying to save another’s soul, only to have most of them stomp on my faith and belittle me for it?” Let’s face it, when Christ tells us to “love your enemies” that’s hard to do. And often we say inside: “Why bother?” and then walk away, kind of like that priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan parable. No doubt, as a sinner like us, John said: “Why bother” in his heart more than once.
We say that because evil people surround God’s citadel, His Church, and besiege it every moment of every day. Christ, Himself, describes this situation to John with these words: outside the church “are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”
No offense to dogs, as I have two and love them dearly, but the picture here is of rabid, out-of-control people who attack Godliness like a pack of wild hyenas. The buzz-word today is: spirituality. It’s not Christ. It’s not grace. It’s not the Trinity. It’s not based on the fact of God intruding into human time and space and giving His all, His life, to save lost souls. No, it’s simply the emotional, human-generated response that: all roads lead to the same place—call it heaven if you must—and that as long as you feel good about yourself you’ll get there. Such folks toss aside the 2nd commandment which condemns all forms of religiosity outside worship of Christ alone. They toss aside the 6th commandment and embrace alternative life-styles as just fine. After all, “they’re not hurting anyone”—except impressionable minds and themselves. They toss aside the 5th commandment and sanction abortion, murder on demand, of God-created souls. And they toss aside the rest of the commandments by creating God in their own minds as they think He should act and be. Thus making an idol of their own conceptualizations. Such is the nature of the “in-between” times in which John and all of us live….
And yet, we need not throw in the towel and give up on God and on living the Christian life. For although we live in the world, we need not be of the world. We’re different. We’re special. Why? What makes us that way? Christ makes us that way. His love and forgiveness makes us that way. Following His path toward heaven in humble faith and repentance makes us that way. And Jesus now addresses this fact and reminds John exactly Who is in charge! “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End…I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
What a glorious message of comfort and peace! Here Jesus is saying that He is the promised Messiah, God’s eternal Son, Who controls all things for the eternal good of His people. He is the One Who will come and judge us—on the basis of what we have done in and through and because of the faith He has put in our hearts. Yes, because His gifts are perfect, so our lives are now perfect in His sight, covered by the gift of His blood and His righteousness. And so, we Christians have nothing to fear. Nothing can harm us everlastingly.
Finally, Christ also gives John and us some marching orders in order to focus our attention on what really matters and not become mired in self-pity. “The Spirit and the bride (His holy Church, all the other believers) say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Next week is Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit upon God’s people. The Spirit’s work is transforming souls through the message of the gospel, the good news about Christ and what He has done to save us. When we extend that invitation to lost, hurting souls, good things happen. Souls like ours are saved and God is glorified and His heart is filled with joy. So, just as John needed to focus on that task for that moment in order to fill him with a sense of purpose, so do we. When you focus on leading people to Jesus, you have no time for dwelling on the negatives in life. That’s because saving lost souls is the most important, the most positive, and the most rewarding thing you can do in this life. And if you don’t believe me, just remember that that is exactly what God did in sending us His Son! Yes, His reward can, and is, and will be ours, as well. Amen