Selected highlights from this sermon.
We are frequently presented with competing perspectives of Jesus. Some think of Him as a teacher or a revolutionary. But the world will not paint Jesus as worthy of our worship.
But in Revelation 1, the apostle John shows us a true glimpse of Jesus. He is the Eternal One. He bears all authority—He is the Keeper of the Keys.
People may say He was just a teacher, and go on about their lives avoiding Him. But when death comes, no one will be able to avoid Him. Do you know who the real Jesus is, and are you prepared to meet Him?
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Well, as you know, Jesus is in the news these days, and there are many different conceptions of Jesus. For example, there’s the Jesus of the Da Vinci Code, the mortal prophet who was declared to be a god by Constantine for political purposes. There’s Jesus of the Jesus Dynasty, a competing Jesus. The book says that there were several messiahs. There was John the Baptist, there’s Jesus, and then a half-brother of Jesus. So you have the Jesus who competes to be king.
Then also you have the Jesus of the humanists and the naturalists, the Jesus who is a teacher, but He is not a Jesus who is a savior. He’s a Jesus who speaks, but not a Jesus who can do miracles. That’s also a different Jesus.
All these different Jesuses have some of the same characteristics. For example, one of the characteristics that they have is that they always in this context are a Jesus of manageable proportions. The secular visions of Jesus present a Jesus who you can manage, a Jesus who is something like a book on a shelf (You can take it off. You can read it. It may be interesting but when you’re done you can put it back on the shelf until you have an interest in picking it up again), a Jesus who is dispensable during the week, a Jesus who will never challenge the sin that is in your life. He’ll simply be a very safe Jesus.
The second characteristic is these Jesuses are the kind of Jesus who you need not trust, you cannot trust. Trust for what? A competing Jesus who is one among men? A mortal prophet? A good teacher? Trust him? For what?
And then finally, this kind of Jesus is one who may solicit our interest, but he will never solicit or demand our worship. These Jesuses are bogus Jesuses.
John the Apostle knew Jesus well. And by the way, it was he who was painted by Leonardo Da Vinci next to Jesus in his famous painting on the Last Supper. It wasn’t Mary Magdalene. It was John the Apostle. In fact, they were intimate friends. He is spoken of in the Bible as the disciple whom Jesus loved, and so he knew Jesus. But after Jesus died and rose again and ascended to heaven, John had a vision of his friend, a vision that he would never forget. It’s given to us in the book of Revelation, chapter 1, and you can see that this Jesus is a very different Jesus. I’m going to plunge into the text in the middle of the description of this Jesus.
Revelation 1:14-16 says: “The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and this face was like the sun shining in full strength.”
Is it any surprise that it says, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead?” That’s the Jesus of the New Testament. “But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’”
What are the characteristics of this Jesus? First of all, you’ll notice that He has eternal existence. The text says, “I am the first and the last.” In verse 8 of this chapter we read that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first letter of the Greek alphabet and the last letter. He was here before anything was created because the Bible presents Him as the creator. We can’t get our minds around it, but He existed from all of eternity. He Himself was not created. He always was. He’s eternal from the standpoint of the past and He’s eternal to the standpoint of the future - the Alpha and Omega, the A to the Z.
The Encyclopedia Britannica used to come in 26 volumes with articles of history and science and geology, but all of those articles, all of those words have all been composed with 26 letters. Jesus is the A, He’s the Z, and He’s everything in between, and the Bible says that in Him reside all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. He is the eternal Jesus.
So He has eternal existence but notice that the text also tells us that He has earthly existence. He says to John, “I am the living one and I died and behold am alive for evermore.” I died! How can the eternal one die? Well, that’s the good news of Christmas. Jesus, the eternal one, takes on a human body and actually becomes flesh. The Word becomes flesh because, you see, He comes on a rescue mission. God had to become a man in order to die for us. You can’t nail a spirit to a cross, so in order for there to be a sacrifice for our sins (because the Bible says that the soul that sins will die, and you and I will die), and in order that we might not have to die eternally, Jesus took our place and He died on the cross. But because He is the eternal one, when He was taken down from the cross and He was put into that tomb, He did not stay there. “I am He that was dead and am alive forevermore, Amen.” And that’s resurrection. That’s the power of death broken. That’s the power of Satan quenched. That’s the death in which He died for sinners, so that if you and I trust Him, we can receive His forgiveness and His grace. And we can come to that water that we’ve heard so beautifully sung to us. That’s the good news.
Today you have a lot of emphasis on death. You have near death experiences. Some people have good experiences. They supposedly say that it doesn’t matter what you believe. There are other people who have horrendous experiences. I am here today to tell you that I don’t trust people who have been near death that tell me what lies on the other side. I want to trust someone who actually was dead, somebody who was so dead that his body was put into the tomb and it began to disintegrate. That’s the one whom I want to trust because He can tell me what lies on the other side. He can tell me how to prepare for that final moment.
And by the way, when the people came to the tomb, the reason that the stone was rolled away was not to let Jesus out because the molecular structure of His body was such that He could go through doors. He could go through stones and tombs because He was raised with an entirely different body. The reason the stone was rolled away was not to let Jesus out. It was only to let the disciples in, and to show them that Jesus had risen from the grave.
What do we know about this Jesus? He is the eternal one. He has eternal existence. He also has earthly existence, or had earthly existence. But He also has authoritative existence. Notice what He says to John. He says, “I have the keys of death and of Hades.”
I have in my pocket here somewhere keys. We all have key chains. I have the key to Moody Church. Now you know there are different kinds of keys here at the church. You can have one key that will just let you in, and that’s about as far as you can go. There are other keys that will let you in and will let you into the office area. Well, 26 years ago the trustees entrusted to me a key that will not only let you into the office area, but into my office study, and supposedly every office in this church. It’s called a master key. It’s called a G key.
I want you to know that Jesus has a G key. It’s the God key. (applause) And there is no place in the Universe from which He is barred. There is no closed country. Strictly speaking there is even no closed heart. Jesus is able to walk in and He has the keys of death. He died, He looked around, and then He went to His Father, and He said, “I have conquered, Dad, and I know what it’s all about.” When I die I want to trust somebody who knows what it’s all about, who’s been there, and who’s done that.
Jesus says, “I have the keys of death.” He also says, “I have the keys of Hades.” What’s Hades? Hades is a translation of the Hebrew word sheol of the Old Testament. Sheol had two compartments as Jesus showed when He told a story. Jesus said that there was a rich man, and Jesus told it to show how the fortunes of people can be reversed in the afterlife. He said, “There was a rich man who died and was buried, and in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment.” And then there was another man who died, a beggar whose name was Lazarus, and he goes to the other side of this compartment, and they actually can speak to each other of all things. And Lazarus is in bliss. Later on this part of Hades becomes known as Paradise. Jesus said, “I have the key to this side with unending regret, self-loathing and sorrow, and this side with unending peace and joy.” He said, “I have the keys of death and I have the keys of Hades.” Wow!
You know modern medicine says to us today that if we do the right things we’ll live longer. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who comes to Me, though he is dead, yet shall he live, and whosoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” Do you know anybody else making promises like that and having the ability to back it up? Is there anybody else out there? There’s nobody else out there like Jesus. He has the keys of death and of Hades.
It’s very important to realize today that every human being at death will meet the keeper of the keys. Remember that. I want you to visualize a large castle. People who die go into the castle. In the castle there’s a man standing and there are two doors. There’s the door to Paradise, and there’s the door to sorrow and self-loathing and regret. And Jesus stands there, and in fact, the Bible is very clear. He’s going to say to some people, “Depart from Me you workers of iniquity.” So they go through that door. And then to the thief on the cross He said those blessed words, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” And Jesus was able to say that to the thief, and he’ll say to the thief, “Because you believed on Me and recognized your sinfulness and your need you can go with Me into this door.” But Jesus is the keeper of the keys.
No atheist will ever be able to get by Him undetected. No Muslim will ever get by Him undetected. No Buddhist, no Hindu will ever get by Him undetected. No Protestant, no Catholic, not a one of us will ever get by Him undetected because He is the keeper of the keys of death and of Hades.
Now you can ignore Him here, but you can’t ignore Him when you die. He is Savior today. He is judge tomorrow and the day will come when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord to the glory of the Father. You can ignore Him here. You will not be able to ignore Him there. You’ll meet the keeper of the keys.
And I need to tell you that this is the life in which we prepare for that final moment. This is the life. Not after death. There is no hope for people after death to change their destinations. When you die your eternal destiny is fixed.
You say, “Well, how do we prepare?” Well, what we do is we recognize that it is not enough to believe that He lived, to believe that He died, or even to believe that He rose again or to believe that He is the Messiah. It’s not enough. It’s a good step but it’s not that. The Bible talks about belief “in” – a personal trust in Jesus, a transfer of trust.
Whenever I explain this to people, they react in various ways. Some people say, “Oh, it’s so simple what you are saying.” And the answer is, “Yes, it is simple and it is easy, but it is terribly difficult,” because what that means is that we acknowledge our sinfulness. We acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves. We acknowledge that our self-perception is totally wrong if we think we’re okay with God apart from Jesus. And that’s tough. That runs against all of our pride. It runs against everything that you and I want to build up in terms of our self-image because we come, just as we heard moments ago that Jesus paid it all. And we come with nothing to add to what He’s done. In humility we come to receive what He has done. And when we receive Him we will be welcomed into Paradise as if we were Jesus because we’ll be saved on the basis of His merit.
Bishop Muncie tells a parable, just an allegory, about a man who is walking along, and suddenly he comes to a cliff and happens to slip over it. And as he is going down he is able to hold onto the tree stump that is jutting out of the rock, and there he hangs. Well, in the story an angel comes and says to him, “Sir, do you believe that I am able to save you?” The man sees the strong arm of the angel and he says, “Yes, I believe that you are able to save me.” The angel says, “Do you believe that I will save you?” And the man says, “Yes, I do believe that you will save me,” as he sees a smile on the angel’s face. And the angel says, “Well, if you believe that I can and I will, then just let go.”
Some of you today have to let go of the notion that your baptism has saved you. You have to let go of the notion that your good works are going to save you. You’re going to have to let go of the notion that you’re a pretty good person and you can stand on your own record. You’re going to have to let go of all of those things and trust the One who says, “As many as received Him, to those He gives the authority to be called the Sons of God, even to those who believe in His name.” And when you die He’ll be there to open the gates of Paradise. He’s the keeper of the keys.
Let’s bow together in prayer.
Father, we thank You that the Jesus of the New Testament is actually a Savior and not just a prophet, not just a king competing with others, not just a teacher. He actually saves. He’s the one whom we worship. He’s the one whom we love. He’s the one who came to rescue us from ourselves and our sins.
And now I’m talking to all those who are listening. If you are here and you’ve never made that transfer of trust, you’ve never let go, you’ve never received Christ and said, “I need the water of life,” you could even do that where you are sitting. You may be in the farthest part of the balcony. You may be right up close on the lower floor. God sees your heart. Why don’t you pray to Him right now and say, “Jesus, I receive You as my Savior, as my sin bearer.”
Father, we just want to say that we not only worship Jesus, but we love Him. He means everything to us. Thank You that He has redeemed us. Thank You for those who right now in their hearts may believe in Him. What a Savior! Amen.
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