Selected highlights from this sermon.
Exiled on the isle of Patmos, John was interrupted by Jesus. The Lord appeared to Him in kingly regalia, in shining light, and with unparalleled power. Jesus came to send a message to His churches—the seven letters found in the book of Revelation.
Jesus is still interested in His churches, but does He look upon our labors with disgust or approval?
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During the next few moments, I want you to be thinking about two questions. The first question is this: “What does Jesus think of Moody Church?” The second question, which is related, is simply this: “What does Jesus think of you?” (How are you doing?) I could even throw in a third question, and that is this: “How good a listener are you?”
(Are you able to hear the voice of God?).
I begin today with Domitian. He was one of the early emperors in the great Roman Empire, and he was one of the first emperors who demanded emperor worship. He wanted all the Christians in his realm, along with everyone else to worship him and to honor him as a god. The Christians, of course, couldn’t do that. Christianity has always clashed with political regimes that are antithetical to the sovereignty of Jesus who is king of kings and lord of lords.
As a result of some of the persecution there was an island by the name of Patmos. It’s about ten miles long, six miles wide, and very rocky, and not too many people were able to survive on it, but it was on that island that John, the apostle, was exiled to - probably to work in some primitive mines (very, very hard work) that the Romans had. And that’s where the exiles were taken to do some work for the empire.
It was in that context that John had the experience (and I hope that your Bible is open to Revelation Chapter 1). I’m going to pick it up there in Revelation, verse 9. He says, “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and patient endurance in Jesus, I am here because of persecution and I am your brother.” We are, after all, all brothers and sisters in Jesus, and John is a partner in Jesus and a partner in suffering which the early church actually expected. They expected suffering as Christians.
He goes on to say in the text, “I was in the Spirit.” I’m glad it’s capitalized because that is the Holy Spirit. He was in the Spirit. God gave him a vision of things that no one could ever know or predict unless God gave it to him. You read the book of Revelation and you know that no man, no matter how creative, could have come up with the book and make the predictions that it makes.
So John says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” It could be the first day of the week; or may be a reference to the day of the Lord, the time when God is going to wrap up history; and maybe what John is saying is, “I was able to see into the Lord’s day, the final triumph of Jesus over history.” He says, “I was in the Spirit and suddenly I heard behind me a voice like the sound of the trumpet.” In the Old Testament the trumpet was always a command. That’s the way armies went to battle: When you heard the trumpet you knew that you were being commanded and your attention was necessary.
He says, “I heard the voice like the sound of a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book and send it to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.’ “ If you see these on a map, and they’re all in Turkey, you can begin with Ephesus, and then if you go counterclockwise in an arc, you’ll end up with Laodicea. He says, “Write what I’m going to tell you and send it to the seven churches.” With that John then sees a vision of Jesus.
Before we look into this vision briefly I want to ask you a question today. Just between you and me who is Jesus to you today? Many people have what I call the Christmas Jesus. The Christmas Jesus is Jesus as a baby. And if you are a Christmas Christian you think of Jesus as the baby at Christmas and you kind of love it. We think for example of Simeon who held the baby Jesus in his hands, and there are some churches that actually have a prayer based on what Simeon said, and to many people Jesus is the baby of the manger.
There are others for whom Jesus is the rabbi. He is the teacher; he is the one who instructs people and gives the wonderful sermon that we call The Sermon on the Mount. That’s who Jesus is to some people, and then for others he’s more than that. He’s the Easter Jesus. He’s the Jesus, who died and rose again, and for them Jesus is the savior, and well He might be, but in the book of Revelation Jesus is a lot more than that. He is all that and more. He is Jesus, the judge, and that’s who we look at today – Jesus, the returning triumphant judge.
Now let’s look at the text. John says that “I turned to see the voice and I saw seven golden lampstands.” Let’s pause there. What are the lampstands? In verse 20 Jesus explains it and says that the lampstands are the seven churches.
Now why is it that you have the number seven? You had many different churches in that part of the world. Why number seven? It’s because the number seven is the number of completeness. I believe these seven churches are representatives of all the churches that have ever existed. I believe that Moody Church best represents one of these seven churches. Every church has the characteristics of all the churches but predominantly one. In fact, there are those who believe that actually the seven churches even represent seven periods of church history.
So God says, “Whenever you need to know about a church, whatever kind of church you have, you can find it in chapters 2 and 3 where I write the letters to the seven churches.” And where is Jesus found in this? You’ll notice that he is among the lampstands. John says, “I saw seven golden lampstands and in the midst of the lampstands one like unto the son of man.”
This is reminiscent of Daniel who predicted the coming of the Messiah when he said, “I saw in the night visions and behold with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man and he came to the ancient of days and was presented before him, and to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, and all people, nations and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” This is a picture of Jesus, the Messiah, the God man, and on earth he was found crucified between two criminals. Now, as the resurrected judge he stands among the lampstands. He is standing among the churches, and the implications for us are overwhelming.
Now what I’d like to do in the next few moments is to move very quickly through this description of Jesus. Nine different phrases are used to describe the triumphant Jesus, the Jesus who is going to return again.
Let’s look at the text. It says, “…and in the midst of the lampstands, one like unto the son of man, clothed with a long robe.” When he was on earth the gamblers cast lots for his robe, such as it was. Well those days are over and now he is the triumphant one and he is dressed in elegance and like a king, and no one is dickering over his robe.
You’ll notice that the text goes on to say that there is a sash around his chest. It says in the 19th chapter of John, verse 2, that when Pilate was ridiculing Jesus they put a robe on him and they mocked him and said, “You’re the king of the Jews,” and they spit on him and they pulled out his beard. No one is doing that now. The sash that he was wearing around his chest was symbolic of kingship and no one is mocking him, no one is making fun of this portrait of Jesus.
And then we go on and it says, “His head and his hair were white like wool, like snow.” We think, for example, of that head which had a crown of thorns, and it is that head from which blood spattered down his face when he was so cruelly mocked and ridiculed. Now he has a head that is white. The hair is white, the symbol of dignity and power, and this is the head that the Bible says he had nowhere to lay when he was on earth. This head now is striking in its appearance, and Jesus is standing in utter triumph and dignity. [clapping]
And now notice also that the scripture goes on and it says in the next verse (my fourth point) that his “eyes were like a flame of fire.” If you could have seen his eyes when he was on earth sometimes they were filled with tears, sometimes they were red with the strain of lack of sleep, and now his eyes are like a flame of fire seeing through everyone. It’s a symbol of omniscience.
All of us as parents at some time have said to our children (I don’t remember saying it but I remember it being said to me), “I can just see right through you.” Well, thankfully I was glad that my parents couldn’t see right through me, though sometimes they claimed to, but Jesus sees right through you. The Bible says “all things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” There is nothing that is hidden from his sight. I want you to see Jesus today looking at you with eyes that are piercing like fire, and he sees the hidden sins. He sees the secret plans. He sees you in your loneliness, and when you are alone and when you are with others, and he not only sees your body but your mind and your heart and your intentions. Jesus’ eyes here are like a flame of fire.
It says in verse 15 “his feet were like bronze glowing (or burnished bronze).” These were, after all, the feet that had walked the dusty roads of Palestine. They were the feet that walked along and that eventually were nail-pierced when he was put, in great humiliation, on the cross. These feet now are feet of judgment and these are the feet about whom it says in the Old Testament, “his goings forth have been from of old and from everlasting.” These feet are ones that, if you could see, you could not absorb it into your soul as Jesus walks among the candlesticks observing what the churches are doing.
And then it says, “…the voice like the voice of many waters.” When he was on earth he sometimes whispered. There in the upper room there was that discussion between Peter and John, wondering who was going betray him, and John was, of course, leaning on the chest of Jesus as the disciples arranged themselves - actually on the floor. The way in which we see the last supper painted is really not historically accurate, but as they were there Jesus whispered, and the scripture says that he sometimes “cried up to God with long crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and he was heard, but this voice, which oftentimes now was not heard, is like the voice of many waters.”
On at least two occasions in my life I have been to Niagara Falls. Now, if you go to Niagara Falls could I say humbly, “Don’t be satisfied with seeing the American side of the falls.” You have to go to the Canadian Falls, and if you are standing next to someone when you see those hundreds of tons of water every second going over that huge cliff you can’t talk to them. You can only mouth the words because the rush and the roar of the water is so overwhelming, and now he who was not often heard on earth is heard from heaven and no one can ignore his voice because his voice is thunderous and powerful.
And then the text goes on to say that in his right hand, which on earth had a spike (nails) that were put through it (notice it there in the text), he has seven stars. And what are the seven stars? The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches. In fact, next time as we look into the story of Ephesus where it says “to the angel of the church of Ephesus,” very probably it was a messenger. That’s another way to translate the word angel. It may also refer to the bishop - and I say this hesitantly – or the lead pastor of the church. I’ve been meditating on this now for more than a week that those leaders are in Jesus Christ’s right hand. That’s where the seven starts are because it says, “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.” So there’s the nail-pierced hand now, glorified, holding the churches and holding the leaders of the churches in that nail-pierced hand.
The text goes on and says, “…and out of his mouth came a two-edged sword” – a sharp, sharp two-edged sword. Oh, often times his mouth was swollen because of crying and tears when he was here on earth. Now we see this picture of Jesus in absolute triumph, and we notice that there’s this sword coming out of his mouth, a sharp two-edged sword. It was the kind of sword that was used with both hands and totally lethal and devastating, and that comes out of the mouth of Jesus. You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, is this Jesus, the meek and mild Jesus?” This is the meek and mild Jesus as judge, as returning king. Wow. Scripture says in First Thessalonians that “when Jesus comes he will come in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and elsewhere it says “people shall be slain by the sword of his mouth.” Wow. This is Jesus.
You’ll notice then it talks about his face. Let’s talk about his face. On earth, the Bible says, that his face was more disfigured than that of any other man, beaten to a pulp – yes, the beard plucked out, slapped, hit, and whipped. We all remember Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ.” That’s what he went through - greatly humiliated and in great pain, and now the Bible says, “…and I saw his face and it was like the sun in full strength.” There it is, shining in a blaze of eternal glory. That’s the face of the redeemer as judge and as king.
John realized that he was in the presence of infinite knowledge. He realized that he was in the presence of infinite power. He realized that he was in the presence of infinite holiness, so he did what any rational person would do in that situation. He fell down, the scripture says. Verse 17 says, “I fell at his feet as though dead.”
Spurgeon, the great 19th century preacher from England said, “Better to be dead at the feet of the triumphant Christ than to be alive anywhere else.” If you and I caught a glimpse of Jesus like John saw him we also would fall down and say, “This is the king, this is the Lord, this is the eternal judge.”
You look at scripture and you discover that this is what always happened to people who came in contact with God. Job said, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye sees thee, therefore I abhor myself. In dust and in ashes I writhe for God in humiliation and prayer.” Isaiah said, “I have seen the king, the Lord of hosts, therefore I abhor myself.” This is the natural position of any rational person in the presence of God.
Now, I find this very interesting because we have to visualize it. By the way, I, at one time, wondered whether or not there had been a painting made of Jesus like this, but I realized that it would have been a mistake to find it and even show it because it would be so inadequate, just like my words today are totally inadequate to describe what John saw, but the Bible says that when John was there, as it were dead, Jesus took his right hand. Now this is the hand with which he holds the seven stars. I thought to myself, “Did he put them down in order to put his hand on John?” I don’t think so because you remember it is Jesus, and impossible things are very possible with the creator of the sun, the moon, the stars and all things, but the Bible says that Jesus took his right hand (the one that had the seven stars) and he placed it on John. What an act of kindness, and he said, “Do not fear.” He said, “John, I’ve got good news. You don’t have to fear death because I am he that was dead and am alive. I’m Jesus who triumphed over death, and you don’t have to fear eternity because I have the keys of death and of Hades.”
And so it is that this John who leaned on the chest of Jesus at the last supper falls before him in worship and overwhelming adoration, and Jesus kindly says, “Don’t be afraid. If you’re with me you can handle the future. I have the keys of death and of Hades.” Milton said that the reason that Satan rebelled is that he would rather be king in hell than a servant in heaven. What a mistake Lucifer made because there are no kings in hell. In hell Lucifer is not the tormentor; he is the tormented, and he will be tormented day and night forever and ever. It’s always a bad idea to fight God, but Jesus said, “I have the keys of death and of Hades. I am the one who determines when people go in and where they go when they do go in. I determine their eternal, everlasting destiny.”
Now where does that leave us as a church? Please notice today, my dear friend, that Jesus stands today amid the candlesticks. I want you to visualize Jesus here from about 8:00 o’clock on Sunday morning at Moody Church going down the aisles. He’s checking to see whether the ushers are faithful; whether or not they are on time. He’s there to see the Sunday school teachers and the ABF leaders as to whether or not they are being faithful to the word and faithful to their flock. He’s there looking at the parkers; he’s there checking us out; he’s listening to our music, may it ever glorify him; he’s listening to the word that is being preached, and Jesus, if you asked him (now of course you know that he is everywhere because he is God but he is localized) he’d say, “Where do I spend my Sunday mornings? I go to church, too, because I observe the faithfulness of God’s people – the double-standard people who would perhaps never be late to work, nonetheless indifferent regarding the time when they come to church.” All those things are observed because Jesus is here. How precious is the church to Jesus? The scripture says he bought it with his own blood. That’s how precious it is.
When you read chapters two and three, as we will as we go through this series, you’ll notice that Jesus rebukes the church. He says to the church at Ephesus, as we’ll learn next week, “You’ve left your first love and if you do not repent I will take out your candlestick from its place.”
A few years ago we were in Ephesus. There is no church in Ephesus. One of the most sobering things you will hear from me today is simply this. You can go to all the seven churches that are in Turkey today. We send camera crews there because they look at the churches archeologically and look at the history, but there is no Christian church there to speak of. The candlesticks have been removed.
The fact that Jesus said, “I will build my church,” is no guarantee that it is automatic. If we don’t hear his voice, our candlestick could be removed from its place. You know the death of a church is a very, very sad thing. Doesn’t it hurt you in your heart when a church closes its doors? When a church moves from the inner city to the suburbs because the demographics change which are we saying about the triumph of Jesus where the need is the greatest? You have churches that sell their buildings to other religions and I think to myself, “You know, if that other religion can do it and can make a go of it, where are the people of God?” Sometimes it’s because the church was unwilling to adapt, unwilling to change its focus, or it lost its vision. The candlestick is removed. I think that whenever a church is closed the leaders ought to call a funeral. They ought to invite the whole evangelical community and then give them lots of Kleenex boxes so that we can weep and mourn that the candlestick has been taken out.
Let us not take for granted the gift that God has given us here at the Moody Church. Don’t ever take it for granted. (clapping).
You ask, “Well, is Jesus like Santa Claus who tries to find things that you are doing wrong – he’s got his list and he’s checking it twice?” No, I’ll tell you that the primary reason that Jesus is here observing us is because he not only judges his people; it’s because he wants to reward us. We’re going to notice in the seven churches over and over again that he says things like this, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with me on my throne, even as I overcame and sat with my father on his throne.” Jesus is saying, “I want to reward you in ways that will blow your mind if you’re faithful to me, and if you are an overcomer.”
Now I am going to take a different interpretation of that phrase that we’re going to encounter seven times in the next seven messages because there are some people who teach that all Christians are overcomers. Yes, we are in Christ, but I don’t believe that all Christians are overcomers. That’s why Jesus has a general letter to the church and then he’s always calling out individuals. He, or we could say she, who overcomes, to them I’ll give this promise. That’s why I asked you at the beginning of this message to think about, first of all, Moody Church and then to think about you. We’ll talk about Moody Church, and we may have some disagreement about which church in the book of Revelation best fits us but, in the midst of it all, it all comes down to you, and it comes down to me.
Last night before I fell asleep I again quickly read the chapters two and three – those seven letters – and I noticed seven times Jesus always said, “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” This is the reality. There are some of you who, during this series of messages, are going to hear and it’s going to be transforming for you, as I hope it is going to be for me. We’ll hear the Spirit call us out and speak to us, but there are others who sadly just won’t get it. They’ll hear the same words but they will not respond because they’re not hearing it for themselves by the Spirit.
So you have an assignment, and the assignment very briefly is this. I want you to read chapters two and three, and I want you to read them over and over again, asking yourself what letter best fits Moody Church, what would Jesus say to us if he were writing to us today, and then I want you to ask you to read it for another reason. What is God saying to you? Are you an overcomer? Is he appealing to you when he says “To him who overcomes I’m going to bless you in ways that you could not possibly have envisioned.”? Are you going to do that?
“Whatever men build,” said Augustine, “men will destroy.” I say, “Let’s get on with the business of building the church, because the gates of Hades ultimately cannot prevail against it.” God has given us a great opportunity here at the Moody Church. We are on the brink of what could be a great time of growth, both in depth and in numbers, with the new Christian Life Center, but the question is, “Will we hear the Spirit’s voice or will we not?”
I conclude today with a question for you, by the way. So, who is Jesus for you today? Do you believe in the Christmas Jesus, the baby? Do you believe in Jesus, the rabbi, the great teacher whose sayings are famous? Do you believe in Jesus as Savior? I hope you do, but if you do not see him as judge; if you do not see him as coming king, you don’t have a full picture of who it is that we love and who it is that we worship. Let us this week fall at his feet as though dead. We are in the presence of the triumphant, victorious Jesus.
And let us pray.
And our Father, we ask in Jesus’ name that you might take these words and burn them into our souls. For those who have never trusted Christ as Savior, have never believed on him, and know only the Jesus of Christmas and the Jesus, the teacher, show them that Jesus is savior. And for those of us who know that he is also judge, help us to worship him in new ways. Help us to understand that eventually every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord to the glory of God, the Father, and because of that, we pray, may we confess Him Lord of our life right now.
Whatever God has talked to you about, would you say it? Speak to him right now.
Take our words, oh Lord God, we pray, and translate them into heartfelt prayers, because we do love Jesus, Savior and coming king. We pray in his name. Amen.
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