Christ in the Center
Pastor Steve
Revelation 1:9-20
April 29, 2017

Please turn in your Bibles with me to the book of Revelation. We are in Revelation 1.  We’re going to begin reading with verse 9.  Revelation 1, beginning with verse 9.

“I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the Kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus was on the island named Patmos on account of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book, and send it to the seven churches.  To Ephesus and to Smyrna and Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lamp stands.

In the midst of the lamp stands one like the Son of Man. Clothed with a long robe and a golden sash around his chest.  The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were 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 his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead, 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 forever more.  And I have the keys of death and Hades.  Write, therefore, the things that you have seen.  Those that are, and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

This is the Word of the Lord.

Father, as we look to this text this morning, we ask that you would teach us lessons for today.  Amen.

The book of Revelation was written about 50 years after the first Easter.  50 years is a long time.  Most events that have happened in our lives 50 years ago are long since lost to our memories.  But some things stick in your mind. A wedding. If you were married 50 years ago, you should remember it, and you should probably celebrate it.  A birth.  You maybe gave birth to a child 50 years ago. A Big Mac! Because it turns out the first Big Mac was about 50 years ago - just a little side light.  Go have a Big Mac and think back on history about the first Big Mac.

Certainly the memory of the last years of Jesus were emblazoned upon John’s memory.  He’s now dwelling on the island of Patmos, and it had been a long time since he has seen Jesus ascend into Heaven.  But those memories sustained him through the years as he proclaimed the message of salvation through Jesus Christ the risen one.

And those memories almost certainly sustained him during the time when he was exiled to the prison island at the end of his life.

The book of Acts is already history when John writes the book of Revelation. As a matter of fact, all the other disciples are history.  They are dead; even Paul is history. John alone is left.  The heady times when Christ walked upon the water, healed the sick, fed thousands, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven.  All those times are a distant memory.

John probably reflected in his mind and thought that Christ promised he was going to return.  But after a while you start to wonder. Much of the anticipation and splendor of the beginning of the church has faded away. Christ was to be the center of this faith because nothing makes sense without Christ. The image of Christ which captured the imagination of the disciples has now been tested.

By the time John receives his vision, the church has already been distracted by Councils.  Arguing over theology.  Slipping towards a viewing of our faith as an intellectual conviction rather than a vital personal relationship. They begin to discuss things like, “What does it mean to be a Christian? It means to live by the Golden Rule.”

Although Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer as something not to be recited verbatim in a manner of incantation, by the time John is writing this, there is some evidence they have already embraced a theology of praying the Lord’s Prayer 3 to 5 times a day. Because that’s the way you did it well. They had arguments over the understanding of justification, and what is the Trinity. And like the church today, they have moved away from a personal faith to a constant denunciation of the evil of the society around them.

And that doesn’t even touch upon the survival of the faith in a hostile world. By the time John has written, Nero has martyred Christians in Rome, probably crucifying Paul. Jerusalem has been destroyed, and Domitian has exiled John to the prison colony in Patmos. Certainly at this point, John could have reflected and wondered, “How do we keep Christ at the center of our faith in the midst of a life which seems to be falling apart around us?”

What picture do we give of Jesus Christ? Shall we consider Him a shepherd tending his flock on the Palestinian hills, or a benevolent old man holding little children in his arms?  Shall we remind Him as a tragic savior nailed to the cross, or a compassionate healer who touched the untouchable lepers?  Or maybe we should think of Him as the philosopher and sharp-tongued debater with Nicodemus and the Pharisees?

What is the picture we should give of Jesus? Not John. He doesn’t look there. The last vision we have of Christ is one we would not expect. Not colored by our reading of the Gospels and our own fanciful ideas of what the Messiah would look like, but rather a compelling vision of Christ unlike anything we could come up with alone unless we’ve already read the book of Revelation.

So he has this compelling vision of Christ. We are told John received his vision on a Sunday, but the vision starts with a voice. A loud voice.

I didn’t give you notes – go ahead – a Compelling Vision of Christ, that’s the first point. Maybe there are no notes? Ah! There we go.

He starts on this Sunday with this compelling vision of Christ which starts with voice. A loud voice saying, “Write what you see. Send it to the churches. Not just the seven churches listed here: Ephesus and Smyrna and Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. But ultimately to churches everywhere. To all believers in Jesus Christ. This message is coming from God, to the churches. To us.

Now imagine yourself in John’s sandals.  You’re alone, perhaps in your back yard. Perhaps in a prison cell on an island someplace. Maybe in your study. In the dog house. You go there when things are troubled, and you commune with God.

You’re having your devotions, and for some reason you begin to reflect on the events of 50 years ago. And then you hear a voice. Not in your mind. Not the voice that you normally hear talking to you. But an actual voice you hear with your ears - an audible voice, a loud voice so audible, so loud, that you turn to see the voice. That’s an interesting turn of phrase, isn’t it? Don’t you turn to see the person speaking? The voice itself has captured his imagination. He turns to see the voice.

Now, those of us who have hearing loss understand that. Someone says something to you, and you say, “Say that again.” and you look right at them, because you want to kind of read their lips along with what they’re saying. John turns to see the person speaking. And he sees this. It’s that description we read already.

“Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, in the midst of the lampstands one like a Son of Man clothed with a long robe with a golden sash around His neck. Hairs on his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were a flame of fire. His feet, like burnished bronze refined in a furnace. His voice like a roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars. From his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword. And his face was like a sun shining at full strength.” This is a compelling vision of Christ. Seven lamp stands. Wonderful, beautiful, golden lampstands in a circle. In the midst of the lampstands is the source of the voice.

One like a Son of Man. This is a descriptor that doesn’t mean much to us today. So we’ve gotten used to it. Jesus is the Son of Man. What does it really mean? But the concept of the Son of Man may have lost its emotional appeal to us, its ability to wow us, but to the people who first read these words the image would evoke a strong, passionate, emotional response. Because for the Jews, the Son of Man would evoke memories of the great anticipated Messiah in the prophet Daniel.

There are 404 verses in the book of Revelation and there are 518 references to earlier scripture. They’re not direct quotes. They’re allusions to Ezekiel, and Daniel, Zephaniah, Zechariah, Isaiah, Exodus, and others.

Here the references to Daniel chapter 7 verses 13 and 14 where Daniel says, “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold with the clouds of Heaven one like a Son of Man was coming. He came up to the Ancient of Days and we presented before Him, and to Him was given dominion and glory and kingdom. That all people, nations, and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away and His Kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”

This is the Son of Man that John sees.  When he describes Him as a Son of Man, it’s a commanding, redeeming, glorious figure. An anticipated figure for the people of Israel. It’s not the way we normally think of Jesus.

We think of the glory of Easter morning and Jesus standing outside the grave gently talking to Mary. “Why are you crying? Here I am. Just go get the disciples; we’ll go have some fish by the sea.” Or Jesus on the road to Emmaus listening to those two guys and just hears their complaint and says, “Oh, by the way, let me explain Scripture to you.” Then He breaks bread and reveals Himself.

We have this vision of Jesus as this friend who comes along beside of us and walks with us and talks with us. He’s kind of our buddy. To be true, he’s an exalted buddy, but he’s kind of our friend. We kind of think of him as just an exceptional but normal guy.

Not John. He sees the Son of Man. As one writer put it, he’s not a pale Galilean, but a towering, furious figure who will not be managed. In the 400 years of silence between the Old and New Testament, the figure of the Son of Man had grown in popular imagination to include many verbal pictures that filled the sky with light and energy.  One that would proclaim what was lost in Adam and return to God’s people their glorious original identity in the image of God. It’s a term which God uses to determine the source of the one speaking to him on that Sunday so long ago. It is a term which John uses, that Jesus uses of himself.

When Jesus used it, it must have confused people. They anticipated this great, fiery, towering figure, but Jesus said, “I’m the Son of Man” and I’m sure there were some puzzled looks.  How was this rabbi from Galilee the embodiment of the Son of Man in popular imagination?  Where are the lightning flashes and the flowering robes? The title itself brought to the Jewish mind images and expectations of redemption. But Jesus refused to call those angels down to establish His power, and they dashed those expectations.

There was an incongruity with Jesus being called the Son of Man.  The Son of Man hanging on a cross? That is not popular theology.  The Son of Man eating with a prostitute? Not in popular theology. The Son of Man having lunch with a tax collector? Not in popular theology. The Son of Man healing insignificant lepers? Not in popular theology. The Son of Man ignoring the Pharisees and Sadducees? Not in popular theology.

Jesus took the most glorious of titles available and mixed it with the most menial of lifestyles. He talked like a king and acted like a servant. He preached with high authority and lived like a vagabond. When John looks at the voice and calls Him the Son of Man, he brings us this compelling vision of Christ. An image we have lost. A powerful, fear-inducing, fascinating Christ. Identifying himself with the church. Standing in the center of the seven lampstands which are the seven churches. Standing with them. Sustaining them, loving them.

You know, there are many who resent having to deal with the Church. They’re only interested in Christ. The Church is full of ambiguity, marred with cruelty and cowardice. Tarnished with hypocrisy. And many are sick of the Church. Disgusted with it. But not Christ. He will always be associated with the Church and He will always associate with the Church because He loves the Church and is best known in the Church. Here is the Son of Man who is Lord of the Church. Here is Christ in the center of the Church. It is His Church. It is His creation. It is His love.

So a quick look at the vision which John sees. A robe and a golden sash. Signifying Christ as the Great High Priest. Beautiful head of white hair exuding wisdom. Eyes of flame give an image of intelligence and insight. Burnished bronze feet showing purity. A voice which speaks of majesty and power holding seven stars of power and security, a two-edged sword of judgment. A face like the shining sun so magnificent, so powerful, so bright you at the same time can’t look at it and are drawn to look at it.

At this compelling view of Christ, John falls at His feet as though dead. That’s an interesting perspective, isn’t it? When was the last time that we reflected on the image of Christ so much that it moved us to the point where we just fell to His feet and worshipped?

John falls to His feet. The text tells us Jesus reaches out to John. Touches him, and says “fear not.” Into this scene of the compelling vision of Christ comes this calming voice of Christ. Fear not. Having seen the Son of Man, we hear him say fear not, and it’s so startling when we think of how much fear exists in our lives.

We live our lives afraid of just about everything. We see a police car and we’re afraid we’re going to get a ticket. Even if we’re obeying the law, we start to wonder “Wait, is my registration right?” We look the speedometer. We have this fear of disappointing.

I feel for the Youth Group. They come lead worship on a Sunday morning and they miss an entry. They just want to hide. They want to step back and pretend it wasn’t them that missed the opening. This constant fear of disappointing and of being disappointed. We want better for ourselves. We believe we can do better and should have done better. We have a fear of dying young, and we have a fear of living too long. We have a fear of seeing God and a fear of not seeing God.

Here’s John, fallen at the feet of the Son of Man like a dead man, and the incredible love and compassion of Christ is seen so clearly as He reaches out His hand and touches him. Reassuring him that he need not be afraid. Jesus continues to soothe John with these calming words. “I am the first, and the last.”

How would you complete the sentence: Christ is…?

You have to tell someone your perspective of Christ. So you have to write a little essay. Okay, two sentences. Christ is… Love? Christ is kind? Just? Ah, it’s just Easter. Christ is alive!

Jesus describes Himself as the first and the last, the beginning and the end. The creator and sustainer. The center of our faith. For without Christ, we have nothing. There would be no life. There would be no church. He is the beginning and the end. Without Him we have nothing and we can do nothing. He’s alive! 50 years after the resurrection, Jesus returns to John to remind him, “I am the living one. I died, and behold, I am alive forevermore.”

It’s an interesting sidelight that Jesus Himself said that, “I didn’t swoon. I didn’t kind of just pass out for a few days. I died, and I am alive forevermore.”

It is easy for us to lose perspective of this fact. Our faith can be reduced instead to a list of do’s and don’ts. We can reduce the Gospel to a Christian stoicism. Well, we can get by. Yep, we’re going to keep a stiff upper lip and Jesus’s going to give us strength. And I am going to live a moral life. We have a tough, joyless virtue. A meager and diminished hope. The compelling picture of Christ is lost. Flat. Insipid. Just some guy that prayed for the kids.

Then we hear again the words of Christ. “I am the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore.” He has conquered death for all time, and He holds the keys of death and Hades.

In whose hands would you be willing to give the keys of death and Hades? I don’t trust myself to have that. If it was me that had the power of death and Hades, at various times just about everybody would be dead. *laughs*

Who could you trust that to?

Jesus says, “I am the first and last.” One of the things that you gain from that. One of the things that gives him His white hair is perspective. Oh, there’s things which 35 years ago when I first got into ministry. Man, they were the hill to die on. Now the hill to die on is Jesus Christ. The picture, we’re going to get more of this next week.

The letters to the seven churches. The picture is the seven churches in a circle. If you look at a map, it’s not a perfect circle. Some Greek map drawer and city planter didn’t figure out it should be a perfect circle. But the picture of it is you have these seven churches. At the middle is Jesus Christ. At the center of it all. The one who died and who is alive forevermore. The one who is the focus of our faith. So easy for us to get distracted in our faith. To think that what’s really important is denouncing the sin of others while ignoring our own sin.

I think that that’s where I ask the question into whose hands will I entrust the keys of death and Hades? Because in our own minds, our sins are less significant than the sins of others. In our minds, well, we deserve grace. And others deserve judgment. But in the mind of God, the One who was there at the beginning, at the end, and in the middle, who stands at the center of the church. The focus of our faith. He is the one who is worthy of the power of death and Hades because only in the hands of Christ is such power safe.

John’s vision, and what are going to end up being seven letters to the churches, bring us back to this compelling vision of Jesus Christ. They bring us back to this picture of one like the Son of Man with this incredible voice. With a sword coming out of His mouth. I keep trying to get a good mental picture of that, and it just doesn’t come. Because it’s intended for us to see that He’s a man of incredible power. And the Word is mightier than the sword. And He holds these stars.

He holds the stars. We know that the stars are actually suns. He just grabs them, and holds them. In my mind’s eye, He’s got his hand up here and there’s seven stars circling around. One for each of the churches. And that brings an interesting question. Does every church everywhere have its own star? What’s the star of our church?

It’s an incredible picture of the angels of the seven churches. Yeah! We do all have an angel who watches over us, gives us power and security. In this vision, this compelling vision of Jesus Christ comes forth this booming voice: “I am the first and the last. Fear not. Fear not. I am at the center of your faith. Keep me there.”

When we read this chapter of Revelation, it is about Jesus Christ. It is designed to focus us upon the Son of Man. The center of our faith. Let’s pray.

Father, I ask that You would grant to us today a fuller understanding of Jesus Christ. The center and focus of our faith. Amen.