July 12, 2020
Uncertain Times…Christ-Centered Churches – Rev 1
Well here we are just past the 4th of July, at the height of summer-and I think it’s safe to say that this is the strangest summer we’ve ever experienced! Masks and traveling and having to wonder if you’re vacationing in a restricted state and have to quarantine for 14 days upon returning home. What sort of family vacation is that? We went to a restricted state! And then of course Opening Day for baseball hasn’t started yet, the NBA might be playing this summer, and who knows about the NFL or College Football. But I think most strange is the question about whether schools will reopen in the Fall. Just take a step back and really hear that question for what it’s worth-will schools reopen in the Fall? I used to get excited when it was snowing outside and the question was whether schools would be open in the morning or if it was a snow day. But we’re talking about back to school in the Fall-and if that conversation would have been taking place when I was in school-I never would have believed it-as if the concept of endless summer was really coming true! So schools might not reopen in the Fall-and summer break just keeps on going? Sort of like how summer break started on Friday, March 13th and hasn’t stopped since? Dream come true-school’s out forever! But I realize it’s not really summer break when the Fall arrives. Online learning, Google meets and virtual classrooms are all a part of this. But here we are in the middle of July uncertain about whether our students will actually be returning to their desks at school or uncertain about what days they’ll go. So that concept of uncertainty is everywhere-we’re uncertain about the rise of coronavirus cases, uncertain about a 2nd wave coming through, uncertain about a vaccine; we’re uncertain about the state of the economy and jobs, uncertain about the state of our nation and all the unrest we’re experiencing. It seems like everywhere you turn right now-uncertainty is the key word. I’m still uncertain about what shops or restaurants are open-can I dine in or am I sitting at a table on the sidewalk or halfway into the street? I think the only thing we can be certain about is our uncertainty about everything! And that’s the first part of what we’ve entitled the new series we’re starting this summer-Uncertain Times…Christ-Centered Churches. And that first part is a statement. There’s no question there. We are living in some of the most uncertain times any of us have ever lived through before. Things keep changing all the time-it’s like the calendar doesn’t even matter! The new normal is that there doesn’t seem to be a normal. Or at least we haven’t figured out what that normal is. So uncertain times are clearly a given in 2020.
But what about the second part- Christ-centered churches? Because that part of the title isn’t necessarily a given statement, but a question for us to ponder and reflect on. In the midst of uncertain times, will our nation see Christ-centered churches, will we be a Christ-centered church? And that’s not a new question, but one that was asked nearly 1900 years ago. And it wasn’t asked on Long Island-but instead on the island of Patmos-pic. Now doesn’t that look amazing! Who doesn’t want to go there? The island of Patmos is part of the Greek islands but is actually closer to the coast of Turkey. It’s quite remote from Greece. But it’s 5,039 miles away from here-and yet what was communicated there is very relevant to where we’re at today. Now I’m sure we’ve all wondered what we would do stranded on a deserted island. What 5 books would you bring? What 5 music albums would you bring? I’ve thought about this often-what are my desert island selections? It’s an important question-and worthy of lunchtime discussion. In fact, BBC Radio in Britain has a show called Desert Island Discs that’s been airing since 1942 where guests have to choose the 8 books or recordings they’d bring to deserted island. So I’m sure we’ve all thought about being stranded on an island-but most likely it’s nothing we’re too worried about or expecting to happen. But it did happen to the apostle John. He was actually stranded, more specifically exiled on this island of Patmos-and it didn’t look anything like this back then. It was a Roman outpost for prisoners. Just an empty, rocky, lonely island about 10 miles long and 6 miles wide-an easy place for the Roman Empire to send prisoners because they couldn’t go anywhere-deserted island pic. And that’s where they sent John. Now whether he had his 8 favorite books or recordings with him to keep him occupied, we don’t know. But John encountered something far more extraordinary-and that was a visit from Jesus. And 2 important things happened during that visit-first of all he gets an incredible vision of Jesus in His glorified state, and secondly Jesus tells him to grab a pencil and write some things down. Now you might not be very good at writing down messages. Thankfully text messages or voicemails stay right on our phone so we don’t have to write them down. But back in the day with answering machines-who didn’t find themselves scratching their heads saying-Okay, I know I wrote that message down somewhere…where did I put it…what did it say?
Thankfully John doesn’t have that problem. He faithfully writes down what Jesus says and that messages gets passed on to the church-to 7 churches in fact. And that’s the focus of this new sermon series we’re starting. Just think for a minute-what if Jesus Himself sent a message to our church? Dear Dix Hills Church… What would He say to us? How would He describe our passion and love for Him? How would He evaluate our faith and our service for Him? What about our endurance in trials and difficult times? Are we a church that’s standing for Christ or caving in to the culture around us? What things would Jesus commend about our church? What things would He challenge about our church? How would He encourage us to change and be more like Him? Well the reality is that message exists, in fact 7 messages exist, 7 letters to 7 churches at the beginning of the book of Revelation. And if we believe that God’s Word is His inspired word to us that is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness-which it is-then the letters written to those churches 1900 years ago are just as applicable for us today. So that’s going to be our series over the 7 weeks as we’ll examine each of these 7 letters. We’re living in Uncertain Times, (will we be) Christ-centered Churches?
And this morning we want to begin this series where it began with John-hanging out on a deserted island on a Sunday afternoon. You can open your Bibles to Revelation 1 or we’ll have it up on the screen-Rev 1:9. So to set the context that we started describing earlier-on account of his faith in Jesus, John had been captured and exiled. If you’ve read the book of Acts you’re well aware of the persecution that faced the early church. That many followers of Jesus were martyred and killed for their faith. John is the last living apostle-and instead of being martyred like Peter and Paul-he’s here stranded on Patmos. And he clearly tells us why-on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. The world back then-in particular the Roman Empire-was opposed to the truth of God’s Word and the testimony, meaning the truth, about who Jesus is. So anyone who stood for Jesus and for the Bible was the enemy, they needed to be locked up, put away, put to death, or least case silenced. Which is why John is here on Patmos-an island in the middle of nowhere. But that reality hasn’t changed in our world today. The truth of God’s Word and the testimony of Jesus are just as opposed, just as hated. Anytime you stand up for those things most likely you’ll face persecution too-whether at work or at school or from your family or your friends. As a believer, I’m sure we’ve all felt it at one time or another. You’re trying to follow the Lord and walk with Him and the world opposes you, it pushes back and presses down on you. And the severity of that persecution is based on how long you’re willing to stand for the truth or if you quickly cave in and quiet down. But John is recognizing this and uniting all believers around these same realities-back to v. 9. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. That’s what you’re signing up for.
And that’s Pt1:All believers share in the suffering, endurance and kingdom of Christ. Does that include me? Are you willing to share in those things? As a believer all three of those things are a given-none of them are optional-let me have a place in Christ’s kingdom-put in a reservation there-but opt out of the suffering, I’ll just keep my Christian life on the down-low, mind my own business-leave the suffering to someone else. Have you ever thought that or wanted that? I certainly have-but it doesn’t work that way-all 3 are a part of following Christ. And unfortunately 2 out of 3 aren’t pleasant. 2 out of 3 are hard and painful. As believers, we’re all longing for the kingdom; that place where God’s people are finally and forever gathered and sin is rooted out and gone. But we’re not there yet. Right now we’re united in suffering, we’re united in having to patiently endure. And who likes that? Who says the endurance in the middle is far better than the arrival at the end? No one! Whether it’s running a race, studying for an exam, or taking a long road trip-you have to do the hard work of enduring in the middle in order to arrive at your destination in the end. And it’s no different spiritually-the kingdom of Christ requires suffering and patient endurance-and that’s what John says unites us as brothers and sisters in Christ. Back to v. 9-10. So here’s John on a quiet Sunday afternoon on his deserted island. If you’re like me, you’re picturing John something like this-Tom Hanks from Castaway. Who wasn’t thinking Castaway or picturing John with a beard like that? But unlike only having Wilson the volleyball to talk to-John is caught up in the Spirit, meaning transported from this material world beyond his human senses, to hear from Jesus and have an amazing glimpse of Him. So look at what Jesus says and how this scene unfolds-Rev 1:11. And those are the 7 churches we’ll be looking at in the weeks ahead. Jesus is telling John to get his paper and pencil ready to write it all down.
But for this week take a look at how this vision continues-Rev 1:12-13. And this of course is a description of Jesus. That phrase ‘Son of Man’ originally comes from the book of Daniel where the Son of Man approached the Ancient of Days-referring to Jesus approaching God the Father. And of course Son of Man was the most common way Jesus referred to Himself in the Gospels when He lived on earth. But now John is seeing this glimpse of Jesus’ glory-and what he’s describing relates to who Jesus is and His authority in His resurrected state as the Son of Man-Rev 1:14. And that doesn’t mean Jesus was going grey early with His hair turning white-but rather it’s a reference to His perfect holiness, His eyes like flames are all-knowing. He sees right into our hearts-Rev 1:15-16. Jesus is the one who judges the world-that’s the reference to that two-edged sword coming out of His mouth and His feet like bronze. And then His face is shining like the sun-and that’s where this becomes familiar to John-because he saw that once before. If you remember when Peter, James and John journeyed with Jesus up the mountain and He was transfigured before them-and that’s precisely what happened-His face shone with the brilliance of the sun. So here’s John remembering this from nearly 60 years before. And then John hears a familiar voice-Rev 1:17a. The same voice, the same phrase John had heard before from Jesus. Fear not is what Jesus said to them in the middle of the night having walked on the water across the sea. They were so startled by His presence, thinking they saw a ghost or phantom as He walked across the water-but Jesus said-Fear not, guys, it’s just me. And now 60 years later on the island of Patmos as John sees Jesus in all His blinding, startling glory, as John has fallen to his feet in fear-He hears those same words from that same voice-Fear not, it’s me. Could you imagine hearing that? Don’t you wish you were in his shoes? John has truly come full circle in seeing and understanding who Jesus is-the One who is fully God and fully man. And listen to how Jesus describes His identity-Rev 1:17b-18. What a way to introduce yourself!
We tell people our name and what we do for a living-here’s Jesus saying-I’m the first, was there at the beginning of all things-and I’m the last, I’ll be there at the end. I’m the one who died, remember that at the cross, and now I’m alive! And we’ve all heard stories of people who died, they were medically pronounced dead-but then a few minutes later came back to life. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel-but I just wasn’t ready yet. That’s not Jesus-He was dead-and now He’s alive-forevermore! I love that word-and that means He’s in control of all life-the living One as He says-the one with the keys to Death and Hades-meaning the keys to the grave and the afterlife. Jesus is fully and completely in control of who lives and dies. And so in order to have life, in order to have eternal life, you have to know the One who has the keys to life-and that’s Jesus! That’s Pt2:All life is found in the One with the keys to life. Does that include me? There is no life apart from Jesus, there is no way to heaven without Jesus. He has the master keyring!
None of us have access to it. We can’t unlock the door to our own destiny-only He can. So eternal life is found by knowing Jesus and believing in Him. And that’s what the mission of the church is all about-to make Jesus known and be that light of hope, that light in a dark world. And that’s where this all funnels down to this morning-Rev 1:19-20. The church is a lamp-every church is a lamp. As Jesus is the light of the world-so churches are to reflect that light and point to Him and His saving grace. To proclaim the light of gospel. And yet many times churches grow dim, that light flickers and wavers-and seems to get lost in the despair and darkness of the world. But that’s what Jesus is going to challenge these churches about in the coming weeks, that’s how He’s going to challenge us-to let that light shine boldly and brightly. But here’s where I want to finish today. If churches are the lampstands-do you remember where Jesus was? Back to Rev 1:12-13. Jesus is right in the middle of the lampstands, He’s right in the middle of the church. Don’t miss that. He’s standing there for a reason. Jesus wasn’t off to the side of the lamp stands or next them or near them for a photo-op. He’s in the center. Meaning if church is to be about 1 things-it’s to be about Jesus! And yet how often is that not true? How often are churches about all kinds of other things besides Jesus? Where church becomes a list of our personal preferences and wants, it becomes a social club or a concert hall or a political platform and people put themselves at the center of the church. That happens all the time. But that’s not what it’s supposed to be. So our last point this morning is the launching pad for where this series is going-Pt3:All Christ-centered churches are composed of Christ-centered people. Does that include me? Ask yourself that question. Ponder that and reflect on that. Are you a Christ-centered person? Is He central in your heart and your life? Or have you pushed Him off to the side? If our church is to be a Christ-centered church it starts with you and me. You can’t say-I sure hope we’ll be a Christ-centered church and focus on what matters most-and then start pointing to other people. You have to look at your heart. Jesus needs to be right in the middle of everything you say and do, right in the middle of your schedule and your priorities, right in the middle of your hopes and desires. Pt3.