This past Tuesday night, surely you couldn’t have missed the news story – without a doubt you saw something about it: 22 people killed including children, many more wounded in Manchester, UK outside a concert. A suicide bomber’s attack claimed by ISIS in its war on Christianity and Western culture.
Earlier this week someone had serious surgery, someone else lost a baby, someone else lost a job.
Surely on some day this week somewhere among us, some child was disrespectful in your houses, some parent was overbearing, someone else couldn’t bear any kind of correction, somebody else was totally offended at something you said, someone behaved in an offensive manner toward you…
As Christian people do you see tragedy, horror, hatred, devastation? Enemies of Christ waging war against his people? Very oftenChrist’s enemies seeming to win? Do you see traumatic, difficult, stressful things? And more: pretty consistent, frustrating examples of this world that is not evolving into something better but is actually more and more broken by sinfulness? Perhaps it seems like sin is going to break everything at times? Do you see your enemy the devil lurking, whispering in ears and hearts, devouring the faiths of some – and more…making headway against God’s people? In human life like this, what do you see?
At least in part it’s because of all this we see that God gave us Revelation, the Bible book. In it Jesus allowed his disciple John to see many visions. Time after time, John says throughout this book, “and then I saw…”, “I turned and saw…”, “I saw…” things that are meant to reveal to God’s people the truth about what’s happening now, where things are headed, and how they’ll all play out.
John’s vision in ch.19:11-16 is nearer the “how it all plays out” end of the spectrum. Fourth chapter from the end, it lets us see the risen, ascended Jesus as he truly is now and how he will be when he comes back: see the Christ who is (v.16) “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”.
And make no mistake, God intends that title to hit you with complete majesty. What John saw and shared for us to see means that Jesus is truly the King of all kings; he is Lord and master over every authority or power there has been or will be. In v.12 you see it. He is a blazing, fiery eyed, holy king, with fiery anger over sins, before whom sinners fall face-down in fear, in worship. He wears manycrowns because, after conquering the nations of the world, after all the kings have laid down their crowns before him, all crowns are his. God’s letting you see that Jesus is ruler over all the earth in every way. And there is mystery in his majesty. “He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.” God’s emphasizing the measureless majesty of this king. Who can truly know Jesus Christ for who he is in the depths of his person? As the Son of God who became man, who is truly God and truly man at the same time, 100% of both in 100% of one person? Who can plumb the depths and intricacies of this one who is one with the Father and yet distinct from him? Who humbled himself to death on a cross and yet with limitless strength rose from death and rules the universe? Altogether, God would have you see, in chapter 19, the mightiest of kings, the unfathomable divine, the fiery-eyed regent Jesus Christ, and I would have you for the moment note, in v.13, that he is called the “Word of God” and, in v.11, “Faithful and True”.
There’s so much crazy stuff to see in Revelation – even just in ch.19, but this “faithful and true Word of God” is probably one of the hardest things to grasp. Because what you see out in the world, so different from this picture in ch.19, causes you to question Jesus’ faithfulness; causes you to ask whether he tells the truth sometimes, doesn’t it? The line of thought goes: if he were true about being “with us” or loving us, he wouldn’t allow his enemies to destroy Christian lives or society to become a sewer of sin. He wouldn’t permit sin to ravage physical life and Christian’s relationships and taint their personalities – not if he were faithful. Do you ask, “What does the Word of God do for all this I see?” And assuming it doesn’t do enough, you find hope and put trust in the fixes we can make with laws in society or with more money in your life? Or maybe make compromises with the world because God’s Word seems too rigid, unrelatable – and you can make it work better?
Do you understand the issue here? What John is showing us? It isn’t that you and I don’t see the sin in the world – that we don’t understand how horrible and trashy is the filth of culture – how tragic the troubles or the temptations. It’s not that… The issue is what we, each of us, personally do with what we see and how we consider it as Christians, especially in light of what we’ve seen in Jesus…
I was listening to a theological podcast a few weeks ago – around Easter – an interesting talk titled, “The Raising of the Crucified One”. It was interesting because the speaker was combatting a tendency in her church body to think of Jesus as less than he truly is (just a historical figure, not miraculous, etc.). She moved from the crucified Jesus (“a nothing”) to Peter’s words in Acts like this, “[W]hen Peter in the book of Acts says, ‘God has made him both Lord and Christ…this Jesus, whom you crucified,’ he is making a claim so extravagant as to be unique in all the history of the world.” I remember giving thanks that, “We don’t have an issue with misunderstanding who Jesus is…” Except when we do… Has your consideration of what you see in life recently come to terms with this reality: that the crucified one has been raised and that he is the majestic and mighty ruler of life? And that our dissatisfaction with our relationships, our fears of enemies working, our assumptions that his good news just might not be good enough – all of these are sinful filth that ought to die at the sight of Christ the fiery eyed king, because they say he is something quite less extravagant than God has said he is; these say he means something much less than God means him to mean to me…to you!
With repentant hearts that love to trust in him, God calls you in ch.19 to see the majesty of Jesus Christ behind every other thing you see in life. This mighty king Jesus is the Word of God who is faithful and true. He has been faithful and true to every promise of God. By his salvation work this Word shows us God’s true glory in grace and love for sinners – that we are his children by faith; he lets us know God truly by showing us himself, true God who was willing to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” by sacrificing himself, his death for our lives. This faithful and true Word calls for faithful and true trust – of which you are capable because those who know him are like the ones John saw in ch.7 – a great multitude around God’s throne, praising him, “who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” You see them in ch.19:14, “The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.”
But this is the true beauty of the picture for God’s people. You saints of God, who belong around the throne of God because your sins all have been washed away… you who will triumph over death because Christ, your Savior, has conquered it… you who will come through all the tribulation of this sinful world… See that where Christ rides in conquering holiness, his people do too. And do you notice what they do? They carry no weapons to battle; in the verses that follow, they don’t even wage the war. They do nothing – except attend their king and trust in him. No, Jesus, “with justice…judges and makes war.” His armies wear beautiful, spotless robes while “he is dressed in a robe dipped in blood”. That’s because he alone does the work. God’s fury demanded he pour out his own lifeblood to defeat the enemy sins. But now “he treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty” as judge, jury, and executioner. It isn’t the Sunday school picture of Jesus here, but the sobering thought of his powerful care for Christians – finally he will bring swift and deadly judgment on his enemies and he will wear the blood of their destruction like a trophy. God promises in this King full vengeance against his enemies and final vindication for his people who have so long suffered.
And how will he do it? “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” That sword is the Word of God – that comforts the repentant sinner with grace and good news but promises condemnation for all who turn away from it. Christ Jesus does not fight with any weapon other than his Word – and in the following verses when the final, full battle of God against all that is evil comes – with it he will simply strike his enemies down. Jesus promised to his disciples power from on high through his Spirit in his powerful Word. He gives the same weapon to you – and with same strength it works. And we pray just as St. Paul did in our second lesson, “[that by] the Spirit of wisdom and revelation…we may know him better…and be enlightened to see his incomparably great power [at work] for us who believe….[the same kind of power] as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand.”
Let us then consider this Jesus and understand how it will be. With the disciples in Lent we saw our Savior crucified – crushed for our sins. With them at Easter, we saw that Christ is risen and we rejoiced. Now we stand with the disciples on the hill outside Jerusalem, looking up into the sky, and we don’t see Jesus anymore because he has ascended away. But here we do see that in his victory over sin, death, and devil our ascended Lord is at work for us in all things. And we know that in this Word we can trust, with his Word we can work, because by his Word the Word of God will conquer. And more and more we’ll see, when Jesus wins, we will too. Amen.