2nd Sunday of Easter (C)
April 28, 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
I have a little trivia for you this morning. Did you know that twenty-four of the twenty-seven New Testament books are letters? Paul wrote most of them, and his letters are joined by those of Luke, Peter, John, James, and Jude. Did you know though that Jesus wrote one as well? You know it as the book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible. Now you might think that if Jesus did write us a letter it would be a little easier to understand than the book of Revelation with its strange figures and symbolism. But it can’t be ignored just because it’s difficult. John promises us, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” For the next six weeks or so, my sermons will focus on an easier section of Revelation, the chapters that record Christ’s letters to the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia, what’s today the west coast of Turkey. These letters have some symbolism, but they’re easier to understand since they deal with the particular situations of the churches. The letters though are not in the Scriptures just to provide us with an interesting historical study. Through His letters Jesus still speaks to the Church today, to Emmanuel Lutheran Church, and to each one of us as Christians.
One Sunday, while he was in exile, John says he heard a loud voice like a trumpet and when he turned around to see who was talking, he was shocked. Remember what he saw? He saw “One like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around His chest. 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 His face was like the sun shining in full strength.” I’m guessing that this is not how we usually picture Jesus, right? This is far from the lowly shepherd, it’s even far from what we imagine He looked like on Easter, and we can totally understand why John fell on his face, we’d do the same thing. But even though Jesus doesn’t look like we’d expect, He certainly sounds like it. He says, “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.” Jesus is reminding John that He’s the Son of God who died for his sins, so John doesn’t need to be afraid, he can have peace in Christ’s presence, which is the same thing Jesus gave to the disciples in the Gospel.
That same encouragement and assurance comes down to you and me as we visualize Jesus as the One who is writing us. It’s our Lord and Savior who stands in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, which He later explained represented the seven churches. It is He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, which He explained were the angels, the elders or pastors, of the churches. And how important it is for us that we see the letter writer in that setting! Jesus doesn’t sit on the throne of heaven, aloof and separate from us in His glory as the Son of God. He stands amid the churches to give light to them so they, as lampstands, may share His light with their world. He holds the spiritual leaders of the churches in His right hand, vesting their proclamation of His Gospel with His own authority and power.
It’s important that we see the letter writer in that setting because that’s where we are! We are part of the Body of Christ, the community of believers. Jesus stands in the midst of us today and every day, living up to His promise to be with us always to the end of the age. Isn’t it comforting and reassuring to know that Jesus is standing right among us, just as He promised. He never leaves us on our own as we carry out the duties He assigns us. But there is also a distinct challenge for us in recognizing that it is our Lord who writes to us. He really expects us to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. It’s not just an option for us. That is why Jesus displayed Himself in John’s vision in all His majesty and glory as God, standing in the midst of the church, undergirding the power and authority of the Church.
As intimidating as Jesus looks, His appearance really should comfort you. The “long robe and golden sash around His chest” identify Jesus as our High Priest. Jesus stands before the Father on our behalf. He is the Priest and He is the Sacrifice. That’s what last Friday was all about! He is our intercessor and He points to the sacrifice of Himself for the sins of the world – for your sins! Don’t be afraid of the Father, for your High Priest prays for you and proclaims the forgiveness of all your sins.
Many of us fight the gray hairs that begin to show as we get older. I’d rather be graying than balding, but that’ the head I’ve been dealt. When we look at Jesus and see that “The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow”, we’re reminded that in the Bible white hair implies wisdom and dignity. That Jesus has white hair encourages us to see Him as one who is unruffled by circumstances. He has seen and experienced it all. He knows just how to care for us in all our needs. There is nothing any of you will ever endure or experience that Christ doesn’t know about first hand. Go to Him and know that He is the one, the only One who will be always with you regardless of what’s occurring in your life.
John goes on to say, “His eyes were like a flame of fire.” Christ’s eyes pierce into the innermost soul. There is nothing that can be hidden from their view. There is not a detail in our lives that Jesus is not perfectly aware of. Don’t fool yourself that the sins you commit are somehow hidden from His sight. His eyes penetrate our deepest and darkest secrets, so repent of your sins! Don’t try to hide from Him, but come before Him confessing your sins in painful honesty, and you will find peace.
In the Bible, bronze is a symbol of strength and of judgment. So when John says, “His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace” he’s giving us a symbol of the Lord’s power in this world. This picture shows us that Jesus is the One who is powerfully in charge. When you read the news and look around you, it might not always seem that way. But remember His promises! The gates of Hell shall not overcome His Church. He is the fortress of His people. All those who call on His name will be saved. No matter what it looks like, everything in this world will come according to His will and plan. Remember too how He says in Isaiah that His Word will “accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
The first thing that caught John’s attention was the voice like a trumpet. John goes on to say, “And His voice was like the roar of many waters.” When I visited Niagara Falls, I was blown away by thunderous sound of the waters cascading over the falls. It’s hard to believe that the falls were formed by the rain and snow that filled the small the brooks and creeks and streams that have combined at this amazing place. That’s the picture here. It’s not so much the volume of the Lord’s voice that’s emphasized as it is the fact that His voice unites and brings to their crucial climax and fulfillment all of the streams of God’s Old Testament prophetic revelation of Himself. The writer of Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.” That sounds definitive, doesn’t it? There will be no other revelations from Mohammed, the Pope, Joseph Smith, or whoever thinks he or she has to add to God’s Word. The voice of Jesus, through the inspired writing of His apostles and evangelists, has told us everything we need to know.
Christ’s voice is the sound of many rushing waters, God’s complete revelation, but in its action and effect it is as piercing as a sword. John writes, “From His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword.” The Greek word denotes a large, heavy sword that was swung with both arms. This is a heavy-duty sword, and the fact that it comes out of His mouth emphasizes the impact of His voice on those who hear Him. His words are sharp enough to divide joints and marrow. They are also double-edged. On the one hand they are the pronouncement of God’s condemnation of sin; on the other hand, they hold out the gracious promise of forgiveness to those who repent. Both edges of the sword cut deeply into a person’s consciousness. Jesus speaks words to us that are of life and death importance. He said it Himself, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
John wraps up by saying, “His face was like the sun shining in full strength.” This is the one who is King of kings and Lord of lords. We love to visualize Him as King Jesus, to whom we rightly sing, “All hail the power of Jesus’ Name.” He’s the one who is God incarnate and man divine. He is the one whom we crown as Lord of all. There isn’t another god that can accomplish and did accomplish all that Jesus Christ has done for us. There isn’t another god that can do anything! Jesus alone stands in Heaven above, watching over His Church, His people, and all of His Creation.
In the coming weeks, we’re going to hear letters from Jesus and they’re so much more than letters that talk about the weather or current events at home. His letters are on matters of vital importance to us in our Christian faith and life. His letters demand our attention for each of them ends with, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” What’s also wonderful is what He tells John today when John is overwhelmed by what he sees. Jesus says, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore.” Hear these words of forgiveness and hope and know that the Risen Savior says the same thing to you.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen