Revelation 1:4-8 – The One Who Is, Who Was, and Who Is To Come

John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
    and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (New International Version)

In my undergraduate college days, one of the required classes for my major was “Philosophy of History” taught by a crusty old professor who looked like he was one-hundred-and-ten-years-old. One day he came into the classroom and began his lecture by looking directly at me with those beady black eyes of his and said, as only he could say it, “Ehrhardt! Can God change history?”

The Apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos. Late in the first century, all the other original disciples of Jesus were dead, having been martyred for their faith. Only John was left. The churches that the Apostle Paul established in Asia Minor were undergoing significant persecution. 

The trouble began with the church facing social ostracizing. Eventually, xenophobia took hold with many parts of the Roman Empire, and Christians began getting martyred. Misunderstandings of what the church is all about were rife.

If we were living during that time, we might seriously wonder if Christianity would survive, at all. Into this situation, the last Apostle, John, in exile, experienced a great vision (revelation) of Jesus concerning what is to come. While things looked awfully bleak, God graciously pulled back the veil between heaven and earth long enough for John to glimpse the great lordship of Jesus.

So, can God change history? You might be wondering about my response to the old professor. My answer was this: The question is only relevant if God were never in control and sovereign over history to begin with. There’s no need to change history if God is already actively working out divine purposes through history. Therefore, a more appropriate question is: Since God is Lord over all history, will we submit to the divine lordship? 

In difficult times, it’s only human to wonder if God is really sovereign over all the earth. With so much war, violence, and unrest in the world; with so many natural disasters and diseases all around; and whenever Christianity (and religion itself) is seen as a threat to many, we may sincerely ask ourselves, “Can God change history? Is God even in control of this present world?”

The revelation of Jesus to John, which he then shared with the struggling churches, was meant to encourage them – to give them hope that, even though Christ’s reign is invisible and seems limited and temporary, it will ultimately be visible, and is pervasive and permanent. 

Today’s New Testament lesson is meant to strengthen and bolster the believer’s faith with a vision of who Jesus is; what Jesus has done; and what Jesus will do.

Who Jesus Is

He is the faithful witness. The word “witness” is where we get our English word “martyr.” Faithful believers in the first centuries of the church witnessed to their faith and proclaimed the gospel of new life in Christ. They were effective enough to alter the social order, which brought persecution and, in some cases, death. 

These men and women died proclaiming their devotion to Jesus. They saw themselves as merely emulating and following the way of their sovereign Lord Jesus, who was himself a faithful martyr.

Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, that is, Christ has conquered death. Just as Christ rose from death, so also, we will be raised to life. Because Jesus is alive, Christians will live forever and experience bodily resurrection, as well.

Whatever happens to Jesus, happens to us. Jesus was persecuted, suffered, and died. We, too, shall suffer persecution and death. Jesus was raised from the dead and so shall we. The evil we experience in this life is very much known to God. Our solidarity with Jesus helps us to not grow weary and lose heart.

Jesus is the ruler, the king of kings and lord of lords. God reigns over the past, the present, and the future. Christ is in charge, presently now working out good plans and purposes. God bends events, situations, and hearts toward justice and righteousness. 

What Jesus Has Done

Jesus freed us from the power of sin by his blood. This is more than some nice information to know; it is truth designed for us to live a new life depending on King Jesus. Sometimes, we have horrible, no good, very bad days. We don’t respond to others well,  and then ask God’s forgiveness. Other days are wonderful, with bright sunshine and a spring in your step. We play well with others and express gratitude to God.

Jesus is Lord of both good days and bad days. Faith is not dependent upon our circumstances because it is the blood of Jesus which has freed us to live for God, no matter the situations we face. Christians overcome circumstances by the blood of Christ – and not because everything goes our way.  

We are never far from the cross of Christ. We overcome bad tempers, defeats, disordered love, fears, pettiness, and a host of other things by the blood of the Lamb. The daily goal is to not simply have a wonderful day without any adversity. Rather, the aim is to know Jesus Christ, and him crucified, dead, risen and ascended. 

Jesus has made us to be a kingdom of priests. Christians have continual access and unconditional acceptance of God through the blood of Jesus. We can intercede for others by going directly to God. Just as Jesus has unlimited access to the Father, so, the Christian has the privilege of coming to God at all times. 

Christians are a kingdom of priests where every believer intercedes for other believers, and even for the world which persecutes them. Jesus not only freed us from sin’s grip of evil for our own individual benefit, but also so that we can be agents of rescue for others. 

What Jesus Will Do

Jesus will come to judge the earth, the living and the dead. Moving deeper into Revelation, it truly becomes apocalyptic. It’s as if a group of trapped cave explorers choose one of the individuals to squeeze through a narrow flooded passage to get out to the surface and call for help. The point of the choice is more than personal salvation, it is the saving of the entire group. She is to bring help and equipment to ensure the rest get rescued.

Indeed, God elects, chooses, and calls us not only for our personal benefit but for the sake of many.

Conclusion

Jesus is worthy of our praise. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. His kingdom will never end. Since this is true, we are to faithfully serve God. In life and in death, we belong to God. We are not our own; we were bought at a price. 

“Can God change history?” is not the real question. Since God has changed history forever in the sending of the Son, the proper question is, “What will we do with the lordship of Christ over the world?”

Jesus is coming soon. When he returns, what will he find you doing?

Gracious God, we pray for Christ’s Church everywhere. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior. Amen.

John 18:33-37 – Worship Christ the King

14th century painting of Jesus standing before Pilate by Italian artist Duccio di Buoninsegna

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (New International Version)

In Christianity, to worship God means we praise the person and work of Christ and are also spiritually formed through that adoration. Christ the King Sunday focuses our worship on Jesus Christ’s reign over the entire world. It is a proclamation that everything and everyone in all creation is subservient to King Jesus. Furthermore, it is an invitation to actively enjoy Christ’s gracious and benevolent rule over us.

Jesus came to this earth to bring connection and intimacy to God and humanity. We all have relationships in which we want to be closer.

  • A parent might be dissatisfied, and sad, that one of their children is estranged from them, because they want intimacy.
  • A spouse may want to have a more relationally intimate marriage, having been distant for too many years.
  • A teenagers or twenty-something might want to get closer to that special someone. 
  • A friend might be keeping their distance. And although you have conversations with them, they only let you in so far.

We want to go deeper, and it isn’t happening because the other party is not willing.

In this we reflect the image of God within us because God feels that same longing and desire to move deeper and closer to us. The Lord desires intimacy, yet we might keep treating him like he is some untouchable monarch like Queen Elizabeth – as if there is no chance of really getting close, and we wonder if there is any real power there to make a difference. 

However, God is not a ruling figurehead, and does not want a casual superficial relationship with us. Christ’s kingship moves closer to people, not further away. Everything Jesus did on this earth was to bring people closer to God because God wants a personal and familiar relationship with us. 

Jesus does not want us estranged from God, and he has gone to the greatest lengths possible to make that close relationship possible and real through the cross, resurrection, ascension, and a kingly reign which is near to us. The kingdom of God, with Jesus as King, is a kingdom of closeness and fellowship with the divine.

Christ the King Sunday appropriately challenges us to consider what it means to say that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our life. Jesus Christ, as our Lord and King, means much more than God calling the shots and issuing commands; it means Christ uses his lordship to satisfy his longing to be with us.

Our Gospel lesson for today plunges us into an event we associate with Holy Week. Christ has been arrested by the conniving of his enemies. Since the religious authorities could not put anyone to death, they bring Jesus to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, in the hope he will do their dirty work for them. 

Jesus condemned to death, painting by the Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey

The scene takes place early in the morning at Pilate’s palace. Pilate doesn’t like the Jewish authorities because they put a dent in his career plans through their constant complaints about him to his supervisors in Rome. For purely political reasons, Pilate decides he will satisfy their demand and interview this Jesus who they claim is an enemy of Rome.

The prisoner, Jesus of Nazareth, is brought to Pilate. He is a mess. Christ’s clothes are stained with dirt and blood. His face is bruised and haggard. He has not slept all night. Pilate has heard of Jesus, and so he’s curious to make a personal evaluation of him. Jesus looks nothing like a king to Pilate.

Pilate, in contrast, looks the image of a worldly leader with his power suit on and all the strength of Rome behind him. He hardly has time for this sideshow, this pathetic presentation of leadership in front of him. Jesus looks like nothing more than a kingly wannabe. There is nothing from Christ’s outward appearance that gives any impression he is qualified to be a leader of anybody. We can almost picture Pilate rolling his eyes, saying “so you are the King of the Jews?”

What follows is a strange, convoluted conversation about kingship and truth with a contrast between this world and a world to come. Repeatedly, Jesus makes it clear his kingdom is not of this world. Two thousand years have passed since that dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, yet the same issue remains.

The issue is this: Jesus is calling all of us to follow him – to put his Kingdom first in our lives. In Pilate, we have a symbol of worldly power, which is arbitrary, unprincipled, self-serving, and brutal. Pilate knows the right thing to do but chooses the path of least resistance. He caves to the political pressure, denying the truth which is right under his prominent Roman nose.

Earthly power seeks its own ends. It wants to hold onto control and call the shots. Conversely, Christ’s kingly power is used to serve, to wash feet and meet needs, to move closer to people. Earthly kingdoms use violence to conquer and maintain order and control its subjects. In stark contrast, Christ’s kingdom uses love to transform and unify people around Jesus so that the subjects are with the king and enjoy his rule and reign.

Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. It is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive to how every other leadership structure works on earth. It is an upside-down kingdom that seems like it won’t work or make sense: The way up is down; to be great is not to work for a high position, suck up to the boss, and climb the ladder of wealth and success. Rather, it is to embrace humility and be a servant.

In God’s kingdom, the way to pursue truth is not in forming original ideas and expressing opinions but is found in a person. Truth-seeking disciples will listen to this one voice of Jesus, and filter-out all others. It is a voice calling for submission to his lordship, and to do so because it brings us into an intimate relationship with God.

The Light of the World, by English artist William Holman Hunt, 1852

The message of our crucified Savior reigning as King in our lives is not that, having suffered for us, Jesus will somehow keep us from facing difficult times. Instead, Jesus faced a horrible death so that our own tough times can triumph with God’s power to save us and move deeper into our lives. God’s presence and promise is what sustains us, not the avoidance of suffering. Christ as our King means God is with us.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are almost upon us. This season demonstrates a contrast between two kingdoms. The kingdom of this world calls on us to demonstrate our worth and gain meaningful relationship through grabbing control and obtaining stuff. The pressure in seeking the perfect gift at the perfect price in the hope that if we can bag it, wrap it, and get it under the tree, then we will be perfect, and the perfect family Christmas will happen, and relationships will be great, and everyone will act like I want. Right!?

In contrast, the kingdom Jesus describes assures us we don’t have to prove our worth through endless accomplishments and generous gifts. We don’t need to have the perfect Christmas experience to gain our deepest relational needs. Because, in our baptism, we have been accepted; we are sons and daughters of the living God; and we do not need to achieve greatness through financially and emotionally bleeding ourselves.

In his conversation with Pilate, Jesus said: “My kingdom is not of this world.” When Christians say Jesus Christ is our King, we acknowledge we are his subjects and that we march to the beat of a different drum. The heart of this relationship is our dependence on Jesus who came that we might have life and have it in abundance.

On this Sunday, followers of Jesus Christ boldly state our confidence that, at the end of time, Jesus will come again as King and Ruler of all. 

Blessed are those who see the truth by faith and not by sight. Blessed are those who say “Jesus is the King and the Lord of Life” without rolling their eyes or with a selfish agenda but with a sincere conviction that they belong to Jesus and want to be ever closer to him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Almighty God, everlasting heavenly Father, you break the power of evil and make all things new in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe. Our confidence is firmly in you, Lord Jesus, knowing you will redeem all things and make all things new. 

We affirm that our security is not in personal abilities, clever plans, or lucrative jobs; our security is in you alone. Your creation still groans with the pain of living in a fallen world. But you have conquered sin through your love, and it is to your love we rely upon. May all things in heaven and on earth recognize the glory of your kingly rule and never cease to praise you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Colossians 1:15-23 – Worship That Is Fit for a King

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (New International Version)

Jesus is King. Neither you, nor I, are. 

A simple statement; yet, not easily engrafted into daily life. 

The original sin of Adam and Even was rebellion – to break the bonds of loving authority God provided for them. We (especially us Americans) have this nasty anti-authoritarian strain which runs rather deep in us. 

As a child, when my middle daughter was grappling with the implications of faith in Christ, she once blurted out an honest cry that we can likely resonate with: “I just don’t want another person in my life telling me what to do!” 

Indeed, Jesus is King; we are not.

The New Testament lesson for today is rich with the pre-eminence and lordship of Jesus Christ: 

  • All things were created through Jesus and for him. 
  • Everything in all creation is held together by Jesus. 
  • Christ is the head of the church. 
  • In Jesus Christ, complete divinity exists and reigns. 
  • Jesus made peace through the cross because he had the authority and the qualifications to do so. 
  • Broken relationships and proper lines of authority are now restored and redeemed in Christ.

We can also likely relate to, at times, indulging an illusion of being in control and independently dictating the course of our lives. Yet, mercifully, Jesus is the great Sovereign, and this is a good thing – because in Christ we find reconciliation and purity of life. 

“The supreme thing is worship. The attitude of worship is the attitude of a subject bent before the King… The fundamental thought is that of prostration, of bowing down.”

G. Campbell Morgan

Because Christ is King, we really ought to submit to him. In fact, we need to pay some attention to how our bodies are to submit to his lordship.

When the body moves to animating physical actions of submission, this helps the heart to follow. Whole person worship involves engaging the mind, spirit, emotions, and, yes, the body. To neglect the body in worship is to truncate the ability to connect with God in Christ.

A typical metaphor for the Church is the “Body of Christ.” We can live into that phrase through an embodied spirituality of submission. Our individual bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, important for expressing worship. (1 Corinthians 3:16)

God created us with literal physical bodies. And Jesus has a literal physical body. Bodies are important for whole person worship. This means the physical postures we take in worshiping King Jesus are significant. We need to pay attention to them.  

A healthy practice for Christians is to kneel in the presence of the Lord. I realize some Christian traditions do it as a part of their worship, and some do not. Some like it, some don’t. Yet, bowing, even prostrating oneself (if you are physically able!) can be a powerful symbol of the heart’s desire and disposition to submit to the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ. 

Crawling out of bed in the morning onto one’s knees and beginning the day aiming to live into the will of God, and ending the day in the same manner, are a practical means of remembering who Jesus is and who we are.

I believe all believers need to feel free in adopting a physical posture of worship which helps them connect with God in Christ. For some, that will be sitting in a comfortable position in contemplation. Others will want to stand, raise their hands, even dance in praise.

It also behooves us to let our bodies respond to whatever is happening with us spiritually. Exuberant praise needs the expression of hand clapping and toe tapping. Confession of sin needs a bit of bowing, kneeling, even prostrating. For prayer, hands open and palms facing up to receive blessing from God is a good bodily position of worship.

You get the idea. Just remember we need to strive for congruence in our worship, that is, what is happening with our outward bodily movements needs to match what is occurring inward with our spirits. And when the two are in sync, meaningful worship can happen – worship of submission fit for a king.

Sovereign God, in your mercy you have sent your Son, the Lord Jesus, who has brought reconciliation to a once broken relationship.  I bow before you in obedience, submission, and worship.  Let me live a cross-shaped life through enjoying the peace you have given me in Christ in both body and soul. Amen.

Psalm 47 – Clap and Shout!

Sing, Clap, and Sound the Trumpets by Melani Pyke

Come, everyone! Clap your hands!
    Shout to God with joyful praise!
For the Lord Most High is awesome.
    He is the great King of all the earth.
He subdues the nations before us,
    putting our enemies beneath our feet.
He chose the Promised Land as our inheritance,
    the proud possession of Jacob’s descendants, whom he loves.

God has ascended with a mighty shout.
    The Lord has ascended with trumpets blaring.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
    sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King over all the earth.
    Praise him with a psalm.
God reigns above the nations,
    sitting on his holy throne.
The rulers of the world have gathered together
    with the people of the God of Abraham.
For all the kings of the earth belong to God.
    He is highly honored everywhere.
(New Living Translation)

God is King. In the Christian tradition specifically, Jesus is King. Christ is the One who gives shape, form, and substance to the reign of God over the earth. This is what the Lord’s ascension to heaven communicates – that Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father, exercising a benevolent rule as the rightful Sovereign over all creation.

This redemptive reality of the Lord’s good reign is a cause for praise. And this is what today’s psalm is all about. We, as the subjects of God’s kingdom, are called to praise the Lord.

The psalm tells us exactly how to praise the Lord because of powerful and compassionate authority: clap your hands and shout! For worshipers who believe acknowledgment of God is most appropriate with silence and contemplation, even a cursory reading of the psalms will inform them differently. Although it seems to me most worship experiences need more familiarity with silence, I also passionately believe they could use a whole lot more enthusiasm with clapping and shouting.

Depending upon where you fit in the spectrum of Christianity’s tradition of worship, high church or low church, very liturgical, or not, it behooves all churches to incorporate the full range of human expression to God – including both silence and shout, hands clasped reverently in prayer as well as exuberantly clapping in praise.

“Let all the rivers clap their hands; let the mountains rejoice out loud altogether.”

Psalm 98:8, CEB

It is biblical to applaud God! And it’s healthy, too – both spiritually and physically. Whenever we fail to pause in our feelings of happiness and enjoy the moment, it is more than a missed opportunity. Unacknowledged and unexpressed joy trains us to depress our feelings, eventually leading to depression itself. Yet, whenever we stop to outwardly demonstrate gratitude through the exuberance of shouting and clapping, it benefits everyone – God, others, and self.

Physically clapping and shouting helps keep the heart and lungs healthy, even playing a curative role with pulmonary problems. It gives relief to joint pain, gout, headaches, insomnia, and digestion. Shouting and clapping even sharpens the intellect and increases the brain’s ability. And, of course, applause is a social phenomenon which binds folks together in community.

For the psalmist, applause to the Lord is the appropriate response to God’s power and victory in the world. Since divine presence is everywhere – and that presence is merciful, just, and kind – we ought to pause long enough to acknowledge and celebrate a loving God watching over us with tender care and concern.

No matter the circumstance, God is with us. That reality alone is enough cause for exuberance and celebration. Even though evil still resides in this old fallen world, God is King, and still sits on the throne. The pastor and hymnwriter, Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901), had it right:

This is my Father’s world:
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let earth be glad! 

It is not the attempt to gin-up human and personal confidence which enables us to face the foulness and degradation of this world. Rather, it’s the spiritual awareness of God’s presence and power which resides around us and within us. This is the basis of our confidence. It is the ground of our peace. It’s the reason for the believer’s joy, even amidst awful circumstances.

Our connection with one another as worshipers is the common acknowledgment of God’s rule and reign over all creation. And our link as followers of Jesus is the collective conviction that Christ is King, we are his subjects, and all things belong to God, including us.

Whenever we connect with this basic theology, spontaneous and joyous praise is the result. So, if we lack the joy of the Lord in our lives, the place to go is to use today’s psalm. Read it several times over, out loud. Shout the psalm! Clap while shouting the psalm! Sing the psalm aloud! Praise the risen and ascended Lord!

May it be so to the glory of God.

This Is My Father’s World, sung by Amy Grant.