Monday, 29 December 2008

Dear Saints - A Message of Hope

A Message of Hope for a Church under Siege (Rev.1:9-20)

As we look forward, with increasing trepidation, to a New Year it is well to remember the message of assurance and encouragement Jesus has given in his letters to the seven churches in John's Revelation. Finanical empires are falling in the city and bombs are falling in the Middle East. There is, and has been for some time, a growing disquiet among Evangelical believers that the church is under increasing attack from the forces of secularism, liberalism and opposing spiritual powers. We are aware, I hope, of the daily and shocking persecution suffered by Christians in the developing world. Daily bulletins from missions such as Barnabus Fund deliver shocking tales of brutality against people whose only crime is to trust the name of Jesus.

In the developed world, as men's hearts fail them, Christians are coming under increasing pressure to bow the knee to liberal ideologies that insist all faiths are equal and equally wrong. Freedom of speech is being attacked in the name of multiculturalism and multi-faith ideology, led by people who think the greatest virtues are niceness and getting along (see here). Christians are being taken to court and successfully prosecuted for simply evangelising and outreach ministry is being curtailed to avoid causing some imagined offence that cannot be tolerated by liberals who insist it is wrong to teach that Christians alone have it right. Ironically, in this the liberals are convinced that they alone are right. One case highlights the growing problem. MacGregor Ministries have been told that they cannot minister as they have been because it is no longer politically correct. In a statement on their new web site they explained:

“The Canadian Government has made it impossible for us to continue as a Christian Charity and not compromise our faith. They have shut down some 2,500 charities already over the past year for various reasons.

The government no longer allows critiques of other faiths, even if done fairly and documented thoroughly. Freedom of speech guaranteed under our Charter in Canada does not extend to charities I was bluntly told.”

I hear concerned voices and understand those concerns. There is much speculation about the times but one thing is for sure; every time is a good time if we know what to do with it and every time is a good time to turn to the Bible. That is where we find comfort, encouragement and guidance to face the times in which we live.

Towards the end of the first century Christians were entering a time of persecution. We are told that Christian worship stood in stark opposition to the cult of emperor worship; churches were being warned of coming trials; Christians had already given their lives for the faith (Rev.2:13) and John had been banished to the penal colony of Patmos – a sort of Roman Guantanamo Bay – for his missionary activity. It was there that he received his great vision of Jesus, of what is and of what was later to come to pass (Rev.1:19).

In this vision we learn three things about Jesus:

“Jesus is Lord of Glory” (Rev.1:13-17a)

In his vision John sees “one like a son of man”, Jesus’ term for himself (Mk.8:31), reflecting his humanity. But this vision showed Jesus in all his glory and divinity, wearing “a robe reaching down to his feet and a gold sash”, symbolic of his role as our high priest (Heb.4:14); having hair “white like wool” symbolic of his infinite wisdom; eyes “like blazing fire”, symbolising penetrating insight. “Out of his mouth,” we are told, “came a sharp double-edged sword”, symbolising his judgement (c.f. Heb.4:12). The one who came and shared fully in our humanity was now glorified, “with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn.17:5) Is it any wonder that John “fell at his feet as though dead”?

“Jesus is Lord of Life and Death” (Rev.1:17b-18)

In a statement that is a comfort and encouragement to every Christian and the heart of the Gospel message Jesus declared:

“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

Jesus has defeated our great enemy and now holds the keys to death, from which he will release us, and life, which he gives all those who trust in the One who sent him (Jn.5:24).

“Jesus is Lord of His Church” (Rev.1:19-20)

The seven stars he holds are probably the spirits of the churches and the lamp stands are the churches to which John is writing. Jesus holds each in his hands and, significantly, he is described as “among the lamp stands” (Rev.1:13). It is Jesus’ church and he is intimately involved with his church and all things are in his control, even though now, on Patmos, John does not see it. So with us; we see the difficulties facing the church and can lose sight of who is Lord of Glory, of Life and Death and of the Church.

John tells us that all this happened when, “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit” (Rev.1:10). It is said that “In Patmos we suffer; in the Spirit we reign” and we need to take away from this that wonderful truth. Twice Jesus told John to “Write what you see” (Rev.1:11, 19) and I am reminded of the words of Jesus to Thomas:

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn.20:29)

Do we believe the report of those who have seen? Do we appreciate the care with which Jesus told them to “write what you have seen” and then preserved that report for us? Do we look at these things and remember that “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn.16:33)?

These are increasingly difficult times but - Jesus is Lord!

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