Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

April 23, 2017 Sermon

Click HERE for an audio version posted on our Facebook Page

Revelation 1:17-18

Dear Friends in Christ,

What’s the scariest thing you have ever seen? Does a horror movie come to mind? Maybe a nightmare that woke you up in a cold sweat? Maybe the few moments before a car crash when you realized what was going to happen and there was nothing you could do about it? There are lots of things that can make us afraid. We call them phobias—arachnophobia, xenophobia, acrophobia, agoraphobia, just to name a few. But I’m guessing Jesus is not on the list of scariest things you have ever seen.

There are a lot of paintings and drawings and statues that try to depict for us what Jesus might have looked like. We don’t really know what he looked like, of course. There were no cameras, and as far as we know, no one ever painted his portrait, at least not one that survived the centuries. Considering that he was of Jewish descent and lived in Israel he usually is depicted as having long hair and a beard, and more accurate paintings show an olive shade of skin. A lot of paintings show him with a straight or serious face. One that a lot of people like shows him with a big friendly smile. But I don’t think I have ever seen a picture of Jesus that I would consider scary. And yet, when John saw Jesus in his vision we call Revelation he was so frightened that he fell at his feet as though dead.

What was it about Jesus that was so frightening that John fainted at the sight? Among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

He saw Jesus in all his glory and majesty as the Son of God and ruler of all things. His eyes felt like they would burn right through him, searching out and laying bare the sinful thoughts and attitudes of his heart. His feet seemed ready to stomp out and incinerate anyone or anything that opposed him. His voice was powerful, like the power of a large waterfall. His words were ready to cut to pieces any excuses and expose any lie. His glory was so bright that he could not look directly at him.

John felt fear because he realized that he was in the presence of the holy and righteous God and that he was a sinner deserving God’s punishment. Ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin fear is the reaction every human has when they experience the presence of God. Before they sinned Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in the garden without fear. As soon as they sinned they felt fear and foolishly tried to hide from God. No matter how you picture Jesus, smiling, tenderly holding a little lamb in his arms, if you experience what John did, if you see Jesus in his full glory as the Son of God and ruler of all things, you too would faint in fear as you would suddenly feel the weight of all your sins and realize the punishment you deserve.

This is an aspect of Jesus that many seem to have lost today. Today people tend to think of Jesus only as a smiling friend who never corrects you, who never gets angry when you do something wrong.

For Luther, it was the just the opposite. When he thought about Jesus he saw him coming in glory on the clouds of heaven ready to slay him with that that double-edged sword and stomp him down to hell with his glowing bronze feet. The church had used that depiction of Jesus to try to scare people into doing good and avoiding sin. But that doesn’t work. All fear does is paralyze you. It never gives you the power to serve God. Fear made John faint and become like a dead man who couldn’t do anything.

We don’t want to think about Jesus the way Luther did before he knew the gospel. Yet, if we only think of Jesus as smiling at us, even when we sin; if we only think of God as a grandfather who looks the other way when we sin, or excuses us because at least we tried our best, then we don’t truly know God. We have an idol, a figment of our imagination. We won’t respect God for who he is. And, sooner or later, we will begin to think that we don’t really need him because we won’t recognize the seriousness of our sins.

John saw Jesus in his full glory and majesty as the Son of God and ruler of all things. The sight of Jesus frightened him so much that he fainted at Jesus’ feet. But Jesus didn’t let that be the end of the story. He didn’t slap him, tell him to wake up and pull himself together. John had no power to do that. John says, Jesus placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” His touch was not one of anger or punishment; it was a touch of compassion and comfort. And his word is powerful. His creates what it commands. Just as when he said “let there be light,” there was light, and when he said “Peace be with you,” his disciples experienced peace, so when he told John not to be afraid, the fear he had just experienced went away.

In addition, Jesus gave John, and gives us, wonderful reasons not to fear. He is the first and the last, the alpha and the omega. He is the same God he always has been, the one who was, and is, and is to come, the one who is the same yesterday, today and forever, the one who promised Adam and Eve a savior and who has now kept his promise and will always keep every promise he makes. He says, I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! He was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification. His resurrection assures us that he is who he claimed to be, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His resurrection assures us that our sins are paid for in full. His resurrection assures us that the thing that we fear the most is not fearful. Death has been defeated. Like a bee that can only sting once, it lost its ability to sting us when it stung Jesus. Jesus has the keys of death and of Hades. He will come again, not to pay for sin, that’s already been done. He proclaimed from the cross it is finished. He will come again in the clouds of heaven and he will use those keys to unlock every grave and bring every body out alive, just as he called Lazarus out of his tomb.

Jesus lovingly comforted John and removed his fear, and then he gave him a job to do. He told him to write, to record the things he had seen together with all that he was about to show him, and send what he had written to the churches, to call the churches to repentance, to remove their fear, and to spur them on to loving and faithful service.

Jesus has caused this letter to be preserved for us. Through the eyes of John we have seen Jesus in his glory and majesty as the Son of God and Ruler of all things. The powerful sword of the spirit has exposed the thoughts and attitudes of our sinful hearts and terrified us with the fact that we deserve to be cast out of God’s presence forever. But, as he did for John, Jesus has comforted us. He has reminded us that he died to pay for the sins that frighten us. He has let us see and believe that he is risen. Death itself is defeated. He has the key to our graves and he will unlock them and call us back to life. He will give us a glorified body like his and take us to live with him forever. He has removed our fear and he has given us a job to do. He has prepared good works for us to do by his power that is working in us by faith. Things like showing love and kindness to our spouse and children even when they hurt us. Things like showing respect and obedience to those who are in authority over us at home, in school, at work and in the government, even when we disagree with them. Things like making sure we share both the fear of God and the love of God with others, starting with our own family, and then as many others as we can.

Through the eyes of John and the words the Holy Spirit caused him to record we have experienced the fear of seeing Jesus in his glory and feeling the full guilt of our sins. But we have also experienced the loving and comforting hand of Jesus as he reminds us that we have nothing to fear. He was dead and is alive. He has paid for our sins and defeated death. With John, we now willingly devote ourselves to serving him. And when we hear him say, “I am coming soon,” we respond without fear, Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.