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Reveling in Revelation
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Ah, 2022–the year that things return to some semblance of normal, yes? Well, no. After two years of riding the pandemic roller coaster, it’s pretty clear that things have been permanently altered. As Doc Holliday says to Wyatt Earp at the end of Tombstone, one of my favorite movies of all time:

 

 

“There is no normal life. There’s just life. Get on with it.” Sounds like good advice.

 

Still, the disruptions of the last two years to what we might call our “perceived normal” have caused many to wonder if the world has not just changed but is getting close to ending altogether. It’s not unusual for people to think that way. History is full of periods when it looked like the apocalypse was imminent and, quite frankly, they were periods that make the last two years look like a vacation by comparison. Imagine living through the Black Plague of the 14th century, for example, a disease that killed an estimated 75-200 million people and killed so fast that people who were fine in the morning were horrifyingly sick by noon and dead by supper. or think about being on the battlefields of World War I where millions were killed, immediately followed by the flu pandemic of 1918 that killed millions more. When human life is threatened on a mass scale, via war or plague or disaster, it’s natural to wonder if the doomsday clock is about to strike midnight.

 

Many Christians (and even some non-Christians) turn to the Book of Revelation for clues as to how to interpret world events in light of the “end times.” The strange imagery and fantastical views of the heavenly realms lend themselves easily to appropriation by those seeking to predict the end. In every church I’ve served, when I ask people what book they’d like me to preach and teach on, Revelation invariably is near the top of the list. Most often, the expectation is that I will support the latest theory, crack the biblical code, and get on board with some pre or post-millennial interpretation that explains everything that’s happening in the news.

 

Truth be told, I always disappoint in that regard. I’m reminded of my mother’s excitement about Hal Lindsey’s book The Late Great Planet Earth in the 1970s which predicted the arrival of the antichrist in the 70s and the Rapture in the 1980s. The Cold War lent itself to identifying easy candidates for the antichrist and his beast-like nations, but as time marched on and Lindsey’s predictions didn’t come to fruition, he had to write 12 sequels; each explaining why his last predictions were inaccurate and why the new world order was coming differently than he thought. All of this made Hal (and a lot of others, like the authors of the Left Behind series) a lot of money despite their .000 batting average in predicting the future. And then there’s the interesting irony that even while Lindsey was writing about the imminent end of the world, he was investing in long-term real estate deals.  Not exactly Jeremiah buying the potter’s field, if you get the Old Testament reference.

 

Sure, I believe that Christ will return as he promised. I find that final image in Revelation compelling: heaven and earth coming together, God dwelling with his people, the promise of the resurrection of the dead, and eternal, abundant life for all who have followed the Lamb. Eschatology, or the study of last things, is an important part of Christian theology. Jesus certainly talked about these things, but he did so rather cryptically and made sure to tell his disciples not to spend a lot of time speculating about the timing. His primary message to them was, “Be ready.” And the way you get ready is by doing the work Jesus work has given you.

 

And actually, I think that’s the core message of Revelation as well. It’s a message to the church on how to live in the present evil age as we await Christ’s return. Those who want Revelation to be a cryptic puzzle outlining future events often skip over the first three chapters which are aimed at commending, challenging, correcting, and encouraging seven churches (and by extension all churches) in how to live now in light of the resurrection of Christ and the day of his appearing. Of course, Jesus isn’t far away right now; he’s seated at the right hand of the Father interceding for us and is present with us always in the power of the Holy Spirit. And because he is present, he has some instruction to give as he observes the church–as he observes us.

 

I think this is the instruction we need from Revelation right now. How are we to be the church in a time when Christendom is over, when the culture is increasingly indifferent or even hostile to the Christian faith? How do we avoid the common pitfalls of idolatry, political intrigue, sexual immorality, and bad theology that have taken down so many churches and church leaders?  What does Jesus want to say to the church in a post-Christian, post-pandemic age?

 

revelation draft 01 768x432Those are the questions we’ll be wrestling with in a new sermon series I’m beginning this week: Seven Sermons: The Churches of Revelation. We’ll look at each of these seven churches and Jesus’ word to them in their original context, finding out what each message meant to them as we then learn what they mean for us. I’ll mix in some history about these churches with a view toward understanding how Christian history has often followed healthy and unhealthy ways. My hope is that at the end of the series we’ll have a clearer picture of the kind of church that Jesus wants to form for a challenging age. It’s not that our times are worse than any other in history; it’s that the church in every age is called to be the church of Jesus Christ for such a time as this.

 

So, yeah, we’re not going back to life as normal. There is no normal life. There’s just life. And it’s time to get on with it. Jesus tells us how, and that’s why we’re going to spend some time reveling in Revelation!

 

Here’s the schedule for the sermons, which you can hear in person at our worship services or via live-stream at 8:00am, 9:30am, or 11:00am Mountain Standard Time. You can also access audio and video recordings of each sermon on our Sermons page.

 

January 9 – Greetings from Patmos: An Introduction to the Seven Sermons

January 16 – Ephesus: Too Much of a Good Thing

January 23 – Smyrna: The Church of the Persevering Persecuted

January 30 – Pergamum – The Church of Compromise

February 6 – Thyatira – The Church of Terrible Toleration

February 13 – Sardis – The Church of the Walking Dead

February 20 – Philadelphia: The Church of the Open Door

February 27 – Laodicea: The Church of Lukewarm Lethargy

 

If you’d like to read a great commentary on these sermons, I recommend Jeffrey Weima’s The Sermons to the Seven Churches of Revelation. 



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