Here is a word from Matthew’s Gospel…
“BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who [f]is to come, the Almighty.”
I am fascinated by the event, but even more fascinated by the description of the Coming Prince. It is something that stirs the hearts of believers of all kinds.
I mention the Coming Prince because you may not be aware of it, but believers are being torn apart, one from another, in our time. Things that draw us together have become far too quiet, while the things that divide us are emphasized over and over, to the detriment of Jesus follower.
Modern disciples must recall that we are not supposed to make unity. The Scripture calls us to “endeavor to KEEP the unity” given by the Spirit at our new birth. Yet, we seem to find this hard to do. Let me illustrate…
Once upon a time a man took a walk and came to a bridge. When he got to the middle of the bridge, he saw a man standing on the rail, obviously about to jump. The man was distraught so he said, “Don’t jump. I can help you.” “How can you help me?” asked the man on the rail. The first man replied with a question of his own: “Are you a Christian?” “Yes, I am.” “That’s wonderful. So am I. Are you Catholic or Protestant?” “I’m Protestant.” “That’s great. So am I. What sort of Protestant are you? Are you Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or something else?” “I’m a lifetime Baptist,” said the man on the rail.
“Praise the Lord,” came the reply. “So am I. Let me ask you this. Are you Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” “I’m Northern Baptist.” “Are you Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?” “I’m Northern Conservative Baptist.” “Well, call Ripley’s. This is amazing. So am I. Are you Northern Conservative Baptist Fundamental or Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed?”
The man on the rail thought for a moment and then declared, “My father raised me as a Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed.” “It’s a miracle,” said the first man. “Put ’er there, pal. So am I.” Then he asked, “Are you Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Plains Region?” The man on the rail said, “That’s easy. My family has always been Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region.” “This is a miracle of miracles. I don’t often meet a brother who shares my own heritage.
One final question: Are you Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region Council of 1855 or Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region Council of 1872?” The man on the rail replied instantly, “Since the days of my great-grandfather, we have always been Northern Conservative Baptist Reformed Great Lakes Region Council of 1872.” This statement was followed by an awkward pause. Looking up, the first man cried out, “Die, heretic!” And he pushed him off the bridge.
We laugh at that story because it is so close to the truth. If two Christians agree on 79 out of 80 points, they will usually focus on the area where they disagree. We need to remind ourselves of the rallying points of our faith in order to stand together. We need to remember the basis of our unity is not our work, but our Savior.
The truth is that it is possible to FIND Jesus and not FOLLOW Jesus – and that moves from being a PROMISING LIFE to offering a tragically powerless life… because the Christian life IS walking with Jesus, not performing FOR Jesus.
As we look at the beginning of the Book of Revelation, take note of this truth…
Key Principle: We can’t really walk with God if we don’t take the time to gaze at Him – to really SEE Him as He is.
It is possible to get distracted. It is even possible to suddenly become enveloped in the storms and lose our way. Let’s not try to fake it – it happens to Jesus followers all the time.
When Paul wrote to a young church the letter we call “2 Thessalonians” he wrote about three pummeling punches the enemy used in swift combination in order to discourage them any time they appeared to begin to gain ground in the Spirit. The Bible, then, became like the “fight tape recording” of that three punch knockout faithfully preserved so that we might not take the same punches:
• 2 Thessalonians 1 mentioned persecution and affliction deliberately set to ensnare believers just like I find on college campuses and business environments that have grown increasingly HOSTILE to anyone who names Jesus as Savior.
• 2 Thessalonians 2 made clear the enemy was involved in planting the roadside bombs of fake teachings that kept the people of God in confusion. How hard do you have to search the web to find people sharing the Bible God should have written but didn’t – because He wasn’t as “smart” or as “tolerant” as they are?
• 2 Thessalonians 3 revealed the enemy’s age old tactic of discouraging believer’s by helping them to focus on others who claimed to have FOUND Christ, but lived in ways that didn’t FOLLOW Christ.
Relentlessly pounding believers with ominous warnings and the fear of coming trouble, together with constant stirring confusion of false words misdirecting Jesus followers with falsehoods and the sinking discouragement of trying to represent Jesus when loud voices of believers with poor testimonies drown out godly examples – these are three of the classic techniques of our enemy.
Here is the good news: Jesus is greater than the temporary prince of the fallen world. He has not left us without defenses. Redemption has already begun, and it will be complete in His return to the planet. In the meantime, we examine the tapes of past fights to prepare for our own. During our time:
We have God’s Word to reveal to us His direction, correction and encouragement.
But, we have something else we can count on. I believe it is the single greatest secret that helps me in the midst of the storms – and it is what I want to share with you in this lesson from the Word.
We have a lighthouse on the shore that shines through the storms. You’ll miss it if you don’t learn to look for it.
If the swells have overtaken you – our lighthouse can offer you hope, direction and rescue. Our lighthouse is the shining light of our loving, intimate, personal God, and our gaze at Him must be one in desperation – as one who knows he cannot make it to shore without Him.
You heard me correctly. We need to need Him more than we think we need Him now. When desperation wanes, cockiness follows.
When I believe I can pull off the Christian life without Jesus, I show I don’t really understand what the Christian life is at all…
Beloved, I want to remind you of words I have spoken before. They are the “theme music” in the background of all that I preach. I repeat them, over and over, because I need to be reminded of them… Please hear them…
The main point of the Christian life is NOT to tell Jesus you believe what He did long ago – so as to avoid Hell and get to Heaven when you die – it is an intimate walk with Jesus TODAY.
Admittedly, Heaven is a stunning benefit and a deeply encouraging expectation based on the unambiguous promises of the True and Living God – but a new eternal destination not the point (it is a side benefit).
Honestly, Heaven would be a penalty for one who hasn’t learned to love Jesus in this life.
Can I be candid with you about something, now that I am a grandfather twice over? I have heard that not every child LIKES to go to their grandma or grandpa’s house. In some cases, the place seems outdated, stuffy and is full of things they aren’t allowed to touch. Do you know why some children don’t like to go there? The reason is simply because they haven’t learned to LOVE grandma or grandpa. They don’t know how COOL they really are (if people still say the word “cool”). This is the reason my wife and I have become very intentional about making our home a place any kid in their right mind would want to come. (A good idea, right?)
The actual point of the Christian life is to WALK WITH JESUS, to learn to love Him and THEN long to be in Heaven with Him. We aren’t supposed to long for the benefits of the relationship MORE than the relationship itself.
“How can I learn to do that?” You may ask.
I must consciously learn to invite Him to journey through the day, to hold His hand and allow Him to lead through the passage of life. Heaven is an unending version of that reality – but not the beginning of it. We can and should have it today. I want to show you HOW.
By the way, the writer of Hebrews knew this secret.
He wrote that we have a great hall of witnesses that watch us as we live out our faith. The whole time they cheer us on, he noted that we are to be “looking unto Jesus” – not the grandstands, not the cheering crowds – but to the Savior. He is the Author and the Finisher of our faith. He endured the Cross that we might enter the journey of life with Him.
John used the same lighthouse to navigate the storm.
For a few moments, will you join me in looking at the first chapter of Revelation?
Look at the first chapter of Revelation, where John gazes Heavenward and gets his instructions to write the book we have today… The opening lines remind us that purpose of the narrative isn’t just to get believers fighting about the meaning of various signs as we approach the troubles of the last days. The narrative teaches us of John’s special GOD GAZING time. He wrote:
1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, 2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.
Don’t miss the opening line: This is the revealing of WHO Jesus is before it is the revealing of what will happen as God closes the human program. Verse one appears to me to be in the order of priority: reveal Jesus and then tell you what Jesus will do. His works follow His character.
Knowing HIM helps you when you can’t understand what He is DOING!
Revelation 1:4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne,
Did you see Who addressed the letter to the churches?
Like all things, it started with God the Father.
Revelation 1:4 mentions both the Father and the Spirit, so we dare not pass them by without notice. Remember that although God has many titles in Scripture, He has only ONE NAME. It was so precious over the centuries that Jews ceased to speak it aloud. This name YHWH or Jehovah is, in fact, a contraction of several phrases that can be summarized by John’s words in verse four: “The One Who was and Who is and Who is to come.” (In Hebrew: Asher ha-yah v’hoveh v’yavo).
In short, you serve the ever-present, always NOW God.
He is the God of our Fathers, but, if He tarries, that same faithful God will be the God of our sons. He dwells beyond time – for time is something He made for those limited to the few dimensions that make us HUMAN. He is not like us. The end and the beginning are both clear to Him in the same moment.
Read the rest of the letter that John left us and you will see the Father sits upon the throne of Heaven surrounded by the crystal sea. Ezekiel saw Him moving about on a grand apparatus of wheels, flanked by angels and filled with glory.
• When you behold Him, you will know that He is not a created being – but the very context of all creation.
• He is not the One Who does good – rather the very nature of good is defined by His person.
• When you see the train of His robe and the vastness of His presence you will understand – there is no glory that compares to His.
All creation was made by Him and according to His design. Our very purpose is found in His decree.
The writers included God the Spirit.
Verse four made clear that His throne was surrounded by His own Holy Spirit – whose seven titles likely recall Isaiah 11:2.
1. God’s Spirit is the Spirit of the YHWH (The ever-present NOW God).
2. He is the Spirit of Wisdom (hokmah: practical application of truth)
3. He is the Spirit of Understanding (binah: clarity).
4. He is the Spirit of Counsel (etsah: advised strategy)
5. He is the Spirit of Strength (gibborah: empowering courage).
6. He is the Spirit of Knowledge (da’ath: deliberation)
7. He is the Spirit of Reverence (yiraw: sense of supreme awe).
Don’t rush past the details of WHO the Holy Spirit IS, or you will lose a lamp designed to guide you through the storm.
When you are filled with the Holy Spirit of the Living God, you are filled with the One Who is always on time, always up to speed with the facts, always ready to act in righteousness.
When you walk in the Holy Spirit and refuse to feed the insatiable desires of the flesh, you walk in the practical applications of the Word of God. You let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.
When you are filled with confusion and under the smoke of enemy fire, the Holy Spirit will bring crystal-like clarity by the Father’s inexhaustible power.
When you face defeat upon defeat and call upon God for understanding, God’s Holy Spirit will advise you on strategies to blunt the fiery darts of the wicked one.
When you cry out in fear of the things of this world, the Holy Spirit will wrap your weakness in the cable-like strength of Hid might.
When you cannot find a path to follow, the Spirit of Knowledge will show you how to cut through the dense thicket and brush of confusion and stir, and move toward the place of God’s peace.
When you yield your heart to the Spirit of Reverence, you will:
• Fear men less than God,
• Love sin less than a deep yearning for the Master’s smile
• You will keep a sharp eye on the immutable, inexhaustible, irresistible God to get through the storm.
The Father’s power and majesty, coupled with the Spirit’s inner assurance are both light sources to fix our eyes upon. But there is MORE…
The third collaborative author is Jesus.
–The lighthouse includes the One Who called Himself “the Light of the world”.
As I scan verses five through seven, I can begin to recite the greatness of our Savior…
He is the Anointed One, because verse five says:
Revelation 1:5 and from Jesus Christ,
The term “Christos” is a translation of the word for the Meshiach – the Anointed One. Our Savior has been appointed by God to be our King, our Priest, and our Prophet.
His words tell what is to come. His place is standing for us before the Father. His right is to hold the greatest scepter ever touched – the King above all Kings.
He is the Truthful One, because verse five went on to call Him:
Revelation 1:5b “…the faithful witness”
You can trust Jesus to talk straight about life, about struggles, about YOU.
He doesn’t dither around with “fortune cookie” like sayings. He isn’t some mystic “Yoda” figure.
You need to know as the FAITHFUL WITNESS, Jesus won’t blow smoke at someone He gave blood to save. Your pain isn’t irrelevant to Him. You aren’t a BOTHER to His schedule. Jesus is the witness before the Father that you can COUNT ON to speak faithfully the truth.
With His own breath, Colossians 1 reminds, man received dignity, identity and purpose.
A short time ago I stood at a Youth Conference and a student asked from the floor a question. He asked if his friend who called himself a “gay Christian” was going to Heaven. My answer apparently bothered most everyone in the room. I replied, “Your friend is mistaken. Christian is an identity. Sexual desire and fulfillment is a behavior. In the Gospels, Jesus taught the disciples that the Pharisees who called a woman “an adulteress” were WRONG. She wasn’t an adulteress – she was a woman created by God and loved by Him. So is your friend. His sexual behavior is something he does – but not who he is. God always separates behavior and identity.
If you buy into the world’s framing of “I am gay” you buy into letting someone’s wrong behavior (that is, their sin) name them. You and I aren’t what we feel, what we want or what we do. That isn’t our identity – it is our behavior.
Jesus refused to call a woman caught in the consequences of her rebellion an “adulteress.” He insisted that she was, in fact, a woman. She was a beloved creation of the Father. Her behavior was NOT her identity, and neither is any one else’s. We must stop buying into the deception that a person should be rightly named by their sin. Identity is neither synonymous with sexual desire nor behavioral failure. What we do is not who we are. Until we separate between identity and behavior we haven’t learned to think like the Savior.
Jesus taught the intrinsic worth and dignity of people. The modern agenda to accept desires as definition opposes the way Jesus looks at people.
You aren’t a pedophile. You aren’t a prostitute. You aren’t a thief. You aren’t a rapist. You are a person – created by a loving Father, and in need of His strong and mighty hand to deliver you from bowing down to your desires as though they were your master. I needed that. Everyone does.
Just as Jesus called the Disciples to see the “woman in sin” was a woman who needed God to fix her brokenness, so any friend who has been swallowed in a lifestyle of impure behavior needs God to fill the space in his heart now taken by the idols of feeling and desire. Jesus words to her were simply: “Knock it off!” (Go and sin no more). He didn’t mean “Get perfect!” but rather “stop doing this thing that God has said is wrong, period.”
Don’t ever forget: Satan knows you by your name, but calls you by your sin. Jesus knows you by your sin, but calls you by your name. Our faith is deeply rooted in God’s love of each of us. That is the heart of the Gospel.
Jesus can represent the Father in all things, because verse five called Him:
Revelation 1:5b “…the firstborn of the dead.”
Don’t get confused. The term “first born” in the text isn’t intended to say the Eternal Son of God was “born first.” The expression isn’t about Jesus being “created” though in the Godhead, He IS the only one Who experienced the process of physical birth!
The word had everything to do with RIGHTS and PRIVILEGES in the time of the Apostles. The FIRST BORN was the one who represented the Father in negotiations and contracts. He was the inheritor of all of his father’s estate. He held a position of greater authority than any other son, any employee, any representative. Jesus is the EXACT REPRESENTATION of the Father (Hebrews 1:4). He is the image stamp. He looks, in every respect, like the Father. He said it this way: “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” The term firstborn is a term about the right to fully represent the interests of His Father… and Jesus CAN.
Jesus is the One above every ruler and king, because verse five remarked:
Revelation 1:5b “…and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
There is no rival to Jesus. Every cult, every religion, every revered prophet of men will bow before the Lord of all Creation. Every Prime Minister, every President, every king and queen – all will drop to their knees and bow their faces to the floor in the magnificent throne room of the One God has promised to exalt above all.
He is the One who loved you enough to place His hands willingly down against the wood and evil men drove hard the nails through His flesh. Why? Why would He do that for you and for me? John made it clear…
Revelation 1:5b “…To Him Who loves us”
Jesus didn’t simply honor His Father’s wishes – though He DID do all things pleasing to Him. Jesus turned to His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed and He told them plainly: “Love one another in the way that I have LOVED you.” (John 13:34ff).
It wasn’t simply DUTY that drove Jesus to the Cross. He loved each one of those bumbling followers of His. They couldn’t listen very well, and they slept through their final prayer meeting with Jesus in Gethsemane, even though they knew He was upset about something. These guys had so many rough edges – they could be US! Yet, Jesus made clear He loved them. John included the whole of the church when he wrote “to Him Who loves us.”
Jesus is the One Who laid down His life for us. John wrote:
Revelation 1:5b “…and released us from our sins by His blood—
Think of it! Sin has no hold over you that YOU aren’t giving it.
Acting as a slave to your desires is like living in a jail cell with a door that is unlocked. Jesus unlocked it already.
Before you knew Christ, you were dead in relation to a real connection with God. You could do good things, but you couldn’t do RIGHTEOUS things. You could help people. You could be friendly. You could observe the GOLDEN RULE, pay your taxes and be a faithful spouse. What you couldn’t do, is settle the judicial issue between you and God related to your broken heart. You were born a sinner. It was passed from Adam to you and I by means of our father’s seed. You got more than your nose from him!
Jesus became sin, though He Himself never rebelled against God at all. He did it so that we might have a lamb that was truly spotless of offer up to God and pay for our sin. He took MY place and YOUR place on the Cross.
Jesus didn’t die simply to make us ONE in Heaven, but to bring us together to serve Him NOW! John wrote:
Revelation 1:6 “and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Our Savior welded us together. Forget your social status – all followers of Jesus are happy slaves. Forget your wealth – we are to live as those surrendered to the King. Forget your color – God didn’t want a boring world so he gave us many unique features that make us able to reflect His artistry. Forget yourself: We live for the glory of the King.
Don’t forget: Jesus is coming back. He isn’t done.
This old broken planet, gasping for clean air, shedding some of its wondrous beasts in extinction because of terrible greed, incessantly arguing about one opinion after another, spilling innocent blood because of rivalries, jealousies and mistrust… the earth is about to stand silent when the King arrives…
Revelation 1:7 “BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”
Songwriters Joel Houston, Benjamin Hastings and Michael Fatkin are credited with the lyrics of a song called: “So Will I.” Perhaps their stirring words will help you to deliberately focus on the Presence of God, and take the time to truly gaze upward to SEE HIM. They wrote:
“God of creation, there at the start, before the beginning of time with no point of reference – You spoke to the dark and fleshed out the wonder of light. And as You speak a hundred billion galaxies are born. In the vapor of Your breath the planets form. If the stars were made to worship so will I. I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made – Every burning star a signal fire of grace. If creation sings Your praises so will I.
God of Your promise, You don’t speak in vain. No syllable empty or void. For once You have spoken, all nature and science follow the sound of Your voice. And as You speak a hundred billion creatures catch Your breath [forming] in pursuit of what You said. If it all reveals Your nature so will I. I can see Your heart in everything You say. Every painted sky a canvas of Your grace. If creation still obeys You so will I, So will I, So will I.
If the stars were made to worship so will I.
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I.
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I.
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I.
If the wind goes where You send it so will I.
If the rocks cry out in silence so will I.
If the sum of all our praises still falls shy, then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times!
God of salvation, You chased down my heart through all of my failure and pride. On a hill You created the light of the world abandoned in darkness to die. And as You speak, a hundred billion failures disappear. Where You lost Your life, so I could find it here.
If You left the grave behind You so will I…”
When earth is full of drama, gaze up at the God Who will make all things new. Remember, He started this, and He is going to finish it. Revelation 1:8 makes it clear:
Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Think of those words.
• God started it all, and there is no other who will bring it all to an end.
• God is not “behind” – He is always NOW.
• God has no rival to subdue – He is the ALMIGHTY.
Now, let’s make this all very practical.
Philippians 3 was written when Paul was under house arrest in Rome awaiting the “justice” that was bound up in the person of Emperor Nero. Things weren’t looking bright. “Fair” was not on the menu. What did he do?
He said: “I want to know Him. I want to know His power. I want to know His pain. I want Him to change me as I study more and more His face, His life, His character.”
In Acts 7, Stephen found himself surrounded by the disfigured faces of angry men even as He testified to God’s great work in the Jewish people over the centuries. They huddled around him, having removed their covering cloaks so they could hurl stones upon him, Stephen fell to his knees and looked up to gaze at the Savior.
Acts 7:55 “But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.
Beloved, we will never really walk with God as He desires if we don’t take the time to SEE Him.
There are many who don’t look to their own peril. They get swallowed by life’s problems. They may truly know Jesus, but they will fail to follow Him. Their life will not show that Jesus can transform a life.
Their chance to serve the Savior will slip away, and they will waste it all.
Some waste their life because they believe they are too important to bow.
In U.S. Naval Institute Magazine called “Proceedings” Frank Koch wrote:
Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities. Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.” “Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out. The lookout replied, “Steady, Captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship. The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: ’We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.’” Back came the signal, “Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.” The captain said, “Send: “I’m a captain, change course twenty degrees.’” “I’m a seaman second-class,” came the reply. “You had better change course twenty degrees.” By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send: ’I’m a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.’” Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.” We changed course. – As told by: Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm, Word Publishing, 1991, p. 153.
When you truly see the Master as He is, you recognize the privilege of being His servant.