Topical Scripture: Revelation 1:12-20
In a month, the world will see The Da Vinci Code on screen, starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ron Howard. Forty million books have been sold worldwide. This is a global phenomenon, and a global opportunity for us to tell the world the truth about Jesus Christ. Across the coming weeks, we’ll do just that. His Revelation to John will be our guide.
Why do we need the real Jesus today, more than ever? Why do you?
Why we need the real Jesus
The week’s news was not inspiring:
On Tuesday, thousands in San Francisco turned out for the centennial of the greatest disaster their city has ever known. It was April 18, 1906 at 5:12 a.m. when the San Francisco earthquake struck. A three-day fire engulfed much of the city. Newsweek estimates that the same earthquake today would kill 4,000 and leave 690,000 homeless. When will the “big one” hit again?
Wednesday’s local news reported that a truck driver was asleep in his rig at I-20 and Lancaster when a knock came on his sleeper compartment door. Two armed men were there. They forced him to drive his truck a few blocks, where they stole 100 gallons of diesel fuel. With oil over $70 a barrel, it may be a “sign of the times,” as the reporter said.
On the moral front, The New York Times reports: “a federal judge ruled Tuesday that Kansas law did not require health care workers to report to the authorities sexual activity by people under age 16” (NYT April 19, A16). And we learn that “two Duke lacrosse players were arrested after being indicted on charges of raping a woman who performed as a dancer at a team party last month” (NYT April 19, A1).
Meanwhile, Addwaitya, the giant tortoise thought to be the world’s oldest living creature, died recently at a Calcutta zoo at around 250 years of age. Robert Grimm, the man who helped popularize baby carrots as a health snack, died the same week of a heart attack. He was 54.
And we learned the grim news that 30 million bags were lost by airlines globally in 2005, of which 240,000 were never returned to their owners.
But that’s not what everyone was talking about in Dallas. Record heat hit us this week, with highs over 100 on Monday and Tuesday. So what? Global warming, that’s what. It certainly seems to be so. 2005 was the hottest year in a century. Nineteen of the 20 hottest years on record have occurred since 1980.
Time magazine recently profiled the issue in stark terms. The article begins: “No one can say exactly what it looks like when a planet takes ill, but it probably looks a lot like Earth. Never mind what you’ve heard about global warming as a slow-motion emergency that would take decades to play out. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the crisis is upon us.”
One scientist says, “Things are happening a lot faster than anyone predicted. The last 12 months have been alarming.” The journal Science recently predicted a rise in sea levels by as much as 20 feet by the end of the century.
What causes the problem? As we burn fuel for energy we dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it traps the heat that flows in from the sun, raising global temperatures. Ice sheets at the poles, which normally reflect 90 percent of the sun’s heat back into the atmosphere, melt. Then they become sea water, which traps 90 percent of the heat it receives and heats the earth. Meanwhile, mountain snows which usually melt in spring and provide water during the summer are melting sooner, so that the water is gone when it is needed most. The droughts which result devastate forests which remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Frozen lands thaw, releasing trapped carbon into the air. And so the cycle continues.
As a result, the amount of the earth’s surface afflicted by drought has more than doubled since the 1970s. Polar bears are drowning as warmer waters melt their ice floes. And what is happening to us?
Cyclone Larry exploding through Australia at the beginning of the month; wildfires from Texas to Indonesia; Hurricane Katrina and now her descendants due to arrive in less than two months. The number of severe hurricanes worldwide has doubled in the last 35 years, while the wind speed and duration of all hurricanes has jumped 50 percent. Global warming is leading to increased risk of heatstroke, asthma, allergies and infectious disease.
These are frightening days. What difference does faith make in the face of such fear? Last week we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This week we learn why.
How to find the real Jesus
John “was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (v. 9). The year is AD 95, and John is an elderly man. He’s been preaching and pastoring for 60 years, and is the last living apostle of Jesus.
The Romans must silence his voice, but they’ve learned that martyring Christians only spreads their faith. So they’ve banished this man to the one place where there’s no congregation and no city and nothing he can do for Jesus.
He’s on Patmos, a crescent-shaped island 37 miles off the western coast of Asia Minor (Turkey today). Its 25 square miles consist mainly of volcanic hills and rocky terrain. John is there in “suffering”–the word means “oppressive affliction” and pictures the grinding of wheat and crushing of grapes. This elderly man is working the mines of this barren island, digging out its soil and carting it to the quarry. It’s backbreaking work, living in chains, sleeping on the bare ground of a cliffside cave. If ever there was a place to fear the future, it was on this Alcatraz of the ancient world.
But the Christ of Easter is also the Christ of Patmos.
He’s there “in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest” (v. 13). This was the robe of the High Priest of ancient Judaism. No longer a criminal condemned by Caiaphas–now he has replaced him on the throne of the nation.
“His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire” (v. 14). This is an Old Testament image of eternal age and wisdom. No longer a carpenter from Galilee, but the omniscient Lord of the universe.
“His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters” (v. 15). Bronze was the strongest metal known to the ancient world. The rushing roar of a waterfall was the loudest noise possible in his day.
“In his right hand he held seven stars” (v. 16a), signifying the angels or pastors of the churches (cf. v. 20). The churches were facing persecution, suffering, and destruction at the hands of Rome, but they were actually in stronger hands than any the Emperor could imagine.
“Out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword” (v. 16b). The Roman soldier wielded a short, sharp sword with double edges, with which the Empire conquered the world. Jesus’ word is more powerful than their strongest weapons.
“His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (v. 16c). The sun was the brightest single light in the ancient world, but this divine face shown brighter still.
The Christ of Easter could appear through locked doors and show his crucified wounds to Honest Thomas. The Christ of Heaven can appear anywhere on earth and show his glorified majesty to any believer on any Patmos. Even yours. Even today.
Do you need a High Priest to forgive your sins and wipe away your guilt? An omniscient Lord to guide your future and direct your steps? An omnipotent God of bronze feet and roaring voice to give strength to your frail soul? A sheltering hand to hold you in the teeth of discouragement and defeat? A word to strike down the temptations of the world? A light to guide your darkest night?
Then come to Jesus today.
It took me nearly 20 years of Christian faith to realize that Jesus Christ is as alive and real today as when he walked on this earth in his physical body. I can have a personal relationship with him which is just as real as any other relationship in my life. He can speak to me, listen to me, be with me, help me, just as any one of you can. You can have a personal, transforming relationship with him right now.
In fact, you must. Christianity cannot be lived successfully without his forgiveness, wisdom, power, shelter, word and light. You and I are incapable of knowing God’s will, growing spiritually, sharing our faith, building the church, or honoring God unless he empowers us. Human words cannot change human hearts. Your life and mine will matter not at all to the course of human history unless it belongs to him.
What is your Patmos today? What about the future causes you the greatest fear in the present? Do we have any hope but Jesus?
We can turn him into a Da Vinci Code spiritual mortal, keeping him and his word at church, separating “religion” from the real world and treating our faith as a hobby. But none of that changes who he really is. Not a wonderful teacher, but the risen and glorious Lord. As C. S. Lewis reminds us, the man who denies the sunrise doesn’t harm the sun–he just shows himself a fool. I can call you gods and him a man, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are men and he is God.
We can trust ourselves, but we will inevitably fail each other. If global warming doesn’t kill us, disease or disaster or accidents will. The death rate is still 100 percent. Science cures polio, but then must battle AIDS. If the bird flu doesn’t become an epidemic, something else will. Our lives are finite, frail, and fallen. And then we die.
Self-reliance is the religion of our culture. It is Satan’s great strategy for our day. Try harder to do better. Make religion a part of your life, to be sure. But don’t get carried away–all things in moderation. Be sincere in your beliefs and tolerant of others, and we’ll all get along. While the world dies.
Meanwhile, Jesus is standing here, at your side, right now. Hear his Spirit say, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (vs. 17-18). The Christ of Easter is the Christ of Patmos. Your Patmos. Right now.
My first visit to Patmos was on a Sunday morning. Our group was asked to wait outside for a few minutes. Then we were escorted into John’s cave with its low ceiling, volcanic rock, dark and dingy walls. The very place where Jesus revealed himself to his best friend.
Why did we have to wait? Because 20 centuries ago, John won his fellow prisoners and jailers to Christ in that cave. And now, 20 centuries later, their descendants are still worshipping there. Every Sunday for 2,000 years. That’s what God did with John’s Patmos.
What will he do with yours?