Greetings from God (November 25, 2018)
Greetings from God
Open up almost any of the New Testament books that were written as letters and you will find much the same greeting as you see here in Revelation 1. It almost gets to the point of redundancy when reading through the Bible. Coupled with the long, complicated, run-on sentences that riddle these greetings to the point of incomprehensibility, and you might just be better off skipping over it entirely. After all, we know that God is good and worthy of all praise, but what we really want to do when we read the Bible is grow in our faith and our understanding of how God works.
Well, here you have it. The whole sermon text today is basically just a greeting. Really, the only “body” of the letter that has been included in this section is a reiteration of a prophecy that says Jesus is coming and when he does, everyone will see him. And Jesus stating that he is the “Alpha and the Omega” which was basically just said in the previous verses. Doesn’t sound like much to work with. That is, until you get brave enough to slog through some of those run-on sentences and see that this is more than just a standard greeting. The apostle John is trying to briefly summarize just who your God is and what he’s done for you, before launching into a letter that deals with the unsettling details of the End Time and the effort of Satan and his evil angels against you!
So, “Greetings” and “Peace” to you. That’s how John starts this letter. It’s basically the typical Greek greeting “Xairete,” which means joy, and the typical Hebrew greeting “Shalom,” which means peace. Although, it isn’t quite that. “Shalom,” “peace,” the Hebrew greeting is fine because it was born out of an understanding that God’s chosen people have peace through the Messiah. It’s the secular Greek greeting that John, and the other apostolic writers tweak a little bit. They don’t write “xairete,” the write “xaris.” They aren’t simply saying “greetings,” they are saying “grace!” Grace and peace are what you have from God. Essentially, it’s a summary of all the gifts of God’s love that come to us through Jesus Christ. And with every greeting that the evangelists write, they are essentially saying that these things should always be on the forefronts of your minds. “Grace” and “Peace” from God. So that your faith – the gospel – rolls off your tongue as easily as you would say a greeting to someone.
So, John goes on, who is this God? Are you ready for the first run on sentence? “Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev 1:4-5). It’s a trinitarian description of God. An important reminder that although the majority of our focus is on Jesus, our Savior, God’s work for you is so multifaceted, so complete, that to truly understand his grace and peace, you have to understand how the trinity works for you, to bring you complete salvation.
Now, if you are looking at the reading in the bulletin and scratching your head wondering where on earth I’m seeing the complete trinity in this run-on sentence, let me break it up for you and unpack it. Look at the word “from” in those two verses. There’s three of them. Point them out, underline them, circle them. Grace and peace to you “from” the first person of the trinity, and “from” the third person of the trinity – they are out of order here – and, verse 5, “from” the second person of the trinity. And each of those descriptions for each person of the trinity evidences the reason for “grace” and “peace.”
The first person, God the Father, is identified as “him who is, and who was, and who is to come” (Rev 1:4). God doesn’t change. Who he was in the past is the same person he is today. And who he is today is the same person you will see face to face on the last day. From the moment sin first entered the world he’s been all about graciously loving you and saving you from sin. Right now, he wants you to know that there is peace between you and him. And when you see him on the last day, there will be nothing to fear. This consistency of God is very fitting in a book which speaks of Satan’s raging against the Lord and his church. As you look around and see how things are changing – how the world is becoming more and more godless – know that you have peace! Because your God never changes. He’s always been all about saving you.
The seven spirits, or the Sevenfold Spirit, is before the throne. The Holy Spirit is continually interceding for you before the throne. He is bringing your prayers and interceding with groans that words cannot describe – preserving you in God’s grace and assuring you of your peace. Although you sleep at night and wake in the morning, the Holy Spirit is always before the throne. And although you may drift from God here and there in your lifetime, the Holy Spirit is never giving up on you. He’s always before the throne.
Finally, “grace” and “peace” to you from Jesus. And in this description of Jesus we are reminded of his threefold role of prophet, priest, and king. He is “the faithful witness” who reveals God’s promise of grace to you – in word and action. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us” (Lk 24:32) two disciples marveled as Jesus revealed to them that despite appearances, God has always been about bringing salvation. Despite the fact that Jesus died on the cross and seemed to be utterly defeated, this was God’s plan for atonement. The path which took him to the cross to shed his own blood was the only sacrifice that could really atone for sin. He gave up his life and graciously took your place in the punishment for sin. Yet he rose, and as “the firstborn from the dead” he assures you that because of the peace he has established, you too will awake in your eternal home. Having done away with the guilt of sin and defeating Satan Jesus stands unshaken as “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev 1:5).
This is the God you have on your side. This is the power that stands for you despite the darkness, the sinfulness, the sadness and despair you see in the world. Your “grace” and “peace” is firmly established – never to be forsaken, changed, or forgotten – because your God has himself established “grace” and “peace.” And he has established it for you. Everything is under the power of Jesus as he rules in his eternal kingdom for the benefit of you, the church. Therefore, the ragings of this sinful world cannot overcome your King, who watches over you.
So, the apostles say, “grace and peace to you.” I say it to you almost every Sunday. But most importantly, your almighty and never changing God says, “grace and peace to you.” What do you have to be fearful of?
Perhaps when you look around you see the Prince of this World slowly, methodically conquering more and more of it. We talk about it. We talk about the godlessness and immorality that’s taking over nation after nation. We even say out loud, perhaps even pray, “I hope I don’t live to see the day.” We pray “thy kingdom come” which is actually a prayer for God to advance his kingdom upon the earth – that more and more come to faith. But either by a misunderstanding, or perhaps simply out of despair we pray “thy kingdom come” thinking of the day when Christ will come and take us out of this world. Because it seems we are fighting a losing battle. It seems that Christ is the King of heaven only. That he came to do what he needed to do and now he’s simply running an evacuation mission.
Or maybe you don’t even have to look around. Maybe you only need to look right into your own heart and you see the guilt of a past life. And you live in fear or terror of that past life, not wanting it to creep up and take hold of your present. Or you see how your heart is being bound up and led to places you don’t want to go because those sins you crave are becoming easier to access, easier to keep hidden, or even just more easily accepted today. And so, you hold out. You hole up where you are, arm yourself with as much of God’s word as you can and pray that Christ comes to rescue you before the darkness consumes you too.
But is that how Christ wants you to live? Is ours a faith of timidity and fear? Is that why Christ went to all those lengths for you – carefully plotting out the course of history since the beginning of time so that he can simply run an evacuation mission? Is he only the King of heaven and not the king of earth? Is your faith in him only meaningful once you have died or when he returns? No! Even now “he has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father” (Rev 1:6). As priests you have the privilege of approaching God directly on your own behalf and on behalf of others. As members of his kingdom you have peace knowing that even now he directs every event in your life – only allowing in your life things that will serve his kingdom of believers – you included. Because he reigns, you reign with him. And make no doubt about it, despite any injustices you endure now, despite the lows your life may come to, on the Last Day “he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him” (Rev 1:7).
God isn’t losing. In fact, he’s already won. He’s not running an evacuation mission trying to save all those he can before the window closes. He knows those who are his. And as King of the heavens and the earth – Ruler over all powers – he sees to it that all his own are brought safely into his kingdom before He brings about the end. “So shall it be! Amen” (Rev 1:7) John says. This is the way God has planned it, so this is the way it’s going to be. There’s no changing it. There’s no usurping the King of kings. And if what came before wasn’t enough, Jesus himself speaks – for John to record and for you to hear: “I am the Alpha and the Omega” that is, the beginning and the end, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8). So, when God promised long ago that he would send the seed of a woman to crush the serpents head, he meant it. And when Jesus cried out on the cross, “It is finished,” he really did it. And now when we hear him speak of the future in the present tense, “he is coming with the clouds” (Rev 1:7), he is coming for you, to greet you with “grace” and “peace,” you have no reason to doubt! “So shall it be! Amen” (Rev 1:7).