Revelation 15 & 16

Rev.15:2-4    —   THE HOPE OF OVERCOMERS

This sermon was preached at Peace  Hill Christian Fellowship on September 27th, 2009.  To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click this link – Rev 15A.

Since Ch.12 we have been looking at the great battle between the Dragon and his servants and the Lamb.   We have seen how this ancient battle that began in the Garden of Eden has continued through to our day – how the Dragon now fights against the children of the Lamb – through accusation, temptation (the great prostitute), threat (the beast) , and lies.

We have also been given a vision of the Lamb and the church – singing the new song of the Lamb – the testimony of Jesus’ delivering work in our lives – and of the final harvest of our lives either to judgment or to salvation.

This morning – just before we get to the final bowls of wrath that will complete the judgment of God – there is a another picture of the overcomers – a picture of those who have come through the harvest and who now stand in heaven singing as God pours out final judgment on the earth.

We want to look at this picture – a picture of believers who have overcome – and we want to talk about how to become overcomers and what our expectation should be as we seek to be overcomers.

Do Not Trust in Your Own Strength But in God.

We Expect Our Sin to Go Away to be Replaced By Easy Faithfulness:  I want to talk about the expectation we have  that we should be able to “get past – be done with – sin.   When confronted with a passage like this,  we are looking at a completed picture which, in our lives, is still in the process of being painted.   We are supposed to be living in the not yet – we are supposed to be only partial in our experience – we are supposed to be in the midst of battle –  the picture of the completed overcomer is what we will be after the harvest.  We groan inwardly – as Paul says – because we long to be complete – this is a good longing, but we must not confuse our longing with our expectation of our experience now.   Battle and struggle, victory and failure, for now, is normal experience.

Our expectation of faith is that we should be able to deal with these things and be reasonably godly people.   The truth about my expectation is that I think I am smart enough and spiritually experienced enough to overcome my sins through insight and discipline.   I believe that God wants me to do more – to work really hard to earn all the good things he has given me – and heaven too.  But this is not the message of the overcomers – they are singing the song of Moses and of the Lamb.

God is Faithful to Us and For Us:  Let’s take a look at the Song of Moses in Deut.32…

~ God is good Vs.1-4 – Listen as I tell you about the character of God – He is our rock – His works are perfect and his ways are just – he is a faithful God.

~ Men are Corrupt Vs.5-6 – But men acted  corruptly towards him – to their shame they became no longer his children  but a crooked (twisted and perverse) generation.

~ Men Responded Corruptly to God’s Blessing Vs.7-18  – God, your Father and Creator, raised you (Israel) up from nothing – to be his people – He cared for Jacob and your ancestors – and you grew rich and content – so you forgot God and chased after other gods – abandoning your rock.

~ God Decided to Redeem Them for His Own Name’s Sake Vs. 19-27 – God saw this and was angry… jealous.  He wanted to judge you and destroy you, but then he saw that the glory of his name was at stake – that the nations would say his great works of deliverance were just luck or coincidence.

~ Men Refused to See Their Folly Vs.28-35 – His people, however, were too foolish hearted to see that they had become weak and subject to their enemies because they had abandoned their rock.

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~ God Will Have Compassion on His People Vs.36-38 – So God will judge His people and have compassion on his servants at the point when they see that their strength is gone, and no one is left to save them, so that they can see the emptiness and worthlessness of their false gods.

~ The Almighty God Will Redeem Them  Vs.39-43 – God is the Almighty – there is no other God who puts to death and brings to life – who wounds and heals.  No one can deliver from his hand.

* God will avenge his servants – his people for wrongs done to them.

* God will take vengeance on his enemies.

* God will make atonement for his people and their land.

On That Day We WIll See and Sing of God’s  Faithfulness:  “2And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name.

 They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb:

Look at this song and understand what Moses is saying… Our God is a great God – he has been faithful to us – we turned away – we became weak and lost – GOD HAD COMPASSION ON US ANYWAY AND MADE ATONEMENT FOR OUR SINS.

This is the song, along with the song of the Lamb (the song of deliverance and redemption from CH.14) that the overcomers are singing.   It is not about their strength but about God’s faithfulness.  It is, in fact, about our inadequacy and failure to be the faithful people we should have been – and the fact that he redeemed us anyway for the sake of his name – his glory.

Do Not Trust In Your Ability to Understand, But Trust in God.

We Expect to Be Able to Make Sense of What God is Doing:    Secondly, we expect to be able to understand – if not the fine points of theology – at least our own spiritual journey.   We expect to understand what God has done in our lives – and in other people’s lives.    We are very uncomfortable when we cannot understand someone’s suffering or our own suffering, or failures in our lives – things that did not turn out the way we wanted them to – or the way we thought they should.

We expect to understand and to comprehend, despite the fact that there are things in Scripture that defy our comprehension… e.g. the near sacrifice of Isaac…  the holy wars in which whole cities – (including women and children and even animals) – were “devoted to the Lord” by being slaughtered…  the justice of hating Esau and loving Jacob before either of them were even born.    We tend to look away from these things because we cannot see how God could be the God we know with the character he has revealed – the God we trust in – and still do these things.

On That Day We Will See and Sing of God’s Faithfulness:  Look at the words of the song that the overcomers sing here as, in the context of final judgment, they look at what God has done…         

(1) Great and marvelous are your deeds,  Lord God Almighty. Translation – Your actions – what you did – Lord God Almighty – were amazing wonderful and right!

(2)  Just and true are your ways,  King of the ages.  Translation – Your ways of working out the history of the world and of my life and the lives of others – were just- fair – and true – they are what ought to have been – King of the Ages.

(3)  Who will not fear you, O Lord  and bring glory to your name?  Translation – Who, seeing what you have done will not be filled with awe?  Who seeing what you have done, will not be blessed by this?  will not fall down and praise your name.

(4)   For you alone are holy.  All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.  Translation –  Your actions have been so righteous – so full of integrity and faithfulness and love and goodness  – that now they have been revealed all people will come and fall down before you and worship.

This is the song that the Overcomers will sing  on that day as they hold harps given them by God – symbol of a true understanding – song given them by God.

So How Do We Overcome?

Recognize the “Not Yet” Nature of Your Walk With God:  Augustine puts it well,  When my whole being is united with you, then I will feel no more sorrow or pain;  mine will be the true life, wholly filled by you.  You raise up all who are filled with your Spirit;  but I am not yet so filled, I am a burden to myself.  The worldly joys that I ought to lament, struggle within me with the sorrows in which i should rejoice, and i do not know where the victory lies.  Take pity on me, O Lord, for i am not hiding my wounds from you.  You are the doctor, I am the patient;  You are the giver of mercy – I am in great need of it.”

We are locked in spiritual battle (the message of Rev.12-16), with an enemy, the great dragon, who continually attacks us.   We must not be surprised when we struggle or fail.   We are not yet the overcomers – and this recognition keeps us from despair and the expectation that we should not struggle as we do.   If we understand that we are spiritually locked in battle – then we will expect to battle and struggle.

Recognize the Faithful Character of God:   Again, to quote Augustine,   “Do not be afraid to throw yourself  on the Lord!  He will not draw back and let you fall!  Put your worries aside and throw yourself on him; he will welcome you and heal you.”

God who is our faithful redeemer, who continually pursues us in order to complete the good work he has begun in us, will not abandon us in the middle of the battle.  God’s faithfulness – rather than our own – is what the Overcomers will sing about.   Therefore, come to God in prayer and ask for help in every struggle – he will welcome and help you.

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Rev.15:1-16:21     —     GOD’S JUDGEMENT OF VIOLENCE

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on October, 18th, 2009.  To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click this link –  Rev15-16.

The natural question we want to ask is whether these are actual events in the history of the world.   Let me say that I would not rule out that possibility.   But also let me address our reasons for wanting to ask the question in the first place.

We fear or we want judgment.   If we fear, then we need to pay attention to the context of this passage.   The harvest has come (if you want you can call it the rapture), and these terrible judgments now fall on a very specific group of people – those who worship the beast and receive his mark – who they are will become finally evident in this passage.  Therefore, whether or not these are actual historical events, they will not be experienced by believers, who, as we have seen, are looking on from above.

For those who want these judgments to fall on the wicked, who desire retribution… clearly something awful is going to befall those who reject God and worship the beast.   If these are actual historical events they will be terrible.  If they are symbolic, then we are still assured of this – that the wrath of God will be completed on those who have rejected Christ, and that not only believers, but heaven itself will worship God for the justice and rightness of his judgments.

Ultimately this is a passage of judgment which is concerned to show the following…

1) That the mark of the beast on the thoughts and hands of his followers and the worship that they give to the beast is violence – the will to power and the methods of coercion.

2) That God will completely judge violence so that those looking on will praise God for his justice.

3) That  even at the final extreme of judgment, the violent, though miserable, will continue to willfully reject, blaspheme and openly rebel against God.

We Need to Recognize the Mark of the Beast as Violence and Reject it.

The Blood is a Hint:  Take a look at the first three plagues in 16:1-4 – Each of them have to do with blood.  16:6 makes clear what is going on here – those who have shed the blood of the saints are being judged and exposed for their violence.

~ vs.2 – the “loathsome and malignant sore[s] on the people who had the mark  of the beast and worshiped his image”, are a picture of uncleanness – an exposure of the meaning of the actions and thoughts of those wo worship the beast.  This is a physical picture of what their violence truly looks like.

~ vs.3 – the bowl poured into the sea which, “…became blood like 

that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died” – is an exposure of what the actions of the beast-followers produce – what they reap – their reward.

~ vs.4 – the bowl poured into the springs and rivers so that, “…they became blood”, is a picture of God giving the violent a water supply of what they have been drinking.  It is a disgusting picture of who the violent are and what they have done.

The Followers of the Beast are Marked by Violence:  The true spiritual mark of the beast, then, is the love of and service of violence.  Those who embrace and love violence and the will to force others through violence to their ways are using what characterizes the beast and are acting as his followers.

This is in opposition to the way of Jesus and to what he taught about loving our enemies, laying down our lives.  It is in opposition to the way of the Gospel in which Jesus laid down his own life for his enemies.  It is in opposition to God’s will to redeem and bless.

The Violent Beast-Worshipers Will Be Unrepentant.

Even Though God Removes Their Security:   The last four bowls of God’s wrath are characterized by two things – increasing fear and discomfort in the face of judgment and an unwillingness to repent.

~ vs.8-9 the bowl is poured out on the sun and it burns men with fire and fierce heat.  The sun, which is a comfort and a blessing turns into an enemy.   In the ancient world there can be no more clear indication of God’s displeasure than this – yet the violent not only refuse to repent – they blaspheme the name of God – or curse God.

~ vs.10-11 – the 5th bowl is poured out on the throne of the beast and it is plunged into darkness.  Again those committed to the beast and to violence, though in agony, blaspheme God and refuse to repent.

~ vs.12 – the 6th bowl is poured out on the Euphrates river opening the way for invasion from the kings of the east.

The Response of the Violent is Open War with God:  in response to these things, the dragon and the beasts send out unclean spirits (the frogs) to gather the kings of the earth – who are committed to violence and to the ways of the beast – to battle.   The kings of the earth are, of course, swayed by these false spirits because, in a sense, they have already given themselves to the uncleanness of violence.

Their Condemnation is Just!  Even in the finality of judgment the violent will curse God.  The 7th bowl – vs.17-21 is clearly another of these final judgment scenes – which we have seen before in Rev.6 and 9.   Here the violent are finally and completely judged and the wrath of God against them is satisfied – the voice from the Temple proclaims that “it is done.”   And yet, even as the great earthquake destroys the city and hailstones rain down from heaven and the islands and mountains flee away – the violent continue to reject and curse God – they do not cry out for mercy or even express regret – only hate.

It is important for us, as believers, to have a proper understanding of judgment and a proper appreciation.   We should be able to say with the angels (16:5-6) and the throne of God (16:7) and as the saints (15:3-4), that God’s judgments  are just and true.

We say this because rebellion and violence are, themselves, a plague on creation that must be removed from heaven and earth.  There can be no more war, murder, assault, rape, enslavement, forced prostitution, violent angry dangerous men in the new heavens and the new earth.  Those who choose, love and worship these things must be judged.

Be Awake and Clothed!

In the middle of this passage of rebellion and war is vs.15.   Why is it there?   Vs.15 is a call to the followers of Jesus to be awake to the judgment of the violent and to be clothed with the mark of the Gospel (we saw this back in Ch.7 where the servants of God are sealed by the Holy Spirit).

Wake Up!    At the height of the passage where the violent gather for war, we are being shown the true nature of violence and are being called not only to reject violence but to put on grace and love towards one another – towards enemies.   To be awake is to be alert to the ways of Jesus.    We need to see how absolutely opposite the ways of violence are to what Jesus taught… “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.”   In a world characterized by violence, we are to be light – acting out the grace and love of God.  No greater contrast in character could be imagined.

Be wise and alert, then.  Look and pay attention to what marks the actions of your hands – your speech – your thoughts and intentions.   The response of self-protecting violence in our actions, thoughts and words must be actively turned away from.  We must learn to walk  in a new way by learning to respond with words and actions of grace.  This requires that we see people not as threats, but as Jesus sees them – souls made by God, worth much to God – souls God wants to redeem.

Get Dressed!   To be dressed in this context means to be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus – particularly here, in regard to violence.  Our fearful thoughts towards others have been violent, angry, threatening.  We have protected ourselves with violent angry words – violent angry actions – intentions to hate.

No one knows the threat and violence of this world like Jesus, who gave himself up to torture and death.   That righteousness is a gift given to those who confess their hateful intentions, malicious words, violent angry thoughts, self-protective angry behavior and turn to Him for grace.  To be dressed means to come to the cross and find grace and forgiveness and peace.

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