A Journey Through Revelation: God’s Plan
Revelation 11:1-15 – Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf D. Svanoe
I was a senior in college the year the first Star Wars movie came out. It was amazing how this Science Fiction Fantasy movie captured the imaginations of millions. It was about the conflict between good and evil. Pretty soon we were all saying the words: “May the Force be with you!” And we Lutherans would respond, “And also with you!” One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Darth Vader meets his old teacher, the Jedi Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Darth Vader has gone over to the dark side of the force and become a master of evil. After an opening salvo with their light sabers, Darth Vader says to Obi-Wan, “Your powers are weak, old man.” Obi-Wan says to him, “You can’t win, Darth. You can strike me down, but I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Obi-Wan is cut down by Darth Vader. And it is Obi-Wan’s death that helps lead to a defeat of the Empire, something that Darth Vader, with all his power, was not able to foresee.
How can someone’s death lead to a victory for good? That is precisely what we are here to celebrate today in our Lord Jesus Christ. His death on the cross was not a defeat, but the ultimate victory in the struggle between good and evil. His death and resurrection are at the very core of our faith as Christians.
We are on this journey through the book of Revelation. Let me review a bit. In chapter five, we saw a scroll with seven seals on it. The scroll represents God’s plan for the salvation of the world. Only the Lamb who was slaughtered was worthy to open the scroll and break its seals. In chapter six, as the seals were opened, devastations visited the earth. The four horsemen represent basic fears we have about our world- fears of threat from without, fear of violence in our own streets, fear of economic ruin, and the fear of death. These four symbols remind us that all those things we trust in to provide security in our lives can be taken away from us in an instant. We can spend billions on military defense and still not be any more secure than we were before. We can try to lead quiet lives and still be the victim of random violence. We can insure ourselves against economic ruin and still end up losing it all. We can lead healthy lifestyles, exercise and eat the right foods, and still receive a diagnosis of cancer or leukemia from the doctor. Today’s news is filled with the sound of hoof beats as these four horsemen gallop their way across the world. And John uses these symbols to remind us that there is only One who can provide us with true security. Put your trust in God alone!
And so what impact do the seals and horses have on humankind? At the end of chapter six, John tells us that everyone, rich and poor alike, hid from God and refused to worship Him. The same thing happened with the next series of woes symbolized by seven trumpets. John patterned these woes after the Exodus from Egypt story. Just as God used plagues to rescue His people and change Pharaoh’s heart, so God uses Revelation’s trumpets in the same way to rescue His children from an Empire built on violence and greed and death. And what was the result? After the sixth trumpet it says that, “The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts” (9:20-21).
Nothing has worked so far. So what is God going to do? Does God have another plan in mind? Yes. The answer John gives comes in chapters 10 and 11. God calls the church to witness, to testify to the truth of God’s love and justice to a world that doesn’t want to hear it. God calls the church to witness, even in the face of persecution and death, and to love the world as extravagantly as Christ did. In the New Testament, the word for witness is the same as the word for martyr. Jesus is the faithful witness and calls the church to be witnesses, even if it costs us our lives. When the church does that, the world takes notice, and people come to faith in God.
How does God change the world? How does God redeem the world from its evil and violent ways? It is not through what the world values- power and violence. In John’s time that’s how ancient Rome tried to change the world with the strongest military in history. But John reminds us that God’s ways are not our human ways. God changes and heals the world through self-giving sacrificial love. God transforms the world with weakness- with Lamb Power. And the church continues Christ’s work through its witness to His love. The early church father Tertullian wrote that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. He wrote that because he had seen it with his own eyes. Tertullian had converted to Christianity based in part on his wonder at Christians’ faithfulness in the face of martyrdom, and it clearly had a similar effect on others as well. The early church grew until in the fourth century it became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
I could give you example after example of Christians who remained faithful in the face of death. Justin Martyr was a leader in the early Christian church. He was arrested and told to renounce his faith. Justin refused and was beheaded. Or people like Perpetua, who converted to Christianity at a time of great persecution. She was arrested and brought before the governor to deny her faith and perform the sacrifice to the emperor. She refused, and Perpetua and her friends were brought to the arena where they were attacked by gladiators and wild animals and killed. To be a martyr is to be a witness, and the witness of these martyrs to their faith in Jesus Christ had a power that the Romans could not understand. And eventually, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Brian Blount has written a book about Revelation from the African American perspective. He tells about how Martin Luther King Jr. led a movement to change racial injustice in our country by speaking truth to power. This truth-telling grew out of the faith of Christians who were inspired by the non-violence of Jesus. When the world watched as Christians were the victims of horrible violence and injustice, there was moral outrage. Real change came to our country in the form of civil rights legislation. Brian writes, “One can say that the civil rights protesters who were beaten, water hosed, bombed, threatened, tortured, and even killed were, like the Lamb, slaughtered. But one would not properly call them victims, even if their victory did come at what were often tragic costs. At the very moment their oppressors executed their violence against them, the moment of their symbolic slaughter, their battle was won.” That is the power of witness. That is Lamb power.
In 2015, the world was horrified at the death of 20 Coptic Christian martyrs. They were captured by ISIS and beheaded for their faith. At the moment of their death, they all cried out the name of Jesus. It was a powerful testimony to their faith. And while the Coptic church community in Egypt grieved, they also celebrated the faith of these martyrs.
How is God going to change the world? God will change it through you and me and our loving witness to Christ’s love and justice to bring change to the world. The powers of darkness will oppose us. But our mission is to speak truth to power and to bring light to the darkness. That is our mission given us in baptism. We are joined to one another in “God’s mission for the life of the world.” Our mission is not to fight evil with evil, but to fight evil with good. We aren’t called to take up arms, but called to follow the Lamb that was slain, to oppose evil with Lamb power. We walk in the light. We speak truth. We love extravagantly, and we forgive without end. These are the gifts we have been given in Jesus Christ. This is the mission that God sends us to share with the world, even at the cost of our lives.
The Two Witnesses made a difference and so can you and I. At the end of chapter 11, everyone gave glory to God, the seventh trumpet was blown, and the heavens broke out into song. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his [Christ], and he will reign forever and ever.” This is a song that George Frederic Handel made famous in the Hallelujah Chorus from his oratorio, Messiah. The words come right out of the book of Revelation. When Handel completed the Hallelujah Chorus, he reportedly told his servant, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself seated on His throne, with His company of Angels.” Let’s listen to a part of the chorus now.
With the whole people of God in Christ Jesus, let us pray for the church, for all in need, and for the whole creation.
LJC, we praise you that you have loved us, and called us to be your children. Send us forth from this place inspired to share your love with everyone we meet. Give us courage to speak out on behalf of the poor and against injustice. Use us, Lord, to bring your peace to our world.
We pray, O Lord, for the victims of the hurricane Michael. Give comfort to those who have lost loved ones or their homes. Give strength to all seeking to bring help.
We pray, O Lord, for all in need of your healing. We pray especially for little Gabby Brown. As our hearts were shocked with news of her leukemia this week, bring the joy of a full recovery to her. Bless her parents and family as we go through this journey together. We pray also for Karen James, Jay Masters, Chuck Dennstedt, Loren Milne, Harriet Harstad, Blaine Whalen, and others we mention now in our hearts.
We ask your blessing on Katelyn McIntosh and Dylan Gossick who were joined in marriage here yesterday. Bless the home that they establish and fill them with your grace.