April 3, 2016 “Start to Finish” – Revelation 1:4-20
“Start to Finish”
April 3, 2016 – Second Sunday of Easter
Your supervisor demonstrates the new software for twenty minutes. Or perhaps she hands out the new accounting protocol and explains it a little bit. Maybe he gives you an instruction booklet for the new machine. But in each case a person gives you a little direction and then walks away. You’re on your own now, sink or swim. Take whatever you managed to learn and put it into practice.
It can feel like that’s the story of the Christian faith. Jesus came to get us started, but now it’s up to us to spread the Gospel, feed the hungry, live changed, sinless lives, and do whatever else our Lord expects of us.
Both our Gospel reading from John 20 and the passage I just read from Revelation 1 teach us something different. Jesus did not come just to get us started and then leave us to finish the job. That’s the kind of false belief which infected our country early in its history. It’s called deism, belief in a God who created the world, but that’s it. Deism says God is hands off ever since, that our world is spinning all on its own.
Neither creation nor the new creation in Jesus are mere starting points. Christian doctrine says that God is always creating, always keeping our universe in being. And Scripture here today shows us that Jesus is always with us, sustaining and helping us in the new life He gives, from start to finish.
Our text from Revelation 1 starts in verse 4 with grace and peace “from him who is and who was and who is to come.” God is not just a figure in the past. He also is and is to come, present and future. Likewise in verse 8, the Lord God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. He’s the start and the finish and everything in between.
That’s why we read the rest of chapter 1 this morning. The assigned reading ended in verse 8, but we wanted to hear John tell us the vision he had of Jesus. It’s decades after the resurrection and Jesus still shows up. He is still with us centuries later. Look at verse 9. John wrote to his fellow Christians that he shares with them “in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance.” There it is. Our faith is not in a Savior who just got things started, but in a Lord who is with us both in persecution and in glory. That kind of faith takes patient endurance.
We endure, we trust in Jesus for the long haul because of what we see of Him in these two texts. In the Gospel John showed us Jesus just risen. He came to the disciples demonstrating that even a crucifixion was not the end for Him, or for them. They saw nail prints in His hands and a spear wound in His side. There on Patmos John saw that same Jesus in a new way, in all His glory as the Son of Man.
This vision of Jesus in the first chapter of Revelation shows how God completes what He starts even across centuries. Read that description in verses 13 to 16 and John’s response in verse 17. Then turn over to Daniel chapter 10 verses 5 to 9 and compare. Daniel saw Him hundreds of years before John, but it’s the same One, the One who is and who was and who is to come.
Hear this morning what Jesus said to John there in verse 17: “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever.” That’s the truth Thomas and John and the other disciples glimpsed on the Sunday after the first Easter. It’s what John now saw again and heard on another Sunday, the Lord’s Day, years and years later.
We are not on our own to finish what Jesus started. He is here with us, the glorious Son of Man, from start to finish, first to last. That’s why He says, “Do not be afraid.” There’s no need to fear what’s happening around us, that events in the world or in our lives are not turning out like we hoped. Jesus is here, and Jesus has it all covered, from the beginning to the end.
How, you might ask? How is Jesus here? We heard Thomas’s story so we could know our own questions are not so bad, not unexpected. He only said what you and I might like to say sometimes. We want evidence, some tangible demonstration that Jesus really is present and active now and not just back then, at the beginning.
There are at least two ways that Jesus shows Himself to us now. They are connected, and they both appear here in Revelation 1. The first is in the work of the Holy Spirit. In six weeks we will celebrate Pentecost and remember how Jesus kept His resurrection promise, that He would send the Holy Spirit to those first disciples. And that Spirit has been with us to do Jesus’ work in our lives and show us Jesus ever since.
Back in verse 4 that greeting “from him who is and who was and who is to come,” is also “from the seven spirits who are before his throne.” That sounds odd to us, but it’s a way of talking about the various ways the Holy Spirit works. Seven is the complete number. Everything Jesus started is being completed by His Holy Spirit guiding us, empowering us, teaching us, comforting us and doing for us everything that God wants done.
In verse 10, we read that John was “in the Spirit” that Sunday there in exile on the island of Patmos. The Spirit gave him his message and his vision to share. Jesus did not leave John to grow old finish out his ministry using just his own diminishing wits and strength. He carried John through His Spirit into the hopeful visions which we find here.
Jesus is present now, from start to finish, through the Holy Spirit. But in verse 11 the Spirit gave John a message for “the churches.” What we call the book of Revelation is addressed to seven churches in seven cities arranged in a semi-circle up along the west coast of what is now Turkey and then down around to the southeast inland. In verses 19 and 20, we see that those churches are represented by the seven golden lampstands around Jesus in verse 12. Seven stars held in His hand in verse 16 represent their angels or their pastors.
Lampstands and stars are lovely symbols, but the churches were real. Jesus cared for them. He stands in their center and holds their leaders in His hand. He does that for every church. It is through His Church, through His churches that Jesus continues what He started by the Spirit. The Spirit works through the Church, through local churches all around the world now.
It is in and through His people gathered together as His body in the church that Jesus regularly and constantly shows up in our present time. It’s the church which is here to represent Jesus to the world in this time between start and finish. When someone dies, we gather around to offer comfort, celebrate that life, and encourage one another in hope, like so many of you did for Kathy and her family yesterday.
In what seems like a hopeless political season, where all the options seem bad, we wonder where Jesus is in it all. Let’s remember what our friend Stanley Hauerwas says. The church itself is a politics. It’s a way of life, of public life, that is not Republican nor Democrat, not tied to any government on earth. It demonstrates to the world that people can live and work together in peace and harmony which goes beyond any party platform, candidate or coalition.
All those times we wonder where the Lord is are opportunities for us to receive the work of Jesus in and through His Spirit in the church. A Christianity Today article by the parent of an autistic child tells how their church stepped up to minister to an 8-year-old boy. A Sunday School teacher found something more active for him to do when he couldn’t sit still and color like the other kids. Another member volunteered to be his one-on-one buddy at church.
That church ended up serving other families with autistic or special needs children. They became a safe and welcoming place for those parents and kids. God did not begin those little lives and then leave their parents to figure it out alone. The living Lord Jesus Christ gave His Spirit to the church so those families could make it all the way through the challenges they face.
Jesus is our beginning and end. You may have come discouraged this morning. You managed to give up some bad habit or sin during Lent, but with Easter over you’ve fallen back into it. Perhaps you’ve had a conflict with someone you care about and said words you wish you could take back. Maybe you’ve heard bad news about your health. You’ve come to the right place, because this is where we believe and trust that what Jesus has done for you is not just the beginning. Our Lord will complete what He started through His Spirit and in His church.
You may be unsure where your life is headed. You started in one direction, believed God called you, sent you, led you in a certain way, maybe in marriage, maybe in business, maybe in ministry for Him. But now it hasn’t worked out, doors have closed, relationships are broken, resources have dried up. Like Thomas doubting whether Jesus was really alive on that first Easter, you have your doubts. The answer to all those doubts is to see Jesus and know that His life and work continues. That’s the message we encourage each other with every Sunday here.
Thomas saw Jesus in the flesh and was invited to touch Him. John there on Patmos saw Jesus in the Spirit through a vision. You and I see Jesus in the care and love of people around us in the church. He is here, start to finish. He is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. What He started, Jesus will finish. As we sing sometimes from Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” Whatever you are waiting for Jesus to finish for you or for our world, He will. He is faithful, to the end. He returned and let Thomas see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands the completion of his salvation. Jesus will return so that you and I may see Him as well.
We see Jesus now through His Spirit. We see Him through His church. And here in the church we Jesus at work at this Table around which we gather today. Thomas needed to touch the body of Christ in order to believe and so do we. Jesus took bread and said, “This is my body,” so that we may touch and receive Him together in this very tangible way.
Jesus in verse 17 told John not to be afraid. He was speaking to you and me as well. He said, “I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever.” That’s the promise on which all that we believe and do is based. “Take and eat,” touch His body and be in His body and trust that Jesus is alive forevermore.
Our text concludes with the churches, the lampstands and stars. That number seven again symbolizes completeness. Jesus stands in the midst of all His churches around the world, whether it’s the comfortable churches of our country, the lapsed and shrunken churches of Europe, or the persecuted and frightened churches of Pakistan. He is there because His Church is there. The persistence of gatherings of believers in spite of laws against them and bombs attacking them tells us that Jesus is still present.
As we celebrated last June, Jesus began this church now almost forty-one years ago. He has been here all along to carry forward what He began. He was there at our beginning and is here now. Let us remain with Him, start to finish.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2016 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj