“Beginning and End”
April 7, 2013 - Second Sunday of Easter
I bought a new watch
this past week. My fifteen year old, $20 Timex finally quit even with a new
battery in it. I was losing fifteen or twenty minutes a day. It cost $35 this
time, but I’m all fixed up with a new Timex I hope will last another fifteen
You hardly need a
watch these days when there’s a clock on your phone. But I’ve been glancing at
my wrist for thirty years to see if I’m on time for worship and it’s hard to change.
And I don’t like sneaking a look at my phone in the middle of a dull event. My
watch keeps me posted on beginning and end.
Of course there are
beginnings and endings a watch won’t help you with, not even if tells the day
of the month like my new one. A smartphone with a calendar app gives you a
little more. But expectant parents will tell you it’s still hard to say when life will begin. And you and I are both know there is no app to tell you when life
Our text today is timeless.
We jump from the end of Revelation last week back to its first chapter to hear,
as it says in verse 1, what John wrote to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Those were real churches. One of my bucket list wishes, before the end of my
life, is to travel the semi-circle they trace along the western side of Turkey. But seven is also a symbolic number, signifying completeness. So John wrote his
message to all churches. He wrote to us.
The rest of verse 4
and verse 5 are greetings of grace and peace from God the Trinity. But John
named the three persons of God in an unusual way. God the Father is called “him
who is and who was and who is to come.” That designation shows up again in
verse 8. It ties back to God’s Old Testament name, which simply meant, “I am.”
God the Holy Spirit is
strangely named as “the seven spirits who are before his throne.” We don’t
usually speak of the Spirit this way, but John may be thinking of God’s Spirit
in His seven aspects mentioned in Isaiah 11, verses 1 and 2, where it’s said
that the Messiah will have the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Wisdom, the
Spirit of Understanding, and so on.
In verse 5 here, Jesus
is given some new titles to show how His work was a new beginning. In Colossians 1:18 Paul also spoke of Christ as “the firstborn from among the dead.” John
repeats that here to remind us that Jesus’ resurrection which we celebrated on
Sunday is just the beginning, the hope of our own resurrection to come.
John adds “faithful
witness,” and “ruler of the kings of the earth.” The word for witness is the
word from which we get “martyr.” Those who spoke God’s truth were witnesses and
they often died for it. As we remembered on Good Friday, that is what happened
to Jesus as He stood before King Herod and Pilate. He spoke the truth about who
He is and His purpose on earth and those rulers crucified Him. Jesus is the
beginning of the long line of martyrs who faithfully witnessed to the Christian
faith, like those disciples we heard about this morning in Acts 5 saying, “we are witnesses of these things.”
As “ruler of the kings
of the earth,” Jesus is also the beginning a new political order. “Ruler of the
kings of the earth,” was how the Roman Caesars saw themselves. But now every
king, every political leader, is subject to Jesus Christ. As the book of
Revelation unfolds, we see how that will play out in the future, as every ruler
of this world is made subject to the rule of Jesus.
Easter last week was
not the end of the story. We read from the last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22, but we were talking about the new beginning that is promised in Jesus. In
our lesson from John 20 today, Thomas and the other disciples learned that the
resurrection of Jesus is not so much an ending as the beginning of a story.
That’s why some of the early church fathers called Sunday, the day Jesus rose
from the dead, the “eighth day of creation.” It was when God started the world
If you look down in
verse 10 you will see that the revelation given to John began on that day, on
Sunday. He says he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, on Sunday, when he
heard a voice telling him to write down what he would see and send it to the
churches, to us. That eighth day, that Lord’s day, became our day of worship.
Jesus Christ is our
beginning. Verse 5 continues with a doxology, a hymn of praise “To him who
loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood.” That’s the beginning. Jesus
set us free from sin, washing our sins away with the blood He shed for us on
the Cross, as we will remember in Communion today, saying “This is the blood of
Christ, shed for you.”
We might look around
and wonder how it is we are free from sin. Take us all together and we human
beings are still terribly sinful. Look at all the things we do to each other.
Even take us individually, as Christians, and each of us has to acknowledge
that sin still has a grip on us. We go back to our bad habits, we let those
hurtful words slip out, we forget to show love and grace to others. Are we
Jesus is the beginning
of our freedom from sin. One hundred and fifty years ago January 1 of this year,
Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. He freed 3 million men,
women and children living in slavery. As Commander in Chief, Lincoln declared
that those enslaved in the confederacy were free forever and that the Army and
all segments of the Executive branch of our government should treat them as
But those 3 million
slaves lived in the ten states still in rebellion, The Confederacy. Their
freedom was proclaimed and some tens of thousands were set free in areas
occupied by Union forces. But the majority would wait another two or three
years for freedom to be a reality.
Amendment actually abolishing slavery in the United States was finally passed
and adopted in 1865. Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered that same
year, but it was not until August of the next year that Andrew Johnson formally
declared the end of the Civil War and all of the United States came under the
rule of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Ask any African
American if their ancestors were truly free even then. You know the answer. The
struggle for racial freedom and justice continued into the next century and
still continues is many forms and places among us today. Yet that proclamation
150 years ago was the beginning.
Jesus’ death and
resurrection 2,000 years ago was the beginning of our freedom from sin. As
verse 6 goes on to say, Christ “made us to be a kingdom, priests to his God and
Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Dying and rising,
Jesus proclaimed our emancipation from sin, forever and ever. That was the
The difference between
Lincoln and Jesus is what we go on to read in verse 7. Unlike our poor martyred
president, Jesus lives and is coming back. This is the promise that makes Jesus
more than just the beginning of something. What Lincoln began, he couldn’t
finish. There is still slavery in the world, still unfortunately some hidden in
our own country. But we have the promise that Jesus will come “with the clouds
and every eye will see him…” Christ is coming back visibly and publicly to
finish the emancipation He began.
When Jesus came the
first time it was to birth in a little village on the outskirts of a small
country. The next time, says John, He will come so everyone will see Him, “even
those who pierced him.” That includes not only those Jewish leaders and Roman
soldiers who actually crucified Him, but everyone of us whose sins are the
reason Jesus was nailed to the Cross.
We’re told that “on
his account all the tribes of the earth will wail [or “mourn”]. When Jesus
returns, the whole human race is going to understand how we’ve been slaves to
sin, and just what it cost to set us free. We will wail and mourn for what our
sinfulness did to the One who loved us and gave us His life.
The rest of the book
of Revelation is about how that return of Christ will unfold and how He will
complete His work of ridding us of sin and setting up His kingdom in our lives.
What I hope you can hear and trust in now is the message of verse 8, “I am the
Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord.
Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In Jesus Christ, God is
our beginning and our end. What God started when Jesus died on the Cross
and rose again will be finished. When our Lord comes back, we will finally and
completely be freed from sin and made into the glorious kingdom that God
started in Jesus.
Jesus is our beginning and our end. Let’s remember that when our world looks really bad, no better
than it ever was. We see wars that look like they will go on forever, like the
rebellion in Syria or the constant upheavals in Africa. We hear over and over
about human trafficking and drug trade and business fraud and ugly political
corruption. We meet right here in our own community children who are hungry and
neglected and abused. It’s easy to think there is no end to it all.
Yet Jesus will finish
what He started. As we will say in the Creed this morning, He will come again
to judge the living and the dead. Jesus Christ is not just the beginning of
something, He is its end as well. He will make this world over to be His
kingdom of love and peace and joy.
And remember that
Jesus is your beginning and end. You may be 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. Or you said words you wish you could take back and
wonder if you’ll ever get hold of your own tongue. Or you haven’t spoken to
someone in weeks or months or years and you doubt that the relationship will
ever be healed. Jesus is not just the beginning, but the end. He will complete
what He started. He will come and heal the rest of your heart and life.
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 have broken, resources have dried up. Like Thomas doubting
whether Jesus was really alive on that first Easter, you have doubts about Him
Jesus is not just your
beginning. He is your end. He is Alpha and Omega. What He began, 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.” I don’t know what you are waiting for
Jesus to finish for you. What I do know is that He is faithful. He is faithful
clear 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.
Our text begins and
ends with God as the One “who is and who was and who is to come.” That’s our
Lord, beginning and end. Right now in the middle of all our struggles, we will
want to remember that He is, that He is alive and here with us. Sometimes when
the past gets too much for us, when our regrets drag us down, we need to
remember that He was, that He lived on this earth and died and rose so that all
our sins are forgiven. And when days ahead feel hopeless, when the future seems
bleak, that’s when we remember that He is to come. Alpha and Omega, beginning
and end. Jesus is our start and our finish. As verse 7 tells us, “So it is to
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj