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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Revelation 1:4-8
“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 years.

         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 will end.

         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 over again.

         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 really free?

         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 free people.

         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.

         The Thirteenth 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 beginning.

         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 too.

         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 be. Amen.”

         Valley Covenant Church
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Last updated April 7, 2013