Preached: May 5, 2013
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit brings our ascended Lord to us is Revelation 19
I saw heaven standing open and there they were: a white horse and it's Rider, who's called Faithful and Genuine. In righteousness he judges and battles. His eyes are as flames of fire. Many crowns are on his head. He has a written name, which no one knows except him, and he's wrapped in robes dipped in blood. He's called by his name: The Word of God. The armies in heaven follow him on white horses, dressed with clean, white linen. A sharp, broad sword goes out from his mouth to strike the nations with it. He himself leads them with an iron scepter. He himself trods the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has his name written: King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:11-16).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
His side ached. His lungs burned. His legs felt like lead. But he knew the finish line was coming. So he kept running -- one foot in front of the other. He kept at it. He persevered.
Our earthly race can grow so tiresome. The cares and worries of life weigh us down. The battles against temptation leave us injured when we fail and fall into sin. We see wickedness increasing and love growing cold. The enemies of Christ ridicule and attack us. How can we persevere and keep following Jesus?
The book of Revelation paints a dreary, troubled picture of our earthly journey. But even in the darkest gloom, Revelation never lets us forget that Jesus reigns. Yes, dear Christian, you Lord who ransomed you to be his very own, reigns. He has defeated our enemies, just as he said (part one). And he will trample them in final victory (part two). Even if you cannot see it, the finish line is there. For just as surely as our Lord ascended to reign over all, so also he will return. So persevere! Your ascended Lord reigns! That's the theme today.
Think back to John the Baptist. Do you remember how he prepared the way for Jesus? He preached about the work the Messiah would do. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12 NIV84). But do you remember what happened to John after Jesus began his ministry? Herod arrested him and threw him into a dungeon for preaching God's word. And as John languished in prison, Herod kept up his evil ways. Where was the judgment? Where was the unquenchable fire? Where was the deliverance and salvation? Had John been mistaken? Was Jesus not the Messiah he had thought? So John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3 NIV84).
How often don't we languish in the prison of this earthly existence? Our own shortcomings, inabilities, and failures limit us. The insensitivity and indifference of others lock us in. We pray and plead with God, yet nothing changes. His bright promises appear to be false mirages away in the distance, while dim reality surrounds us like the suffocating dankness of a dungeon. Doubts fester. Does Jesus care about me? Is he able to help me? Why doesn't he make things better? How can he say he that loves me? Or is all that just some made-up story?
Jesus answered John's disciples by pointing to the miracles he was doing and the good news he was preaching, all of which the Old Testament Scriptures had said the Messiah would do. So also, dear Christians, we look to the Scriptures and see that Jesus is doing exactly as he said. He is our ascended Lord who reigns. He has defeated our enemies, just as he said.
We look, for example, to Revelation 19. Heaven stands open and there they are: a white horse and its rider. Who is this rider? He is called Faithful and True. He always keeps his word, faithful to his promises. There is nothing false in him -- no sham or show. He is genuine and true. He both judges and makes war justly, with complete righteousness. There is nothing crocked or twisted in what he does. All his judgments and battles are in perfect line with what is right and good. He will not misjudge, for his eyes see all, penetrating even the deepest darkness and the most hidden secrets of man. For his eyes are like a blazing fire. He sees all and knows all. And none can stand against him. He conquers all who oppose him, so that they lie in defeat at his feet. He alone wears many crowns. All must submit. He alone reigns.
Who is this Rider? He is, of course, Jesus, our ascended Lord. But then why does it say: “He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself” (Revelation 19:12 NIV84)? We know the name, Jesus, but do we fully comprehend who he is and the full extent of what he has done for us? Even the holy angels marvel at the mystery of the eternal, almighty Son of God becoming flesh with us. How much Jesus is beyond our comprehension! And how far we fall short of understanding the depths of his agony on the cross as he suffered for us! So much about Jesus is so far beyond us that only he knows. The fullness of his name is known to him alone.
But just a verse later, we're told that his name is “the Word of God.” For you see, dear friends, just as our words reveal what's in our heart, so only Jesus reveals what's in God's heart. The only way to know God is to know Jesus. And the only way to know Jesus is through the Word of God, the Scriptures. Only in this book do we learn to know Jesus, our ascended Lord who reigns.
He reigns, for he has conquered. Look at his robe! It's dipped in blood of his defeated enemies. The prophet Isaiah in chapter 63, describes the Messiah coming out of Edom with his garments stained crimson, spattered dark red as if stomping on a grapes with the dark juice splattering everywhere. Edom was the ancient enemy of Israel, going all the way back to the days of their forefathers, Jacob and Esau. But coming away from Edom, the Messiah says, “I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments, and I stained all my clothing” (Isaiah 63:3 NIV84). He has defeated our enemies, just as he said. His blood-stained robe is proof of that.
Only he could do it. None could help him. Only his robe is stained for only he could defeat the enemies. What a victory he has won for you, dear Christian! On the cross he took the sting of sin, so that our guilt condemned him instead of us. On Easter he broke death chains returning to life. He crushed Satan's power, parading through hell itself in victory. He has defeated our enemies, just as he said. For he is Faithful and True. Our ascended Lord reigns.
So persevere, dear Christian, no matter what dungeon life may put you in or what doubts tempt you. Like John the Baptist go to Jesus and his word. See that he has fulfilled the Scriptures. He is faithful and true. As your ascended Lord he reigns over all, so your real enemies -- sin, death, and Satan -- lie in the dust defeated. So however they may try to attack you now, they will fail as long as you stand with Jesus. See his blood-stained robe and know that he has defeated your enemies. Your ascended Lord reigns. Persevere.
As we begin part two, let's consider another man from the Scriptures. His name was Asaph. He was one of the religious, musical leaders in the days of King David and Solomon. He saw how the wicked prospered. They lived carefree. They were proud and boastful. From their lofty heights they looked down on the little people unconcerned about whom they stepped on to climb higher. They lived life their way, saying to themselves, “God doesn't care, if he even knows.”
How did this affect Asaph? He almost lost his faith. “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure” (Psalm 73:13 NIV84), he writes in Psalm 73. He couldn't understand why the wicked had it so well. But then he writes, “... I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed completely swept away by terrors!” (Psalm 73:17-19 NIV84).
Revelation 19 pictures that final destiny for all who oppose our ascended Lord. For Jesus Christ, who ascended into the heavens, will return with his holy angels, the armies of heaven dressed in fine linen, white and clean. And the word of his mouth, like a sharp sword, will strike judgment against all who stand against him. As Psalm 2 prophesied, “He will rule them with an iron scepter” (Revelation 19:15 (NIV84); see Psalm 2:9). Yes, the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain. The kings of the earth take their stand against the Lord and his Anointed One, Christ, the Messiah. But the One enthroned in heaven laughs and scoffs at them. He has installed Jesus as King. He reigns as our ascended Lord. All belongs to him. Those opposed to him will be dashed to pieces as when an iron scepter comes crashing down on pottery. “He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty” (Revelation 19:15 NIV84). For he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Like grapes stomped and crushed under foot, so are all who stand against Jesus. He will trample them in final victory. Our ascended Lord reigns!
So persevere, dear friend, persevere. When you see the wicked succeed and prosper, when you suffer for doing what is right and good, don't stop running the race. Don't stop following Jesus. Don't wander away looking for more in life. Rather enter the sanctuary of God's Word, the Holy Scriptures, and remember Jesus. Remember him not only as the One who died for your sin. Remember also that Jesus is your risen and ascended Lord, who reigns. Remember Jesus returning in his glory on the Last Day when all his enemies, even death itself, will be put under his feet. He will trample them in the final victory, like grapes in a winepress.
But you dear Christian, you who faithful follow Jesus denying yourself, taking up your cross, and running the face to the finish line, you who trust him as your Lord who redeemed you, defeating your enemies just as he said, you who trust him as your ascended Lord who reigns over all until he returns in final victory -- you, dear Christian, pray with Asaph of old: O Lord, “I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:23-26 NIV84). Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.