Revelation 1:13-18 (Second Sunday of Easter—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
April 7, 2013
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is from the Second Lesson recorded in Revelation 1:
In the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
What are you afraid of? Spiders, snakes, the dark? Five-year old Johnny was in the kitchen as his mother made supper. She asked him to go into the pantry and get her a can of tomato soup, but he didn’t want to go in alone. “It’s dark in there and I’m scared.” She asked again, and he persisted. Finally she said, “It’s OK—Jesus will be in there with you.” Johnny walked hesitantly to the door and slowly opened it. He peeked inside, saw it was dark, and started to leave when all at once an idea came, and he said: “Jesus, if you’re in there, would you hand me that can of tomato soup?”
A recent top ten listed the following fears in America:
2. Social Situations
4. Inescapable Situations
5. Confined Spaces (claustrophobia)
Do you think we should add Jesus to this list? Is anyone afraid of Jesus?
In our text today from Revelation 1, we see the apostle John afraid when He sees the Risen and Glorified Lord Jesus. Remember that John is in exile on the island of Patmos on account of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. While worshiping His God and Savior on the Lord’s Day, a Sunday, the Lord Christ appeared to John “like the son of man.” This is the Lord Jesus in His full glory as the Savior who completed His mission though His death and resurrection.
What a description St. John gives us of how Jesus appeared before him! He was clothed with a long flowing robe like the high priest would have worn in the days of the Old Testament. Before the heavenly Father Jesus is our Great High Priest who fulfilled the Law perfectly in our stead and who sacrificed Himself for our sins. Now the Lord Christ pleads for us with His heavenly Father as our intercessor and mediator. 1 John 2:1, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
Even as Christ is our Great High Priest, He is also our King. John sees the evidence of His royalty and the kingship of the exalted Christ in the golden sash around His chest.
An image of Jesus that we are not used to in our culture is seeing our Lord’s head and hair white like wool or snow. In the ancient world, white hair was a symbol of honor. This image of Jesus indicates the glory and honor now due to Christ because He has successfully carried out His mission of establishing His everlasting Kingdom through His suffering, death, and resurrection.
And then there are His eyes—eyes like a flame of fire. This Jesus, this Christ, is God. Jesus is the holy, purifying presence of God, before whom only those who are purified can stand. St. John sees those piercing, fiery eyes in the exalted Christ, the One whom God the Father had authorized to destroy evil and purify His people. And John’s reaction is one of fear. He is afraid to be in the presence of Jesus.
John is struck with a full blast of Jesus’ majestic glory. He is completely knocked down and out as dead, like a corpse. He is totally overwhelmed and forced down as when death strikes the body. John could no more stand before the glorified Christ than Moses could stand before God and see His face at Mt. Sinai. Nor could Isaiah stand before the Holy One of Israel would cry out, “’Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’” (Isaiah 6:5)
No human person can stand before God because of our corruption of sin and God’s own holiness. Those two don’t mix. So neither John nor we can stand before the Risen and Glorified Christ on our own ability and merit because of our sinful corruption and Christ’s own holiness and glory. In Psalm 143:2 the psalmist prays to God, “Do not enter into judgment with your servant, for in your sight no man living is righteous.” Our own merit and ability are like filthy rags, for “we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6) Because of our sinful corruption, we cannot stand in the presence of the Lord’s holiness and glory. Therefore, we should be consumed by God, by Christ, the all-consuming fire. We read in Malachi 3:2, “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire.”
Left to ourselves, we, like John, would fall down, not like a corpse, but a corpse—dead—before the Lord and His Christ. “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3) The answer is that no one could. “The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) The sinner should fear and be afraid of appearing before the Lord God and His Christ still under the condemnation of their sins and uncleanness. Our sins merit for us the punishment of eternal death and hell. Jesus says in Matthew 25:41, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and all his angels.” We read in Revelation 20:15, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
But we are now no longer under condemnation. (Rom. 8:1) Jesus gave John the grace and permission to stand up before Him. Placing His right hand on John, Jesus tells him, “Stop being afraid.” This word of gracious comfort empowers John to stand up in Christ’s glorious presence. “I am the first and the last.” Jesus assures John that He is the Eternal One. He is John’s Savior who died and is alive forevermore. There is no need for John to be afraid in the presence of Jesus.
And the same is true for us. There is no reason to be afraid that Christ will condemn us. Jesus is the Savior, the Living One. He is the One who died and who is now alive, who has removed our sins from us so that we stand before Him and our heavenly Father in holiness. The blood of Jesus shed on the cross has cleansed us from all our sins. (1 John 1:7) Jesus has clothed us, by His grace through the gift of faith, with the garments of salvation, the robe of His own righteousness. (Is. 61:10) The very robe that Christ wears He places around us, covering over our sins, having made full atonement for them with His death and resurrection. For the sake of Christ Jesus, God forgives our sins by sheer grace and gives us and counts as our own the righteousness of Jesus’ obedience. Because of Christ’s righteousness and holiness given to us, we are accepted by the Father into grace and regarded by Him as righteous and holy people.
The Lord Jesus has cleansed us from the condemnation of sin to stand before the Lord and His Christ in righteousness and holiness, without fear. The punishment has been paid. The sentence has been served. Christ died and Christ is risen! And because of His death and resurrection Jesus Christ now holds the keys of death and the grave itself. As the Conqueror of death and the grave He demonstrates that there is only one true God, the God who in Christ now reaches out to all people with forgiveness in order to bring them everlasting life, not the condemnation of death!
So what are you afraid of? You can keep spiders and snakes on your list. But cross off Jesus. And x-out death! The Risen and Glorified Christ won our forgiveness and conquered death for us. We are counted righteous and holy because of Jesus’ work on the cross. We are without condemnation before the Lord. Jesus is not merely about overwhelming power and glory, but having overcome death and the grave, He promises to share His eternal glory and life with us! Therefore, let the Gospel message of your Savior continue to ring out from His Word into your life, “Stop being afraid! I died, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and the grave.” Amen.