"Jesus Post-Easter: (A) Where Did He Go?"
April 29, 2007 Rev.1:9-20; 5:1-14
Needing Assurance when Times are Tough
When bad things happen, it's natural to wonder where God's gone. We cry out for Him when an accident happens, when a financial crisis looms, when we've suffered some unexpected loss, whether relationship or real estate. In Psalm 88 the author Heman the Ezrahite utters a lament over the terrors engulfing him (see guys, it's OK to cry out when trouble comes - he must've been masculine 'cuz he was a real he-man!). He calls, "But I cry to you for help, O LORD...Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me? From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and am in despair." (Ps 88:13-15)
It was different before Jesus' death - He walked around on a daily basis with the disciples. It was different after Easter: He showed up periodically for brief intervals, then after the Ascension and Pentecost wasn't physically present any longer. Where did He go? Wouldn't it have been nice to have, instead of "Ask Jeeves", an "Ask Jesus" service where you could talk to Him face-to-face about your trials and questions?
The book of Revelation wasn't written so comfortable Christians in their studies could ponder whether the Rapture was going to happen mid-trib or post-trib, or so they could debate which armies would be leading the charge at Armageddon. It was given to the church at a time before Constantine made Christianity official and acceptable; a time when believers were meeting in secret for fear of persecution, and those caught were undergoing terrible punishments for their faith. Look closely at 1:9: "I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus." Suffering - endurance - those characterized what life was like in the early church.
Earlier this month, a missionary from our area who's serving in China sent out this newsletter outlining some recent difficulties, which she titled "The Ups and Downs of Living in China": "A month ago I was at a __ church service. Seated beside me was a kind-looking man who appeared to be from the countryside. As we began singing the hymns, I noticed he didn't have a hymnal and so I held mine out to share with him. A couple times I pointed to some Chinese characters that I didn't recognize and asked him what they meant. He sort of mumbled and appeared a bit flustered. By the time we came to the 2nd hymn I noticed he wasn't looking at the book anymore, but just gazing straight ahead. Perhaps he can't read, I thought, and so just let him be. As we continued to sing, a lady in front of me turned around, glared at me, pointed her finger in my face, and in a tone of voice seething with anger, accused me of being selfish, and why will I not share the hymnal with the man on my right. I quietly replied that I did offer it to him, but he prefers just to listen. I stood frozen, avoided eye contact, hoping that she would stop her raving, but she didn't. I felt so sorry for that humble man beside me. He quickly moved closer to the man on his right and looked on his hymnal, which seemed like a gesture to help save my face (which is sacred in China).
"Later in the service as the elements for communion were being passed around, the lady in front again swung around, yelling at me in a loud voice, saying: 'you don't deserve to take communion, you're not even a real believer, what are you doing here!' … Needless to say, I was really shaken up, but knew a spirit other than our L was at work in her. This is not the first time I've encountered a volcanic expression of emotions from a local. However, it reminded me that deep in the heart of many Chinese is a fierce undercurrent of resentment and anger towards us that represent the "foreigner" world....An hour later I was on a local bus with a group of friends on our way to a Chinese friend's home for lunch. As soon as we arrived I opened up my backpack to take out my digital camera only to discover it was gone. I was crushed when I realized it had been stolen during the packed bus ride (here there is no limit to the number of people on local buses, and that day it was full to bursting! - prime time for thieves). Well, at the time I didn't say anything to my friends, as I didn't want to put a damper on our festive gathering. However, later that afternoon once in my quiet apartment...my emotions burst forth - I went from sadness, hurt, disappointment, anger…and cried to the L - this is kind of how it went: 'Lord, what am I doing here…I've spent almost 3 years working hard at learning their language, I give them money, my time, I help them, I tolerate the pollution, dirt, noise, spitting, etc…and then what do I get for it…they humiliate me, accuse me, steal from me, cheat me…'
Just where is Jesus when times are tough? The book of Revelation pulls back the curtain to give assurance to believers when we're experiencing suffering - chiefly by giving us a fresh picture of the Lord. He is there and He's watching.
The Lord's Location and Looks
As for the question, "Where is God when it hurts," John the author inspired by the Holy Spirit provides information that backs up the sparse description in other parts of the New Testament concerning where Jesus has gone. He's associated with God's throne in heaven. In Acts 7(56) Stephen, as he faced a furious mob that was about to lynch him, had a vision and said, "Look - I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." Mark 16(19) says simply that Jesus 'was taken up into heaven and He sat at the right hand of God.' Paul in Romans 8(34) describes Jesus as "at the right hand of God" and interceding for us.
There are a few passages in Revelation that refer to Jesus' location. 5:6 says He is "standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders." 7:17 again says he is "at the centre of the throne". Chapter 22(1,3) refers a couple of times to "the throne of God and of the Lamb" as if it's the same thing. So, Jesus is at the control centre of the universe: not relegated to some inferior position. At God's right hand, He has his finger on the pulse of everything that's happening.
What about His LOOKS? We're not given a colour portrait, but some arresting details about the risen Lord's power and glory. John describes His voice as loud "like a trumpet" or "like the sound of rushing waters" (1:10,15). Out of His mouth seems to come a "sharp double-edged sword" capable of striking down the nations (1:16; 19:15). But the main feature is His glory, a brightness in various parts: His eyes are like "blazing fire", His feet "like bronze glowing in a furnace", His face is "like the sun shining in all its brilliance" (1:14ff; 19:12,15). What a sight! It perhaps reminded John of seeing Jesus on the mount of transfiguration (Mk 9:3).
But throughout the book, there's a surprising fluidity to Jesus' appearance: His form changes in different settings and visions. This fits well with the mysterious nature of His post-resurrection appearances: when Mary Magdalene saw Jesus in the garden, she didn't realize it was Him, but thought He was the gardener (Jn 20:14f). When Jesus walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, His identity was concealed from them until the breaking of the bread (Lk 24:16,31).
In the book of Revelation, when John first sees Jesus he describes Him as "someone 'like a son of man', dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around His chest" (Rev 1:13). Later in chapter 14(14) he's seated on a cloud "like a son of man' with a crown of gold on His head and a sharp sickle in his hand." In 19:11 Jesus is seen riding a white horse, dressed in a robe dipped in blood. But there are also other visualizations, non-human ones. 5:6 describes Him as "a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain" with seven horns and seven eyes: here the emphasis is on His sacrifice for us; horns are symbolic of strength, eyes - of knowledge. A couple of chapters later (7:17) this Lamb "will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water". And towards the end of the book, in chapter 21(22f), God and the Lamb are the city's temple, and the Lamb is its lamp - shining forth light so neither sun nor moon are needed. Perhaps the variety of imagery and appearances help guard us against idolatry: the Lord mysteriously preserves to Himself the freedom to appear as He wills, to convey His significance and identity in fresh ways.
Worthy is the Lamb Who was Slain
The fifth chapter is devoted most fully to appreciating Jesus' value and authority as risen Lord, based on His triumph at the cross. The chapter opens with John describing a scroll sealed and waiting in the right hand of God Almighty. As events unfold later, this scroll is connected with God's judgment and punishment of evil. But no one is found worthy to take it and break the seals. This is profound: we are all sinners; it would be unjustifiable for any mortal person to presume to execute judgment, for we're all infected with the same 'badness'. Cosmic justice seems stalled. John weeps and weeps. But then he's told to stop crying because (v5) "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.He is able to open the scroll..." Jesus' victory over sin and death qualified Him to become the Judge. Back in the Gospel of John ch.5 Jesus said "the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son...He has given Him authority to judge because He is the Son of Man." (Jn 5:22,27)
This is spelled out more in v9, "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God..." It's Jesus' painful sacrificial death as a pure, spotless, perfect human that warrants Him to be judge of humanity. A few verses later the whole army of the heavenly host - angels numbering ten thousand times ten thousand - join in singing, "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"" (Re 5:12) His worthiness is acknowledged by the company of heaven; this is echoed by every creature (v13).
More important than what Jesus looks like is His significance, His character qualities as represented in His names and titles. The author of Revelation takes more pains to present these details than the fine points of Jesus' looks. In 1:17f Jesus introduces Himself saying, "I am the First and the Last.I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!" We've seen Him referred to as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David - titles which point to His legitimate right to lead God's people. In 19:11 the rider on the white horse is called "Faithful and True". then it says on His head are many crowns; "He has a name written on him that no one knows but He Himself." The Godhead retains some mystery. V13 goes on to say "His name is the Word of God" - God's 'logos' or self-expression or communication as in John 1:1. V16 adds, "On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS." The title above all titles: Jesus is the one in charge. Roman emperors and courts might be putting Christians to death, but believers could find comfort knowing these principalities would one day have to answer to Him. And not one death warrant would be issued without Him knowing.
Besides Jesus' worthiness and all His titles summarizing His authority, Revelation also highlights that He is the final Judge. In 1:18 He says, "I hold the keys of death and Hades." In chapter 14(14-16) He's sitting on a white cloud with a sharp sickle; an angel notifies Him it's time, and He swings His sickle over the earth to harvest it. Some sickle - some harvest! (Concerning the angel's notice, recall Jesus telling His disciples about the time of judgment, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Mk 13:32) Though He has the greatest authority, He Himself is continually submitted to the Father, watching to do His work (1Cor 15:28; Jn 5:17,36).
In 19:11 it is the rider that's called Faithful and True who "with justice...judges and makes war." Truth must be at the basis of real justice; Jesus said, "I am...the Truth..." (Jn 14:6) He knows the real scoop about every person who ever lived. His judgment and punishment are terrifying and deadly to all who are evil; v15, "Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty." Not popular words if you're looking for 'feel-good' or self-help religion: but we need an absolutely just judge who will finally mete out earned consequences, or final justice is a farce.
At our local ministerial we were discussing how attendance is down in some congregations in the area; a bit later one pastor wondered how many people actually believe in the existence of heaven. Another added, "Or hell." Is there not a connection there? When people downplay the possibility of God's fury and wrath, they become casual and careless in their religious and moral life. That's why such passages as we're looking at today spark us to renewed devotion: when we see Jesus as He really is, it throws the importance of our daily decisions into eternal perspective. "His eyes are like blazing fire..."
Concern for the Church: Priest-Maker
Where did Jesus go? He's at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, He's King of kings and Lord of lords, the First and the Last - yet with all that authority and exaltation, what's on Jesus' mind and heart? You are. Hebrews (7:25; 9:24; Rom 8:34) says Jesus is interceding for those who come to God through Him; "Christ...entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence." He, the Righteous One, is our Advocate before God, speaking to the Father in our defence (1Jn 2:1).
Where does John see Jesus initially in his vision? "Among the lampstands" - the churches, holding in His right hand the messengers or 'angels' of the churches (1:13,20). What was He contacting John about? To write a letter to the churches, to encourage and admonish them - v11, "Write on a scroll what you see and sent it to the 7 churches..." More on the actual content next week.
Jesus in the Highest is no power-hog: He wants to empower and lift us up in service. 1:5f describes Him as "him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father..." This is echoed in 5:10, where the 24 elders declare the Lamb has made those people from every tribe He purchased by His blood "to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." Do you get that? You are now part of a kingdom - He's given you authority; He's made YOU a priest, God's own agent or representative, mediating and reconciling others to the Father through Christ. We talk about 'clergy' and 'lay' but that's artificial, a misnomer really - in Jesus it's ALL ministry, all done as His servants. You are the ones through whom the Lord becomes vicariously present in the workplace, at the recreation centre, in front of the post office. You are Jesus' 'stand-ins', ambassadors, the ones through whom He would exercise His kingly authority on the streets of this community here and now! How awesome is that!
Mighty to Intervene
Remember how we left a discouraged missionary pouring her heart out to God in her room? That's not the end of the story. Jesus was already responding to His child's needs. She continues: "The phone ringing interrupted my emotional outburst. (I guess the L had heard enough, smiley) It was Sarah, a Korean friend calling to remind me about our dinner appt. That evening. Sarah has a Chinese friend she wants me to meet. I poured my heart out over the phone, and emphatically told Sarah the "last thing" I want to do right now is meet with a Chinese person, speak Chinese, and pretend to be polite and nice when I was feeling quite contrary…She said she'd pr for me and hung up. Fifteen minutes later another friend called to say that during her worship that morning the L had impressed on her heart a vs., but she didn't feel it was for her and I came to mind, so she shared with me: "take joyfully the spoiling of your goods"- ouch, ok L I think this is for me! I surrendered the events of the day to him, forgave the lady at the church, and the robber that stole my camera - and pr that the L would bless him with a brick (no actually that wasn't my pr, but a friend said that's what she'd pr for, smiley). A few minutes later Sarah called back to say: 'C__, I don't think you should stay at home, thinking bad thoughts about CN, etc…you really need to go out…" She was right, and I'm so grateful for the Lord providing a friend like Sarah who prayed, and persisted because she knew I needed it!
"This is not the end of the story. The good part is yet to come! The new friend that Sarah and I spent the evening with (XW) turns out to be a wealthy business lady. She owns 3 homes and 3 businesses in KM. She took Sarah and I for a tour of one of her businesses, then to her home where we were lavished with expensive gifts she had purchased on business trips; then she took us to a first class hotel for filet mignon and salad bar. Well, that was really special, but our conversation over dinner was the highlight! She was so hungry to know about J and asked one question after the other. As we shared the good news with her my heart was once again filled with His love for the dear people of this land. How I love J. He knows all things!
"That night I went to sleep with such a grateful heart; and when I thought about the loss of the camera, it became so insignificant in the light of His glorious grace. The "Ups and downs of living in China." Is it worth it? Absolutely!
...The following week we met again with XW for dinner - and again answered a lot of her questions and talked about J. After dinner, we took her to a special mtg. The message seemed to be designed just for her...and at the close of the service when the ldr gave an invitation for pr, she rushed up to give her life to the L. How wonderful! This week she starts baps class. Please PRAY for XW, and millions like her in CN, that have a deep void in their heart that is just waiting to be filled.
"Please PRAY for overseas workers in CN - when we encounter opposition, that we will not take personal offence, but rather respond with His grace and love. Please PRAY with us as our struggle is not against flesh and blood…."
Jesus on high cares about the troubles of His servants here below. We truly have a friend 'in high places.' Let's pray.