18/03/2015

Jesus and the Woman at the Well (John 4:1–30)

Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’ (John 4:29)

Introduction: A Gospel for Sinners
This discussion between the Lord Christ and the adulterous woman at the well is one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture. This woman’s life was mess of adulteries, sin, shame, and broken marriages. The men in her life were pigs. They treated here like dirt. She would have been spurned as an outcast by society and treated like a prostitute. The Lord Jesus however comes to her full of compassion with an abundance of mercy and grace. We are reminded that the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is a Gospel for sinners. He did not come for the self righteous. He came for sinners. He came to rescue fallen people. He came for the down and outs; the broken, the helpless, the hopeless. He came to save the vilest offenders. He came for splendid sinners like Nicodemus and public sinners like the woman at the well. He came for those who've made a mess of their lives. Not the righteous but sinners Jesus came to save. The Gospel of our Lord is for all sorts of people. This chapter shows us clearly that the Gospel of our Lord is not inhibited by gender and sexuality or restricted by ethnic and cultural barriers. I have two points by way of introduction to our text:    

    1] Firstly, His Gospel transcends gender and sexuality. Women were treated as second class citizens in Jewish and Samaritan society. Men were not allowed to speak with women in public, not even with their own wives, and certainly not with someone else’s wife. The Lord Christ, however, is concerned about the salvation of women as much as men. Some of the greatest followers of Christ in the Bible and throughout Church history have been women. Men and women with respect to their value and personhood are completely equal, having been made in the image and likeness of God. Yes there is a distinction in role with the family of God, but not a distinction in significance. The Bible does insist upon male leadership within the Church (Acts 6:3, 1 Corinthians 11:13, 1 Timothy 2:11–13, 1 Timothy 3:2 & 12), but nowhere does Scripture teach us that women are inferior to men. On the contrary, it teaches that the Lord Christ loves and values women as much as He loves and values men. He came to save sinners of mankind lost: Eve as much as Adam was a sinner in need of the Saviour.  

    2] Secondly, His Gospel transcends social and cultural barriers. The Samaritans were hated by the Jews at this particular time. The Jewish people had ‘no dealings with Samaritans’ (v.9b). When the Ten Tribes of Israel were taken into captivity by the Assyrians, the King of Assyria sent foreign people to populate and look after Samaria. There was intermarriage between the foreigners and the Israelites who remained in Samaria. As far as the Judeans of the South were concerned, this intermarriage destroyed the religious and ethnic purity of the covenant people. Not only did the Samaritans intermarry, they mixed the worship of Jehovah with foreign gods, they rejected the Temple of David and built their own Temple in Samaria around 400BC, and they only recognised the first five books of Moses as authoritative Scripture. There was extreme tension and prejudice between the Jews and the Samaritans during the time of Christ. The Lord Jesus comes along and blows this prejudice out of the water by speaking with this Samarian woman. The Lord Christ did not come for the salvation of Israel only, but for sinners of mankind lost wherever they may be found in the world. His Gospel is not for the Jews only, but for the whole world. The Gospel is not only for middle class, British citizens it is for people from every corner and culture upon earth. The vision of John in Revelation speaks to us of a great multitude from every nation worshipping the Lord Jesus:

I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ (Revelation 7: 9–10).

We are reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul: ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28). We are called as Christians to reach out to all sorts of people. The adulterous woman at the well needed the Gospel of Christ as much as that proud professor Nicodemus. Christians must not be a prejudiced people. The business of saving souls is far more serious than the social and cultural barriers of our generation. There is a rich diversity in the Kingdom of Heaven but a glorious unity in Christ. We ought to reflect this in our evangelism by seeking to win all sorts of people for the glory of God and the expansion of His Kingdom.

Jesus and the Woman of Samaria
There are five lessons to be learned from the dealings of our Lord with the woman of Samaria:

    1] Firstly, the Lord Christ goes out of His way to rescue sinners. He had left Judea and was on His way to Galilee (v.3). He had a reason for doing this. He had a divine appointment to fulfil. John says, ‘He had to pass through Samaria’ (v.4). The meaning is not that Samaria was the only possible way. There were other ways back to Galilee. Most Jews would have avoided travelling through Samaria at all costs. In fact, they would have gone out of their way to pass by Samaritan territory. The most common route for the Jew would have been to travel to the north of Judea, east of the Jordan, and then back to Galilee in order to avoid setting foot in hostile Samaria. The Lord Christ has a purpose in passing through Samaria. It is deliberate. The custom today within the Church is to do nothing without ostentation. There must be grand missions, great expense, thousands of invites, special speakers, and dramatic testimonies. The must be noise, fuss, and bustle. There must be crowds of people, bums on seats. Yet, we find the Lord Christ going out of His way to rescue a single soul. He doesn't seek the praise of men. He doesn't seek applause. He does this good work on the quiet, when there are no crowds, when His disciples are not around.

    He is truly concerned for this woman. He has such a love for sinners of mankind lost that He is prepared to seek them out individually and call them by name. He had to pass through Samaria. He came into this world to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). The Lord Christ was prepared to sweep the whole house and turn it upside down to find a single lost coin. He would risk life and limb to return one stray sheep to the fold. He would forget His own dignity and run to embrace the repentant Prodigal with kisses and tears. He came to Samaria at just the right time to meet the woman at the well. He came because He loved her and longed that she would come to Him and drink the water of life. This was no accident. This is not chance. The woman at the well didn't ‘get lucky’. The Lord Christ had ordained this appointment from before the foundation of the world. Christians are a chosen people. This adulterous woman was graciously chosen by the Lord Christ to receive the living water of salvation and to worship and adore the Lord God in spirit and truth. 

    It is altogether remarkable that the Lord Christ should condescend to save miserable sinners who have dishonoured Him and broken His commandments. He is a Saviour most gracious, most merciful, most compassionate. The Lord of glory, the Light of light, the One who is very God of very God, goes out of His way to rescue sinners. Ours is a Gospel of grace. We are not saved because we somehow deserved it. Salvation is not a reward. It is not a prize. It cannot be earned. It is a gift. We are saved because Christ chose us for salvation from before the foundation of the world. We are saved because He assumed our nature and likeness. We are saved because He lived a holy life in our stead, and bore our sins in His own body, and suffered the wrath of God for us, and died that cursed death in our place. We have life and blessedness because He rose from the dead. If we are Christians today, we are saved because the Lord Christ took pains to rescue us. Salvation belongs to the Lord. He went out of His way to bring salvation to us. He had to go to Samaria. There was an elect sinner to save. There was lost sheep to be found by the Good Shepherd.

    2] Secondly, the Lord Christ is no respecter of persons. The Lord Christ is exhausted from His journey. We are reminded that He is a real man. His humanity is very real. He is God in the flesh. He is God incarnate. He grows weary. He gets tired. He knows how that feels. He knows both physical and mental exhaustion. Yet at the very time when we would least feel like evangelising, the Lord Christ strikes at an opportunity. His dialogue with her is not forced. He hasn't learned a method by wrote. He doesn't have ‘four spiritual laws’, a ‘Romans road’, or even 'Christianity Explored'. He simply talks with this woman. It is completely natural. He is easy going. ‘Give me a drink’. That’s how it goes. Therein lies the great secret of evangelism. We don’t try to speak with sinners as anything other than human people in need of a gracious Saviour. This woman is made in the image and likeness of God. She knows that. Everyone knows that deep within their hearts. We cannot help but know it because we are by definition creatures of God. Moreover, she knows that she is a guilty sinner. We all know that deep down. Our conscience condemns us every time we sin. It gnaws at us. The point of contact with the natural man lies in the fact that every human being is a creature made in the image and likeness of God, but is a creature living in a state of rebellion and enmity toward God. Our conversation doesn't need to be forced or rehearsed. It needs to be honest and real.  

    This woman is amazed that the Lord Christ is speaking to her as if she were a real human being. ‘How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman? (v.9). The Lord Christ is no respecter of persons. He is not looking to hold a conversation with the most important, or the most intelligent, or the most interesting, or the most religious, or the most affluent in the room. Those things don’t matter to Him. John MacArthur puts it like this:

Jesus was not ashamed to take a drink from the vessel of a woman for whom He had come to die. Nobody – not this woman, not a Pharisee like Nicodemus, not even the most loathsome leper – was beyond the reach of His divine love.

What kind of people do we hold conversations with? Would we speak to the beggar, the homeless, the prostitute, the drug addict, the ex-con, the low-life, and the poor about Jesus? Or do we target middle class families only? These are serious questions for us all to face in this generation. How dare we be ashamed to speak with someone for whom the Lord Christ suffered and died! We ourselves were once strangers to grace and to God. The Lord Christ is ready to welcome the worst of sinners with open arms. Would we turn them away? Do we have so little of the compassion and sweetness of Christ about us? ‘Our Divine Lord has more tenderness for sinners than the whole of us put together’ (Charles Spurgeon). Oh that our hearts would beat with loving desires to see sinners of mankind lost delivered from the wrath to come!

    3] Thirdly, the Lord Christ freely offers living water. Jesus answered her and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water’ (v.10). The Lord Christ turns the whole conversation around. One moment He was the thirsty one in need of a drink, but now this woman is the one suffering from a deeper thirst, a spiritual thirst, and stands in need of living water. The water which the Lord Christ offers is everlasting life. His water brings true life to thirsty souls. The woman doesn't know who this man is. She doesn't realise that she is speaking with the Author of Salvation, the God who made the universe and came to rescue fallen sinners. She thinks that the Lord Christ is talking about spring-water from the depths of well, water which could be found only by using a rope and bucket because the well was deep. The Lord Christ would have freely given her eternal life, but in her ignorance she doesn't see the need for such water. To be ignorant of Christ is a terrible thing. Knowledge of the Lord Jesus, of His person and work, is essential for the eternal happiness and salvation of our souls. There is no going to heaven without knowing the Lord Christ: ‘This is life eternal: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’ (John 17:3). If it is life eternal to know the Lord Jesus Christ, then it is eternal misery to be ignorant of Him. Of course, this is not merely a brute knowledge of the facts concerning the Lord Christ. It is that, but it is more than that. There is a world of difference between knowing about Christ, and knowing Christ. There must be an experiential knowledge of the Lord Jesus. We must know Him personally as our Lord and Saviour. He must be our heart’s desire.

    He is ready and willing to give mercy and grace to the worst of sinners. If she had known Him, if she only had asked, ‘He would have given her living water’. He is not reluctant to pardon sinners. He is not mean-spirited. We must not think harsh thoughts of the Saviour. He is prepared of His own self to give the water of life to any and all who call upon His name. J. C. Ryle has these wonderful words of comfort for helpless sinners:

The Lord Jesus is far more ready to hear than we are to pray, and far more ready to give favours than we are to ask them. All day long He stretches out His hands to disobedient and [obstinate people]. He has thoughts of pity and compassion towards the vilest of sinners, even when they have no thoughts of Him. He stands waiting to bestow mercy and grace on the worst and most unworthy, if they will only cry out to Him. 

He holds forth life, mercy, blessedness, happiness, and salvation to sinners of mankind lost. He is not reluctant to save. He desires that you come and drink of the water of life. He would give it to you freely if only you would ask. The many who now perish and thirst eternally in the fires of hell are there because they were too stubborn to ask. ‘Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find’. Ask for living water and keep on asking until you know and are refreshed with the waters of life eternal. What is keeping you from such a priceless treasure? Forget your pride, forget your high thoughts of self, forget what other may think of you, and come to the fountain of life eternal.

    The woman is still somewhat perplexed by what the Lord Christ is saying. ‘Are you greater than our Father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock’ (v.12). If only she knew! The Lord Christ is infinitely greater than father Jacob. His living water is exceedingly more wonderful than the water of Jacob’s well. The Lord Christ is the ‘gift of God’. He is the Son of the Father’s love. In Him there dwells a treasure all divine. ‘In Him the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form’ (Colossians 2:9). He is the brightness of the Father’s glory, the exact representation of His being, the One who sustains all things by His powerful word (Hebrews 1:3a). ‘He is the richest token of the Father’s love to us’ (Matthew Henry). There could be no better person to reveal to helpless sinners the love and the mercy of God than His dearly beloved Son. ‘His water is infinitely better then Jacob’s water’ (John MacArthur). ‘Everyone who drinks of this water [from the well] will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (vv.13–14). The water of Christ has a dynamic, living, bubbling, excitableness. It is a pleasure divine that outlives time and last for eternity. It wells up like a spring in hearts of those who receive it leading to life eternal. When the grace of God enters a man’s heart, it is an immortal principle. The water of life is no temporal thing, it changes you forever. It washes away your sins, it takes away the constant thirst for worldly pleasures, it gives you eternal life, it purges us from the filth and pollution of sin, it extinguishes the fires of hell and the fear of condemnation, it brings forth Spiritual life and joyful obedience, and it lifts our hearts heavenward as a mighty fountain bursting from the ground.

    The woman still does not understand what the Lord Christ is talking about, but she wants this water more than anything else in the world. Is this water physical or spiritual? She doesn’t know, but she wants it nonetheless.   ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come to draw water’ (v.15). The Lord Christ has spoken so persuasively and attractively that she wants the living water this man has to offer. Notice, however, that the Lord Christ does not simply give her this water immediately. She must first recognise the seriousness of her sin, come to know for herself the identity of this wondrous man, and thereafter worship God in Spirit and in truth. There are three lessons for us here:

    1] Firstly, there is no going to heaven without a heartfelt recognition of our sinfulness and unworthiness. The Lord Jesus is no believer in cheap grace. He came to save people from their sins. The conviction of sin is absolutely necessary for anyone to be truly converted to God. The unrepentant and the proud have no home in heaven. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs – and theirs only – is the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Matthew 5:3). Heaven belongs to those who have felt something of this poverty of spirit. Heaven belongs to those only who have beat their breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner’ (Luke 18:13). The Lord Christ pierces the conscience of this woman with the words, ‘Go, call your husband and come here’ (v.16). The woman has no husband at the moment. She has had five husbands and the man she is with at the moment is not her husband. This woman is living in adultery. There is great shame in knowing that Lord Jesus is aware of our sins. He knows us inside out. He knows our open sins and our secret sins. The woman, having been shown her sin, begins to see something of who Jesus really is. ‘Sir, I perceive you are a prophet’ (v.19). You can see my sin. You know my deepest shame. You know my vilest offences. And yet, you offer me – even me –   living water! There is mercy in His heart for even the most wretched sinner in the universe. His offer of life goes out to the whole earth. There is no sinner to foul for Christ. ‘Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters’ (Isaiah 55:1). His mercy is for everyone and anyone who thirsts. All are welcome to come and drink of the water of life and find pardon for sin and peace that endures for eternity. Will you not come to Christ? Will you not come and drink this living water? Only madness would keep you from coming and drinking this living water. 

    2] Secondly, there is no going to heaven without a true knowledge of the Saviour. She begins the discussion with our Lord thinking that He is just like any other man, but by the end of their conversation she realises that she is face to face with the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God. This woman knew that there was a promised Messiah who would reveal the truth to God’s people. She understood such things. She is not wholly ignorant of the truth. What she doesn't see is that the man before here is the Messiah. The Lord Christ reveals Himself to her in the most direct, plain, and simple manner: ‘I who speak to you am He’. It is essential to understand that the Lord Jesus is the Christ. He is the promised Saviour who came to rescue His people from their sins by living and dying in their place. You may have lived a life with loose religious notions, but now you are confronted with a tremendous reality: the Lord Jesus is the Christ, the Saviour of the World. He holds forth living water to helpless sinners and promises forgiveness, life, and eternal happiness for all who come to Him believing. What are you going to do with this Jesus? Eternal life belongs to those who trust in Him. Why not come to Him? Why not believe on Him? Why not rest your troubled soul in the arms of the Messiah. This man Jesus is no mere man. He is God. Literally translated the verse would read, ‘I AM is the one who speaks to you’. He is the great I AM. He is the God who made you, the God who gave you life, the God who brought you to Church today to listen to this very sermon. And as your God, He is most worthy of your love, adoration, and obedience. It would be folly to turn away from Him. Will you not come to Him, that you may have life?

   3] Thirdly, there is no true religion where God is not worshipped in spirit and in truth. The Samaritan woman, having been woken up by the Lord Christ to the reality of her sin, looks to formal religion to rescue her. She compares the Jewish and Samaritan modes of worship. This is so often the way of things. Men and women feel some sense of guilt and shame, so they turn to the mechanics of formal religion. They look to the Pope and to Rome, or to the Church of England and her formalities, the look to ceremonies and sacraments. They look to the cults and false religions. They look for salvation in all the wrong places. The Lord Christ teaches her that the true believer, one who has truly tasted the living water, will worship God from the heart. Men and women so often make religion a matter of form. It is either all about the smells and bells or about the rock guitars and worship leaders. The Lord God looks upon the heart. The Lord Christ teaches her that God is Spirit. It is not by sense-experience that we relate to God. He is a most pure spirit. He has no physicality. He has no body, no parts.    
       
Immortal, Invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.

The Lord Christ sets before us two great principles concerning the worship of God:

i.            We are to worship God ‘in Spirit’. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. The worship He desires must be spiritual worship. The worship and adoration of God should spring up like living water from the heart. The worship of the one true God is not characterised by physical factors. We don’t have smells, bells, paintings, rock bands, smoke, mirrors, icons or statues. The worship of God is plain, unadorned and simple. We worship Him in Spirit. The true worship of God can only take place in the heart of a man who has been born of the Spirit and washed in the blood. The man who worships God truly knows something of the life of God in the soul of man. There is an experiential reality to his worship. All other worship is false and blasphemous. Our worship is not to be characterised by hypocrisy and formality. It is not to be dry, dead and lifeless. We are not merely to go through the motions. It is meant to be living, vital, spiritual worship. Our worship is characterised by a spiritual reverence of the living God. There is something awesome, holy, uncanny, and majestic about coming into His presence. There is a sense of the divine that is overwhelming and awe-inspiring. Our worship comes from the heart.

ii.            We are to worship God ‘in truth’. We must never worship a god of our own devising. That is idolatry. In our services, we read the Book of holy and infallible truth (the Bible), we pray the truth about the Lord God, we claim His promises in our prayers, we preach the truth and nothing but the truth as taught in Scripture, we sing the truth in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. That is true worship. Our worship must be sound, orthodox, Biblical, true. It must be according to the teaching of the Bible. The God we worship must be none other than the Triune God of Scripture. Any other God is no God at all. To worship God truly, we must therefore seek to know Him as He has revealed Himself. We must study our Bibles and learn who the Lord God is and what He has done for us. The great tragedy of our generation is that the doctrine of God is almost wholly neglected in pulpits and pews today. What do we know of God? What can we say about His name, His nature, and His works? What do we know of God by experience? What do we know of His felt-presence? What do we know of His glory? Let us labour to know and love the true and living God. ‘We will never honour God as we ought, until we know Him as He is’ (Stephen Charnock).  

    5] Finally, consider the invitation from the lips of a sinner saved by grace. This woman has been saved even as she speaks with the Lord Christ. Her first desire as a new believer is to go and speak a word for Jesus Christ. It is never wrong to speak a word for Jesus. ‘Come, see a man, who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’ (v.29). She invites the men of the town to come and see Jesus. She invites them to come and see Him for themselves. Come and speak with this man. Come and try Jesus for yourself. And this is precisely what I want to say to every unconverted person today. In the words of Charles Spurgeon:

My Lord Jesus is the most precious Saviour that I ever dreamed of. Come and test Him! He is altogether lovely and He has blessed my soul unspeakably, but I do not want you to believe because of my saying so – come and see for yourselves!

Test His Gospel for yourselves. Don’t take my word for it. Come and find Christ personally. Read His Gospel, listen to men preach and teach about Him, seek Him in prayer! Salvation is a personal matter. You must come, you must repent, you must believe, you must lay hold of Christ, you must drink the living water. I cannot do these things for you. We must all go as sinners to Christ in repentance, seeking His mercy. He is most gracious and compassionate to all who fall upon their knees and seek His salvation. ‘Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out’.

    It may be that you know much about Jesus, but don’t know Him personally by faith. I ask you then, why not believe on Him and in Him? Why not make it personal? You know that He is God, then why not submit to Him as your God? You know that He is the Christ who came to take away the sins of the world, then why not entreat Him to take away your sins? If you know His blood can make the foulest sinner clean, then why not come and be washed in the blood of the Lamb? Why not come and have your sins washed away? Can this be the Christ? Come and see. Come see a man who told me all that I ever did!

References & Further Reading
I found the commentaries of Matthew Henry, Matthew Poole, J. C. Ryle and Hendriksen, Bruce Milne helpful when preparing this sermon.

MacArthur, John, ‘He demands true worship’, in The Gospel According to Jesus (Zondervan), pp. 62–72.
Spurgeon, Charles, ‘The Samaritan Woman and Her Mission’ (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 1678).
Spurgeon, Charles, ‘The Water of Life’ (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 770).

03/03/2015

The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Revelation 4: 1–8)

I am the Alpha and Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’ (Revelation 1:8).

An Introduction to Revelation
It is a Sunday on Patmos. John, the beloved disciple, waits upon Lord God in exile. Here is a man who knew and loved the Lord Jesus Christ. He was an eye witness of His majesty. The Word of Life, the One who was in the beginning with God and who was God, is known personally and loved dearly by John. He had heard Him preach, seen Him work miracles, and rested in peace upon His breast. He had seen Him weep blood and tears in the Garden. He had looked upon the broken and marred visage as his Lord, his Love, was crucified. Here is a man who had stood at the foot of the Cross; a man who had entered the empty tomb and looked upon the folded grave clothes in wonder, confusion, and awe. Here is a man who had seen the risen Saviour. He had been in the presence of the One who had risen from death. He had known the uncanny reality of a risen Lord. He had experienced the supernatural power of God. He saw the Lord of glory taken up into heaven to be seated at the right hand of God. He understood that this man Jesus was and is the Son of God, the Saviour of lost sinners. The visions of the Lord Christ in Revelation come to us from a man who knew and loved the Saviour dearly. The last book of the Bible will forever remain a mystery and a puzzle to those who do not share John’s love for the Lord Jesus. I have three points by way of introduction to the book of Revelation:

    1] The focus of this book is Jesus Christ (vv. 1–2). It is often called the Revelation to St. John, but that is not the title. In fact, the title is ‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ’. It is a book about the Lord Christ. You will never understand the book of Revelation until you fall upon your knees as one dead and worship the Lord Jesus, the exalted Lamb of God. The design of this book is to move our affections to adoration of the One who died, and rose, and ascended, and who will return to judge the living and the dead. It is a book about Christ. It is a message wholly divine. It was written by John, but ‘given by God’, and made known to him through sending a heavenly messenger (an angel). It is in the form of a letter, but it is in fact a message which God gave him (Michael Wilcock). Yes, it is eschatological. Yes, it concerns the last things – the things ‘that must soon take place’. But the focus of this book is always the Lord Jesus Christ. It centres the Christian philosophy of history around the person and work of the Lord Christ. When Jesus ascended and sat down in the glory, He inaugurated the beginning of the end. History since the Lord Christ has been the final age of humanity. So ‘this penniless preacher from Nazareth is the very centre of history’ (H. G. Wells). The flow of history bends according to His sovereign will. There is only one main event yet to come in plan of God for the future and that is the return of Christ to bring judgement to the wicked and final salvation to His people. For John, the Lord Jesus stands at the heart of history.

    2] The promise of this book is blessedness. ‘Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep was is written in it, for the time is near’ (v.3). The blessing doesn’t come from empty speculations and theories, but from experiencing something of that sight of Christ which was given to the beloved Apostle. The highest joy and the greatest happiness of the Christian is to gain a sight of Christ in His glory and majesty. True happiness is found in Christ alone. Would you be truly happy? Would you be blessed? Then you must be found in Jesus! There is a real blessing in knowing Christ. We need to experience something of His glory. Moses desired this dearly: ‘Show me Thy glory’ (Exodus 33:18). The Psalmist spoke of longing, thirsting, panting for the Lord Christ: ‘As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God’ (Psalm 42:1–2). What do we know of these things by experience? We need that vision of Jesus, don’t we?

I saw a new vision of Jesus,
A view I’d not seen here before,
Beholding in glory so wondrous
With beauty I had to adore.
I stood on the shores of my weakness,
And gazed at the brink of such fear;
‘Twas then that I saw Him in newness,
Regarding Him fair and so dear.
Vernon Higham

    3] The vision of Christ in this book is truly breathtaking. Even with this chapter, we are confronted with something of His matchless beauty (vv.12–17). Here is One crowned in glory and honour; a Son of Man robed in dignity and splendour. His hair is white like wool. His eyes blaze like fire. His feet are like burnished bronze. His voice is the roar of rushing waters. In His right hand He holds sevens stars and from His mouth comes a sharp double-edged sword. His face shines like the sun in full strength. Here is the Lord Christ; crowned with wisdom, with eyes of piercing judgement, bringing conviction of sin and brokenness to hard and rebellious hearts. Here is the One who will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God almighty with equity and justice. Here is the One whose voice is all-powerful, all-authoritative, and irresistible. The seven stars in His hand are the messengers of the seven Churches. They are the ministers appointed by God to preach and teach in the seven Churches of Asia. Charles Spurgeon commented on this verse with a prayer for his generation: ‘Lord, fill Thy hand with the stars again. Light up the darkness of this period with flaming preachers of Thy Word to the praise of Thy glory and grace’. That is a prayer of enduring relevance. We need preachers who will magnify Christ and exalt Him before the people of Wales.

    The weapon of our Lord Christ and of His servants is the Word of God, the Bible. The world, the flesh, and the devil are to be vanquished with the sword of Scripture alone. It is double-edged. It needs no additions. We don’t need to add our own artillery to Scripture. The sword of Christ is sufficient for the mission of the Church. Do we believe that? Do our missions and activities within the Church reflect this? The face of our Saviour shines like the sun in full strength. There is this brightness, this holiness, in His visage. It is so magnificent that John is struck with His beauty and falls down like a dead man. Here is One who is like a Son of Man; One who is clothed in the frailty of human nature. Yet this wondrous man is true Almighty God. It could be none other. John sees the true humanity of the Saviour but He sees Him in the splendour of His divine glory and majesty. Here is the One who is perfect God and perfect Man in one magnificent person. What a vision of Jesus! What a sight of His glory! Surely this is the vision of Christ needed in our day!  

John’s Greeting to the Seven Churches
I would like us to focus upon John teaching concerning the Lord Christ in the greeting to the seven churches in Asia (vv. 4–8). Revelation is not some bizarre addition to the end of Scripture. It is a letter written for Christian people who were suffering rejection, persecution, and exile. It was written under very real circumstances to encourage, edify, rebuke, and reform the Church by reminding them of their great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

    1] Firstly, John teaches us that the Lord Christ is a member of the Holy Trinity. The greeting takes on a Trinitarian formula. It is a little unusual in that speaks of the Father, then of the Spirit, and then of the Son. This reminds us that each person of the Trinity is fully God. The Father is not more Godlike than the Son. The Spirit is no less God than the Father. We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity. There are three distinct persons but one God only: their glory co-equal and their majesty co-eternal. This Triune God is on a rescue mission to bring grace and peace to fallen men and women. This is what John says, ‘Grace to you and peace from ... the Father, the Spirit, and the Son’. Salvation comes to us from God alone. We deserve only wrath and judgement for our sins but God, being most merciful and kind, comes to us to bring us grace and peace, divine favour and pardon for sin. Such is the seriousness of sin, that nothing but the power and activity of whole Godhead can restore us. There is a certain economy in the Triune work of redemption. The Father lovingly chose a people for His own glory from the depths of eternity past. The Son came to rescue God’s elect by assuming their nature, by meriting righteousness for them, and by suffering the penalty that was due to their sins on Calvary. The Spirit comes to apply the work of Christ to the hearts of the Father’s elect children by creating faith in them and leading them by the hand to the Saviour. What a rescue plan! The whole Trinity was involved in the work of salvation to bring miserable sinners into personal communion and love-fellowship with the living God. The Triune God came to rescue me and bring me grace and peace. How wonderful! What a privilege! Let us stand amazed at the work of salvation and give glory to God! The Trinity lies at the heart of Christian theology. Without the Trinity, there would be no Christianity. John desires to teach something of this great mystery.      
  
    1] The Father is the eternal God. The grace and peace comes to us from ‘Him who was, and who is, and who is to come’ (v.4a). He has no beginning and He has no end. He is from everlasting to everlasting. These are concepts that blow our minds. We say that God is eternal, but what does this mean? How does this move us to trust and obey God? It means that God is Lord of time. He is not subject to time. He is not controlled by it. He is sovereign over time itself. He holds space and time in His hands as if they were a fabric. They are His property. He made them and can bend them according to His will. He is sovereign over history. He holds your future, my future, and the future of His Church in His arms. We are oftentimes frightened of what the future holds. God knows. It is in His hands. He has a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10). We can trust Him and commit our lives to Him, knowing that whatever comes our way, God has a good purpose for us and for His Church. It may not seem like it at the time, it may seem horrible, and difficult, and painful, but ultimately God is in control of time and eternity, and He is working all things together for the God of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). He holds you safe in the palm of His almighty hand.
      
    2] The Spirit is before the throne. Grace and peace come to us from ‘the Seven Spirits who are before the throne’ (v.4b). The Holy Spirit is at the heart of the Godhead. He is before the throne. He knows the depths of God. ‘The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God’ (1 Corinthians 2:10b). John refers mysteriously to the Spirit of God as the Seven Spirits. What does He mean by that? He certainly doesn’t mean that the Spirit is seven in number or seven in His nature. There are some verses in Scripture which are hard to understand. This is certainly one of them. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. We are on holy ground. This is not a place for wild theories. There are secret things in Scripture. We have glimpses of them. The secret things belong to God. What we see now, we see through a glass darkly. One commentator says, ‘We are duly warned that for some of the locked doors of Revelation, keys may be hard to find’ (Michael Wilcock). The Spirit of God is mysterious to us. We are in the presence of the uncanny, the incomprehensible, and the supernatural. God will not be confined to the boxes of human wisdom. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. The Spirit of God is infinitely more glorious and wonderful that we can even begin to conceive. Let us be content to know that the Holy Spirit comes to apply the grace and peace of God to those who believe and trust in the Son.

    3] The Son is the faithful witness, the first-born from the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth (v.5a). The Lord Christ is found in union with the Father and the Spirit. He is one with the Father and the Spirit. Interestingly, John speaks more of the Lord Christ as the bringer of grace and peace than he does of the Father and the Holy Spirit. We remember that the Lord Christ is the focus of the revelations given to John. In the first part of verse five, He teaches us three things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ:

i.            He is the faithful witness. He is the one who reveals to us the will of God for our salvation. His testimony is faithful. His Gospel can be depended upon. We can stake our all and everything upon the claims and promises of Christ.
ii.            He is the first-born of the dead. He is the first man to ever rise from the dead by His own power. No one else has done that. He gives us steadfast hope of life and immortality. The One who has risen from the dead has conquered death and hell. He is the victor over the grave. And as surely as He rose from dead, He will resurrect His people from the bondage of sin and death and bring them to life eternal. The grave will not hold the people of the First Born. What a hope we have in Christ! Death has lost its grip on us. It is beaten and one day we will rise in glory and honour as servants of the First Begotten from the dead.
iii.            He is the Prince of the kings of the earth. There is no ruler, no dictator, no king, no politician, and no celebrity above Jesus Christ. Solomon says, ‘The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will’ (Proverbs 21:1). He rules and He reigns over all. There is not a single man in the universe with more authority than Jesus Christ. He is the God-man who by divine right rules over all people, both great and small. As our Prince of Peace, He subdues us to Himself, He rules over us and defends us, and He restrains and conquers all His and our enemies.

    2] Secondly, John reminds us that the Lord Christ has delivered us from captivity to sin (vv. 5b–6). The Bible speaks of sin as something which imprisons us. It holds us captive. This was a key point of debate during the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther had a great debate with a humanist scholar and theologian called Erasmus concerning the bondage of man in sin. Erasmus had argued that sin did not enslave the human will. He believed that man was basically free to do good or ill if he chose to do so. Grace, he said, was simply a helping hand to believing in Jesus and doing good deeds. He wrote a whole book about it called On Free Will. Luther replied with another book called On the Bondage of the Will. He argued that the will of man is held captive by sin; that man is enslaved by sin. Grace, he argued, is the almighty power of God in Christ Jesus which breaks the chains of sin and sets us free to love and worship God. This wasn’t some trivial issue for Luther. He believed that the whole of the Reformation depended upon this matter. In fact he commended Erasmus for getting to the heart of the difference between Catholics and Protestants:

You [Erasmus] have not wearied me with those irrelevant points about popery, purgatory, indulgences, and other like baubles, rather than causes ... you alone saw the grand hinge upon which the whole [of the Reformation] turned.  

In other words, Erasmus though disagreeing with Luther understood the vital issue. According to Luther, the Gospel is not about man being helped by a weak and impotent grace to choose Jesus Christ and then live a moral life; on the contrary, the Gospel is about God choosing man and delivering him from captivity and bondage in sin by the almighty power of His sovereign grace. That is the crux of the matter. The images in Scripture of deliverance from sin would make no sense whatsoever unless men and women were bound by sin. The glory of the Gospel is that the Lord Christ came to ‘free us from our sins by His blood’ (v.5b).

    Without Christ, we are incarcerated by the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are sinners not only by moral choice, but by nature. We sin because we are sinners. We don’t sin against a basically good human nature; we sin in accordance with our fallen and sinful nature inherited from Adam. Our lies, our hateful thoughts, our jealousy, our envy, our malice, our pride, our lusts, our filthy thoughts, our gossip, our bad language, our blasphemies, our hot tempers, our cruelty and our spite, are the symptoms of a deeper problem passed down as a direct consequence from the fall of our first parents. Sin is not merely an outward, temporal act; it is a positional state of rebellion and enmity toward God. The seriousness of sin is that it defies God Himself. Man stands in revolt against the holy and righteous law of God. David confesses, ‘Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight’ (Psalm 51:4a). Our sin grieves Him. It offends Him deeply. This is why we need to be freed from the captivity of sin. This is why we need to be delivered by His blood; this very blood which speaks to us of His death upon Calvary. He had to die for us bearing our sins in His own body on the tree. He came to free sinners from the captivity and bondage of sin, and He did this by taking their sins as His own, assuming responsibility for them, and becoming accursed in their place. The cost is unthinkable. By His agony and bloody sweat, by His cross and passion, He has freed us from our sins.

    Why would He do this for us? Why was He willing to suffer and die for sinful people? Why would He die for you and me? John tells us. He says, ‘To Him who loves us’. He died for us because He loves us. The children of God the Father must not think harsh thoughts of God the Son. He loved us so much, so greatly, so deeply, that He went to the cross for us. He suffered the physical agony of a brutal death and the spiritual agony of divine wrath in order to free us from our sins. Hallelujah! What a Saviour! Does He love me? Of course He loves you; He gave His life for you. There is an ocean of love in the heart of Christ for every sinner who comes to Him believing. You might say in despair, ‘Not all of Neptune’s seas could wash away my guilt’. Despair no more! There is a Saviour for sinners. No sin is too foul for Christ’s blood to wash away. Come to Him, trust in Him, believe in Him, and He will deliver you from all your sins. He will deliver you from the bondage and power of sin itself. Someone once gave this advice to Luther (I think it is the best advice anyone can ever give you): ‘Look at the wounds of Jesus Christ, to the blood He has shed for you. Instead of torturing yourself on account of your sins, throw yourself into the Redeemer’s arms’ (Staupitz).

    He will take you in His arms, wash away all your sins, and set you as trophies of grace to the glory of God the Father. He not only saves us, but He makes us ‘a kingdom of priests to His God and Father’. The end of the work of redemption is not salvation itself, but the glory of God. We are freed from the bondage of sin to worship and glorify the Father who freely gave His Son for us. We are now a kingdom of priests. We belong to God’s Kingdom (His Church) and as priests we are given free access into the presence of God to serve Him with joy and gladness. We are set free to glorify God and enjoy Him forever; freed to say with John, ‘To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen’ (v. 6b). The freedom of the Christian is not a licence to sin. It is freedom from sin for the glory of God. It is freedom to worship, love, adore, obey, serve, follow, and delight in God.

    3] Thirdly, John warns us that He is coming again as Judge of the whole earth (v.7). The Lord Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. This, of course, is the message at the heart of Revelation. It forms the two bookends of John’s message to the seven Churches in Asia. It is here at the beginning of the book and promised by the Lord Christ at the end: ‘Surely, I am coming soon’ (22:20). John speaks almost as if he could see the Second Advent with His own eyes: ‘Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn on account of Him. Even so. Amen’ (v.7). This would have been a message of great encouragement to the early Church suffering persecution at the hands of wicked men. John is saying that there will be a Day of Judgement. There will be an ultimate justice in this cosmos. Those Christians who suffer sorrow, persecution, and rejection today at the hands of wicked men shall know the vindication of God on that day when Christ returns. The Church of Christ must look up, away from the cruelty of this passing world, to the coming Judge from Heaven, the very same Person who submitted Himself to the Judgement of God for our sakes and set us free from sin by His blood. On that day He will cast all the wicked and unrepentant enemies of God and of His Church into everlasting condemnation. ‘The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever’ (14:11a). The Lord Christ takes sin seriously. He will bring justice and judgement to all those who reject Him and live in bold rebellion against almighty God. But He will also bring peace and happiness to His people. He will take all His Father’s elect children into His arms and bring them into heavenly joy, blessedness, happiness, and glory for eternity. John sets before us three aspects of this awesome day when Christ returns:

i.            He will come with the clouds. This is something which Jeremiah prophesied: ‘Behold, He will come up like the clouds; His chariots like the whirlwind; His horses are swifter than eagles — woe to us, for we are ruined!’ (Jeremiah 4:13). He shall come like a King bringing vengeance in battle. ‘His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form’ (Robert Grant). His return will be sudden and terrifying. He will come like an advancing army on horseback with the power of a hurricane behind Him. His enemies will tremble and quake before Him in terror. There shall be no escaping the fury of His wrath.  
ii.            Every eye will see Him. You won’t miss His coming. He will return in a very real and visible manner, with the blast of trumpets, with the rushing of clouds, and with the fury of God in His hands. There will be no hiding from presence. There will be no doubt that He has returned. The whole world will know that Christ has come. His first Advent was hidden from the eyes of men. He veiled Himself and hid His glory from our eyes. But on that day, He will come in the fullness of divine majesty. He will come in holiness, purity, justice, wrapped in light, blazing like the noonday sun. Every eye will see Him. I will see Him and you will see Him. Every sinner in this universe will see Him. Not a soul shall miss the glory of the coming of the Lord.   
iii.            Men will mourn on account of Him. This picture of Christ does not fit with how the modern Church, by and large, has tried to picture Jesus. The Jesus of the 21st century is gentle and meek. He is a cool surfer dude, with blonde hair and blue eyes, your best buddy, the lead guitarist in the Church rock band. That Jesus is an idol. He is not the Christ of Scripture. When He returns, men and women will mourn, they will wail, they will weep, and cry out in terror, for the King whom they have dishonoured and rejected will be here to judge the whole earth. These are matters most serious. The Day of Judgement shall be a solemn day indeed. Can we say with John, ‘Even so, Amen’?

These words of John concerning the return of our Lord should impress upon our hearts the urgency to win souls for Christ. It is a matter most urgent. Those outside of Christ shall perish eternally in the fires of His wrath. The bitterness and remorse of a life without God shall gnaw at them for eternity. Have we no pity on the lost? How can our hearts not be moved to win them and seek them for Christ? Will you not drop a tear for the unconverted? Will you not say a prayer for the lost? Will you not speak a word for Jesus? What selfish people we would be to keep the Gospel of grace and forgiveness to ourselves! May God have mercy upon us! Knowledge of a future judgement is a summons to repentance now. Today is the day of salvation. Now is the appointed time. Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart. Come to Jesus Christ and find life, hope, salvation, glory. Why, why will you die? There is mercy for you in Jesus. There is full pardon, forgiveness of sin, and peace with God for you in Him. Why not come and believe? But oh! How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?   

    4] Finally, John closes his greeting by quoting the words of Jesus Christ (v.8). He reminds us that the Lord Christ is the one in control of all things. ‘I am the Alpha and Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’ (cf. 22:13). Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Jesus is saying that He is the First and the Last. He is the Beginning and the End. The Lord Jesus has always been. He is from the beginning. He was not created. He was not made. He is from eternity. He is the First Cause of all things. ‘All things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that was made’ (John 1:3). He is the Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. There is not a blade of grass, a maple leaf, a sparrow, an ant, a grain of sand, a single atom, not even a quark, outside of His sovereign control as Creator of the cosmos. He is the Alpha. We can trust Him. We can depend upon Him. We can commit our lives to Him with confidence. The psalmist says that He numbers every hair upon our heads. If we entrust ourselves to the Alpha, He will hold us safe in His arms forever.

    He is the Omega. He is the end of all things. Yes this means that He will bring this present order to an end on the Day of Judgement, but it means more than that. He is the end in that His glory is the ultimate purpose of all things. The philosophy of secular humanism says that the end of all being is the happiness of man (man is the measure of all things). The Christian knows a far greater reality. He knows that the end of all being is the glory of Christ – who alone is the fountain of true happiness. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the end of our journey. History is moving to one irrevocable end only – the glory of the Omega. The pilgrimage of the Christian leads to the enjoyment of Christ not for time but for eternity.

Eternity, though infinite,
Is short enough to trace
The virtues of His healing wounds,
The wonders of His grace.
William Williams, Pantycelyn

    We shall see Him. Mine eyes shall see the King of glory. We shall trace His beauties and adore His majesty forever. When all things fade away, when all things wither and perish, the Lord Christ will remain, eternal and unchanging, forever to be worshipped and adored by myriads of saints and angels. We shall rest in the arms of the Almighty and know peace forevermore. What a comfort it is to have the Almighty on our side! We have no need to fear death, hell, Satan, or sin any more. The Almighty is with us. If the Alpha and Omega is for us, who can be against us? Come what may in life, we can rest secure and safe in Jesus Christ. J. C. Ryle would say, ‘Peace sleeps best of the pillow of His Omnipotence’. Oh that we would know such peace by faith! Let us learn to trust Him through all the changing scenes of life, confident that He will keep us safe, and lead us home to glory.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

References & Further Reading
The commentaries of the Puritans Matthew Henry and Matthew Poole were a great help in preparing this message.

Althaus, Paul, The Theology of Martin Luther (Fortress Press), pp. 156–7.
Ebenezer, Alun, Revelation (Evangelical Press)
Grier, W. J., The Momentous Event (Banner of Truth)
Hendriksen, William, More Than Conquerors (Baker Books).
Reeves, Michael, On Giant’s Shoulders (IVP), pp. 34–36.
Wilcock, Michael, The Message of Revelation (BST, IVP).