BY: Sarah Auger
DATE: Sunday 28 May 2023
‘BIBLE PASSAGES: Read online
Revelation | Chapter 1 | Verses 1-20
When you sit in the dark for long enough, your eyes become accustomed to it. It doesn’t seem so dark any more. Perhaps the same is true for our society? Have we become so accustomed to one way of life that we get used to it? For the first readers of the book of Revelation, they faced a real danger – in the middle of opposition, the temptation to settle down to a life of comfort in the Roman Empire was so attractive. And yet, the light of Christ shines like a lighthouse – brightly revealing the darkness and guiding to safety. What would it look like for followers of Jesus to then shine this light brightly, like lampshades in a dark world?
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Sorry, no resources this week.
BIBLE STUDY QUESTIONS
Each week there are TWO different sets of questions for you to use, whether you are exploring the Bible within your Life Group, in other group settings, or simply using them on your own.
A | DISCUSSION STARTERS
These are simple questions to provoke discussion together out of the talk (ideal if you are watching our Sunday Service online with others in your group):
1 | Was there anything that particularly helped you during the talk?
2 | Was there anything that you didn’t necessarily agree with, or found difficult to understand in the talk?
3 | As a result of the talk, what:
a. Changes do you want to see?
b. Truths do you need to remember?
c. Actions do you need to take?
B | QUESTIONS TO EXPLORE
These are questions that are based on the talk and the surrounding themes:
Read: Revelation, Chapter 1, verses 1-20.
1 | What, if anything, do you know about the book of Revelation in the Bible?
2 | In Revelation 1:1-3, the book is described as a ‘revelation from Jesus Christ’. How does realising this as a revelation of Jesus impact our understanding of the entire book of Revelation?
3 | In Revelation 1:4-8, God is described in quite dramatic ways. What do we learn about God’s character and his involvement in our lives?
4 | In Revelation 1:9 John describes three things that are ‘ours in Jesus’. What are these three things, and how does the fact that they are the normal experience of Jesus’ followers change our approach to them?
5 | In her talk, Sarah quoted John McGinley, ‘I genuinely believe the best days of the Church in the United Kingdom are ahead of us. But they won’t look like the best days by the current standards or measurement of success that we use today: size and numbers and our position and influence in society. I believe they will be characterised by the Church being marginalised, organisationally weakened and humbled and on our knees before God; these are the places God has always begun his work of revival.’ What do you make of this quote, in the light of Revelation 1?
6 | In Revelation 1:12-18, we get a startling description of Jesus. How does this description of Jesus fit with our understanding of Him and how we approach our relationship with Him? How does your ‘revelation’ of Jesus need refreshing in light of this description? (See also Philippians 2:9-11)
7 | In Revelation 1:17-18, Jesus describes himself as the living one who was dead and is now alive forever. How does this wonderful reality impact our understanding of salvation and the hope we have as Christians? (See also Romans 6:8-11)
8 | In Revelation 1:20, Jesus specifically mentions the church as the lampstands. How does this description of the church’s role and purpose impact our understanding of the church today? (See also 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.)
9 | Take some time to pray in the light of your conversations about Revelation 1.
As you work through these questions pray for one another to deepen and develop your relationship with Jesus.
BIBLE STUDY RESOURCES
BLOG LINKS | Meditations on Revelation 2-3’ by Sam Storms.
Revelation for the Rest of Us’ by Scot McKnight and Cody Matchett
‘Revelation’ (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; BECNT) by Grant Osborne
‘Revelation’ (New Cambridge Bible Commentary; NCBC) by Ben Witherington
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE BOOK OF REVELATION?
As you know, last weekend we went on a weekend away. Whether you were there or whether you couldn’t join us, we actually had some really significant teaching that was given to us. It’s all now available on our YouTube channel. I think that that teaching, alongside the fact that this morning we celebrate Pentecost (the birth of the Church), means that as we begin this new series looking at the book of Revelation, there are some really significant things that God is going to want to say to us and to the church. So hopefully this will be a really helpful few weeks ahead as we look at Revelation.
Now, I don’t know how many people here like films and I don’t know what films you like watching. We probably all have different preferences, don’t we? There are two types of films that I really don’t like watching. So I love watching a film, I think it’s a great way to relax, but there are two types of films I really don’t like watching. The first one is a romantic comedy. The other film that I really don’t like, which I know is really controversial as well, is a sci-fi film, science fiction. I’ve watched the Star Wars films – I’ve tried really hard, but I just can’t get into them. And there was a film that came out a number of years ago called Interstellar. So lots of my friends went to see the film Interstellar, and they all came back and said to me, “Oh, you should watch Interstellar, Sarah. It’s absolutely brilliant.” And they told me more and more about the film. And the more they told me about it, the less I wanted to go and see the film Interstellar, because quite frankly, it just sounded a bit weird and a bit strange. And it didn’t matter how many times people told me the soundtrack was amazing, I had nothing within me that wanted to go and see that film.
And that might be a little bit about how some of us feel about the book of Revelation, this final book of the whole Bible. Because the book of Revelation, for some people, is just a bit weird. It’s full of some strange descriptions, some strange stories – people haven’t always really got it. It’s just been that book that’s been a little bit out of reach. There’s a few verses in it that we read often, some brilliant verses of comfort that we often read at funerals and thanksgivings. But actually, the book as a whole might be one that we just keep slightly at arm’s length.
Some people see it as a book that’s got lots of secret signs in it which tell us about when the world is going to end, or tell us which political leaders or world figures are the evil ones who are in this world. And so people see it as this slightly weird fortune-telling book. But actually, maybe this book is so much simpler than we could ever think it is.
REVELATION CAN HELP US KEEP JESUS AS OUR ‘WHY’
There was a book that was released only a couple of weeks ago by a theologian called Scot McKnight. And in the very opening introduction to the whole of his book, he said that you can sum up the book of Revelation (bearing in mind this is a really academic theologian) in one sentence. And this was the sentence he said, “God’s team wins, choose your team, don’t be stupid.” That was how one of our leading theologians at the moment summed up the book of Revelation.
Because actually at the heart of the book of Revelation is a promise that Jesus has been and always will be both faithful and victorious, that whatever is going on in the world around us, we need to keep Jesus at the centre. As Leon, who spoke with us on our weekend away, said, “Jesus is the ‘why’ behind everything that we do, that that was what the encouragement that this book was – keep Jesus as your ‘why’ behind everything.”
Here at Riverside, we want to keep Jesus as the ‘why’ behind why we run ministries like Riverside Performing Arts. Not because we want to go and do nice shows and we want to entertain people, but because we want to creatively help people get to know Jesus in a way that might be more accessible to them through storytelling, through performances.
Jesus is the ‘why’ that we have things like baptisms, because we want people to be able to say, “I am declaring publicly that I want to live my life for Jesus. And even if I don’t always get it right, I’m making that public declaration now.”
Jesus is the ‘why’ behind why we run life groups for children from the ages of seven to adults up to the age of 107 in our church – because we want to gather together to disciple one another, to help one another learn more about Jesus as we live our lives.
Jesus is the ‘why’ behind running things like Food Pantry – yes, we want to meet people’s practical needs, but so many people are doing that brilliantly in our communities. We want to do that whilst also telling them about the hope that they can have in Jesus both now and forever.
Jesus is the ‘why’.
WHY IS THIS BOOK OF THE BIBLE CALLED ‘REVELATION’?
So, as we look at this book, as we look at Revelation, we’re going to just delve into this opening chapter of Revelation, and then look at some of the takeaways that we can have for ourselves as a church here in 2023. Because ‘revelation’ in Greek simply means the word ‘apocalypse’.
Now we hear that word now and it probably makes us think of disaster films – I think there’s an Idris Elba film actually called ‘Apocalypse’ and it’s the end of the world. But ‘apocalypse’ simply meant ‘revealing’ or ‘unveiling’. It was a book there to reveal more about Jesus to the people that John was writing to, to a people who at the time were facing huge oppression and persecution by the Roman government and the Roman armies around them. And he wanted to write to them to reveal or unveil more of Jesus.
Now, I am going to unveil and reveal Nathaniel now [from underneath this sheet on the stage with me] before he passes out, because you’ve really got your sweat on there, Nathaniel! The reason that I put Nathaniel up on the stage under a sheet was not just so Open Sans that we could have him pass out halfway through the service because he got so hot. It was because when Nathaniel first came up, everyone looked, everyone saw him. We were all laughing, “Why is Nathaniel under a sheet in the middle of the stage?” But the minute I started talking and telling stories and introducing this theme, actually, people stopped looking at Nathaniel. You’re vaguely aware that he’s there, but he’s not the main focus anymore.
IS JESUS YOUR CENTRAL FOCUS?
That was what John was saying to the churches as he writes his book of Revelation – “maybe Jesus has stopped being your main focus. Because actually, the repression and the persecution around you has meant you’ve altered and shifted what you believe a little bit, so that Jesus is no longer the centre, because that’s sometimes a little bit awkward, because you might face persecution if He is.” Just as we stop noticing Nathaniel, just as he stopped being the focal point of what we were looking at, that’s maybe where some of these churches were at. That Jesus was slightly off kilter. They knew He was there. They were aware of Him, but He simply wasn’t the centre anymore.
It was really easy for believers to compromise their belief in Jesus. If you knew that you didn’t go to the Roman temple and worship the god-like figure that had become Julius Caesar, and you knew you were going to get persecuted for that, then, well, maybe it was a little bit easier to pop in there occasionally. Maybe, if actually it was all about gaining as much wealth as possible because that’s what the Romans were putting pressure on you, well, actually it was a bit easier to do that, to just compromise ever so slightly and fit in with the value system of the world in which you lived than stand out from the crowd and say, “No, we are going to do something different. We are going to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus at the centre.”
Maybe some of us can really resonate with that in our own lives, that we know those things in our lives where actually it’s so much easier just to go a slightly off kilter away from Jesus than to keep our eyes fully focused and fully fixed on the things that Jesus is telling us to do, that we find ourselves fitting in with the culture around us because that is easier than being the person who stands out from the crowd all of the time.
WHO WAS JOHN WRITING TO?
John writes to these seven cities and he writes to basically the seven churches in the seven out of the eight main cities in the area that is now called Western Turkey.
Nowadays, if you wanted to get your message across and you wanted people to hear the things that you wanted to say, you’d chuck it on Twitter or Instagram and it would go global within a matter of moments. Someone a few weeks ago shared some news with one of my friends. My friend came in and shared it with me. I then passed it on to a few other people. Before long, everyone in the whole church knew this one piece of news, which was good news, but it probably didn’t need to be shared quite as quickly. That’s the power of Instagram and Twitter nowadays.
But actually, John knew that by writing to these seven main churches, because they were in the prominent cities that had easier transport out into all the provinces, he would get his message spread out into all of the regions.
WHAT WAS JOHN WRITING TO SHARE?
It was a strategic moment that he wrote to these seven churches to say, “I’m writing to you because I want to give you a message to say, “Keep going, you’re on the winning team. Jesus is in control.” And I want you to share this with as many people as possible because this is so important for you to hear.” And as John gives this message about Jesus saying, “Let’s put our focus back fully on Jesus”, he uses lots of different pictures to describe in this opening chapter this vision that he’s had of Jesus.
Sometimes we read that and we think, “Well, that’s a bit weird. Is John just having some heat stroke moment where he’s just coming up with things out of his head?” But the incredible thing about what John shares is that in this opening chapter, where he talks about his vision of Jesus Christ, he does not share anything that has not already been shared. Because the pictures that he describes of Jesus – and we’re going to look at just a few in a moment – have already been shared in the Old Testament. [And they are a] reminder from John to every follower of Jesus that Jesus has always been there, right from the beginning of time, that Jesus is with them now, and that Jesus will be with them in the future. Jesus always has been and always will be faithful and victorious.
WERE JOHN’S VISIONS REALLY SO FARFETCHED?
So if we read from the book of Revelation, right at the beginning of the verse John read to us, we hear the words in verse 13, ‘… and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man…’ Now if we turn to the book of Daniel. Daniel is a prophet who is in the Old Testament, and he also talks about a vision of a promised Messiah to come. And we read these words chapter 7, ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man…’ The same words.
We go on to read in the book of Revelation, ‘The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.’ Again, we read on in Daniel, ‘… the Ancient of Days took his seats. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire…’
We then go on to read in the Book of Revelation, His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. And if we turn to the Book of Ezequiel, another Prophet, so another messenger of God in the Old Testament, who also had a vision of the promised Messiah to come, he writes these words, like the roar of rushing waters was the voice of the Almighty.
These were the fulfilment of promises that had come. That John was saying, Jesus was there the whole time. And I’m reminding you that even in the midst of persecution, even in the midst of things that you’re finding hard, you can remember that Jesus was there. That Jesus was there at the beginning, and he is still there with you now.
WHY ARE THESE KIND OF REPITITIONS SO SIGNIFICANT?
I don’t know how many people remember when Barack Obama was first sworn in for his first term as President of America. He stood up and he gave a speech which was a really rallying speech. These are some of the words that Barack Obama said in that speech. He declared to his hearers that they could put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more towards the hope of a better day. Powerful words, saying to those who had voted for him, “This is brilliant. This is a new start. We are going into a better season ahead. That the arc of history, there is hope ahead.” Really powerful words. But for those who were familiar with the words of Martin Luther King Jr, they would recognise and realise in this speech that Barack Obama gave, there was an even greater significance to the words that he said.
Because many years previous, when Martin Luther King Jr was in the midst of the civil rights movement in America, really fighting against oppression for all, he said these words, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Barack Obama was alluding to the words that had gone before him, the words that had been spoken by somebody else to rally people to say there is hope to come.
Now, whatever we believe politically, actually, by knowing the words that Barack Obama spoke and the fact he was alluding to something that had gone before, suddenly his message and his meaning is given even greater power of a promise that he wants to give to the people of America. And that’s what we see in this moment with John, that he’s talking about Jesus whilst reminding us of what has gone before. This is important. This is powerful. This is a journey that we are all on together.
So what are the three takeaways for us now? In this moment, as we begin this book of Revelation, for us as a church and us individually, as we look at this book where the people in the churches of the ancient days have been told, “Keep your focus back on Jesus. In the midst of persecution, don’t compromise to the culture around you. Put Jesus at the centre.”
ONE: DO NOT COMPROMISE
Well, I think the first that we can take is follow Jesus and don’t compromise to the culture around us. The book of Revelation is not a book that is about a rapture out of this world, it is about an encouragement of faithful discipleship in this world. That for each of us, Jesus is the unique distinction in our lives. He is the thing that is unique to who we are, to what we believe, and why we do what we do. And can I ask you, you don’t have to answer it, where do you compromise? Because we all do, don’t we?
Whether it’s in a context of we know that people are talking about someone not very nicely behind their back, and actually we join in because it’s a bit easier than someone talking about us, or maybe we just stay silent because we don’t want to stand up for that person. Maybe it’s in your workplace where you know some of your behaviour patterns and choices are not what they should be, but it’s just much easier to join in than to stand out from the crowd.
Maybe it’s in your friendships or your relationships where actually you know that your reactions or the way that you’re behaving with other people really isn’t what Jesus would call you to do. But sometimes in the moment it’s just so much easier. I loved one of the things that Leon said whilst we were away last weekend. It was a prayer challenge that he gave us. He said, “If all of your prayers were answered, how many people would really be affected by that?” That was such a challenge to think, “Would my prayers affect me and the small world around me? Or am I really praying for Jesus to do mighty works in the world around me, in the community around me, for the people who are in desperate, desperate need around me?” So follow Jesus, don’t compromise to the culture.
TWO: UNEXPECTED PROFOUND ENCOUTERS
The second one, I think, is that sometimes our most profound encounters with Jesus are in the moments that we least expect them to be. John wrote the book of Revelation when he was on the island of Patmos, where he had been imprisoned. So the Roman leaders didn’t like the fact that John was going around sharing his face, sharing about Jesus, and people were listening to him and they were believing in the things that he was saying. So they thought if they put him over on an island away from everyone else in prison, they would stop him from being able to share about Jesus.
But actually what it did was gave John time to pray, to seek God, to have time out of the day to day, where he had this incredible vision of Jesus and was able to bring all of these scriptures together to write this promise to each one of us to put Jesus back at the centre of our lives.
A PICTURE OF JESUS IN A PUBLIC BATHROOM
A number of years ago, over one of the school holidays, I’d taken my three daughters shopping to the Bullring and we were in the Bullring and everyone needed the toilet, so we’d had a little toilet stop in the public toilets. My three-year-old at the time, she was very feisty, quite independent, so she was adamant she was going on to a toilet cubicle on her own. I was like, “Okay, off you go.” They all went off to the toilet. The older two came out and then it became quite evident that my three-year-old had not come out of the toilet.
And so what transpired was that she had locked herself in the toilet and couldn’t open the toilet door, which does happen. But then what happened was that the lock on the door was completely broken. So we had to find actual proper engineers from around the Bullring who had to dismantle the whole toilet cubicle, and it all became a bit of a thing. The door had to come off. In that moment, while she was locked in the toilet and I was going into, ‘quick, rescue everybody, sort it all out’ mode, another mum came over with her small child, stood in front of the cubicle which my child was in, turned to her child and went, “And that’s why mummy says you can’t go in the toilet on your own.”
That, for me, wasn’t a profound encounter with Jesus. I was concerned she might be about to meet Jesus – I was quite angry. But after that woman had gone and I obviously repented for my bad thoughts, I turned around and noticed that my middle daughter, Isla, had done this. So she had simply, because she was the only one who actually could fit to do it, lay down on the floor (which in public toilets in Birmingham, it isn’t always the nicest thing to do) and she had put her hand up a tiny little gap under the toilet and she was holding her sister’s hand while we tried to sort it out. Just to add, they don’t actually get on that well, so this was a one-off moment! Don’t think this is a beautiful family life picture! But it was a beautifully profound moment for me to think that in the midst of me trying to sort it out, actually she had simply known that her sister just needed to hold her hand because she was the only one who could fit to do that.
And it gave me a profound picture of Jesus. That actually, sometimes, when we’re in the moments of dirt and darkness and it’s tough and it’s hard, Jesus is there with us simply reaching up and holding our hands, sitting with us in the dark, in the dirt, in the things that seem really, really tough. And that sometimes actually Jesus is the only one who can fit his hand under the door to hold onto our hand when it is really tough.
IS THE CHURCH IN A KIND OF PATMOS?
John McGinley, in his book, The Church of Tomorrow, wrote this recently, “I genuinely believe the best days of the Church in the United Kingdom are ahead of us, but they won’t look like the best days by current standards or measurements of success that we use today: size and numbers and our position and influence in society. I believe they will be characterised by the Church being marginalised, organisationally weakened and humbled and on our knees before God; these are the places God has always begun his work of revival.”
When we came out of Covid, so many people didn’t return, both in the Church in the UK, but also across the whole globe. Because so many people in the midst of Covid realised, “Oh, I’m all right not to do church anymore.” Maybe they realised it was a bit of a social club, which they had learned to do without. And so Sunday mornings became something else and they didn’t need that community. And so many church leaders looked and came and were discouraged that so many people didn’t come back.
When we turn on the news at the moment or we look at our social media feeds, it feels so sadly that we are seeing time and time again about leaders in the Christian faith who have fallen, in quite spectacular ways, into making wrong choices, doing bad things. And so we look and we say, “God, what’s going on?” But maybe God is doing a really significant work because actually, God is saying, “We have brought back the remnant, the people who really want to go on in their journey with Jesus. And actually, we are breaking down celebrity culture and we’re breaking down the worship of people over Jesus.” And in that moment, God is doing a significant and a beautiful thing where it looks like it could be a time where we should be broken and where the Church should be stopping. Actually, maybe God is bringing us to our knees and He’s going to do the most powerful work that we’ve seen in this nation in a long time.
THREE: FRESH REVELATIONS
And then finally, let’s be continually seeking a fresh revelation of Jesus. Not seeking or settling for what has gone before, but encouraging ourselves both individually and as a church, into something new and to something fresh. I met with some people from the old Bourneville congregation this week. So before Covid, we had different sites that met in different locations. I was one of the site pastors of the Bourneville site. I was chatting to them and we were chatting about the old Bourneville days. And she said to me, “You know, the time now is to stop looking back on what we had. Stop saying we want that again and actually go where God wants us now.” Because she said, “Actually, what I realised was what I was looking back on wasn’t the, “Oh, I really want to see Jesus at work.” It was that nice community. It was that us all being together and it was comfortable.” And it really, really resonated with me.
And I don’t say this to upset or offend anybody, I say this for me personally because so many people have said to me, “Do you really miss the Bournville congregation?” And I do. I miss the family that we had, I miss the community that we had. But do I miss Jesus at work in our local community? No, because church and Jesus at work is not about a building. It’s not where we meet on a Sunday morning. I’m that, I’m the church. And that’s been a huge challenge to me to say, “If you really are passionate about your community, you get out there and you be Jesus in your community.” It’s not about people coming in.
And on this Pentecost Sunday, when we think about the birth of the first church, Jesus didn’t have a church building. Jesus didn’t have programmes. He simply went out and encouraged his followers to share something of his message with the people around them.
A FRESH COMMUNITY CHALLENGE
So I set myself a little challenge in terms of wanting to really transform the Bournville community for Jesus. I’ve got a dog and I don’t know how many of you have got a dog or have seen dogs out. But when you take a dog out for a walk, you always have that slightly embarrassing moment where your dog meets another dog and they just sniff each other’s behinds. And it’s a bit awkward because you’re standing with someone you’ve never met before, as your dogs are sniffing, and you’re just looking at each other not really knowing what to say. And I’ve had a challenge from God to say, “When that happens, for a week, you need to share something of your faith with the person that your dog has stopped to sniff.”
Can I just say, I didn’t manage it every day. Some days I felt too embarrassed, if I’m really honest. I was a bit shy, a bit nervous. “What will they say? What will they do?” But on the days that I did – actually, there was one time I was able to pray for somebody, there was another time when someone asked me what I did and I simply was able to share what I did and why I did it, and a few other conversations like that – not one person that I shared something of my faith with went, “Oh, you weirdo. Oh, can you be quiet?” They all listened. The people who I prayed for went, “Thank you so much.” These are people who didn’t have a faith.
I don’t say that because I’m like, “Oh, well done, me.” I say that because it was a real wake up call for me of: what about those people that I felt too embarrassed to share with, that I didn’t say anything to because I felt a bit nervous, didn’t know how they’d react? Actually, people do want to hear about Jesus. They do want to hear something of what you believe because people are in a world at the moment where we are still struggling, where people do want to know and they do want to hear some message of hope in each of their lives.
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN TOUCHED BY TODAY?
It might be that for one of those three things that we’ve mentioned this morning might have resonated with you more than another. Maybe the whole following Jesus don’t compromise to the culture around you. Maybe actually looking for profound encounters with Jesus when you least expect them. That it’s not about weekends away or going to festivals or something that happens in church – actually, you can have a revelation of Jesus when you’re just sat home, when you’re walking down the street. Or maybe it’s that sense of seeking a fresh revelation of Jesus, not settling for what has gone on behind, saying, “Jesus, I want to come and do something new for you today.”
And at the front here, we’ve got some little mirrors in two baskets either side. And we would love to invite you, if you’d like to, as we go into this time of worship, to come and take a mirror and to simply write across the mirror the word ‘Jesus’, or just to draw a cross if you’d like to. And it might be that if you’re at home and you’ve got a mirror – don’t do this with a Sharpie, we’ve got Sharpies here! You could do it with a lipstick or something that rubs off – that as you simply write ‘Jesus’ or you draw a cross, to take this away and just in a moment of silence where you are, or maybe with the people around you, to pray for that thing that you have really felt Jesus wanting you to respond in. That as you look in the mirror, your focus is Jesus. It’s not all the other stuff that you can see when you look in the mirror. It’s not you. It’s not the chairs around you. It’s not the people either side of you. That as we go into our culture, we know that we can focus on Jesus and we can stand out from the crowd. That in our most unexpected moments, we know we can focus on Jesus. That as we go about our day to day, we can focus on a new revelation of Jesus, whatever we’re doing.