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Sunday, October 26, 2014

“The Final Battle”

Revelation 14:6–7, Reformation Day
Focus: Judgment is drawing near.  The demands of the Law are too much for us to bear.  What are we going to do?  Our only hope is to lean on Christ, for whoever the Son sets free is free indeed.
Function: That the hearers cling to the saving Word of Christ.
Structure: Verse-by-Verse

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and ruler of kings on earth.  To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to him be the glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.
This is how John greets the Seven Churches.  Revelation is one of the most mysterious and confusing books of the Bible.  It’s easy to get lost in the midst of it, getting turned around, not knowing up from down.  But when you look at it as a whole, you start to understand where each peace fits and the beauty of the story comes alive.  You realize that this story isn’t just any story, but it is THE story from beginning to end.  It’s about Satan’s rebellion and being cast out of heaven along with those who followed him.  It’s about the war they wage on earth to corrupt humanity and turn us away from God.  And it’s about the Lamb, who was slain, who conquered the dragon and his beasts once and for all.
John is witnessing this battle raging.  Satan and his beasts wreaking havoc on earth, branding everyone with their mark, claiming them as their own.  Christ gathering those on earth who remain faithful to Him on His holy mount.  A mighty song comes rushing from heaven, from all the angels and archangels and all the saints who had gone before.  It is a song of victory, a song of triumph.  It was their rally cry for the stage is set, and the final battle is at hand.  That’s when John looked up and said, “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.  And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
This angel had a powerful message, one that has resounded through the church from the beginning.  Fear God and give Him glory, for the Creator has come to judge His creation.  He has come in awe and power, and that thought can truly be terrifying.  But this is only the first of three announcements.  “Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” This is the word pronounced upon Satan and all his horde, who enticed us away from our Creator, who lured us into adulterous idolatry.  Our evil enemy has been conquered by the Lamb who was slain.  The war is over.  The victory complete.  Satan has been dethroned and condemned, but the judgment isn’t over.
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
Not only does Satan and his army have to pay, but all those who have served him, those who have been marked and branded by Satan and his beasts.  All those who have turned against God and made Him their enemy.  All those who have raged against the saints on earth.  They too face the full wrath of God, tormented with fire and sulfur, having no rest day or night.  This is God’s judgment upon humanity.
On this final day, all will stand naked before God Almighty.  Every sin they have ever committed will come to light.  Every evil feeling they have ever harbored will surface.  They will be judged according to every thought, word, and deed they have ever produced.  All of this will take place before our Lord, the Holy and Righteous God of the Universe.  So let me ask you a question, have you ever broken any of His commandments?  Let’s just take the first one for example: You shall have no other gods.  Have you ever trusted in yourself to get the job done?  Have you ever used your own cunning and deceit to make things happen?  Have you ever wanted something so bad that you were willing to give anything for it?
How about the second: You shall not use the Lord’s name in vain?  Have you ever used God’s name flippantly when you were hurt or when something angered you?  Have you ever told someone, or even thought of telling someone, to go to hell?  Have you ever used God’s name to manipulate someone into doing something that you wanted them to do?  The third: Remember the Sabbath by keeping it Holy?  Have you ever skipped church because something else was going on?  Have you skipped or just not go to Bible study or Sunday school because you didn’t feel like going?  Do you read, mark, and study Scripture on a daily basis?  We could keep going, but I think the point is clear.
We are all guilty of breaking God’s Law.  Since Adam and Eve, we have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.  Satan has relentlessly accused us, day and night before God.  He has tried to claim each and every one of us as his own, marking us with sin, and in that sin we stand condemned by the Law before God.  That is why Paul says in our epistle, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.”  Satan has won this battle, our guilt is evident.
Thankfully, Satan doesn’t have the last word, for he has been condemned, bound, and cast out of heaven.  The only one left before the throne is the Lamb who was slain.  Unlike Satan, the Lamb pleads our case before His Father.  He took all our sin upon Himself and was slain in our place, and has promised us that whoever believes in Him will not die but have eternal life.  Jesus tells us, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Jesus wasn’t giving some moralistic teaching about telling the truth, Jesus was telling His disciples that HE is the Truth, and that we can trust in Him for our salvation.  He repeated once more, because He wanted to be absolutely clear, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, has taken away the sin of the world.  He has gathered His saints and has washed us clean through the waters of our baptism.  He has taken away the mark of Satan and has given us a new mark, the name of the Lamb and of His Father.  He has given us new garments that were dipped in the blood of the Lamb.  Satan tried to claim us, but he was no match for Christ, the Son of the Living God, for Christ has purchased and won us not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.  We are no longer condemned by the Law before God.  When God looks upon you on that last day, He will not see a tainted sinner, but He will see one of His most precious, dearly loved Children and welcome you home with a feast too good to be imagined, for you and all believers have been made righteous through faith in Christ.
Paul continued, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  This is the eternal Gospel that the angel declares.  This is the Gospel that the martyrs died for.  This is the Gospel that the reformers fought so hard to protect.  This is the Gospel that our faith clings to.
YOU are the redeemed!  YOU are the righteous!  You are Christ’s holy saints!  Revelation continues, “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.  And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors!”  Though Satan’s war is still raging, we know how the story ends.  We know that though we live as sinners now, we are declared as righteous.  God our Judge is also our refuge, He is our stronghold.  Christ has already won, Satan’s time is limited.  It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.  So we wait, enduring the trials and tribulations of this world, because we are confident of Christ’s return.
So as the angel has proclaimed, “Fear God and give him glory.”  Fear not for the threat of punishment, but because we stand in reverence of the power and might of our Almighty King and Lord, in awe of the tenacity of what He was willing to do, and did do, to reclaim His people, and we give Him glory for He has vanquished our foe and has covered us with the blood of the Lamb.
May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.