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Our lesson this Reformation Day is from the epistle lesson from Revelation. Since it’s short, I will read the whole in its entirety: 6 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. 7 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.” (Rev. 14:6-7)
Once I was making a home visit as a pastor and the person I was visiting said something to me which really took me aback. I had been encouraging this person to return to worship at church and the response came, “If you do a Bible study on Revelation, I’ll come to that.” Again, something similar happened this summer when I was at the Fort Wayne Seminary visiting with the high school youth on retreat there. I had been invited to come back and give a lecture series in 2015, so over lunch I asked some of the youth what they’d like me to teach about next summer. The answer? Yes, again the book of Revelation. It seems nothing in the Bible excites the popular imagination like it.
Coming at the very end of the Bible, Revelation piques our curiosity, though for some it also instills a sense of fear. It’s mysterious with all its symbolic colors and numbers, its dragons and beasts and travels up beyond space to heaven and forward in time to the end of the world. But it can be scary, too, with the depictions of war and judgment, persecutions of the righteous and everlasting condemnation for the wicked. It seems that no one gets out of the book unscathed and unscarred. As it peers into the future, the options set before you are either to face death or damnation—death from the world for those who confess the name of Christ as Savior, eternal damnation from God for those who don’t. In the meantime there will be brutal wars, plagues, and environmental catastrophes.
Maybe I understand those people who would rather not hear what Revelation has to say, just leave it sealed up at the end of the Bible. After all, who needs more bad news? The newspapers already read like the fulfillment of passages from Revelation: unceasing bloody war in the Middle East; brutal dictatorship and persecution of Christians in North Korea, China and across the Arab world; the plague of AIDS and now a plague of Ebola; terrorists attacking capital cities, as we saw again in Ottawa this week.
We can understand all too well how it is that in Rev. chapter 8, we read of an eagle flying in mid-heaven and crying out “woe, woe, woe” to the earth for the judgments that are come. We can understand all too well how it is that in Rev. chapter 19 an angel invites the birds, again flying in mid-heaven, to come and feast on the flesh of the slain who lie dead after the great battle. We know woe and we are sadly familiar with scenes of countless dead. But here, between those two mid-heaven revelations, we have our reading today which strikes a different note and gives another message, a message of hope and comfort. It’s an angel flying in mid-heaven proclaiming an eternal gospel to all who dwell on earth.
As good news and bad news come and go, here is an announcement of news which is forever good. It is good news that lasts forever, good news that will make all the future of our forever good because of Jesus Christ. And it’s good news for everyone, because Jesus Christ has come to be the Savior of all people. The book of Revelation frequently portrays Him as the Lamb of God who was slain, giving His life for our lives, to atone for our sins and to buy us back to God. He is the Risen Lord who has conquered death and hell and in His name eternal life is offered to all who believe in Him. There is no condemnation for those who trust in Christ, only glory and joy in the presence of God.
And so the lectionary gives us this reading to read and listen to and learn from on Reformation Day. Even though it comes from the book of Revelation, it’s a good news announcement – and that’s what the Lutheran Reformation itself had been. Yes, there had been abuses and problems in the Roman Catholic of the day, but what Luther had truly rejoiced in and the reason why others listened to him as he preached the Scriptures was because of the good news that they found there. Judgment is coming, yes. But we need not fear it. Through Jesus Christ, we have peace with God in the forgiveness of all our sins.
Now, we can “fear God and give Him glory” as the flying angel invites us. This is exactly what a true proclamation of the Gospel brings about: that we fear God and give Him glory. Does that sound strange? How does an announcement of good news brings us to fear God? First we need to understand this “fear of God” as a true, godly reverence for our Creator, a desire to please and serve Him above all else. It is part of our keeping the very First Commandment – “have no other gods before Me,” that is, to fear, love and trust in God above all things. And our relating rightly to God in this way follows from God reconciling us to Himself through His Son. As the Psalmist states in his prayer to God: “There is forgiveness with you, therefore you are feared.” Without God’s grace and forgiveness, we would have dread of God, even hatred for God; we might want to dismiss God or ignore Him or pretend He doesn’t exist. But because we matter so much to Him that He gave us a way back Himself, because He gave us His Son to come to us and make us His children again, we now find that God and God’s will can matter to us once again. He has given us His everlasting love and mercy; we desire to please Him by honoring Him and discovering what it means to do His will.
It’s this Gospel of the forgiveness of sins freely given in Christ which also gives the greatest glory to God. Believing that Jesus died and rose to make you right with God, you are giving glory to God by acknowledging His great mercy and goodness. You are confessing His justice – that He did not simply overlook sins, but He satisfied the demands of His own righteousness by paying the wages of our sin, but in the body of His Son. You are extolling God’s wisdom. Who else but God could take a world on its way to hell, held captive by Satan and doomed to death and bring about a complete reversal? In His wisdom He accomplished a total victory, and by a bloody death upon a cross, no less. Believing the Good News, you glorify God for His truthfulness, for He has been faithful to His promises spoken of old by His prophets and you are trusting that the promises given to you now in the Name of Christ are true. Here is how we glorify God and honor Christ: throw away your guilt, rest in His love; look to your future and all eternity with confidence that God is with you and will never leave you. Glorify Him by taking Him at His word and entering into the joy that He has for you even now as you believe His everlasting good news.
So we see how wrong we can be in matters of true faith and the ways of God. When people first heard Luther proclaiming the good news He found in the Bible, they were worried. They were afraid that telling people that heaven is a free gift given to all who believe in Christ would lead to immorality in life and disregard for God. Actually, the opposite is true. Only with the announcement of the Good News do we first come to love God and want to serve Him, only with the Good News stored up in our hearts do we honor Him as the loving Savior and Lord He is. The Good News restores us to God, reconciles us and puts us in a right relationship with Him so that we can begin to respond in thanks and praise, truly worshiping Him as He deserves.
Now we have heard the angel’s proclamation of the eternal Gospel, good news given to the whole world and also to each one of us individually. And he says: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth…” We will leave this beloved sanctuary and return to our homes. The news on the television and over the radio will be as bad as ever. But in our hearts we can guard and keep this assurance. We are loved for the sake of Christ. His death is our life and His resurrection is our entrance into life eternal. This world is hastening to its end, but there is eternity which follows for those who trust in Him. For us, the future is bright because God is good and His mercy is everlasting. Thanks and praise be to God.
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