What Can We Be Sure Of?

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Revelation 4:1-11
Revelation 5:1-14

As you look ahead at the beginning of a new millennium, how do you feel? Are you filled with excitement, or with apprehension? Let me talk about some things Christians can be absolutely sure of, no matter what.

Right now all over the world people are celebrating the beginning of a new year, a new century, a new millennium. No living person has ever experienced a moment quite like this before, or ever will again. It is a unique time – literally a one-of-a-kind time – for everyone. None of us will see another turn of the calendar comparable to this one.

Isn’t it interesting that all the millennial hoopla has been triggered by the birth of a single person two thousand years ago? Who would ever have thought, witnessing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, that this baby would become the central figure of world history, the one whose coming changed the very calendar. Who would have guessed that two thousand years later people the world over would be counting the time till his return by adding up the years since his birth?

But so it is. The baby of Bethlehem, born in poverty and obscurity to humble parents in an out-of-the-way corner of the Roman Empire, grew up to be the Savior of the world. His life still shines out as the perfect example of how human beings ought to live: by serving God, doing good, and loving everyone – even his enemies. His death offers the hope of forgiveness and a new beginning to all who trust in him. His resurrection from the dead demonstrates the reality of his divine nature and power. It confirms the validity of all the promises he made, offering hope for victory over death and eternal life to us as well. And so we celebrate still, even after 2000 years.

CERTAINTY IN AN UNCERTAIN WORLD

But the dawning of the new millennium is also a time of great uncertainty, even fear, for many. Any time a new year begins we ought to give some thought to the onrushing future and the relentless passage of time. Let’s face it, even though we don’t like to. Our days on earth are limited. We’re moving steadily closer to the end of our life’s span. But the new millennium is an especially significant milestone on the journey. It makes us think not just of our own allotted time, but of the world’s. It makes us wonder. Could we be drawing near to the close of the age, to the end of the world itself?

That’s an unsettling thought. What can we be sure of, in an age of drastic change and radical uncertainty? What will life be like in the new millennium? What will it mean for me? With things changing so rapidly, how will the world be different a few years from now? Do we even have a few years left? Well, that’s one thing we can’t be sure of. None of us can be certain of seeing another day, let alone another year.

Think of all the other things we can’t be sure about. We can’t be sure of keeping our health. Disease and death care nothing for who we are or how much we have to live for. They will come to the old; they can come to the young. We can’t be sure of prosperity and success. Much of our waking life is spent trying to insure our financial security. But however hard you work and however much you worry, you can never be certain that you will be well off. Job, money, investments, houses – any of these can be lost or destroyed. Nor can we be sure of happiness. Do you dare to peer ahead into the mists of the future and predict with confidence that there will be no heartache there for you? Even in the best of times our earthly happiness hangs by a slender thread. Who can say some tragedy won’t cause that thread to snap?

THIS IS MY FATHER’S WORLD

So the question arises. Are there any certainties in life, anything we can be sure of, no matter what? The early Christian believers lived in a world with far more uncertainly and hardship than ours, yet their faith glowed with assurance. Their joyful confidence leaps from every page of the New Testament. It shines especially clearly in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. Revelation is the Bible’s picture book. Its truths are conveyed in a series of visionary scenes drawn with vivid word pictures.

One of the most important of those scenes is John’s description of God’s heavenly throne. He tells how he saw heaven opened, and there he was given a glimpse of the glory of God himself.

. . . before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it . . . the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing . . . the seven spirits of God. Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

Revelation 4:2-6, NIV

Notice how everything in this scene is described by its relationship to the throne of God:

  • Encircling the throne, an emerald rainbow (v. 3)
  • Surrounding the throne, twenty-four elders (v. 4)
  • From the throne come lightning and thunder (v. 5)
  • Before the throne, seven blazing lamps symbolizing the Holy Spirit (v. 5)
  • In front of the throne, a sea of glass, clear as crystal (v. 6)
  • Around the throne, four living creatures representing the creation (v. 7)
  • In the hand of the one on the throne, a scroll (5:1)
  • In the center of the throne, a Lamb that was slain, the Lion of the tribe of Judah (v. 6)
  • Encircling the throne and the living creatures and the elders, thousands upon thousands of angels (v. 11)/

So what does all this mean? This scene offers a glimpse of ultimate reality. It tells us that at the center of everything is God on his throne ruling all things. The foremost thing of which we can be certain in an uncertain world is that our God reigns. God is on the throne, glorious beyond description, dwelling in unapproachable light, as the Bible says (1 Tim. 6:16). This is a symbolic way of saying that, however things may appear to us, it is God who is really in control – everywhere, all the time, of everyone and everything.

Who is really running the world? Think about that. Is it the United States? Surely not. Though we are often called the world’s only remaining superpower, we don’t seem to be too successful at getting our way or imposing order upon the world. Nor is our own society always a good model of justice, peace or decency.

What about the Untied Nations or NATO? Do these international organizations established to keep the peace control what’s going on throughout the world? Not judging by all the unresolved conflicts we see.

Or maybe it’s a secret cartel of international corporations, a giant conspiracy of the super-rich. Maybe they’re the ones pulling the strings behind the scenes and manipulating what happens.

There are plenty of conspiracy theories purporting to explain the real power behind everything. But they’re all wrong. It isn’t governments or politicians or generals. It isn’t secret societies, and it certainly isn’t private individuals who rule the world. No, says the book of Revelation, it is none of these. God is in charge of his world. He rules on the throne of the universe. We can be sure of that!

JESUS LOVES ME

Second, John’s vision teaches us that the God who is in control of everything is also the Father of Jesus Christ. He has entrusted all things into the hands of his beloved Son. When John looks more closely at the heavenly throne of God, he sees a scroll written on both sides, and then a Lamb into whose hands the scroll is entrusted.

This scroll covered with writing represents the full story of human history – all the secrets of God’s providential rule over the world, past, present and future. Seven seals line the edge of the scroll, keeping it closed to human investigation, and reminding us that we can neither know nor understand the purposes of God. But we need not worry; for the scroll rests firmly in the hands of Jesus Christ.

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne. . . . He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb.

Revelation 5:6-8

The scroll is entrusted to the hand of the Lamb. All God’s plans are known and will be brought to pass by Jesus Christ.

So, what can we be sure of? We can be sure that Jesus, the crucified Lamb, now lives and reigns as Lord. And this Lord Jesus Christ holds our destiny in his hands – hands that are marked with the scars of his loving sacrifice.

When the famous theologian Karl Barth near the end of his career embarked on a lecture tour of leading American universities he attracted great crowds. Following his address at one prestigious institution of higher learning, Professor Barth was asked a question from the audience, “What is the most important idea in your theology?” Barth looked at the intellectually sophisticated academic crowd and replied, “The most important idea in my theology is this: ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’” If you are a Christian, you can say the very same thing.

WE BELONG TO HIM

Finally, John’s vision of heaven reminds believers of our place there. Yes, we are there too in that heavenly scene. Not only God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not just the angels in their thousands of thousands. The church of Jesus Christ is also visible in John’s vision. John says that he saw twenty-four elders surrounding the throne of God. These elders represent the entire people of God from every age, twelve for the Old Testament tribes of Israel, twelve for the New Testament apostles of Jesus. A little later in the book John describes another picture he saw of heaven, one in which the church is shown more literally. John saw:

a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. . . . And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” . . . they are before the throne of God and serve him night and day . . . and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. . . For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Revelation 7:9-10,15-17

These are things we as Christians can be sure of, come what may: God rules over the whole world. The Lord Jesus loves us, cares for us, and knows what he plans for our lives. And we who love him belong to him and will be his forever.

Let me make a prediction; in fact, I dare to tell you exactly what is going to happen in the new millennium. Here it is: God will continue to exercise the real control over all events in the universe. Blessing, honor, glory and power will be his. Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain for the sins of the world, will still be Lord. He will receive all who come to him in faith, and never turn any away. Christ will still hold in his hand the scroll of human history, which he will unroll to fulfill his loving, saving purposes for all who belong to him.

No, I don’t really know just exactly what the future will bring. But I do know that as one who believes in Jesus Christ, I belong to the Lord, and that nothing can separate me from God’s love in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). And I know that nothing will happen to me or to my world without the will of my Father in heaven. That’s enough for me.