Signs of The Times - Week 3: Breaking The Seals

 




Today we are continuing the sermon series that we started a couple of weeks ago, a series entitled Signs of the Times: Rediscovering Revelation.   

We have been studying one of the most controversial, misunderstood, and misinterpreted books of the Bible, the book of Revelation.  And the timing of this study couldn't be more perfect, am I right?

Some of the things that people will often share with me when they talk about the book of Revelation is that they are scared of it, that they don't understand it, that it uses some pretty messed up imagery, and that they often have friends or family members who like to point to it when they think the world is coming to an end. 

In other words, it doesn't give anyone the "warm and fuzzies." 

Today we're actually going to be exploring some of the most dramatic visions that are found in the book of Revelation, and we're also going to learn what it means to find meaning in the middle of calamity, which I am sure will be good news for most of us. 

Since we mentioned calamity, let me just say a few things about what happens to most of us when we experience it. 

I call this part of the sermon:  Feeling Sorry For Yourself: A Primer

So when we go through something traumatic, or we experience challenges like--I don't know--a pandemic, or a winter storm that shuts down everything and we're forced to boil snow to cook pasta or flush our toilets... what do we often do to cope with these things as we're feeling sorry for ourselves?

Here's a few things that I do when I'm feeling sorry for myself, maybe you can relate:  

1. Eat (a lot)

2. Binge watch TV 

3. Go on social media to find people worse off 

4. Text friends and tell them all the hardships I'm going through. 

5. Sleep 

6. Have a snack 

Feel free to share your own coping mechanisms.  You can shout them out loud if you want. We're all friends here. 

Here's the thing, when we experience calamity, at the heart of our self-pity, moping, occasional rants, or even our attempts to put our heads in the sand and act like nothing is wrong is one desire that unites all of us, despite our different ways of dealing with it: 

What we want most of all is meaning when there is a calamity.  We want to make sense of it all, and we'll often do whatever it takes to get there even if it means betraying our truest and best selves to do it. 

Even if it means putting our trust in things, people, and public figures that are ultimately untrustworthy.  

John the Revelator made a conscious decision to share a vision made of word pictures that called early Christians to faithfulness and trust in God.  

He didn't want them turning to the false gods of earthly safety, security, strength, and success because to do so would be a denial of the great work that God had begun in them through Jesus--a great work that included glorious purpose. 

He wanted them to know that calamity would come.  It always comes, and most often when we least expect it.  But John also wanted them to know that no matter what calamity they faced, they didn't face it alone and that it would prepare them for even greater things. 

In fact, our takeaway today speaks directly into what John intended.  Here's what I want us to hang on to today: 

CALAMITY OFTEN PREPARES ORDINARY PEOPLE FOR AN EXTRAORDINARY DESTINY 

Let's take a look at Revelation chapter 6 shall we?

6 I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.

Image of the white rider
Parthian rider--reminded people of the limits of Imperial expansion. 
If you worship the deified emperor, you are worshipping something that isn't supreme.  

3 When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword.

Image of the red rider 
Threat of violence that can erupt in your own society. The Pax Romana--people accepted the persecution of their neighbors if it meant preserving the peace. 

5 When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “Two pounds[a] of wheat for a day’s wages,[b] and six pounds[c] of barley for a day’s wages,[d] and do not damage the oil and the wine!”

Image of the rider with scales. 
There is a cost to imperial expansion, war, violence and unbridled consumerism. 
 
7 When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

Image of the pale rider
All of this leads to things that are beyond our control, like death. 
Images like this were designed not to offer an explanation of evil (that it comes from God or that God allows it), but to bring repentance and faith--to unsettle the complacent, incentive to persevere for the oppressed. 

Show the memes of the four horsemen

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters,[e] were killed just as they had been.

Image of the martyrs 
The faith of the martyrs and the call for justice.  The reader cannot be neutral 
Those who have suffered have found rest. 
There's not a lot of answers here, but it does portend an end to suffering. 

12 I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us[f] from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their[g] wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

Creation is now affected and there seems to be no answer. Even the wealthy and powerful find themselves seeking refuge.  

By now you're thinking to yourself: "This is an amazingly uplifting sermon!"  

But this is the way Revelation works.  The reader is brought to the precipice and then suddenly there's a shift.  

Revelation 7 begins suddenly like this: 

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree... 

We'll dig into that chapter next week, but it's a shift isn't it?  You expect the world to end, and all of a sudden there's a vision of angels holding back the winds and stopping the cycle of destruction. 

This is the cyclical nature of Revelation—take you to the brink, and then God. 

John wanted his readers to feel what they already knew about the tenuous nature of existence, but also not to be cowed by it because there’s more to come... and the more to come is better, brighter, and full of possibility.  

The more that is to come carries with it an air of purpose and destiny... our destiny, a purpose that is uniquely ours, ordained before the beginning of time. 

If that sounds amazing, and completely like some pie-in-the-sky thing that a pastor might say, hang in there because there are steps we can take to move beyond the travails of our calamity and toward that glorious purpose. 

And it starts with this question: How Do We Handle Calamity/Suffering?

I  think there are three things that you and I can do when we are in the middle of suffering, calamity, trials, and tribulations to extract meaning even when it seems meaningless.  And these three steps can more importantly set us on a path to fulfill our God-given destiny. 

Receiving/Feeling—interrupt the cycle of pain and uncertainty... stop feeling sorry for yourself.  Let yourself feel the pain of the struggle. It might not feel great, but it's just a feeling, and by letting it in, you actually take away its power. 

Listen, there's a difference between feeling sorry for yourself, and feeling sad, or alone, or depressed or even angry about the way the world has turned lately.  Fighting the feelings gives them power, being afraid of them gives them power, and trust me when I say this, these things are not identifiers.  

I feel depressed some days.  I am not depressed.  I am more. There is more.  

Become Curious—what can we learn here?  This is a critical question and you need not be afraid to ask it.  

I was in a bad car accident once where my car was totaled. I even saw the other car coming at me and thought to myself in that split second, I am going to die. 

After the crash, and the airbags and the sounds of squealing brakes, and crunching metal, I sat in the car actually taking stock of myself.  "Am I hurt? Am I alive? Am I maimed? Did that really happen?" 

So take stock of yourself in the moment of calamity. but know enough not to stay there.  At some point, you have to get out of the car, and then get curious about what you can learn from what happened.  

Trust That There’s More—become open to the possibility of more. The only way for us to discover our destiny is by moving forward despite the uncertainty.  We have to learn to trust that God is for us, and not against us.  

The four horsemen, the martyrs, the natural disasters... all of that has an end.  

CALAMITY OFTEN PREPARES ORDINARY PEOPLE FOR AN EXTRAORDINARY DESTINY 

 






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