The Show Will Go On
6 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water."
I have talked about the phenomenon of "visual lethargy" before, but I want to put it on your minds again today because it’s pertinent to our discussion. Visual lethargy is a phenomenon that is talk
ed about in the world of the arts. The basic concept is this: the more you see something, the less you actually SEE it—the less you appreciate it. Think about the scene that takes your breath away—a mountain range, a waterfall, the open sea… or maybe something man-made—one of the great wonders, downtown NYC, a painting from Rembrandt, van gogh, Michelangelo…. Whenever you see that breathtaking scene, it’s just that—breathtaking. You soak it in. You appreciate every detail. But now… imagine you saw that scene every day. Imagine you lived at the foot of that mountain. Imagine that painting was hanging in your house. Over time, you begin to SEE it less—appreciate it less—because it becomes a part of everyday life.
As humans, this phenomenon has a way of playing itself out in many areas of our lives. We’re going to talk about one of those areas today. Today we are going to strive to recapture our awe and wonder for a couple of Scriptures most beautiful truths. Truth number one: We are saved by grace through faith. And truth number two: God will make sure that truth number one is proclaimed clearly until the end of time for the benefit of his people… to put it in the words of our theme: The Show Will Go On—this message will be proclaimed and God will make sure of it.
One of the reasons we begin to appreciate something less, is because we forget to think about the alternative—we become too comfortable with the norm. So we’re going to do a little imagining this morning as we consider the alternative. Firstly, I want you to imagine that you don’t own a Bible. And I want you to imagine that it is impossible for you to obtain a copy of the Bible. (I know that’s a completely absurd thought for today’s world, but for the next few minutes imagine that’s our reality.) Imagine that when you come to church, the majority of the service is in a language that you don’t understand. Along with that, imagine that the only people who have access to a Bible and can read it are trained clergy—like pastors. So if you don’t have a Bible… If you don’t have access to a Bible… and if the Bible is written in a language that only Pastors can read for the most part… Who’s Word are you going to have to trust when it comes to what the Bible says? Yes… You’re going to have to trust Pastor’s Word. Would that make you nervous? I think it would make me nervous. The world around us knows well that you can’t just take someone’s word about something these days. If you want to get to the bottom of something, and make sure you’ve got an accurate picture of something, you’re going to have to do your own research.
If the Bible were only in the hands of Pastors… if it were only able to be understood by Pastors… wouldn’t you be worried about the potential of abuse? Wouldn’t you be worried about the reliability of the things they were teaching you? I know I would. If you haven’t caught on yet…. What we’ve essentially just describe the setting for the Reformation. The Bible was in the hands of the clergy and the very thing you might be afraid of happening in a situation like that had happened…. They had taken God’s Word and made it say what they wanted it to say.
You had the church telling people that there were things they had to do to be saved. They were telling people that they were responsible for part of their salvation. Not only did you have to believe in God… but you had to do something to make payment for your sin. Okay… now stick with our imagined scenario for just one more minute here…. Remember: you have no access to the Bible. The only thing you have to go off is what the church-workers say. The church workers tell you that you are responsible for a part of your salvation—and to the best of your knowledge, that’s what you believe to be true.
Now, keeping in mind our imagined scenario, I want to read you a few verses:
Ezekiel 18:20 - The one who sins is the one who will die.
Romans 3:23 - For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 6:23 - The wages of sin is death.
Matthew 5:48 - Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Here’s where we’re going with this… If you were to buy into the false teaching that you play some sort of role in your salvation, how could you ever be certain that you’ve done enough to be worthy of salvation? Especially considering that God’s law tells you that in order to EARN salvation, you need to be PERFECT? If we actually play any role in our salvation, there IS NO way we can be certain of that salvation. That’s one of the questions that started the Reformation over 500 years ago. That question ate away at Martin Luther. For years he struggles with the question: How is sinful man made right before a holy God?
There was a verse that Martin Luther wrestled with for a long time: Romans 1:17 - "For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." Because of the teachings of the Catholic church, Luther spent many many years understanding the "righteousness of God" to be a righteousness that was produced by our works. After years of wrestling with that verse, God allowed this truth to dawn on him: the "righteousness of God" is not a righteousness that we produce, but rather, it is a righteousness that is given to us by God through faith because of what Christ has done for us.
That message, that we do not earn salvation because of anything we do, is central to the Bible. And maybe you’ve wondered before… why does this church—why do the other churches in our circles—place so much emphasis on correct doctrine? It’s because when you begin to preach the Word of God in any other way than the way he intended it...guess what central teaching you begin to blur and confuse in one way or another? The teaching of justification—the teaching of how salvation comes to man.
And for those of us who have been at this church, or at another church in our circles for quite some time, it can be easy for us to appreciate this central message of the Bible less and less. Again… that concept of visual (or spiritual) lethargy…. Appreciating something less and less the longer you’re around it. So hear it again like you’re hearing it for the first time: Your salvation is complete—not because of anything you have done, but because of what Christ has done for you. And the benefit of Christ’s work comes to you through faith—the faith that the Holy Spirit creates in your heart.
And may we also take time today to appreciate our second truth—the one found in our lesson: God will provide for his people. He will make sure the show goes on. He will make sure that this message of freely given salvation by grace through faith is clearly proclaimed until the end of time. We see that promise in our second reading.
Our 2nd reading: 6 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water."
I love the book of Revelation—it’s an incredible book. But any time I preach on Revelation, I try to make sure and preface it a little bit first because over the last couple hundred years, the book of Revelation has seemingly become an ever more confusing book because people have tried to interpret it in ways that God did not intend. Many have taken it and tried to construct a timeline for the end of the world. Think about Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 as he speaks about the end of the world: "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." We will never be able to figure out a detailed timeline for the end of the world—God didn’t intend for us to. That’s in God’s hands. He simply told us that the last day will come like a thief in the night.
When you keep in mind the rest of Scripture, and when you read Revelation the way God intended it to be read, it actually becomes a fairly simple book. Revelation is the vision that was given to John from God while he was on the island of Patmos. John wrote that vision down. The entire book of Revelation is symbolic. And throughout all the symbolic language in Revelation, there is a single message that plays over and over again. It’s a simple, beautiful, and comforting truth….and here it is: The church of God will be victorious in Christ. Although they will face trial and tribulation in this life, God’s people will be victorious because Christ has already secured the victory.
And we see that basic message playing out in the verses we have in front of us today. John sees an angel flying and proclaiming the eternal gospel. God promises that the eternal gospel will continue to be proclaimed to every nation on earth until Jesus returns. That fits nicely with that overall theme for Revelation—The church will be victorious! And the Lord will sustain his people through the proclamation of the eternal gospel.
And now we might ask the question, where do we see God fulfilling this promise? Every time God’s Word is taught in truth and purity, this promise is fulfilled. With something like this, we want to avoid pointing to any one person or situation and claiming that event is the fulfillment of God’s promise—that’s how a lot of people get themselves in trouble when they look at Revelation. But we can certainly look at history and see how God has kept this promise time and time again.
We talked about one of those instances today—Martin Luther and the Reformation. The church had taken God’s Word and begun to preach and teach it in a way the God never intended. They began to obscure and confuse the eternal gospel—the message of salvation by grace through faith (not works). God drove Luther back to his Word. And over the course of a number of years, Luther began to uncover that message of pure grace that the church had glossed over. Luther made sure that message of the eternal gospel once again sounded in the world. God used Luther to keep that promise to his church.
Even today, God still uses his people to keep that promise he gave to his church. He uses you and me to keep that promise. He drives us back to his Word. He gives us the strength to ask the question, "What does God say in his Word?" (Not: "What do I THINK God’s Word says?" — Two very different questions.) When we approach God’s Word with that question: What does God say in his Word? And seek to find the answer to that question, God is preparing us to keep that promise that he gave in Revelation. As we go out and preach God’s Word and the doctrines in it in it’s purity and truth, that promise is fulfilled—God continues to care for his people as the eternal gospel is proclaimed.
On this Reformation Sunday, may we be reminded of two of Scriptures beautiful truths—may we find them to be beautiful and powerful no matter how long we have known them. Firstly, we are saved not by our own works. We are saved entirely by the work of Christ. And the benefit of that work is made ours through the faith that the Holy Spirit creates in our hearts. And secondly, God promises us that this message will be proclaimed in it’s truth and purity until the end of time—God will make sure the show goes on. He’ll make sure this message of free salvation by grace through faith is clearly proclaimed until he brings the entirety of his victorious church to be by his side in heaven forever. Amen? Amen.