Love Letters from the Lord, Pt. 1
How many of you remember the last love letter you received? For some of you it hasn’t been that long. For others of us love letters are ancient history.
I remember a love letter I got from a girl named Polly when we were both in the 8th grade. It simply said, DEAR MICHAEL, I THINK YOU ARE PURTY. WILL YOU BE MY BOYFRIEND? LOVE POLLY.
Since my dear wife is here, I am extremely happy to say that things with Polly never worked out. I also hurry to add that my wife wrote much better love letters than poor Polly ever did. And if you ever ask me anything else about Polly, my response from henceforth will be Polly who?
You couldn’t tell it, but some of us were pretty good at writing love letters. I don’t suppose there is a formula for a successful love letter, but I do know that they are usually the kind of letters that get read much more than once. Some romantic types keep love letters forever, reading them over and over, and remembering.
Tonight I want to begin looking at a series of love letters from Jesus Christ to His Bride—the church. We won’t actually read any of the letters themselves, but we will get a look at who wrote them, who sent them, and how these love letters can be so precious to you and me 2000 years after they were written. Because the truth is, these love letters are also addressed to us.
Let’s begin by reading Rev. 1:4-20.
You could divide up these verses into two parts, both of which are meant to introduce the human author (John) and the Divine Author (Christ): vs. 4-8 is a greeting, in which John reviews doctrinal revelation of Christ, and then vs. 9-20 a description of John’s personal revelation of Christ.
You could say that v. 4 begins with the address labels, with the name John on the upper left hand corner, and the address the Seven Churches of Asia in the center of the envelope. Jesus writes these letters through the hand of John, whom I told you last week is most likely the apostle John who is probably in his 90s as he writes this book. He is Jesus’ secretary, recording what Jesus says in this letter which is addressed to the …seven churches of Asia...seven actual churches of John’s day. In the Bible, seven is the number of perfection or completeness, so these 7 churches weren’t chosen at random. They were churches who needed to hear the message Jesus is sending, but they are also churches who represent the church as a whole, throughout history, who still need to hear Jesus’ message in these letters.
These letters were passed along from one church to another, and later copied and passed along to us because we still need to hear this message from the Lord.
Open up the letter and the first thing you read is the greeting, which is a little different than the way we begin our letters.
Grace and peace from the Triune God. (v. 4-5a). Most formal letters began with this greeting, but Christians uses it to remind the readers of an important truth:
grace and peace are more than formalities—they are realities which come to us from God.
Who is this God Who gives us grace and peace? John reminds us He is
God the Father …Him Who is and Who was and Who is to come…The idea here is of God’s eternity, which echoes the Name Moses knew God as I AM.
God the Spirit …the Seven Spirits Who are before His throne…= the Sevenfold Spirit before His Throne. The number 7 is the number of perfection or completeness in the Bible, and is used here to reinforce the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
God the Son …Jesus Christ…John stresses the Lordship of Christ with 3 titles:
· The faithful Witness. The word for witness= μάρτυς from which we get our English word
martyr. John reminds his readers Jesus faithfully revealed God to us through His death. This would be especially important to the believers to the church who were being persecuted and tempted to compromise their faith.
· The Firstborn from the dead The idea here is of pre-eminence. Jesus was not the first
person to come back from the dead, but He was the first One to be resurrected Who would never die and He was the One Who makes it possible for everyone else to rise from the dead. Imagine how comforting this would be to Christians who were dying because they followed in the footsteps of Christ, the Faithful Witness.
· The Ruler over all the kings of the earth The Lord of His church is Sovereign over the
whole earth. Rome seems to be in charge, but John reminds his readers No matter who sits on the throne, Christ pulls the strings.
John doesn’t write these words as dry, dreary dogma—as he writes, he is overcome with praise for the Lord He loves, and in vs. 5b-8 he can’t help but write out his adoration.
To Him Who loved us… John never could get over how much God loved him, how much God loves us. I imagine him getting misty eyed, and maybe even speaking a little more loudly when he praised Jesus for loving us. How do we know He loved us? John reminds us
…and washed us from our sins in His own blood…The image is not just of cleansing, but freedom. By His death on the Cross, Jesus cleanses us from our guilt, and frees us from the penalty and power of sin.
John was there at the foot of the Cross, watching Jesus suffer and die. He saw what it cost Jesus to pay for our sins, and to purchase our freedom. He is saying the cost of the Cross is proof of Christ’s love for us.
…and has made us kings [a kingdom] and priests to His God and Father…John is reminding us that because of His love, and through His Cross, Jesus welcomes His people into His kingdom, and gives us the job of worshipping God and leading others to worship God. This was God’s original plan for Israel (Ex. 19:6) but which is now extended to all believers. John is stressing this as both a glorious privilege and a serious responsibility.
…to Him be glory and dominion, forever and ever. Amen. This is a God worth worshipping, a God worth talking and singing about, a God worth serving.
But John, that’s not the way it looks! The rest of the world ignores the glory of the Lord! But John says, one day they won’t. (read vs. 7-8). One day the glorious, almighty eternal Lord that John and the rest of the church adore will be seen by everybody. One day He will come back and they will weep because they won’t be able to deny the wounds on His Body, nor the power in His hands.
John why do you open these love letters this way, with all of this doctrinal stuff? Because you need to remember that your relationship with Christ is based on truth, not just emotion.
Here is the entire text of a love letter intercepted by a second grade schoolteacher, passed on to a parent, who passed it on to me:
Dear Billy, if you dont say you love me and walk to the bus top
with me I will kill myself and beet you up. I love you and wan to marry you soon. Suzy
The little girl was eight when she wrote that letter. 16 years later, at age 24, Suzy incorporated her letter into her wedding vows to Billy by repeating, “I, Suzy, promise you, Billy, never to kill myself or beat you up.”[i]
It takes love to write a love letter, but it has to be true love. John says before you read these love letters, you need to review some important truths about the One Who sends it: He is God in the flesh, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity. He is the Faithful Witness Who reveals God to you by His life and His death, the One Who gives you victory over death, the One Who Rules the Universe. He is the One Who loves you, Who welcomes you into God’s kingdom, Who calls you to worship. He is the One Who will return to earth to set up His kingdom that will last forever.
It didn’t look like Jesus was King to those 1st century readers, but He was. It didn’t always feel like Jesus loved them, but He did. So it is with us today: our relationship with Christ is not based on how we feel, but on the truths of the Word. That is why John begins with this greeting full of the doctrines of the Gospel that promise grace and peace and love and victory.
But after the greeting John goes back and reminds us of the revelation of Christ’s personal presence. He begins by answering the question: John, just how did you happen to end up writing these letters? His answer begins in vs. 9 where he calls himself John, your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ…Church tradition says John ministered in Asia for many years, possibly at each of these seven churches before persecution of Emperor Domitian began. John has probably been exiled by the Roman government to the isle of Patmos in the Aegean Sea about 50 miles SW of Ephesus.…for the Word of God and for the testimony of Jesus…v. 9. While Rome often executed its enemies, they would often exile those who were elderly.
John says in vs. 10 he was …in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day...In some supernatural way the Holy Spirit fills John’s mind and heart so he is ready to receive the Revelation he is about to record. Notice this takes place on a Sunday, probably as John is worshipping the Lord.
John hears a voice behind him as loud and piercing as a trumpet blast giving him instructions in vs. 11. Then he turns around to look at who is speaking and sees his first vision of Christ.
First he sees 7 golden lamp stands, with a figure standing among them, like the Son of Man= Jesus’ favorite title for Himself. John tries to describe the appearance of this Son of Man, and as he does, it’s important to remember the symbolic nature of this book. It is possible John is giving us a literal description, but it is also possible he is using these images to describe the character of the Son of Man he sees.
A white robe down to his feet= the uniform of a leader.
A gold sash= what the high priest who offered sacrifices for the people wore
Hair like bright white wool=white hair was a symbol of wisdom, this a symbol of extreme wisdom
Eyes like bright burning flame=X-ray eyes that see all, and judge with perfect justice
Feet like bright shining bronze=a symbol of complete victory over all enemies
Voice like running water= like the roar of a waterfall, when He speaks, nothing else can be heard
Seven stars in His right hand= cf. vs. 20, angels=messengers, pastors(?)
Out of His mouth a two-edge sword= This type of sword, invented by the Romans, represents invincible might. This sharp two-edged sword is coming from Jesus’ mouth, symbolizing the power and force of his message. Jesus’ words of judgment are as sharp as swords; he is completely invincible [ii]
His face is like the noonday sun shining= the glory of God.
What do you do when you see Somebody like this? What John did (vs. 17).
He is completely overwhelmed by the glory and presence of this Son of Man. Only when the Son of Man touches him does he regain enough strength to look up and hear words of comfort in vs. 17-18.
Obviously this Son of Man is Jesus Christ, Who instructs John to (read vs. 19).He goes on to explain two of the symbols of the first vision: the seven stars are the 7 angels/messengers/pastors and the 7 lamp stands are the 7 churches.
Now let’s step back and take a breather and ask what does John’s vision mean?
First of all, John writes so we can see and hear what he saw. He wants us to get a glimpse of the majesty and glory of the risen Christ. We’ve all seen pictures some artist painted which show Jesus as meek and mild, but that’s not how John sees Him. Seeing Jesus is a frightening, overwhelming, awesome experience. It is no accident John sees Jesus on the Lord’s Day, when he is worshipping. He is calling us to worship the Lord as the Majestic, Glorious, Risen Lord.
But there’s something else here, something you might miss if you’re not careful: where is the Lord? He is standing among the lamp stands, among His people, His Bride, the church. The glory of Jesus does not rest far off in heaven, but right here, right now, in His church among His own people. That shouldn’t surprise us, because Jesus Himself says in
Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.
Suppose I announced this Sunday at homecoming Everybody is invited to church next Sunday, when we will have a special guest. The Lord Jesus Christ will be here. He’ll be here in all of His majesty and glory, hearing prayers, listening to our praise and worship, and saving souls and changing lives.
John says that is exactly what is going on in Jesus’ church. By His Spirit He is here, even though you and I cannot see Him as John did. But we forget that.
How do I know we forget that? We don’t look for Him. We look at everybody else—who is here, who’s not. We focus on the song leader, the piano player, the crying baby, the screaming preacher. We sing songs, but we don’t praise the Lord. We listen to sermons but we don’t listen for His voice. We rush through a prayer without remembering we are talking to Somebody Who is right here. Our great, glorious, awesome Lord is here.
If you and I really believed that, it would change how we talk, how we sing, how we pray, how we give, how we preach, how we respond to God’s Word. It would change our attendance at church. What Christian would want to miss a chance to be where Jesus is?
Every month before attending my Bible study at church, I would tell my 3-year-old son, Chad, we were going to God's house. Each time we walked through the quiet sanctuary on our way to the nursery, Chad looked around in awe. One particular day, he stopped abruptly and asked, "Mommy, if this is God's house, how come He's never home?"[iii]
He is home, Chad. He is always present whenever and wherever His people meet in His name. You cannot see Him, you may not be aware, but He is there in all of His glory. If we miss Him it is not because He is not here, but because we are blind. Before you read these love letters, John writes, remember the glory of the One Who sends this message is always present in your midst.
Many years ago, groom named James Bracy, stationed at a California military base thousands of miles away penned a love letter to his bride Sallie. But unlike all of the others, this letter didn't get delivered. Somehow it got lodged between two walls in Fort Ord's mailroom in San Francisco. A half century later, James and Sallie Bracy had just finished celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and were relaxing in the living room when "Once in a While," their song, began to play on the radio. Sallie remembered affectionately the 1950s song and how she used to get calls and letters from the man who owned her heart. They joked together knowing there would be no letter or phone call this time because James was at her side.
Meanwhile, a construction crew was dismantling the old post office at Fort Ord, and they discovered a long-forgotten letter from a young army corporal. The crew turned the letter over to the postmaster who tracked down the Bracys through post office records and phone books.
Just a few days after hearing their song, the letter, dated January 28, 1955, was delivered to Sallie Bracy. The letter sent her heart aflutter, tears welled, and she again became a love-struck 22-year-old. "It meant a lot to me then," said Sallie. "It means even more now."[iv]
How many times do you suppose the first readers of these love letters from the Lord read them over and over again, cherishing each precious Gospel truth, reminding themselves again and again, “Jesus gives me grace and peace! Jesus loves me! Jesus died for me! Jesus is in control! Jesus is right here with us! Jesus is coming back soon!” John wants his readers—in the 1st century all the way to the 21st century---to read these love letters personally, from the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ to His church. That’s you and me.
Tonight maybe you need to be reminded He loves you. He wrote a letter to tell you. Now why don’t you write a love letter to your Lord? On the sheet of study sheet I gave out, why don’t we take just a moment to begin a love letter to our Lord? Tell Him how much you love Him. Then read it to Him as a prayer. It will mean a lot to Him, and it may even mean a lot to you.
[i] By a minister in Bellevue, Washington, as told to R.F.Submitted by Kimberley Broyles
[ii]Barton, B. B., & Osborne, G. R. (2000). Revelation Bruce B. Barton ... [et al.] ; general editor, Grant Osborne. Life application Bible commentary (12). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.
[iii] Karen Ketzler, Fort Wayne, IN. Today's Christian Woman, "Heart to Heart."
[iv] Drew Zahn, assistant editor, Leadership Journal; source: Jefferson City News Tribune (4-25-01)