O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Rev. 1:4-18
Preached on April 03, 2016
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"Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades."
Fear not. That's the theme of the Revelation in two simple words. Fear not. When everything is going to hell in a hand basket; when the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh seem to have the upper hand; when Christianity seems to be a lost cause and the world is stepping on the church's neck; when Christ has all but been driven from the public square and culture and life and the message of the Gospel seems to have been drowned out by the siren songs of the world; when beasts roam and dragons threaten, and Christians are being martyred for their faith, Christ appears in His glory with two simple words: Fear not.
The disciples were huddled in fear that first Easter evening, afraid of the Jews, the religious authorities, the Romans, their own shadows. Their leader had been crucified. His body was missing. The tomb was empty. Rumors were flying. Who wouldn't be afraid?
And into the midst of that fearful group of disillusioned and confused followers - - comes Jesus. Right into the midst of their fear. And what does He say? "Peace be with you." That's the positive side of "Do not fear." Peace be with you. His peace quiets our fear. His peace, which surpasses our understanding, calms our anxious hearts and troubled minds. His peace is His gift - which He gives to you in your fear.
Peace be with you. He shows them His wounded hands, His side, the marks of His sacrifice. That's how He's recognized for who He is: Not His eyes, or His smile. His wounds. That's what Thomas wanted so badly to see and would not believe unless he saw them with his own eyes and touched them: the wounds. He was wounded for our transgressions; by His wounds we are healed. There is your peace and the end of your fear. His Wounds.
Fear not. John was likely afraid. He was in exile on the island of Patmos. Banished from his home and congregation on account of the Word. Persecuted on account of the Name of Jesus. (build) When he saw the risen and glorified Lord with His blazing hair and fiery eyes and burnished feet and that sharp two-edged sword coming out of His mouth and His face shining like the sun, John fell down as dead.
But the Lord reaches out and lays His hand. He raises the dead and comforts the fearful. Fear not. I am the first and the last, the Living One. He is the Beginning and the Ending, the Lord of Life who gives life to all things. He is the one who died but lives forever. He is the One who has gone the way through Death before us like a good shepherd walking ahead of the sheep through the dark valley. "Follow me," He says. "Fear not, for I am with you always."
He died and is alive forevermore. Death has lost its sting. The Grave has lost its grip. It could not hold Jesus, and it cannot hold you. The greatest fear we have is the fear of Death. All other fears are derivative of this big one. We can't see into Death; we can't see beyond the Grave. And so we are afraid.
But our Lord - - He emerges from the Grave alive, the "living One." And there in His hand is a set of keys - the keys of Death and Hades. Not only did He conquer Death and the Grave, but He's got the keys to the prison. He went in there to get them. They are His. And He has laid hold of death's door and flung it wide open. That's the picture of the resurrection that you see in eastern icons where the risen Jesus is standing over the grave of Adam and Eve - and reaching down - and pulling them up to life.
But you know this picture. Remember Peter - when he stepped out onto the water at the call of Jesus. He walked on the water when watching Jesus, until He was distracted - frightened by the wind and the waves whereupon he began to sink. The Lord reached out, grabbed hold of him and pulled him up out of the depths into the safety of the boat.
Jesus holds the keys to Death and the Grave. What He looses no one can bind, what He binds no one can loose. He breathed on His disciples and apostled them. Sent them with His own word and authority and breath to loose and bind. "The sins you forgive are forgiven; He said, the sins you retain are retained." This is His keys in action. The "office of the keys." Holy Ministry, Holy Absolution. Christ speaking through His sent ones to proclaim freedom to the captives - to speak open our graves.
How could there be such power? The power of the keys isn't some cheap trick. Some weak thing. It is the death and resurrection of our Lord Himself. He was crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. His death answered the Law's accusation against us. His death paid the price for our freedom. He became Sin to conquer Sin. He put Himself in Death to conquer Death. But not for Himself. For you and me - indeed for the whole world. Humanity has died and risen in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The fight is over, the battle is won.
There is an incredible picture of this in recent history. Japanese soldiers on remote islands of the Pacific were still fighting long after World War II had ended. Peace had long since been declared. The war was over. The fighting had ceased. And yet in the minds of these soldiers, alone on these islands, the war was still going on and they were still fighting an enemy that was no longer an enemy. Someone had to go to these soldiers and tell them that peace had broken out, that enemies had laid down their weapons, that the war was finally over.
That's what the Resurrection phase of Christ's work is all about. His work of redemption is done. "It is finished." Humanity, the world, is reconciled to God in the death of His Son. But the news has to travel from the open, empty tomb to real ears. Faith comes by hearing. Peace and the Spirit and forgiveness all come through the Word, that sharp two-edged sword from the mouth of Christ through the mouth of His apostles and His church's ministry to the ears of the world. It's over. Fear not. Peace be with you.
Jesus never made a grand world appearance upon rising from the dead. That's certainly how you and I would have orchestrated it. That's how the world operates. The football team wins the championship and they have a big public parade in front of all the television cameras and thousands of adoring fans. The victorious army marches through the streets with cheers and flags and confetti. But Jesus simply appears to a handful of eyewitnesses - to Mary, to a couple of disciples on the road to Emmaus, to the eleven in the upper room, to Thomas, to seven disciples on the Sea of Tiberius, to James and all the apostles, to over 500 people at one time, and last of all to Paul himself on the Damascus road. Enough eyewitnesses to make a credible case but not much of a parade.
He could have appeared to the world in all His glory, as He did in this vision to John on the island of Patmos. Flaming and terrifying. But the Lord's ways aren't our ways. He has a different plan. You tell them. You proclaim the victory. That's an interesting fact. Did you know that's what the word "evangelize" originally meant - to tell the good news - of victory in the battlefield - to the king. Good news - that the king is victorious in battle. We have a race named after it. Marathon. Phidipedes was the runner who ran from Marathon to Athens to tell the good news to the king. "You won! You've conquered!" he proclaimed. And then he dropped dead. I've stayed away from marathons ever since.
The news of the king's victory is always left to messengers. Think about it. It was angels who first told the women the good news of the resurrection. "He's not here! He is risen!" The women told the disciples, who didn't believe them at first. The disciples told Thomas who wasn't with them that first evening of the resurrection. Always messengers. Because Jesus said His "I won" on the cross with His dying "it is finished," and now the Church declares "He won!" by His own Spirit-ed breath.
Christ holds the keys to Death and Hades. He frees the prisoners. He binds sin and death and the old Adam. He opens the kingdom of heaven, He forgives, He feeds, He renews, He strengthens the new You in Him. Yes, like Thomas, you may have your doubts from time to time. You may be fearful of Sin, Death, and the Law camped out at your door. But Jesus is there too, and He says: Fear not. Peace be with you. See the wounds, the Body, the Blood. Hear the cleansing words, "I forgive you all of your sins." Know that you've been died for, that you are dead to all that binds you, that your life is hidden with Christ in God. Stop disbelieving and believe. "Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe." That's you. You are blessed not to see and yet to see by faith.
And yet, one day - you too will see. You will see what John saw that Lord's Day on the island of Patmos. But unlike John, you will not see through the eyes of a fearful sinner who should fall down dead but through the resurrected, eternally living eyes of a saint. And the vision will not be terrifying but glorious and beautiful.
"Fear not," says your Lord. "I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades." In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr