Grace and peace to you from him who is and who was and who is to come, our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, so when was the last time you were really afraid. I mean, really afraid. It was my vicar year and I was pulling into Miss Jennifer’s driveway. She was a faithful, older member of our congregation. She didn’t live in the best part of town and I was there because she hadn’t been able to make it to church for some time and so I was there to visit her. As I walked up to her door, I immediately noticed a problem. She had a dog. Now, this dog was chained up, but it was chained right in front of her front door. Miss Jennifer was hard of hearing and so she had her TV volume cranked up to the max. I tried and tried to yell to her from a distance, but to no avail. Back to her dog. I didn’t realize this at the time, but her dog was not a pet dog, it was a guard dog. Apparently she had rescued this dog from the pound and apparently this dog had been abused by its previous owners and so this dog had an absolute hatred toward all men. I found out later that this dog’s number one goal in life was to tear apart any male that came near it. It was a great guard dog for Miss Jennifer, but not so good for me. It growled, it barked, it flashed its teeth, but I thought to myself, “All I have to do is control my fear, not let it think that I’m afraid of it, let it sniff me a little.” I like dogs. So I reached out my folder to let it sniff me and…suddenly it jumped forward ripped the folder out of my hand, papers everywhere, lunged at me with its teeth just nicking me and putting a hole in my pants. I fell on the ground, my heart was beating, yes, I was more scared than I had been in a long time. Fortunately I fell just outside of its chain length.
Fear is a powerful force in our lives. It paralyzes. It prevents us from doing certain things. It causes us apprehension and anxiety. Fear is so often caused by the unknowns and uncertainties of our lives. If we knew that things would turn out well in the end, we would have no reason to fear. But we’re often filled with uncertainty. But, need we be?
In our text the apostle John was gripped with fear. He’s on the island of Patmos. It was a barren island off the coast of modern day Turkey. It was about 60 some years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Why was he there? “Because the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” Because of persecutions and remaining faithful in spreading the Gospel John had been banished to this island. Well while he was on this island God revealed to John some spectacular things in order to give encouragement to Christians who were facing persecutions and sufferings. In Revelation we here about a guy named Antipas being put to death for his faith, believers who were beheaded, and from historical references we hear about terrible persecutions under the Roman emperor Domitian who was ruling at this time. I’m guessing that those believers were tempted to feel fear, to be afraid, to ask questions like, “Why? Why is God letting this happen?”
Well, in his vision John turns around to see the voice that is speaking to him and he sees an incredible sight.
Imagine seeing what he saw. 7 golden lampstands with someone like a son of man standing among them. He had a long flowing robe with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were pure white, white like wool, white like snow. His eyes like blazing fire, his feet like bronze glowing in a furnace, voice was like the sound of rushing waters, out of his mouth came a sharp, double-edged sword, and his face was shining like the sun in all its brilliance. Wow! That was a sight to see! But I’d like to focus on the eyes, the eyes of “blazing fire.” In Scripture when it talks of God’s “eyes” it’s often referring to God’s knowledge. So, as God’s eyes look directly at John, what does God see? It wasn’t just John’s outward appearance, it was his inside too, he saw every sin John ever committed! And John fell to the ground as though dead.
John was so scared, so full of fear, so terrified that he fell to the ground as though dead. I’ve been afraid, but I don’t know that I’ve ever been that afraid before.
Well, God’s eyes haven’t lost any of their blazing fire today, have they? As we look at each other all we can see is the outward appearance. But God’s eyes pierce right through our outward façade and see the thoughts of our minds and the attitudes of our hearts. We can fool each other into thinking that we are pretty good people, we can put on a pretty good outward show, but what we cannot do is fool God, God will not be fooled. God’s flaming eyes see my anger, my hatred, my envy, my greed, my lust, my fear, my lack of trust, my ingratitude. He sees every bit of me, my whole life inside and out in all of its dirtiness and sin is laid out bare for him to see. If I was where John was, I would faint in fear too. Why? Because I would see my awful sinfulness and how much I deserve His judgment.
Finally, why is it that we fear? We can list all sorts of reasons why we might be afraid- sudden sickness, financial trouble, loss of a loved one, but when it finally comes down to it, all fear comes down to one point: one day I’m going to die and then I, a terribly sinful human being, am going to stand before the judgment of a perfect and holy God to be judged. The only thing that the perfect God could say to me is: “To hell with you forever! For you are a sinner!” That’s what John was experiencing!
But what does God do here? Don’t miss any of the details. First, God speaks to him. Now He could have spoken to him from a far way away or at least across the room, but where is Jesus? He’s right next to Him! And what does Jesus do? “He placed his right hand on me.” Yes, the Holy God touches a sinful human being! A touch conveys warmth and compassion.
Then He speaks and says, “Do not be afraid.” Literally, the Greek tense means “Stop being afraid and never be afraid again.” Really?? How come? “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever!” Why didn’t John have to be afraid? Because Jesus came as a Living One, lived a perfect life, died an innocent death, and on Easter Sunday morning He rose from the dead and is now alive forever and ever. Because Jesus died and rose John’s sins, everyone of them were forgiven. Why don’t you need to be afraid ever again? Because if death should come to you- even today- you know that since Jesus died and rose, your sins- everyone of them- have been forgiven.
Jesus goes on, “And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” Jesus holds the keys of death, the grave, the afterlife, is that a good thing? So, finally who’s going to determine the when and the how of your death? It’s Jesus! And how much does He love you? Enough to live, die and rise for you! If He’s the one holding the keys, if He’s the one who determines your death, do you have anything to fear? Not at all!
And notice something else. When John turned around he saw Jesus standing right in the midst of 7 lampstands. We’re told that those 7 lampstands stand for 7 churches. In other words, Jesus is standing right among His people, right among His church! But wait…who is Jesus? He’s the all powerful God! He’s the first and the last! He’s the one with all the power of heaven and earth! And He’s the one who’s loved us enough to die and rise to forgive our sins! And where is he? He’s right among us, He’s with us!
And He’s right there with you. Could your end come at any moment? Could death be waiting for you tonight, tomorrow? Could death be waiting for me tonight, tomorrow? Finally, because Jesus died and Jesus rose, death itself holds no fear over your head or my head. Why? Because the one who holds the keys of death and the afterlife will at your death open the doors of heaven and welcome you home. And one day Jesus will return and unlock your grave and call you out of it.
And if Jesus has taken care of the thing in life that we fear the most, and he has, then we can face all our other fears of life with confidence and boldness knowing that the same Jesus is with us and will take care of us continually.
So, you can approach life, all of life, confidently and boldly with your Savior’s words ringing in your ears, just like John’s, “Don’t be afraid!”