To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his own blood and made us a kingdom and priests to God his Father—to him be the glory and the power forever. Amen. (Revelation 1:5–6)
Then I saw another angel flying in the middle of the sky. He had the everlasting gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth, to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He said with a loud voice:
Fear God and give him glory,
because the hour of his judgment has come.
Worship him who made the sky, the earth, the sea, and the springs of water.
It’s depicted as a comic battle as old as the world itself. Battle lines are drawn up. Weapons at the ready. On one side, the forces of good with their hero. On the other, the forces of evil and their champions. The fate of the universe hangs on the onslaught that ensues. Sound familiar? It could easily be the plot of any novel or movie. The conflict between heavenly forces and the devil’s army is the story of the Bible and the history of the world. That warfare forms the background of the tapestry that is the book of Revelation. The picture painted there is a conquering king—Jesus—and the rest he wins for his people.
Today we remember one small part of that cosmic battle. The Reformation 500 years ago had the same purpose as the angel in our text. THE GOSPEL IS PROCLAIMED.
As we look at the tapestry of Revelation, we see a scene change. After the book pictures heaven, a messenger comes with a message for all people of all time. A winged messenger occupies the middle of the sky so everyone can see him and hear his message. The message he proclaims was first heard in the Garden of Eden, right after the devil declared war on God and mankind. God returned the declaration of war with war on the devil to rescue mankind from his clutches. That everlasting message—the gospel—has been in the world ever since. The gospel defeats the devil and his forces. But the devil will not concede defeat.
The angel, which means messenger, proclaims this message to every people and nation and tribe and language. Because of the message he proclaims, he encourages us today, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come.” But why should we be afraid of God?
In 15th-century Germany, a monk lived in constant fear of God. His terror at God’s judgment fueled all he did. Martin Luther understood. God demands glory from us. As we say in worship, God created us to love and serve him as his dear children. God has every right to demand glory and praise from us. That’s what he created us for. The problem is, we don’t.
Martin Luther knew he couldn’t all too well. It led to terror and despair. And he was right to do so. The Lord Jesus himself tells us not to fear those who can kill the body, but the one who can kill both body and soul in hell. That’s not the devil, but God, who will judge all. Those who are lacking will suffer an eternity in hell. God’s judgment is just. Every person must face it.
In Luther’s day, the devil used one of his weapons to obscure the truth and drive people to despair. Rather than proclaiming the eternal gospel, the church was running after wealth and the things of this world.
But is our day any different? In our nation, the church is more concerned with getting people to behave than telling them what God does, as though that were boring or uninteresting. Plenty of churches run after wealth or worry about survival rather than proclaiming the everlasting gospel. Our nation views this message for all nations as something for an individual to decide. And then there are the who have turned their back on the everlasting gospel as outdated or foolish!
If you think you’ve escaped those ways of this world, think again. Are the people of the world glorifying God because of your testimony? Or do you, like the world, go after wealth, pleasure, a promotion at work—your own glory, earthly concerns? How many spiritual conversations are we really engaging in? Are people using the name of Jesus as a curse word instead of giving God glory? Do you make the most of every opportunity to tell others this message? God demands glory from all people. As his people, we ought to be leading the charge. All too often, we bring him dishonor, shame, and even blame rather than glory.
That is exactly the state of things when this messenger, the angel, comes to proclaim the everlasting gospel.
Today we remember Martin Luther, a messenger from God. Through study of the Scripture, he rediscovered the everlasting gospel. In a tower in Germany, he finally came to understand the fear of God.
Children, when they are young, often do what is right because they know mom or dad will discipline them if they don’t. As they grow older, they come to understand how much their parents love them. Over time, their motivation changes from fear of punishment to trust and love for their parents.
In the same way, Luther came to grasp true fear of God: not terror at God’s righteous judgment, but awe-filled reverence at the God who loves us. The gospel transformed his life. His fear turned to faith in God’s promises. That is the message he proclaimed: the same everlasting gospel the angel proclaims in our text. The good news about Jesus Christ is a message for all times. Luther proclaimed it 500 years ago. We are heirs of his reform.
But someone will say the world has changed a lot in 500 years. People say the gospel is outdated. The good news is old news. Even church fathers said, “The church must always be reformed.” Does that mean we, and the message we preach, have to change with times?
Now that the gospel message has gone out, the battle of good and evil has not ceased. The devil, constantly on the attack, seeks to undermine the gospel we proclaim. People in our day attack it as nonsensical. And what we believe truly defies logic. But what human reason cannot comprehend, faith grasps.
The ancient, cosmic war continues into our day. But in that war one battle needs to be highlighted, because it is the same scene the angel in the middle of the sky so urgently proclaims. In this war, no one was able to challenge the devil. You and I could do nothing. We were just as likely to give up and join his side. As Luther put it, “With might of ours could naught be done.” The devil, the world, our sinful flesh, false religion—the enemies of God’s Church, certainly looked like they had the upper hand. And then it happened. The champion of the forces of good enters the fray. “For us fights the valiant one.” An angel announced his coming to Mary. An angel choir sang to shepherds, heralding his birth. He challenged the sin, death, and the devil to combat. Because he knew we couldn’t prevail in this struggle, he fought himself. On the battlefield, he died. The Lamb of God was slain. That apparent defeat dealt a crushing blow to our enemy. There Jesus won the war. An angel announced his resurrection, his victory. This is the everlasting gospel—a timeless truth. What we could not do, Jesus died to do for us.
So do we need to change with the times? The change that must happen—the reformation that is always necessary—is not the message we proclaim. No, like the angel, like Luther, we proclaim the everlasting gospel. It is the good news of Jesus’ victory. The reform that is necessary is when that message makes contact with the human heart. Then, like Luther, our fear of God turns from terror of God’s judgment to faith in Jesus’ deliverance. He saved us from our enemies. They “can harm us none.” God’s judgment is still being poured out—but not on us. He judges his enemies. As Luther put it, “One little word can fell him.”
That word is the gospel message. The eternal gospel that has gone out since the fall. Saved by God’s underserved love, we are able to bring God glory by proclaiming the gospel. That’s why we worship. We gather today—and every Sunday—to proclaim the eternal gospel to one another. By grace alone, Jesus has brought us into God’s kingdom.
That’s the message Luther proclaimed. In a time when few were educated and even fewer could afford the Bible, Luther used the tools available to him to unsheathe God’s weapon: the gospel. With the printing press, he made God’s Word accessible to the common people. He used the language of the common people to communicate God’s Word to them. Luther continued the fight with the gospel message. That message is still going out today.
This everlasting gospel is not just a message for all time. It’s a message for all people. The gospel made its way across the sea to us in the United States. That message is still on the rise. God’s Church is growing as the devil’s attacks are thwarted with the Word of God. Tens of thousands of believers in Vietnam have joined us in the fight as we build a school to train men to proclaim the gospel there. More have joined us from Ethiopia. By God’s grace, we are poised to strike in Sudan, Kenya, Liberia, and many more countries in Africa. The Church will not rest until the gospel is proclaimed to every language of every nation.
But what does that mean for us here? The battle lines don’t stop in those countries. Christians throughout the world heed the gospel’s call. They proclaim the good news of Jesus, who gave his life to save us. But there are thousands who live in our own communities who need to hear the everlasting gospel. Satan may have lost, but he will not give up. Armed with the gospel, you can defeat any attack he has. Jesus has destroyed his power. Bring the good news beyond enemy lines while there is still time. Use every tool available to you to make the gospel clear to the people around you. If your skill is talking, use your words to bring people to Jesus. If it is serving, love others with the love the Lord has showed you. Make the most of your service so you can tell others about the love of God in Christ. Use your time, talents, treasures—every resource—to proclaim the gospel. If you don’t know how you can serve, pray and ask! Pray for opportunities and for God to open doors. God is faithful. He will do it.
Bring people to the God who created and redeemed them. God’s judgment will come soon. But the devil is already judged. Jesus has handed down our verdict, too. Jesus has conquered our sins. Tell others about him. Bring them to a right fear of God—not fear of punishment, but loving trust in his forgiveness.
The battle rages on, and it will until the end of the world. The end will come when every last soul who will believe comes to faith in Jesus. Hasten his coming. Take up your weapon. The everlasting gospel will not be silenced. Because of God’s love for us, we will continue to proclaim it in heaven with him. Bring that message to every person, every nation. God will be with you because the gospel is his power to save the world. Proclaim it. Amen.
Now to him who is able to strengthen you—according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, . . . to God, who alone is wise, be glory forever through Jesus Christ. Amen. (Romans 16:25a, 27)
We have a little over a week to go. Until Christmas? Sure, but I was talking about the shortest day of the year. The day when the sky is darkest because we have less sun than any other day of the year. It’s dark. It’s depressing. The world we live in shows it, too. For the second year in a row, the life expectancy in our country has dropped due to suicides and drug addiction. Maybe the darkness of the times hasn’t escaped you, either. Christmas is a time of year we are supposed to be joyful, but maybe the holiday has you feeling empty and joyless. Can our expectations of what Christmas is supposed to be match reality? God promises he can in his Word as he gives us THE LIGHT OF JOY.
Isaiah wrote to people who would live a couple hundred years after him. The book of Isaiah took people through their present struggles into the future God had in store for them. He would send his people to Babylon. They would suffer, but the LORD promised their suffering would have an end. “Although you have been forsaken and hated, with no one traveling through, I will make you the everlasting pride and the joy of all generations.”
Do you ever feel like you’re struggling just to survive? Do you feel like you can’t wait for the New Year to come so it will all be done, and life can return to normal? If, like Charlie Brown, the commercialism and surroundings of the holiday have sucked all the joy out of you, you may begin to understand the suffering Israel had faced. People hated them. Even the surrounding nations knew Israel was a place no one wanted to go. No one wanted to see the ruins of that forsaken country. But God promised he would make his people the pride and joy of all eternity. These words filled the returned exiles with hope. Their grief would come to an end.
But God promised more than just an end to his people’s suffering. He promised them royal treatment. They would drink the milk of the nations and be nursed by royalty! God is not only saying he will end their grief, but he will make them prominent among the nations. Instead of being an afterthought, all the nations will serve them. Foreign countries will provide for the needs of God’s people. But it’s important to notice why.
The darkness of the early nightfall around us, combined with the cold, dead winter world we live in, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For some, it’s downright depressing. Yet it can serve a good purpose. For those who despise winter, it can help us appreciate the changing seasons. All the busyness of the Christmas season can help us appreciate the special holiday.
God’s people, more than depression or complaints about work and weather, had been humbled on the world scene. Israel had returned from exile, and now they would have good things with a purpose: “Then you will know that I, the LORD am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” God’s people would know, not just in their heads, but by their experience, that the LORD was their God. With each name, God packs something significant about himself. He is Savior, the one who delivers people. This title for God is best known in the name Jesus, the one who saves his people from their sins. But for the exiles when they returned, they would have thought of God as the one who delivered them from captivity in Babylon. God called himself the Redeemer, the one who ransoms or buys his people back so that they continue to exist as his people. He bought them back from slavery in Egypt and now would buy them back from Babylon. He is the Mighty One of Jacob, the one who provides his own strength to help his people. With all these titles, God makes it clear that he wants to have a deep relationship with his people.
Have you started your Christmas shopping? Those who like to stay ahead of things may have already finished, but procrastinators may not have started just yet. Imagine what would happen if the gift you bought changed. Instead of what you purchased, it becomes the present is perfect! That’s what God promises to do for his people. He promises to turn their bronze into gold, their iron to silver, their wood to bronze and their stones to iron. Not only will his people be swimming in wealth, but their life will be unimaginably great! The one who oversees them to make sure things are going smoothly is peace! Instead of the corrupt kings they had before the exile, they would have peace! And their ruler would be righteousness. Everyone was going to do what is right. There was no reason to worry about how the neighbors might react to a gift or respond to a card. Everyone was going to do the right thing.
And if that sounds too much like heaven and too little like 5th-century Israel, it just keeps getting better. There’s no violence, but Israel has had violence since the return to this day. There’s no destruction, no need for gates. Instead, they’ll just have salvation and praise. And the sun, moon and stars no longer give their light because God is there to provide his light. These were the things God promised Israel when they returned. They are the things he promises to his Church. But then how come we don’t see them.
Our expectations often differ from reality. Christmas gifts provide a fine example. Set too high—or low—an expectation, and we won’t get what we expected. If you expect the winning lottery ticket for your Christmas present, you can expect to be disappointed. Your expectations are set too high.
God set his people’s expectations very high, but were they too high? Or is he here only forecasting heavenly hope without any earthly joy? Israel, when they returned to the Promised Land, experienced a reality that varied some from what God had said. They had their land back, but the nations didn’t flock to pamper them. Instead of wealth, they had work. Instead of peace, they had problems. The expectations God had set didn’t meet reality.
And what about us? God has set the same expectations for his New Testament Church. Does he meet the expectations he set? Maybe this year you find yourself wishing the nations were pampering us, that we had peace in place of our president or goodness instead of our governor? Violence and ruin continue on in the world. We’re no closer to solving that than Israel was. The world outside us grows gloomier and darker, and we, like Israel, cry out for “the days of our sorrow” to end.
Did God set our expectations too high? As long as we remain in the darkness, it seems that way. We cannot see the joy that God has already given us because we see things through the veil of sin. Instead of seeing the great spiritual realities we already have, we grumble and complain against the government we have and forget that God is ruling the nations! We desire wealth and spend our time running after it and fail to see the spiritual riches we have already. We cry for joy in a joyless season and overlook the true cause of our joy. Instead, we cry out to God to give us more. Our expectations of God are high, and rightly so. But when he doesn’t give us exactly what we want, like a spoiled child who didn’t get that precious toy for Christmas, we blame him and miss all he gives us.
God desired a deep relationship with his people. He wanted the people to know in their hearts he is the Savior, the Redeemer, the Mighty One. And he promises that he himself will be our light. That is certainly true of heaven. It doesn’t start there. We already have joy as the Church. When Jesus came into the world, he said he is “the light of the world.” He shined his light into our hearts to awaken us to the tremendous spiritual gifts God has given us.
Jesus gave light to this world by being the Savior, Redeemer, the Mighty One. By bringing peace to his people and bringing praise to his God. Jesus fulfilled every one of God’s promises. He is the pride of Israel. Where Israel failed because of the human condition, Jesus succeeded. He was without sin. Jesus is our joy in this season. He is the cause of a joy that no one can take away from you. The joy of knowing that God cares deeply for you and will not let you be abandoned, even into eternity. Jesus brought the nations into the Church. These promises are not for Israel alone, but also for you and me. He gives his Church blessings from his bounty—not always silver or gold, but gifts of his Spirit. He has brought peace to his Church. The Church still exists 2000 years after Jesus, and it will be here until he comes again. The devil’s attacks cannot disturb her peace. Our rest in Jesus cannot be undone by a restless world. Jesus came to be with his people, to be the light. As light of the world, he overcame the darkness. He gives us his own righteousness, sinless perfection. He is the Savior who delivers us from the kingdom of darkness into his own kingdom. He is the Redeemer who bought us back with his own life. He is the everlasting light that the darkness could not overcome. Instead, he rose triumphant. The light of his life shines forever in this dark world. And because he lives, you too will shine.
And if that seems like to much to remember, it doesn’t stop there! Jesus goes far beyond our expectations. He may not give us exactly what we want now, but that is also a reason to praise him. He gives us what is good. In a world so filled with gloom and death, Jesus gives us the light of joy. Nothing and no one can take that joy away from you, either. It will be yours in heaven, where you will see God. There he will be the light. But even here on earth, he is our light that shines on us. The darkness of the devil and the evil of the world around us cannot undo that.
Don’t let the frenzy of the week to come rob you of your joy. Instead, be a light. Take time to tell someone of your joy this week. Tell them God’s light shows you how blessed you are. Tell them about Jesus, our Savior, Redeemer, and Mighty One, who took away the sin of the world. The days of your sorrow are at an end, but your joy will never end. Don’t keep that joy to yourself! Amen.