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When our situation seems impossible Turn Around and Face Jesus like John at Patmos
The following passages are taken from Anne Graham Lotz’s book “The Vision of His Glory,” published in 1996.
What problem are you facing that seems greater than you can bear? What situation in your life seems impossible?
Amy Carmichael, the great missionary to India, wrote, “When ye are facing the impossible, we can count upon the God of the impossible!”
The apostle John received a fresh vision of the God of the impossible at a time when not only the early church but he himself faced overwhelmingly great problems. When John received this vision that he recorded in the book of Revelation, the Emperor Domitian was on the throne in Rome. Secular history records Domitian as the most cruel of all the Roman emperors. He declared himself to be God, sentencing to death those who refused to worship him.
The early Christians did refuse to worship Domitian; therefore, they were sentenced to die by the thousands. Some were thrown to the lions in the great coliseum; some were burned at the stake. Others were wrapped in the skins of wild animals and fed to the dogs or dipped in tar and lit as torches for the emperor’s garden. Still others were crucified, including mothers with their babies draped around their necks.
The early Christians, including John, faced great problems! But rather than focus on each painful step of his walk of faith in the midst of such stress and suffering, the glorious vision enabled John to focus on the goal of Jesus Christ. By sharing the glorious vision, John encouraged those running the race of faith to maintain their focus on Christ as they patiently endured.
1. Finding Hope. . . through the Patience of Christ
John was patient in suffering. Early tradition records that he was approximately ninety years old when he wrote the Revelation of Jesus Christ, describing himself and his circumstances this way: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 1:9).
1.1 Patience during Suffering
My parents have not yet celebrated their ninetieth birthdays, but as they have grown older, I have become increasingly aware of the physical toll the aging process takes on the human body. While her mind is razor sharp, my mother has difficulty sleeping, difficulty standing, and sometimes, difficulty speaking. My father’s heart to serve God seems to grow stronger with each passing year, but his body is growing noticeably weaker. He has difficulty getting up out of a chair, difficulty in hearing, difficulty in walking. The primary problem for them both is age and the physical limitations it brings. They both suffer, not only from physical pain, but from the frustration of having great ability, ideas, and resources yet being unable to accomplish all they would like because of their deteriorating physical condition.
While no one knows for sure, I would assume the apostle John, at ninety years of age, was suffering in a similar fashion. I expect he knew the pain of arthritis, the weariness of insomnia, the dullness of hearing, the dimness of sight, and the weakness of limb that comes with physical old age.
In what way are you suffering physically? Are you suffering due to the physical limitations of old age? Or perhaps suffering due to some health problem that has nothing to do with old age? One of the problems John faced was in his own physical welfare.
Early tradition also indicates that while he was in exile on Patmos, John was assigned to manual labor. While no one knows what that labor might have been, any hard, manual work for a ninety- year-old would be too much! And I doubt he received any pay for it or any encouragement in it. Undoubtedly he suffered in his work.
Do you? Are you working in a place you don’t want to be? Working for insufficient pay, without any encouragement?
Perhaps you are a schoolteacher, pouring your life into your lesson plans and your students. Yet it may be that not one student has ever thanked you, and the parents either are totally uninvolved or involved only when they have a complaint. Maybe the administration nervously seems to scrutinize every move you make, and the pay is totally inadequate to meet your needs. Perhaps you don’t want to work, yet you must in order to help support your family.
Or perhaps you are in business, working hard to close a contract. But when it is finally signed, the credit and the commission go to someone else.
Or perhaps you work on a loading dock, where those whose every other word is either profane or obscene, mocking you for not joining in “the conversation.”
Or do you faithfully take your place in a factory assembly line, drawing less pay than those who cheat on their time cards?
Like John, are you suffering in your work?
John also suffered because of his witness for Jesus Christ. The problems began shortly after Pentecost, when he and Peter, through the power of the Name of Jesus Christ, healed a man crippled from birth. He was arrested by the authorities and warned not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ Name. He responded by saying, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”1
Although he was released on that occasion, shortly thereafter he, along with the other apostles, was arrested by the religious authorities because of the hundreds of lives that were being changed through the power of Christ. This time he was flogged, then ordered once again, before he was released, not to speak in the Name of Christ. The Bible records that he and the other apostles responded with joy because they had been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name of Jesus.2
Even as John records the glorious vision, he is a “companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.” And remember, John was the great, old apostle who had seen Jesus with his own eyes, heard Jesus with his own ears, whose hands had actually touched the risen Savior.
Perhaps someone had invited him to speak to their civic club about his extensive travels yet warned him not to speak the Name of Jesus because it might be considered exclusive when there would be people there of different religions. But he didn’t hesitate. He told the audience there is only one way, one truth, one life—--and His Name is Jesus.3
Or perhaps someone invited the soft-spoken, dignified old “apostle of love” to give the invocation at the opening of the state legislature—--without praying in the Name of Jesus because it would be considered offensive. But he offered his prayer in the Name of Jesus anyway because he knew that was a precondition for receiving answers.4
Or perhaps he was asked to speak at the chapel of the local university but was told to give an inspirational speech, not a spiritual message, or the faculty would not invite him back. But he went right ahead and told them that Jesus is “the true light that gives light to every man,”5 and, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.”6
I wonder if repeatedly he was warned not to be so bold, not to be so uncompromising, not to be so narrow and exclusive and intolerant of others’ views or he would lose his promotion, lose his “job,” lose his friends, lose his reputation, lose the support of influential leaders in the community. Yet he continued to give out the Word of God clearly, boldly, without compromise. And it cost him. It cost him his “job,” or ministry position, it cost him friendships, it cost him opportunities of service, and it cost him the support of the leaders in the community.
When have you suffered for the sake of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus? I have been in virtually all of the situations I described above for John. I have been told not to pray in the Name of Jesus, but I did. I have been told just to give an inspirational, nonreligious address, and I gave the gospel. I have been accused of being exclusive, intolerant, unloving, and divisive “because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” I have even been removed from a church, along with the Bible class I was teaching, because I taught the entire counsel of Scripture as the truth that it is. I have suffered in my work but never as severely as John suffered, I have never been exiled on Patmos!
Yet there have been even more times when my witness has not been bold and my word has not been clear, because I was afraid. Surely John knew fear too. Surely he feared the pain of torture, the terror of the lions’ den, the agony of the cross. But those fears didn’t stop him from proclaiming the gospel.
And what do I fear? A raised eyebrow? Am I afraid I won’t be included in the social events of the season? Afraid of criticism and gossip behind my back? How ashamed I am of my fears when I think that the early Christians faced lions and crosses and boiling tar and exile on Patmos!
A pastor I know was invited to give a major address at an institution. The invitation was issued by a group of Christians who had made it clear he was being invited to present the gospel. Several days before he was to speak, the pastor publicly stated he would not “be offensive” to anyone in the audience; he would not name the Name of Jesus in his speech because he wanted everyone who came to feel welcome and included. When I called to challenge him on his stand, he said he was hoping the audience of students and faculty would so enjoy his message they would not only invite him back but would come to his church. Then he added this revealing statement: “I make it a policy to play it safe.”
His fear of losing personal popularity as well as losing potential church members prompted him to deny the very gospel for which he stood.
What are you afraid of? If you have not suffered “because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus,” is it because your fears have kept you silent? Have your fears been the bushel under which you have hidden your light?7 Let your light shine! John did. Think of the vision of His glory John would have missed had he played it safe!
Instead, John endured with patience not only his suffering but also his solitude.
1.2 Patience in Solitude
John was exiled on the Isle of Patmos, an island six miles wide and ten miles long. It was basically a large, barren rock in the middle of the Aegean Sea. And John was stuck on it!
John, who had been an eyewitness to the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension of Jesus.
John, who had been present at Pentecost.
John, who had helped establish the early church, who had been an evangelist to the world, who had pastored churches and discipled believers.
John was in exile on Patmos! Cut off from his friends, cut off from his ministry, cut off from opportunities to serve, cut off from traveling, cut off from those who might pray with him or encourage him or even offer sympathy to him in his condition of suffering and solitude.
What is your Patmos? Is it a hospital bed? Is it a workplace where you are the only Christian? Is it a small house with small children? Is it a rest home for the elderly? Is it a new city or a new job? Being fired from your job or going through a divorce or the death of a spouse can put you on Patmos. In what way have you been cut off, exiled, and placed in solitude? There are all different kinds of Patmos, aren’t there? And it requires patience to live in the solitude of Patmos.
Some time ago, my husband and I received a call from a friend— I’ll call him Dave—--asking if he and his wife could talk with us. We knew Dave had been fired from his job several months earlier. When we met with him and his wife, Dave shared that he was really struggling with the way he was being treated by other Christians. He said not one Christian had called to ask how he was doing. Not one member of his church had offered to pray for him. Not one Christian had asked how he or she might help. Dave said he had finally gone to one of the deacons in his church and asked the deacon to meet with him for prayer. The deacon readily agreed, and they set a time when they would get together. When the time came, the deacon did not show up! He had forgotten!
My husband and I looked at our friend and said, “Dave, you are on Patmos. You are in exile. You have been cut off from friends, from a job, and from support. Perhaps it is because God wants to reveal Himself to you in a new, fresh way.”
But Dave’s focus was so fixed on what he wanted, what he expected, what he felt he deserved, that he struggled against God’s will for his life when it included getting fired from his job without the close support of other believers. He refused to patiently endure the solitude of Patmos. Therefore he could not seem to see the big picture. He did not receive a fresh vision of Christ, and he lost hope.
1.3 Patience through Submission
Submission to God’s will is essential, not only to receiving God’s blessing, but to receiving further revelation from God. The apostle John was submissive to God’s will, even when it included exile on Patmos.
John was submissive to his Lord in the way he spent his time, which is implied by the phrase, “On the Lord’s Day . . .“ (Rev. 1:lOa). How about that! Who knew what day it was on Patmos? I doubt the other prisoners knew, or even cared, if it was Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, or any other day of the week. They may have marked their cell walls with a line, then crossed off the lines each week, just to keep track of how much time they were spending in exile. But I doubt anyone was aware when it was the Lord’s day. But John knew! And on the Lord’s day, John spent time with the Lord!
Sometimes when we are suffering in solitude, we refuse to submit our time to the Lord. Instead of remaining involved in fellowship with other Christians or being involved in Christian activities, we tend to withdraw. We get so depressed with the greatness of our problems that we isolate ourselves from the very people and activities that would help get us through the hard times. For instance, our friend Dave stopped going to church. Have you stopped going to church? Or have you stopped attending the Bible study you were a member of? Have you withdrawn from your Christian friends? Have you become so depressed that you are not spending time in prayer?
On the Lord’s day, John spent time with the Lord. He was submissive in his time and submissive in his spirit. He wrote, “On the Lord’s Day, I was in the Spirit” (Rev. l:lOb).
John was in a sweet spirit; he had a right attitude. If you are suffering in solitude, what is your spirit like? When you are cut off from friends and from fellowship, when you are cut off from your hopes and dreams and plans for the future, do you feel sorry for yourself—--Do you ask, “Why me?” Do you complain, “Why doesn’t anyone seem to care?” Are you offended with God because He allowed this to happen—--even though you have been faithfully serving Him? Our friend Dave’s spirit was filled with pity for himself, resentment toward others, and offense with God. Is that how you feel too?
Can you imagine what John—--and we—--would have missed had he become self-analytical, self-pitying, resentful, bitter, and offended? Instead, his spirit was sweet, and his focus was on Christ.
Jesus said if you desire to truly worship God in a manner He accepts, you must worship Him in spirit.8 This means not only that you and I must be indwelt with the Holy Spirit, not only that we be in an earnest, sincere spirit, but also that we must be in a sweet spirit—--a right spirit—--if we are going to experience genuine worship of the living God.
John was able to experience genuine worship because he was submissive to the Lord in his time, in his spirit, and also in his will. This submission of his will can be seen in that he was still listening to the voice of God. In the midst of his suffering and solitude, he was still open to instruction and direction and new thoughts. And he said he heard God’s voice loudly: “. . . I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet” (Rev. l:10c). Did God’s voice seem loud because John had made time to come quietly into God’s presence?
For you and me, God speaks, not through dreams and visions, but through His Word. When do you make the time to quietly come into the presence of God, open your Bible, and read with the expectation of hearing His voice speak to you?
This past year I drove from the Gulf Coast of Florida to the Atlantic Coast. My route took me along what is known as “Alligator Alley,” an unswerving ribbon of asphalt that crosses the Everglades. Again and again, to break the monotony, I tried to tune in a good radio station, but the dial was almost entirely silent, with only two or three stations available. Because I was unable to pull in anything else, those few stations I received seemed to come through loud and clear. I found myself listening to programs I had not heard before simply because there was nothing else available. Then, as I neared the end of my journey and approached the city of Fort Lauderdale, the radio dial became so jammed with signals it was filled with static. I heard a multitude of languages and music and newscasts and accents. No one station stood out clearly. It was confusing. I would find a program I wanted to listen to, but in a few short miles it had been drowned out by other voices crowding in.
Our lives can be like that radio dial. We can be so jammed with signals coming from every direction that even when we tune in to the voice of God, He can get drowned out by other voices crowding in. If we are to hear Him clearly and loudly, there must be times of quietness built into our daily lives. I wonder if that is one reason He sometimes places us in exile, on Patmos.
It was when John was in exile on Patmos that God spoke to him, and John listened. When suffering in solitude, whose voice do you listen to? Voices from without? A professional counselor, therapist, public opinion, medical research, pop psychology, polls of human behavior? Voices from within? Your own thoughts, opinions, complaints, emotions, desires, and prejudices? Has the bombardment of other voices kept you from your daily Bible reading and prayer? There are times when I think God is silent, but in reality, He is speaking; I am just not listening.
The submission of John’s will can be seen in that he not only listened to the voice of God, but he opened his eyes to the face of God: “I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me . . .“ (Rev. l:12a).
In order to “see the voice,” John had to be willing to turn around. It can be very difficult for a ninety-year-old man to turn around—--literally and figuratively. John had known Jesus and had served Jesus most of his life. For sixty years or more, he had been a preacher, an evangelist, a pastor, a discipler of men, a church planter. He was accustomed to serving the Lord in a particular way. Now, he had to be willing to turn around—--to change directions, to shift gears, to see and think and serve in a new way.
Are you willing to turn around? Many Christians are not—-- especially those who are either older in age or older in spiritual maturity. You don’t have to be ninety years old to be set in your ways and lose your flexibility and pliability and softness to the Lord’s touch in your life. How open are you to seeing something new, to doing something new, to thinking something new?
Had John been unwilling to turn around, he would have missed the work God had for him to do at the end of his life. God was changing gears in John’s ministry. Whereas previously John’s ministry had been that of an evangelist and exhorter, now God was calling John to a ministry of worship and writing.
What are you missing because you are unwilling to turn around?
For fifty or more years, my father has conducted evangelistic crusades all over the world. His meetings almost invariably have had the same format, which has included large choirs, testimonies of conversion by various individuals, musical solos, and the preaching of the gospel. In 1994, however, several young men involved in setting up the meetings asked my father to consider a more youth-oriented format, including contemporary musical groups, in order to attract young people. Going against the strong advice of some of his long-time counselors, my father agreed. On June 11 in Cleveland, Ohio, a meeting was held that involved several Christian “rock” and “rap” groups. Sixty-five thousand young people, all under the age of eighteen, showed up, setting a new stadium record for attendance. The music was accompanied by a light show and all sorts of modern theatrics and techniques. The audience was wildly demonstrative, standing to sing, shout, wave, and dance to the music. Then my father stood up to preach the gospel. He was introduced by the leading musical group as a hero of the faith. The entire stadium became quiet and reverent as thousands of young people heard the gospel of Jesus Christ in a personally relevant way for the first time. When the invitation was given, six thousand young people ran forward to receive Christ as Savior! And I thought to myself, “Praise God for a seventy-five-year-old evangelist who, like John, was willing to ‘turn around.”9
John turned around to see the voice because he knew that behind the voice, or the Word of God, was the living Person of God. His desire was not just to hear the Word but to see and know the Person behind the Word.
When you read your Bible, do you read to familiarize yourself with the facts? Do you read to grow in your knowledge of the truth? Do you read it so you can live by and obey it, that you might be blessed? Despite these good intentions, could it be you are stopping short of the ultimate purpose of God’s Word, which is to reveal God so you can know Him personally?
Sometimes, when faced with great problems, our tendency is to focus on the hands of God—--what He has not done for us and what we want Him to do for us—--instead of focusing on the face of God—--simply Who He is. Our depression can deepen through this kind of self-preoccupation. Often, in the midst of great problems, we stop short of the real blessing God has for us, which is a fresh vision of Who He is. When we stop focusing on our problems and on ourselves and focus instead on our almighty and omnipresent God, our problems, as the old hymn promises, “grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
Patient endurance helps us overcome the depression caused by the greatness of our problems because it gives us the opportunity to grow in our knowledge and personal relationship with the One Who is our hope.
Have you grown so impatient, wanting your problems solved now, that you are missing the vision of His glory God has for you? Stop the pity party, stop the complaining, stop the destructive self-analysis and the impatient struggle with God’s will. Get your eyes off yourself, your problems, your circumstances, and look to the face of Christ!
2. Finding Hope. . .through Preoccupation with Christ
John refused to let himself become preoccupied with his problems. How do we know that? Because in the entire book of Revelation, he only mentioned his problems one time: here in the ninth verse of the first chapter. It’s as though he became so preoccupied with Christ, he did not have time to think of his own suffering and solitude. If he had been depressed by his problems, he seemed to have forgotten all about them in light of the vision of His glory; instead he became totally preoccupied with Christ.
2.1 Jesus is the Son of Man
John described, “When I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me, I saw seven golden lampstands. . . . The mystery of . . . the seven golden lampstands is this the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Rev. 1: 1 2b, 20). In John’s day, the churches were experiencing great problems of pain, persecution, and pressure. So when John turned around, he saw churches, made up of individual believers, who were experiencing great problems— and “among the lampstands was someone like a son of man” (Rev. 1:1 3b).
John saw Jesus as the Son of Man—--a reminder that Jesus is God, Who Himself, in His humanity, experienced great problems of pain, persecution, and pressure. And now, John was seeing Jesus in the midst of those who also had great problems!
Did you know that Jesus draws near to those who are suffering? When you experience problems, He is close beside you.
Malachi described the Lord as a refiner of gold.10 When gold is refined, the ore is placed in a large melting pot, then the pot is heated. The refiner watches the pot closely, turning up the heat until the ore is completely melted. When the heat is highest, the refiner is the closest, leaning over to skim off the dross until he can actually see his face reflected in the surface of the melted gold.
Has the “heat” been turned up in your life? Please turn around! Look up! The Refiner is bending close, skimming off the dross until He can see His own reflection in your life! When you suffer, do you think that God is ignoring you? That He doesn’t care? That He is unwilling or unable to do anything for you?
Has your suffering been intensified by feelings of loneliness and separation and what you feel is a lack of understanding on the part of God? Turn around and look up!
2.2 Jesus Is High Priest
When John, in the midst of his suffering and solitude, turned around and looked up, he saw Jesus “dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet” (Rev. l:13b). That is a description of the high priest in the Old Testament.11 Hebrews tells us not only that Jesus is our High Priest, but that “we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”12
Jesus understands what it feels like to suffer great problems. As a man He suffered physically, mentally, materially, emotionally, and spiritually. And He suffered to an extent we will never experience ourselves. He understands with full, personal comprehension what you are going through, and as your High Priest, “He always lives to intercede” for you before the throne of God.13 Jesus is praying for you with personal understanding and feeling.
2.3 Jesus is the King of Kings
John said Jesus had “a golden sash around his chest” (Revelation 1:13c). This could be part of the description of the high priest’s robe, but it is also a description of a king.
On many special occasions, the world has watched as the royal family of Great Britain has come out on the balcony at Buckingham Palace in London to greet the crowd gathered below. When the queen is in formal dress, she wears an elegant, long gown with a diamond-studded tiara on her head and a golden sash draped from her shoulder, across her chest, then tied at her waist. Before her, her father the king, in dress uniform, would also have worn the golden sash across his chest. The sash symbolizes the monarch’s position of dignity and authority.
John saw Jesus, not only as Man and Priest, but as King, in full authority over whatever is taking place, not only everywhere in the universe, but in your life and mine.
Does it seem that your life is out of control? It may be out of your control, but it is fully under His control. John said he saw Jesus with the golden sash across His chest; He is the King of kings, fully in charge of whatever is going on in your life.
2.4 Jesus is the everlasting Father
John’s gaze went beyond the clothes to the One wearing the clothes. He said, ‘His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow (Rev. 1:14a). His white hair reveals His eternal wisdom and purity. Daniel saw Jesus in a similar fashion and described Him as the “Ancient of Days.”14 Isaiah saw Him and said His Name would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”15
As the everlasting Father, Jesus is wise. There are no accidents with Him in control.
He makes no mistakes.
He knows exactly what He is doing;
He never has to second-guess Himself.
His hindsight is never better than His foresight.
His wisdom does not improve with age or experience.
He does it exactly right the first time.
If you are in God’s will, your life is exactly right, regardless of how great your problems are.
Romans 8:28 says, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In other words, when you are in the purpose, or will, of God, everything that comes into your life can work for your good. You may immediately question how the pregnancy of your unmarried daughter can work for your good, or how God can work even a divorce for your good, or how the loss of your job can be for your good, or how your terminal illness can be for your good. If, by “good,” Romans 8:28 meant your comfort, convenience, health, wealth prosperity, pleasure, or happiness, we would all question it! But your ultimate good is conformity to the image of Jesus Christ. And when you are in God’s will—--“called according to his purpose”16---everything God allows into your life is used by Him to make you like Christ. And because He is the Everlasting Father, with head and hair as white as wool, Jesus knows just exactly what to allow into your life to achieve that ultimate purpose.
Are you afraid the bad things happening to you are happening because God is punishing you? Or because He just doesn’t like you? The white hair speaks not only of His wisdom, but of His purity
Your heavenly Father is absolutely pure. . .
in His motives,
in His methods,
in His manner.
He is absolutely pure. . .
in His thoughts,
in His words,
in His deeds.
He is absolutely pure. . .
in His emotions,
in His attitude,
in His plans.
It is not in His nature to be mean or vindictive, cruel or petty or selfish. He is “Holy, holy, holy God Almighty,”17 the everlasting Father.
2.5 Jesus is the Avenger
John’s next description of Jesus is astounding: “His eyes were like blazing fire” (Rev. 1: 14b). If I saw someone with eyes like blazing fire, I would say the person was angry, wouldn’t you? John saw Jesus as the avenger of His people. Jesus was not angry with John but with the cause of the suffering of the believers in the early church, as well as John’s own suffering.
The Bible says you and I are the apple of God’s eye.18 The apple of the eye is the pupil. If someone suddenly tried to stick his finger in the pupil of your eye, your instinctive reaction would be to strike out and prevent him from doing so. When someone or something hurts you, it is as though someone has tried to stick a finger in God’s eyes. If He does not immediately strike out to prevent the problems, pain, and pressures from coming into your life, He is deliberately repressing His protective reaction because He has something better in mind for you. He is going to use it for your good.
When God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, He said, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.”19 In other words, God would be so identified with Abraham that He would consider the way others treated Abraham as treatment of Himself.
When you belong to God by faith in Jesus Christ, He so identifies with you that He considers whatever happens to you—--and the way others treat you—--as happening to Him. This personal identification is why God says, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay”20
When John saw Jesus with eyes of blazing fire it was as though God, in Christ, was putting His arms about His loved ones, holding them close to Himself as He looked over their shoulders with eyes that issued a warning to those who would cause them problems:
“Watch out! I am angry! You have touched the apple of My eye! I will avenge My own.”
2.6 Jesus is the Final Judge
John dropped his astonished gaze from the eyes of Jesus to the feet of Jesus. And what he saw would bring even more discomfort to those who had set themselves against God and against those who belong to Him. He said, “His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace” (Rev. 1:1 5a).
These were the same feet that had walked the dusty roads of Palestine. . .
The same feet that had walked on water. . .
The same feet the disciples had neglected to wash because they were too busy arguing about which of them was greatest. . .
The same feet that walked up Calvary. . .
The same feet that were nailed to a Roman cross. . .
The same feet that were bruised by the serpent while crushing the serpent’s head. . .
The same feet that walked out of the empty tomb . .
The same feet that walked with the disciples on the Emmaus Road. . .
The same feet that ascended into heaven. . .
The same feet under which God has placed all things. . .
John saw these same feet, looking like bronze, glowing in a furnace. These are the feet of the final Judge of the universe!
When John saw the feet of Jesus looking like bronze, he saw feet that were ready to trample in judgment all that had set itself against God and God’s people. Feet that were ready to trample anything and everything that had caused human suffering. Feet that are ready to trample in judgment all that has caused your problems and pain and pressures and persecution.
There are three primary sources of problems and suffering: sin, Satan, and self. One day, there will be an accounting when Jesus will judge all three, permanently destroying at their source all problems and suffering for the believer in Christ.
2.7 Jesus is the Living Word
Then John heard the voice behind the pages of Scripture, the voice of the living Word of God.
This was the same voice that had calmed the storm. . .
The same voice that had commanded Lazarus to come forth from the tomb. . .
The same voice that had turned Mary’s tears to joy when it called her by name. . .
The same voice that had called into being everything and anything that has ever existed. . .
This is the same voice that even now sustains all things in the universe.21 John said this voice “was like the sound of rushing waters” (Rev. 1: 1 5b).
Having grown up in the mountains, I have stood many times on the banks of a rushing mountain stream. It is very different than a slow-moving river or even a meandering brook in the valley. The sound of rushing water conveys not only energy, power, and life; if you stand close enough to it, it drowns out all other sounds. Have you ever stood at the base of a waterfall? The sound is so great it fills the air, and you cannot even hear yourself speak.
In this time when so many voices are being raised against Christ and what He has said, we can be assured that one day, they will all be silenced. He will have the last word.
Sometimes when we are depressed, we feel lifeless. It’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. We seem to have no energy to do even the most routine functions. If you are depressed by the greatness of your problems, read God’s Word! That’s where you find help. That’s where you find joy. Let the rushing waters of the living Word drown out all other sounds and voices. There is life-giving power in the Word of God!
At the most difficult times in my life—--the loss of a baby, the forced removal from a church, the execution of a friend, the robbery of our home—--God’s Word has sustained me. There have been times when I have only been capable of reading a few verses at a time, yet the supernatural life-giving power of the Word of God has not only helped me maintain my emotional and mental balance, it has given me strength to go on, even if only one day at a time.
There is strength. . .
There is peace. . . .
There is hope. . . .
There is power. . . .
There is life in the voice that sounds like rushing water!
Read the Word!
2.8 Jesus is Lord of Lords
“John saw that in his right hand he held seven stars ...“ (Rev. l:l6a). From Revelation 1:20 we know that the stars are the angels of the churches. Angels are messengers of God, celestial beings who live to serve Him day and night. In Revelation 2 and 3, they represent the leaders of the churches who also serve God as messengers, giving out His Word to believers.
I hold in my right hand the instruments I use: my writing pen or my eating fork or my pruning shears. John saw Jesus as Lord, holding His servants in His right hand. The implied promise is this: When you and I face great problems, if we will submit to God’s grip in the midst of our pain, pressure, and persecution, He will use us for His glory. And as we serve Him we are secure, knowing that nothing, not even our own mistakes and failures, can snatch us out of His hand.22 We belong to Him. Praise God! He holds on to us, even when we seem to let go of Him!
2.9 Jesus is the Commander of the Lord’s Army
“. . .Out of his mouth came a sharp, double-edged sword” (Rev. 1:16b). John saw Jesus as the Captain of the Lord’s host, the Commander of the armies of heaven.
And the weapon He used to smite His enemies——
The weapon that ensures victory. . .
The weapon against which nothing or no one can stand. . .
The weapon that “penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit”. . .
. . .is the Sword, which is the Word of God.23
When confronting great problems, what weapons are you using? Money? Medication? Manipulation? Meanness? Memory? Where is your sword? If Jesus will use it one day to conquer the world, why do you think it is insufficient for you today?
John saw a double-edged sword coming from the mouth of Christ--—double-edged because it offers salvation for the believer but destruction for the unbeliever. It is a sword that divides and separates the rebellious, revealing the deepest secrets of the human heart, even while it gathers and unites the redeemed.
Take up your double-edged sword if you have great problems. It offers conviction and comfort, commands and promises, that will not only see you through your darkest hour but will enable you to be more than a conqueror in Christ.
2.10 Jesus is the Light of the Wor1d
The glorious vision of Jesus reached its climax when John saw His face, which appeared “. . . like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (Rev. 1:16c). John had become so preoccupied with Jesus that although his circumstances had not changed, his depression had lifted! In the midst of the darkness, John saw the Light! The Light at the end of the long tunnel—--the Light that turned John’s night into day—--was the face of Jesus!
If we had the opportunity to ask John, “Was it worth it to maintain your testimony? Was it worth it to give out the gospel without compromise? Was it worth it to seek to live for Christ in a hostile world? In the end, when you paid the price of exile on Patmos, was it worth it?” I believe John would answer, “Yes! Yes! Yes! It was worth it! I would go back to Patmos any day, just for the vision of Jesus that God gave me there!”
What vision of Jesus are you missing because you are preoccupied with yourself, your problems, your pain, and your circumstances? In the midst of your depression, turn around. Focus on Christ. Why? Because when you are preoccupied with Christ, there is no time to think of your problems.
John’s patience and preoccupation with Christ resulted in his prostration before Christ.
3. Finding Hope. . .through Prostration before Christ
John said, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev. l:17a). John, who had walked and talked with Jesus on earth, who had even leaned his head on His shoulder at the last supper, who was called the beloved disciple—--John fell at His feet! When confronted with the vision of Jesus in His awesome glory, holiness, and majesty, as one day we too will see Him, the familiarity he had previously felt with Jesus gave way to one of fear and prostration before Him.
3.1 Prostrate in Silence
What does it mean to fall prostrate before Christ as though you were dead? A dead man is silent. I never heard a dead man speak or utter any sound whatsoever. To fall at the feet of Jesus as though dead means there is no more discussion about what you think He should or should not do, no more argument about His will, no more rationalization of your behavior, no more excuses for your sin! Falling prostrate means you are silent before Christ. Dead silent.
3.2 Prostrate in Stillness
A dead man is also still. I never saw a dead man move. He doesn’t even twitch. To fall at the feet of Jesus as though dead means there is no more wrestling with His will for your life, no more pursuit of goals and plans that are your own, no more walking off in your own direction, no more running ahead of Him or lagging behind Him. Falling prostrate means you are still before Christ. Dead still.
3.3 Prostrate in Surrender
John was experiencing what Paul described in Galatians 2:20 when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Have you ever so totally surrendered your life to Christ that you have fallen at the feet of Jesus as though dead? This experience is not possible without problems and pressures that first force us to turn around and look up, to turn away from the greatness of our problems and refocus on the awesome power, holiness, glory, and majesty of God. Then we fall at His feet as though dead in total prostration. I doubt John would ever have come to this point in his Christian life had he not been suffering in solitude on Patmos. But it is at this point—--for John and for us--—that the fullness of life in Christ begins. It is at this point that hope becomes reality and the vision of His glory becomes personal.
Lying there, as a dead man at the feet of Jesus, all John cared about was the hand of God on his life. Once he had glimpsed the glorious vision of the face of Christ, his sole desire was to feel the touch of God and hear the voice of God in his life. “Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever!” (Rev. 1:17b—18a). In other words, Jesus is saying, “John, don’t be afraid. I was a dead man too. But I’ve been raised up, and I will raise you up. The life you are now going to live, you will live by faith in Me. I love you and gave My life for you.” As John lay prostrate at the feet of Jesus, silent and still, he was surrendered for service.
3.4 Prostrate for Service
God picked up John for service. He said, in essence, “John, in the midst of your suffering and solitude, when you are experiencing great problems, I have something for you to do.” Then God gave him his assignment: “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later” (Rev. 1: 19).
Do you long to serve the Lord? People are always coming up to me after a message, or writing me notes after a conference, asking me how to get started in service, how to begin a speaking ministry, how to do something of eternal significance. And I respond, “When have you fallen prostrate at the feet of Jesus? Make yourself available for service. Just say, ‘Here I am, Lord, help Yourself to my life. Anything. Everything. I am available without reservation.” Don’t wait until your life is problem-free before you make yourself available. And don’t tell God how and when you will serve. Just prostrate yourself before Him in total, unreserved surrender of your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
John, in the midst of his suffering, saw the vision of the glory of Christ, felt the fresh touch of God on his life, and heard God calling him to a new area of service.
How did this help John when he was faced with the greatness of his problems? It helped by giving him a sense of purpose and worth in the midst of his suffering. It gave him confidence that his suffering would not be wasted—--it was not in vain. It gave him something to live for. It gave him hope!
Outside Monrovia, Liberia, is a little village named Harbell built on the site of a former Firestone rubber plantation. In the village a small church and school have been established to serve the displaced persons who live there.
The pastor of the church is named Gabriel, and the headmaster of the church-run school is named Emmanuel. The school serves six hundred children and has no books, pencils, paper, or blackboard. When the pastor was asked if he was discouraged, he looked amazed and said, “Brother, we are Christians. We may be helpless, but we are not hopeless!”
Are you a Christian? If you are, how can you be hopeless?
Are you so depressed by the greatness of your problems that you have given up all hope? Instead of giving up, would you patiently endure? Would you focus on Christ until you are so preoccupied with Him alone that you fall prostrate before Him?
And if you never feel the hand of God on your life, if you never hear the voice of God calling you into service, it will be enough to lie at His feet and gaze upon the vision of His glory! (20-42)
1. Acts 4:20.
2. See Acts 5:40—41.
3. See John 14:6.
4. See John 14:14.
5. John 1:9.
6. 1 John 2:9.
7. See Matt. 5:15—16.
8. See John 4:24.
9. When my mother heard criticism of my father for what so considered a compromise of evangelistic methods, her comment was, “You don’t have to like worms to go fishing!” Obviously, she too was willing to “turn around.”
10. See Mal. 3:2—3.
11. See Exodus 28.
12. Hebrew 4:14—15 KJV.
13. Hebrew 7:25.
14. Daniel 7:9.
15. Isaiah 9:6.
16. See Romans 8.
17. Isaiah 6:3.
18. See Zechariah 2:8.
19. Genesis 12:3a.
20. Deuteronomy 32:35a and Heb. 10:30a.
21. See Matthew 8:26—27, John 11:43, John 20:16, John 1:3,
and Hebrew 1:3.
22. See John 10:28.
23. See Joshua 5:14, Revelation 19:15, Hebrew 4:12, and Ephesians 6:17.
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