In the Light of His Glorious Face
by Jack Wald | December 26th, 2010

Revelation 1:10-18

Dan, one of my Facebook friends, posted this status on his page: “I’m not anti-Christmas, but the point of Jesus was and is Easter.” This set off a string of comments.
Doug wrote, “Christmas is the big, noisy introduction song. Easter is the coup de grace, the ultimate triumph.”
Elizabeth wrote, “Think about God becoming man for a second. Pause. Think again. An eternal being, the Alpha and the Omega, has a human birthday. It’s called the Incarnation and it reconciles all of philosophy in a single instant. Pause. Think again.”
Erich decided to elevate the tone of the comments with this, “I don’t get it. How are bunnies and colorful eggs more important than Christmas trees, presents and SANTA CLAUS!”
Elizabeth returned to comment: “The Incarnation and the Resurrection are equally important. … God became man. That couldn’t happen in the other philosophies. It was a defining Christian doctrine. It’s not just a happy story about a baby, or a prelude to a death. It’s a philosophical and physical triumph. Jesus IS life. He is not death. He destroyed death by his life. He healed the sick and the blind and the lame. If his death is all that matters, why even read the first 20 chapters of the Gospels?”

So what do you think? What is more important? Christmas and the birth of Jesus? Good Friday and the remembrance of the death of Jesus? Easter and the celebration of his resurrection? Each of these events carries with it an image of Jesus and that image makes a difference.

In the bulletin there is a quote from Graham Cooke, a speaker and author in the US: “Your image of God is the single-most important element of your spiritual journey.”

What this means is that your spiritual life will be heavily influenced by how you view Jesus.

One day Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  (Matthew 16)

This is a famous passage in the Gospels. What might people say today if you asked them the question: Who is Jesus?

You might hear:
Jesus was a great teacher, a good man, a moral leader.
Jesus was a revolutionary.
Jesus was a prophet.
Jesus is the god Christians follow.

For those who view Jesus as a good man, a good teacher, a moral example for us, Jesus can be inspirational. There are many who have read his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and been inspired by the wisdom of what he said. People who are inspired in this way also find inspiration from a number of other charismatic leaders from the past and may read The Prophet by Kahil Gibran or the writings of Confucius or the Little Red Book of Chairman Mao. For people like this, there is a lot of truth out there and reading about Jesus is one place to find it.

But sometimes inspiration is not enough to help us through difficult trials and tribulations. Something more substantial is needed. When you hear the doctor say, “I’m sorry but your cancer is malignant and too advanced for us to do much to help,” inspiration doesn’t seem adequate. And, if you read the news and think about it, inspiration does not come close to helping to deal with the reality of the massive injustice and suffering that is taking place on our planet. If Jesus is not more than inspirational, then everything we experience and see around us is meaningless.

As Christians, we believe Jesus is the Son of God who was born as a baby in Bethlehem, lived his life in Palestine, was put to death by the Romans, rose from the dead after three days and ascended into heaven where he continues to reign in all his glory.

If I ask you to think of Jesus, what image comes to mind? Do you think of him as a baby in a bed of straw, the center of attention of his adoring parents and the mystified shepherds? That’s a great image and an image that comes easily to us this season. Mary and Joseph were right to adore their son and the shepherds were right to be mystified at this baby whose birth the angels had announced.

The birth of Jesus is a great mystery. God became flesh? Reflecting on this helps us see how much loved we are that God would go to this length to save us.

Maybe you think of Jesus when he was twelve years old, sitting with the teachers of the Law in the Temple as they were amazed at his answers.

Maybe you think of Jesus as he walked along the dusty paths of Palestine with his disciples. Talking with them, eating with them, watching the coals of the fire with them, looking up at the stars of the night with them. Those are great images and I have often wondered what that was like for them and wish I had been there.

Maybe you think of Jesus as he dramatically healed people or walked on water or cast out demons.

My favorite scene in the movie, The Passion of Christ, is when the woman caught in adultery is thrown at his feet and Jesus stoops down to draw in the dust. When the accusers have gone, he stands up, reaches down, takes the hand of the woman and raises her to her feet. (John 8)
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

I have very much appreciated the ministry of Paul Miller, www.seeJesus.net, who visited with us last year. His Person of Jesus study is wonderful because it puts flesh and blood on the verses of the Gospels. As we read through the lessons we become more and more aware of how unique and loving Jesus was in his earthly ministry. We read the lessons and see Jesus as one who suffered as we suffered. Jesus knows what it is like for us as we move from day to day because he was born and lived among us and that helps us to know we are understood.

Maybe you think of Jesus as he was being beaten and then crucified.

This was the dominant image of a Catholic cathedral I once visited in San Jose, Costa Rica. I’m sure there were wonderful stained glass windows but what I most remember is the side chapels where Jesus was portrayed on the cross in terrible images of pain and suffering. Everywhere I went there were images of the suffering of Jesus and on the long cement walk leading to the front door of the church there was a line of people creeping forward on their bare knees over the rough cement to get into the church.

The suffering of Christ dominated this church and the people had a tradition of showing their penance and devotion by suffering themselves as they entered the cathedral.

Catholics have a cross with the crucified Jesus to remind them of the suffering of Jesus for their benefit. Protestants have an empty cross to remind themselves that Jesus rose from the dead.

Maybe you think of Jesus as he appeared to the women and then the rest of the disciples on Easter morning or when he ascended into heaven.

These are all images of Jesus we hold on to and they are great images that lead us into the mysteries of Christ and remind us of the amazing love God has for us.

But this morning we are looking at an image most of us rarely think about: the ascended Jesus with bright light, fire and a double-edged sword. Jesus in the manger and Jesus walking along with his disciples, Jesus healing people and teaching them, these are images of Jesus that are almost 2,000 years old. These are great images and we learn a lot from them, but those are photos from the past. Those are images you find in a photo album as you leaf through and remember what used to be. Those images are not the reality of who Jesus is today.

The image of the ascended Jesus is not an image we are easily drawn to. We prefer the image of Jesus holding children in his arms to the image of Jesus with eyes of fire and a sharp double-edged sword coming out of his mouth. We like the image of a strong, compassionate Jesus but an all-powerful, all-knowing Jesus can be too intimidating for us.

This morning I do not want to take away the other images of Jesus we receive from the Gospels, but I do want to add this image from John’s Revelation to your repertoire and suggest why this image is so important for your Christian life.

John was in exile on the island of Patmos when he received a series of revelations which he then wrote down to form the book of Revelation. His first revelation began with a vision of Jesus – not the Jesus John knew well from spending at least three intensive years with him, but closer to the Jesus John saw revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus was revealed in his heavenly glory.

John’s description of this vision of Jesus was read a few moments ago. Let me point out what John’s description indicates about who the ascended Jesus is.

John saw in his vision, seven lampstands which represented the seven churches addressed in the letter and among the lampstands was someone dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet.

Each detail of John’s description has meaning and the meaning of the robe is that the ascended Jesus is a leader. He is not wearing the short robe of a servant but the long robe of a leader. Jesus came to earth as a suffering servant but arose as the triumphant leader.

Around his chest was a sash of gold. This was the mark of authority worn by the High Priest who alone went into the presence of God to obtain forgiveness for us.

His head and hair were white like wool, white as snow, and this speaks of his wisdom and divine nature.

His eyes of blazing fire speak of his deep insight that penetrates to our core and of his judgment of all evil.

His feet like bronze glowing in fire speak of an exalted person of great power. The Roman army marched with bronze breastplates and bronze shields. The sight of this army approaching with the light of the sun reflecting off the bronze was intimidating. The ascended Christ with feet of blazing bronze speaks of Christ as an all-powerful victor.

His voice like the sound of rushing water invokes the image of a huge waterfall pouring over a cliff. His voice is powerful and awesome. When this man speaks, nothing else can be heard.

Out of his mouth came a double-edged sword.

The double edged sword was a Roman military invention that gave them a huge advantage. With a single-edged sword the soldiers had to hack and thrust. With the double-edged sword they did not have to pull back but could cut both ways. This was a major technological advance.

This image of a double-edged sword coming out of his mouth speaks of the power and force of his message and judgments.

And then in conclusion, His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

There was nothing ambiguous about this vision of Jesus John received. It was a vision that made crystal-clear the glory and power of the ascended Jesus.

When John saw Jesus, he did not see a baby in a manger or a thirsty man by a well. He saw an overwhelming spectacle of light that led all around him to cry out, (Revelation 7:11)
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.

In the earthly Jesus there were only hints of this.

In Revelation 1 Jesus is the indisputable leader. In the Gospels Jesus was a leader of a few. After his resurrection Paul said Jesus appeared to more than 500 of the disciples. That is a lot but that is not indisputable leadership. There are a lot of people on Facebook with more friends than that.

In John’s revelation, the ascended Jesus wears a golden sash of unquestionable authority, but in the Gospels people were surprised by the way Jesus acted with authority. The teachers of the Law in the Temple were amazed at his understanding and his answers which were unexpected from someone from Galilee.

When Jesus cast out an evil spirit (Luke 4:36)
All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!”

When John, James and Peter went with Jesus to the Mount of Transfiguration, they saw Jesus revealed in his heavenly glory where (Matthew 17:2)
His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
but the divine nature of Jesus was hidden from others. It was not obvious to the people Jesus met that he was the divine Son of God.

Isaiah wrote in his prophecy of Jesus who was to come (Isaiah 53)
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

You might have walked past Jesus in Palestine without noticing him, but no one who sees the ascended Jesus will be able to walk past him without knowing exactly who he is.

The images of Jesus in the Gospels leave room for questioning; who is Jesus? The image of Jesus in Revelation 1 leaves no room for uncertainty.

At different times in our lives we need different images of Jesus. When we are hurting and need compassion, it is good to picture Jesus sitting with children in his lap or Jesus raising from the dead the son of a widow.

When we are feeling unloved and rejected, we need to see the new life Jesus brought to the woman who was an outcast because of her bleeding.

Jesus is one who sees us suffering and suffers with us. Jesus comes alongside us and supports us in our suffering.

But when the affairs of life come crashing down on us and we need hope to keep on going, then we need to hold on to the image of the ascended Jesus who is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, before whom our anxieties and problems are not so overwhelming.

When people met Jesus in the Gospels they wondered who he was. There was something about him but they did not know exactly what. Could he be the return of Elijah? Was he a prophet? Was he the Messiah who would overthrow the Romans? Some accused him of being from the devil. People were unsure about who Jesus was but any confusion will be cleared up when they come before him as the ascended Jesus.

Pilate was impressed with Jesus but had him flogged and crucified anyway. The next time Pilate met Jesus he did not need to ask who Jesus was and he regretted he had not taken the punishment inflicted on Jesus upon himself.

Those who mocked Jesus and beat him came with time to stand before him and realize to their horror exactly who it was they had mocked and beaten.

The rich young ruler who walked away from Jesus because he loved his possessions met Jesus again and wished he had given away all the worthless money he had left behind when he died.

My point in all this is that when you focus on the image of Jesus as the ascended King, the concerns and joys and sorrows of this world will become less significant. If you keep a small, non-threatening image of Jesus, your problems will seem huge. The larger your view of Jesus becomes, the less significant your problems will seem.

We worry and are anxious about so many things. If we made a list of all the worries and anxieties among us this morning, we would have a book-length list.

John was worried and anxious about the churches in southwest Turkey that he had left behind when he was exiled. But what happened when he received this revelation of the ascended Jesus?
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.

When John fell at the feet of Jesus he was not thinking anymore about the churches and their problems. John was not thinking about his captivity. John was not thinking about what would happen to him. John did not care if he lived or died. John was completely caught up in the glory of Jesus.

It makes a huge difference how you view Jesus. There are some who put faith in Jesus because he helps them find food to eat, clothes to wear and a place to sleep. I was talking with a woman who said that Christians from her country who go to France lose their faith because the government of France provides them with their basic necessities. God is no longer necessary for them. My response was to say that these people have a very superficial faith. If you focus attention on God, singing praises, praying and reading your Bible – so that you can have the things you need, then you are using God as a tool to get what you want. God has become nothing more than a screwdriver or a hammer you pull out when you need something.

This might work if Jesus was still a baby in the manger or a thirsty man sitting by a well, but Jesus stands in heaven in all his blazing eternal glory. You do not come to Jesus in his eternal glory and say, “Can you help me get something to eat?” You fall at his feet as though dead. You do not ask Jesus to serve you, you fall at his feet as though dead and pray you will be able to serve him.

There are some who carry their Bible or wear a cross as if it were a good luck charm and will protect them from danger. They open a business and make sure they put up a Bible or cross or some other religious symbol so God will bless their business. They pray before setting out on a trip or before playing a football match or before taking an exam – which is not bad in itself. But what could be an authentic prayer expressing anxiety easily slips into a superstitious act.

You can hang Jesus on the mirror of your car if he is nothing more than a twelve-year old whiz kid answering questions or a wise teacher walking along a dust road with his disciples, but when you see Jesus as the ascended Christ in all his blazing glory, it does not matter if your business is successful or if you pass an exam or if you score a goal. Your only appropriate response will be to fall at the feet of Jesus as though dead.

When you see Jesus as he is today, the ascended Jesus in all his glory, then you realize that what matters most in this life is not you. You realize it is not about you, not about me, it is all about Jesus. Does this make you and me insignificant?

John fell as though dead when he received this vision of the ascended Jesus. Only Jesus mattered to him but then see what happened.
Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

Only Jesus matters, but because Jesus loves us, we matter. We are not worthless. We are not insignificant. We are not unimportant. Our lives, our work, our ministries are not without value. But it all has to do with where we put our focus. As soon as we take our eyes off Jesus and place them on ourselves and our earthly concerns, we are in trouble. But when we focus on Jesus, fall at his feet as though dead saying, “It is all about you, Jesus,” then we are in the right place.

Jesus placed his right hand on John and said, “Do not be afraid.” When we focus on Jesus he comes to reassure us and encourage us and help us in the work we do with him. Jesus cares about us as we work for him.

If you are facing a crisis in your life this morning, if you are facing temptation this morning, lift up your eyes and see the ascended Jesus who has all power and who will accomplish his purposes through you as you submit to him. Do not give in to despair. Let the vision of who Jesus is sustain you.

It is all about Jesus. May we live for him. May we bless him with our worship. May we please him with our obedience. May we glorify him with our work. It is all about Jesus.