In the Light of His Glorious Face
by Jack Wald | September 20th, 2009

Revelation 1:10-18

One of my all-time favorite movies is Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman. I know this dates me but classics should never be forgotten. Cook Hand Luke contains some memorable lines such as: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

And for those of you who love eggs, there is a great scene where the character Newman plays eats 50 hard boiled eggs in an hour to win a bet.

What made me think of this movie is a little song Newman’s character sang when he received news in prison that his mother had died. The other prisoners move away to give him time to be alone as he pulls out his banjo and sings a song titled, Plastic Jesus.
I don’t care if it rains or freezes
‘Long as I got my plastic Jesus
Riding on the dashboard of my car
Through my trials and tribulations
And my travels through the nations
With my plastic Jesus I’ll go far

Plastic Jesus, plastic Jesus
and so on.

Jesus has been around for such a long time that there are many different representations of him. If you do a search for images of Jesus on the internet you can find him side-by-side with Hindu gods, standing next to Elvis in a black velvet painting and you can find him as a little statue on the dashboard of cars.

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.

Last week Pastor Zak preached about Jesus from the old hymn of the early church recorded in Philippians. He made the point in his sermon that our view of Jesus affects how we live.

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.

But sometimes inspiration is not enough to help us through difficult trials and tribulations. Something more substantial is needed.

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.

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. 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.”

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.

It 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.

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.

On first impression you might walk past Jesus but no one who sees the ascended Jesus will be able to walk past him without knowing exactly who he is.

There was fire in the eyes of Jesus when he went into the Temple courtyard and drove the money changers away but there are few places in the Gospels where this side of Jesus is portrayed.

The images of Jesus in the Gospels leave room for questioning. 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 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.

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 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.

The last couple days I was up at the Village of Hope for their ten-year celebration. We worshiped together, prayed together, ate together, the children sang some special songs with hand motions. I love the people at the Village of Hope. I have greatly enjoyed being part of what they have done over the past ten years.

Over the ten years there have been good and bad times. We have celebrated together and we have suffered through some financial and personnel crises together.

I have strong memories of the intensity of meetings as we discussed what to do in the midst of these crises. They seemed so overwhelming we felt crushed by the weight of them and feared for the future.

As we talked and prayed, it was always our faith in God who is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving that sustained us. Time after time it was the ascended Jesus to whom we turned for help and who encouraged us to persevere.

We realized that the Village of Hope was not the Kingdom of God and the success or failure of the Village of Hope was not the primary goal.

Many people who came for the celebration testified, as I testified, that we experienced a very strong sense of God’s presence at the Village of Hope and believed God wanted us to be involved in building this home for children.

Because we believed this was God’s work, we did not give in to despair and we persevered.

This weekend we celebrated what God has done through us these past ten years. The crises have passed and the Village of Hope continues.

If you are facing a crisis in your life 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.

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 unimportant. 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 ministries, 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.

We are preaching this fall on renewal and revival. I long to see God work in a powerful way in my life and in the lives of people I care about around me.

But I am not seeking revival. I am seeking Jesus, the ascended Jesus who acts when he chooses to act, who supernaturally intervenes when he decides to intervene. To seek revival is to pass by Jesus and seek what will excite and thrill me.

If you want to be renewed; if you long for revival, then worship Jesus, focus on Jesus.

The Paul Miller team coming this week will help us focus our attention on Jesus and see him in new and more powerful ways. The songs we are singing this morning are intended to help us focus on the ascended Jesus.

In March 2010, David Bryant will be coming to challenge us and encourage us to awaken Christ in us. It is so easy to adapt to life and institutionalize our faith. We need continually to wake up and focus once again on Jesus, the ascended Jesus, the all-powerful and all-knowing Jesus.

Some of us seem to sail through life and others seem to hit every bump in the road.

But it is not ultimately that important how many bumps in the road we hit. It does matter that we learn from every bump that we can trust in Jesus and whatever happens to us it will be ok because Jesus is the ascended Jesus and our future is with him.

It is all about Jesus.