The reality of the trials faced by overcomers - Revelation 6

This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the Riverside Church service on 28th January 2024.

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Rev 6 “The Reality of the trials facing the Overcomers”

 

Intro:

(Slide 1) Good to have a plan when you are driving – Joey’s plan to follow the cars in front, take the road most people take! Good plan? It might be a good plan for driving but it isn’t a good plan for life. Here are 2 paths (Slide 2) – which of them would you choose? One is filled with bright colours and pleasant views and the other looks as if it is filled with trials and trouble. One has got quite a lot of people on it and the other doesn’t seem to. So on first viewing it is a no-brainer isn’t it? But here are 2 questions that might change your mind. 1) Where do the paths lead? 2) Who travels the path with you?

 

(Slide 3) The book of Revelation has all the way through it a huge contrast between people who belong to Jesus and everybody else (who reject Jesus and so will be rejected by him), people who are citizens of heaven and everybody else (who are citizens of the world), people who are heading towards the new creation with God and everybody else (who are heading towards a lost eternity separated from God). And what we have seen so far is that the key message to God’s people is to remain faithful, to endure, to keep trusting in Jesus, to keep striving to obey his Lordship in our lives. Christians are to be witnesses of God’s faithfulness in Christ to the world around and the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms. And the Greek word for witness? Martyr. 

(Slide 4) No matter what the cost, we are to choose to walk down the witness way, the martyr’s path for the rest of our lives. The truth is that sometimes we will look at the path we are on, with all its threats and problems, and we will want to trade it in for the seemingly easy and more comfortable path that everyone else seems to be on. But let’s ask those 2 questions from earlier – where do these paths lead? And who walks on them with us? (Slide 5) And there is the answer – one leads away from Jesus and to destruction and the other leads to eternal life with Jesus forever. So CC Riverside, we are back to that key repeated verse in Revelation; “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to him.” We are to stay on Christ’s narrow path no matter where it takes us.  

             1) The path leads straight through the suffering of a judged world

And that path leads us straight through the general suffering of a judged world (Slide 6). We read Revelation 5 last week and in it Jesus Christ is the only one worthy to open a scroll that will usher in the final days of God’s Salvation plan for his creation. Nobody else could do it. Jesus’ death and resurrection (and so his appearance as the Lion of Judah looking like a lamb who had been slain), Calvary and the empty tomb means that God can redeem for himself a people, sin can be dealt with forever, the new creation can be anticipated. Without this decisive event in history there could be no hope for any of us – without sin being dealt with by Jesus’ blood there is absolutely no hope for humanity.

This world is in rebellion against God and so it is currently under his judgement. So as the glorious Jesus opens the first 4 seals on this scroll, what we are to understand is that the judgement that results is unavoidable (points to more to come). (Slide 7) Seal 1, a white horse with a rider bent on conquest. Seal 2, a fiery red horse with a rider determined to bring war. Seal 3, a black horse with a rider seeming to delight in bringing famine and food shortages wherever he goes. And seal 4, a pale horse, and a rider with a name this time, death itself. Death everywhere, so much of the world devastated by it, death hanging over us all like a cloud. Death that God warned Adam and Eve would result if they rebelled. 

Now, does our world look like this or not? (Slide 8) Filled with conquest and killing, and famine, and illness and suffering and death. This is exactly what our world looks like is it not? How about your own life experience so far – how much of these have you gone through? The 7 local churches this letter was written to in the 1st and 2nd century, all of God’s people in the Old Testament up to the coming of Christ, us here in Hull right now along with all of Christ’s church throughout all time until finally Jesus returns, our path with Jesus takes us straight through all of this misery, we don’t get to avoid it because we are his, of course we don’t – Jesus didn’t avoid it so those following him (yoked/united) can’t either. But even more than that, we have been a part of this world’s misery, we have been part of the problem of sin and so seal’s 1-4 are simply consequences that can’t be missed by anyone, believer or unbeliever. (God’s people aren’t under judgement – but they deal with the consequences of judgement).

 

(Slide 8) The number 7 is very important in the book of Revelation. Numbers have meanings and 7 means “completeness”. So as the 7 churches get to the end of 7 seals being opened we are at THE END of history as we know it. John’s vision has a series of these 7’s – 7 seals, with 7 trumpets coming out of them (chpt 8 and 9), followed by 7 bowls of God’s wrath (chpt 15+16). There is a move to completeness all the way through. So by the time we get to the new creation in chapter 21 and 22, judgement will have been absolutely completed. And so what we are to expect as history continues to unfold is an increase in the pain and suffering that rebelling against God brings to this world. In some early chapters you can read of ¼ of the earth being affected in terrible ways, then we read of 1/3 earth suffering and finally it is 100%, complete.

 

But what we are also to expect (Slide 9) is a steadfast faithfulness from the people of God who are to walk the path of witness with Jesus through all of this general suffering all the while pointing the lost around them to the hope and deliverance that can be found in Jesus. The gospel will keep going out even while church members get ill, God will keep building his Church even when we mourn the death of a beloved brother or sister, unbelievers will keep being invited to church even while those inviting them have lost their jobs or are worried about money, the Church won’t die even in the middle of a war-zone.

 

          2) The path leads straight through the opposition and persecution from a rebellious world

 

(Slide 10) So far then, there isn’t a huge temptation to leave the narrow path since both of the paths can’t avoid the sufferings that the horsemen bring. Christian and non-Christian will experience all of these things including death. But I hope that even understanding what is going on will help answer some of your crying out to God – we are his children and it does feel wrong at times that he allows his children to suffer. But this general suffering is unavoidable – Jesus went through it and so his followers will go through it too. Knowing these things in Revelation should mean that this suffering can hurt us but should not confuse us, can cause us tears but not doubts about God and his goodness.

 

(Slide 11) However, now the rubber hits the road because we are onto seal 5, verses 9-11;

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.”

Wow. God’s answer to the cries of these martyrs, put to death because of their faithful witness, their proclamation of God’s word, their Christian living in a world that hated them, is that they are to wait longer for judgement until more Christians have suffered while bearing witness to Christ. That is an amazing and challenging answer to the questions of these 7 churches facing the anger and opposition of Rome. Probably at the point the letter was written, these Christians would have had stories from the recent past of Nero doing horrific things to many followers of Jesus and now they are dealing with another set of seriously horrible persecutions from the current emperor Domitian.

(Slide 12) Here is a letter from slightly later that gives us the cold method of dealing with people who want to worship Jesus at the expense of worshipping the emperor. The choice for the Christian was punishment (burning to death, torn apart by beasts, crucified etc) or to turn away from Christ and live. They had 3 chances to give the answer demanded, 3 times they would be asked “Are you a Christian”? 3 yes’s and it is death.

 

(Slide 13) Which path are you going to pick now? Those are the stakes that John’s vision is speaking into. And Jesus’ command to his people is to remain faithful, to endure whatever those 3 yes’s would bring. It is right to cry out to God on behalf of his people and ask “how long O Lord are you going to let this continue?” We should be praying those sort of prayers for the persecuted Church across our world right now.

But what we have to understand is that God knows exactly what he is doing. The fundamental, base, foundational answer to “why am I suffering right now?” is this – God is ordaining it. (Slide 14) Yes, Revelation fills us in on the other answers to that question as well. So later in the book we see that Satan is like a dragon who absolutely hates Jesus and so absolutely hates God’s people. And so he rails against them. There are Beasts in Johns vision who hate the church and think they can kill it only for it to keep popping up alive and well.  We face real spiritual attacks from Satan and his demons and therefore we are to be dressed in the armour of God and we are to pray unceasingly and urgently for one another. I would love us to be so changed by Revelation that our prayer lives are transformed.

 

(Slide 15) But all these other answers are partial answers whilst the answer of God’s sovereignty and wisdom and holiness is the fundamental answer. The path of witness that Jesus calls his people to goes deliberately straight through persecution and opposition and in doing so somehow brings great glory to God and achieves great blessings for God’s people. And it really does. In my time as pastor of CC Riverside, the seasons we have suffered the most are also the seasons we have grown the most. And we are in a time like that right now I believe. Look around – new people, new believers, a deeper commitment to gathering together (93 adults in Life Groups now compared to 30-something a few years ago). But many of us are suffering are we not?

Let seal 5, the testimony of the Martyrs, and the sovereignty of God stir you up right now so that you are prepared to suffer far more. So that you are ready to give 3 yes’s when it would be so much easier to say no and give in. How many of us really are out there in the battlefield of evangelism right now? (Slide 16) In our personal lives are we walking the path of witness faithfully? It is painful but it leads to glory, and Jesus is on it with us. We must be emboldened to face conflict with our friends and family, to face problems with our employers, perhaps to be rejected and opposed maybe even by our justice system in this country (Melvin and his visit from the police). We must be prepared for the persecution and opposition to increase as we move towards completeness, as the 7’s finally finish.  

              3) The path is absolutely secure and leads to eternal victory

But in saying all of that we are not to start to panic. In fact we aren’t to be moved at all. (Slide 17) Because our path is absolutely secure and it leads to eternal glory. As the sixth seal is opened huge cosmic events seem to be underway. The final day of the Lord is being ushered in and unbelievers of every rank are suddenly humbled and want to hide from the face of God and from the wrath of the Lamb. The path of unbelief that might have seemed so much easier and that might tempt us at times has come to its inevitable destination of final judgement and utter destruction. That path has this summary, verse 17; “For the great day of their wrath has come and who can withstand it?”

But what about the overcomers? What about faithful followers of Jesus? What sums up the path of witness then? John gets a glimpse of the answer in Revelation 7, amidst the 6th and 7th seals being opened. In Revelation 7 verse 3 we read this; “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” And then in verse 9 (Slide 18) “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”  

 

(Slide 19) Christ Church Riverside, because the future is certain, because we are moving towards the completion of God’s plan, because we are sealed and kept safe for that day when all God’s people will be with him, let us walk the path of witness steadfastly, let us walk the martyrs road, willing to give up our old life, to put it to death, to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. He walks with us as we do it. He will walk with us and bring us safely to the end.

 

Rev 6 “The Reality of the trials facing the Overcomers”

Intro: The Witness Way, the Martyr’s Path

 

1) The path leads straight through the suffering of a judged world

 

This present world is under God’s judgement:

  • Seal 1: Conquest
  • Seal 2: War
  • Seal 3: Famine and shortage
  • Seal 4: Death, death, death

 

This is what our present world is like – but as the 7’s in Revelation play out (7 seals, 7 Trumpets, 7 Bowls), this is what we are to expect to see more and more of. Until it is Complete.

 

But also, as Christians stay faithful to Jesus, as they remain on the path of witness, God will continue to build his Church!

 

2) The path leads straight through the opposition and persecution from a rebellious world

 

In this present world, God’s people will be hated:

  • Seal 5: Martyrs

The 3 ‘yes’s’ that led to execution

 

The fundamental answer to suffering – God ordains it.

Are we WITNESSING faithfully as a church family?

3) The path is absolutely secure and leads to eternal victory

 

  • Seal 6: The day of the Lord being ushered in.

 

The end of the road for unbelievers; “For the great day of their wrath has come and who can withstand it?”

 

The destination for believers; Revelation 7 Sealed and Safe forever.

 

Life Group Questions:

1) Read Rev 6 v 1-6. Does our world look like this now? Why can Christians not avoid this suffering?

2) Read Rev 6 v 7-8. What different answers are there to why God’s people are persecuted? What is the fundamental answer?

3) Read Rev 6 v 12-17. Where does the path of unbelievers end? Read Rev 7 v 9-17. Where does our path end?

 

 

 

 

 

Memory verse: Revelation 7 v 9

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

Questions for later:

 

 

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