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September 25, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

The Revelation to John 13:1-18 [NLTse]
Then I saw a beast rising up out of the sea. It had seven heads and ten horns, with ten crowns on its horns. And written on each head were names that blasphemed God. 2 This beast looked like a leopard, but it had the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion! And the dragon gave the beast his own power and throne and great authority.

3 I saw that one of the heads of the beast seemed wounded beyond recovery—but the fatal wound was healed! The whole world marveled at this miracle and gave allegiance to the beast. 4 They worshiped the dragon for giving the beast such power, and they also worshiped the beast. “Who is as great as the beast?” they exclaimed. “Who is able to fight against him?”

5 Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for forty-two months. 6 And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering His name and His dwelling—that is, those who dwell in Heaven. 7 And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. 8 And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life that belongs to the Lamb Who was slaughtered before the world was made.

9 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand. 10 Anyone who is destined for prison will be taken to prison. Anyone destined to die by the sword will die by the sword.
This means that God’s holy people must endure persecution patiently and remain faithful.

11 Then I saw another beast come up out of the earth. He had two horns like those of a lamb, but he spoke with the voice of a dragon. 12 He exercised all the authority of the first beast. And he required all the earth and its people to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 He did astounding miracles, even making fire flash down to earth from the sky while everyone was watching. 14 And with all the miracles he was allowed to perform on behalf of the first beast, he deceived all the people who belong to this world. He ordered the people to make a great statue of the first beast, who was fatally wounded and then came back to life. 15 He was then permitted to give life to this statue so that it could speak. Then the statue of the beast commanded that anyone refusing to worship it must die.
16 He required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. 17 And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. 18 Wisdom is needed here. Let the one with understanding solve the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.

Sermon
We’ve been reading through the New Testament as a church in 2016. (The daily readings are at the bottom of the back flap in our Bulletins.) And I have committed to preach each week from something we’ve read. We’re in Revelation, and this past week we read Revelation chapters 13-18.

The Lord Jesus has given John potent visions to show John what is to come so that he can in-turn share these things with the people of Christ’s Church. Having shown John a series of visions to help him prepare the Church for life in these End-Times times in which we live, the Lord reveals to John a vision of the coming of Christ with a dragon representing Satan and a woman representing God’s faithful Old and New Covenant people.

This week we read about a Beast-Coming-Out-Of-The-Sea, and this Beast had seven heads and ten horns, with a crown on each horn, each head graffiti-ed with names saying blasphemous things about God. (Such as “He doesn’t love you,” and “You’re all alone in your troubles and sins,” … All sorts of things that aren’t true about God but that unbelievers say about Him.)

The Lord reveals to John that these ten horns on the Beast’s heads are kings, so this Beast has come to be called “Anti-Christ”, representing all the governments and authorities of the world that have set themselves against Jesus.
John then sees another Beast come out of the earth, This second Beast has only two horns (and the vision makes clear that these horns are like those of a lamb) but that this Beast speaks like a dragon. And, so, the imagery of this vision shows a power that has the appearance of Jesus (the Lamb) but who in reality speaks on behalf of the Devil (the dragon). This second Beast is called the “False Prophet” later in Revelation 16:13.

You see, just as our Father has a Son – Jesus Christ – to Whom He’s given all His power and authority, so that to worship and trust in Jesus you are in fact worshiping and trusting in the Father and declaring Him your King, likewise, the Devil has one – Anti-Christ – whom he has given all His power and authority, and when one worships and trusts in Anti-Christ that one is actually worshiping and trusting in the Devil and declaring him your king.

And just as the Lord Jesus has sent His People into the world to preach His Word and give Him glory, likewise, Anti-Christ has sent a people into the world seeking to lead Christ’s people astray by preaching and teaching in ways that sound like Jesus but actually speaking the words of Anti-Christ and give the Devil glory.

In Chapter 17 John is shown a woman whom he sees and describes as “a great prostitute”. And this woman is called “Babylon the Great, Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World.” But, like Anti-Christ and the False Prophet, “Babylon” is not really a woman but is symbolic of a city. Just as the heavenly Jerusalem represents Christ’s worldwide Church, the hellish Babylon the Great represents the Devil’s people, human society centered around Anti-Christ, the Beast.
So, what does all this have to do with us as we’ve been reading these chapters this week and as we are striving to live as followers of our King, Jesus Christ? As we are striving to preach faithfully and give our King Jesus glory? As we are striving to live together in mercy and righteousness, living humbly with our God, His faithful, adoring Church?

Well – as a church – have you heard about the latest blasphemous things our old denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), has been doing? Well, as you may know, we left that denomination because they had rejected the Bible as the Word of God. We left because the General Assembly had begun treating the Bible as though it contained the Word of God instead of being the Word of God, allowing pastors and elders and teachers to pick and choose which parts of the Scripture were to be believed and which parts could be ignored.

This led them to making light of divorce, premarital sex, homosexuality, bisexuality, adultery, and eventually to make light of the Lord Jesus Himself. At their most recent General Assembly, the Presbyterian Church (USA) had a Muslim imam open the Assembly by praying to Allah and asking Allah’s blessing upon their proceedings, as though Allah and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ were one and the same!

I hope you are as shocked and affronted as your elders and me! I hope you are shocked and affronted because even the most simple-minded Middle Eastern Muslim peasant-child with no education knows that Allah – the god of the Muslims – and Allah-al-Ab, the God and Father of Jesus Christ – the God of the Christians – are not the same! But it’s the False Prophet at work: Preaching and teaching and evangelizing in ways that seem faithful and wise and true – that seem like Jesus – but that, in reality, leads people away from Jesus to give His glory to the Devil!

I share all this with you because, as the Presbyterian Church (USA) continues down this blasphemous path – and makes headlines for itself and its churches nationally and locally for doing so – we are likely being seen as a part of that because we have its name, “Presbyterian”, in our name. And your elders would like to distance ourselves, as a church, from all that, if we could. Except that the truth is that this community has come to know us as “The Presbyterian Church”. So, if we take “Presbyterian” out of our name we’ll have some people around the community who’ll no longer have any idea who we are when we tell them what church we’re a part of or when we invite them to church. If our name doesn’t have “Presbyterian” in it, many won’t know the church we’re talking about. On the other hand, there’ll be some – if we take “Presbyterian” out of our name – who will hear the new name (but without “Presbyterian” in it) and say to themselves, “O, yeah, they’re talking about the Presbyterian Church.”

So, it seems we need to keep “Presbyterian”, but how do we do so and still distance ourselves from our old denomination? How do we distance ourselves from the False Prophet at work around us?

And then it came to us: We’re a part of a new denomination. When we were a part of the Presbyterian Church (USA) we were “First Presbyterian Church of Milford”. Now that we’re part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, let’s just be the “Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Milford”!

Think about it: By adding “Evangelical”, not only do we get another word in our name that is really difficult to spell, but we get the opportunity to let people know we’re different, and for those who ask we get to let them know the euangellion – the evangel, the good news – that we’re a church that believes Jesus is God, and that we believe He died for the sins of everybody in the world who would believe in Him, and we believe He did that to bring those believers to God because God loves them – loves all the people of the world! – and wants to live with them and them to live with Him, forever! And that we believe the Bible is God’s Word, every word of it important and precious to show God’s love for us and His plan for bringing us to Himself through faith in Jesus Christ.

So, we’re going to be the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Milford. And we want everyone to come to next week’s Congregational Meeting for us all to celebrate that together, as we move ahead the same as we’ve always been, but more clearly set apart from Anti-Christ and the False Prophet and Babylon the Great, Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World…

But, what about us all individually, or as couples, or as families? Our Father is bringing judgment against anti-Christian leaders (if they’re against the Christ of the Bible), anti-Christian preaching and teaching (if it’s against the Christ of the Bible), and anti-Christian peoples (whether few or many, if they are against the Christ of the Bible). And in Revelation 18:4 Christ calls out from Heaven, “Come away from [Babylon], My people! Do not take part in her sins, or you will be punished with her!”

So, I ask you, this morning, as I ask me: Are you watching what you know you shouldn’t be watching, are you saying what you know you shouldn’t be saying, are you doing what you know you shouldn’t be doing, OR are you not watching what you know you should be, are you not saying what you know you should be, are you not doing what you know you should be, but you’ve convinced yourself it’s okay because you’re not as bad as others?

It must not be so! We have given ourselves to Christ! We have entered into covenant – we have made a deal – with Him in baptism! We renew that covenant – we renew that deal – each and every time we eat and drink the Lord’s Supper! We have committed to be His faithful, sinless Bride! And He has committed to be our faithful, taking-care-of-us Husband!
Come away from it all, First Presbyterian Church of Milford! Come away from it all, Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Milford! Come away from it all. The Holy Spirit will help you. The Holy Spirit will help us.
Worship Team will you come forward as we pray?



September 18, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Introduction
Last week our readings through The Revelation ended at chapter 6 with a vision of the Lord Jesus revealing what would happen between His ascension into Heaven and His promised return. Just as dreams can have one thing stand for something else, likewise, in the visions God gives, one thing can stand for something else.
In chapter 6, the Lord Jesus reveals these end-times events by opening the seven seals of a scroll that had been held in God the Father Almighty’s hand. When the Lord Jesus opens the first seal, a horseman carrying a bow with no arrows goes charging into the world riding a white horse. When the Lord Jesus opens the second seal, a horseman carrying a sword goes charging out into the world riding a fiery-red horse. When He opens the third seal, a horseman carrying measuring scales goes charging out into the world riding a black horse. And when He opens the fourth seal, “Death” goes charging out riding a pale-looking horse, and the land of the dead followed closely after him. When the Lord opens the fifth seal, we see all the martyrs – all those who have ever been killed on account of their faith in Jesus Christ – and we are shown these martyrs as being under the great bronze altar. (The great bronze altar was where burnt offerings were made to the Lord, and underneath the altar is where the ashes from the sacrifices would end up, all showing that the martyrs had given their lives as offerings to Christ.) And then the Lord Jesus opens the sixth seal, and there was a massive earthquake and the world broke apart, and the sun, moon, stars, and earth’s atmosphere broke apart, all while every unbeliever on the earth is trying to kill themselves instead of having to face the Lord as He’s about to return.

The Lord Jesus describes these same end-times events (but without the symbols and imagery of a vision) in Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s Gospel. Let me read it from Mark 13:5-27…
5 Jesus replied, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, 6 for many will come in My name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. 7 And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the End won’t follow immediately. 8 Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in many parts of the world, as well as famines. But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.
9 “When these things begin to happen, watch out! You will be handed over to the local councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are My followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about Me. 10 For the Good News must first be preached to all nations. 11 But when you are arrested and stand trial, don’t worry in advance about what to say. Just say what God tells you at that time, for it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
12 “A brother will betray his brother to death, a father will betray his own child, and children will rebel against their parents and cause them to be killed. 13 And everyone will hate you because you are My followers. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
14 “The day is coming when you will see the sacrilegious object that causes desecration standing where he should not be.” (Reader, pay attention!) “Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. 15 A person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. 16 A person out in the field must not return even to get a coat. 17 How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. 18 And pray that your flight will not be in winter. 19 For there will be greater anguish in those days than at any time since God created the world. And it will never be so great again. 20 In fact, unless the Lord shortens that time of calamity, not a single person will survive. But for the sake of His chosen ones He has shortened those days.
21 “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There He is,’ don’t believe it. 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 23 Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time!
24 “At that time, after the anguish of those days, ‘the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, 25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. 27 And He will send out His angels to gather His chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and Heaven.” (13:5-27)
And so we know (because white is the symbolic color of purity and righteousness) that the white-horse rider is the good news being preached to all the nations. The red-horse rider is the wars and rumors of wars and nations and kingdoms warring against one another. The black-horse rider is the famines, with Death riding the pale horse with the land of the dead tagging along. The Lord calls us to expect persecution and suffering and even martyrdom as we stand up for truth and share our faith before local councils, governors, kings, and being arrested and standing trial, and we’ll be betrayed and hated and killed… And He speaks of the shaking and the end of this Heaven and this Earth to make room for the new Heaven and the new Earth the prophets have promised…

Further on, in chapters 8 and 9, John’s vision changes to that of seven angels blowing trumpets, what Paul speaks of in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 as the “trumpet call of God”. And where the Lord Jesus breaking open the seals showed John the end-time events just as the Lord Jesus promised (as we’ve read), the blowing of each trumpet portrays the End through the different perspectives of the unbelieving world: Natural disasters, spiritual upheaval, human excess, demonic oppression, … Whether atheist, agnostic, or believing in another god or other gods, the trumpets reveal images of the created order in absolute chaos!

And just as the sixth seal portrayed unbelieving humanity wanting to die instead of have to face the Lord Jesus at His return, likewise, the sixth trumpet displays a hard-hearted humanity unwilling to repent of their evils and idolatry, even as the Lord Jesus is on the brink of His return…

These visions of the Lord Jesus breaking the seals and bringing to pass the promises of the Scriptures and the visions of the angels blowing the trumpet call of God both are interrupted prior to the seventh seal being opened and the seventh trumpet being blown.
At the end of chapter 6, as creation is breaking apart around them, the miserable but unrepentant unbelievers of the earth are heard crying out, “Who is able to survive?” And we are given imagery about God’s angel-army marking Jesus’ followers with a special mark so that the death and horrors striking the world at the End will not shake them. And the symbolic number of 144,000 is given to represent the number of Jews who will come to faith in Jesus and be saved before the End, and the number of non-Jews (like most of us) who will have come to trust in Christ before the End is described as “a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language”. (7:9)
Likewise, at the end of chapter 9, with the hard-hearted world refusing to turn to Christ as the End comes, John receives a special revelation that he is not allowed to share, as well as a message that he is to share, but that is disturbing to him to do so. And he is given a measuring stick to measure the temple of God. And, like the first interruption – where all the faithful were marked – during this interruption all the faithful (and in the vision all the faithful are pictured as God’s Temple, we, Christ’s Church, the dwelling place of God’s Holy Spirit – we are measured and counted: Not one soul, great or small, is missed. And then for some reason, two “witnesses” are described.
These two witnesses can do the miracles that Moses was allowed to do in Egypt and to keep rain from falling on the earth like Elijah did, but who are the witnesses? If anybody tries to hurt them “fire flashes from [the mouths of the two witnesses] and consumes their enemies” (11:15), but who are the witnesses? They are called “the two olive trees” and “the two lampstands” that stand before the Lord. (Which was similar to the vision given to the prophet Zechariah about a man named Zerubabbel, and being called “the two olive trees” and “the two lampstands” meant that Zerubabbel would be filled with the Holy Spirit, and that nothing would be able to keep Zerubabbel from accomplishing all that the Lord had called him to do.) Likewise, these two witnesses would be filled with the Holy Spirit and nothing would be able to keep them from accomplishing God’s purposes. But, again, who are the witnesses?

Although many different scholars have proposed many different answers, let me have us do what we are always to do any time we are confused about an area of Scripture. So, what do we do what we are confused about an area of Scripture? … Look to other areas of Scripture! That’s right! So, I looked up “two witnesses” in an online concordance, and here’s what I got:
&#62 Deuteronomy 17:6, ”But never put a person to death on the testimony of only one witness. There must always be two or three witnesses.”
&#62 Deuteronomy 19:15, “You must not convict anyone of a crime on the testimony of only one witness. The facts of the case must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
&#62 Amos 3:3, [Witnesses against Guilty Israel] “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” (Of course, this passage has nothing to do with “two witnesses”. It only popped up because the word “witnesses” was in the title and the word “two” was in the passage. But it popped up and I told you I would show you what you would find.)
&#62 Matthew 18:16, ”But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.”
&#62 2 Corinthians 13:1, ”This is the third time I am coming to visit you (and as the Scriptures say, ‘The facts of every case must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’).”
&#62 1 Timothy 5:19, ”Do not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses.”
&#62 Hebrews 10:28, ”For anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
(And then you come upon our passage about the two witnesses today.)
So, every time “two witnesses” are mentioned in the Bible – every time – it has to do with some form of judgment: For people to judge rightly and for God to judge rightly at least “two witnesses” are needed to “witness” to that person’s guilt.
Where does that leave us? What does that mean for us today?
Let’s first have Elder Chuck Moore come up here and read to us this important passage from chapter 11 of The Revelation…

The Revelation 11:1-14 [NLTse]
Then I was given a measuring stick, and I was told, “Go and measure the Temple of God and the altar, and count the number of worshipers. 2 But do not measure the outer courtyard, for it has been turned over to the nations. They will trample the holy city for 42 months. 3 And I will give power to My two witnesses, and they will be clothed in burlap and will prophesy during those 1,260 days.”
4 These two prophets are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of all the earth. 5 If anyone tries to harm them, fire flashes from their mouths and consumes their enemies. This is how anyone who tries to harm them must die. 6 They have power to shut the sky so that no rain will fall for as long as they prophesy. And they have the power to turn the rivers and oceans into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they wish.
7 When they complete their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the bottomless pit will declare war against them, and he will conquer them and kill them. 8 And their bodies will lie in the main street of Jerusalem, the city that is figuratively called “Sodom” and “Egypt,” the city where their Lord was crucified. 9 And for three and a half days, all peoples, tribes, languages, and nations will stare at their bodies. No one will be allowed to bury them. 10 All the people who belong to this world will gloat over them and give presents to each other to celebrate the death of the two prophets who had tormented them.
11 But after three and a half days, God breathed life into them, and they stood up! Terror struck all who were staring at them. 12 Then a loud voice from Heaven called to the two prophets, “Come up here!” And they rose to Heaven in a cloud as their enemies watched.
13 At the same time there was a terrible earthquake that destroyed a tenth of the city. Seven thousand people died in that earthquake, and everyone else was terrified and gave glory to the God of Heaven.
14 The second terror is past, but look, the third terror is coming quickly.

Sermon
So, who are the witnesses of God the Father Almighty? (Here’s a hint: According to God’s Own standards, there must be more than two of them in order for God to judge the earth fairly.) …
Well, Jesus Himself tells us.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus Christ, raised from the dead yet meeting with His people, says, “You will be My witnesses!”
His disciples had asked Him about the end-times, but the risen Christ replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be My witnesses, telling people about Me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (1:7-8)
We are the two witnesses. Christ’s Church is the two witnesses. By the Holy Spirit, we have been given the power to do what Moses and Elijah did. By the Holy Spirit, we have been called to preach and teach and proclaim the truth of God’s Word to all the peoples of the earth. And, by the Holy Spirit, nothing can keep any of us from accomplishing all that the Lord God has called us to do!

The reason for the long sermon is just this: We are Christ’s witnesses. We must be His witnesses. The unbelieving world wants to silence us, to kill our witness. And the Lord God shows us that there will come a day when our witnessing is silenced: Dead in the streets. And the people of the unbelieving world will rejoice at that! But that day is not today. I know it can be challenging (for some) to go out and tell others about Him Who saved us and Who leads and provides for our lives. But as long as we have breath, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we must keep our witnessing alive and well!
And we are Christ’s witnesses when we tell others about what Jesus has done for us and about our faith and trust in Him. And we are Christ’s witnesses when we do what the Scriptures say God says is right, even if that gets us into trouble with people around us and even the laws of the land, and when we act honestly and rightly in all our dealings. And we are Christ’s witnesses when we help others see their need for the Lord Jesus and when we help them put their faith and trust in Him, too.
I have a friend who had someone at his workplace want to show him pornography. My friend said, “No”. And when the guy asked him why not, my friend told him that he didn’t look at porn. I share that because, my friend told me later, how much he regretted not telling his co-worker that Jesus was the reason he didn’t look at porn. My friend said, “Because I didn’t mention Jesus, my co-worker just felt like I was just being self-righteous and superior. It would’ve been a great opportunity to tell him about a lot of the other changes Jesus had made in my life, too. But I blew it.”
Yeah, we are Christ’s witnesses, not just by doing right things but, by telling others about Jesus and all He has done for us and the changes He has made in us, and about our faith and trust in Him.
I remember getting pulled over for speeding and telling the police officer I was sorry for speeding and thanking him for pulling me over and encouraging me to obey the law. I remember being given 13 cents too much change at check-out and coming back to give the cashier back the extra money. I remember someone in our community who didn’t like my preaching about sexuality threatening me that some day it would be illegal to preach “the hate I preach”. And I remember telling him that I would then have to preach it in jail, and I would take my imprisonment as a sign from Jesus that He needed me there in jail to love the other prisoners and share Jesus with them. The police officer, the cashier, and the fellow in our community were all stunned by my actions, and those instances provided me opportunities to tell them about our wonderful Savior.
You see, we are Christ’s witnesses when we do what the Scriptures say God says is right, even if that might get us into trouble with the laws of the land, and acting honestly and rightly in all our dealings.
Of course, we are Christ’s witnesses when we invite others to Worship or Sunday School or Youth Group or Bible Study, too. We are Christ’s witnesses when we help our friends understand that they are sinners in need of a savior. We are Christ’s witnesses when we help those same friends look to Jesus to be that savior. We are Christ’s witnesses when we introduce ourselves as a Christian and offer to pray for someone in need. We are Christ’s witnesses when we ask Christ’s blessing on the different ones we meet. We are Christ’s witnesses whenever and however we draw peoples’ attention to Christ and their need for Him.
Don’t get me wrong, Anti-Christ, the Beast, all who stand against the Lord Jesus want to keep us quiet. Unbelievers who have great power here in the world and unbelievers who are nobodies both want to silence us: They want our witness dead! And The Revelation pictures for us a day when all Christians will be silenced, our witness dead. But that day is not today, witnesses of Christ!
And if we are faithful to the End, when He comes He will call us to Himself, even from death. And we will never have to leave Him again…



September 11, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Introduction
If you’ve been reading along with us through the New Testament this year you know we’re well-into The Revelation to John.

John is imprisoned on a Roman prison-island on account of his believing Christ to be King, even over the Roman emperor, Caesar, and for preaching and teaching and sharing that faith publicly. Revelation says that John received this revelation on “the Lord’s Day” (so it is either Saturday night or Sunday morning – because John was a Jew and Jews marked days with the evening coming first, then the daytime. And the Lord’s Day was Saturday night or Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead).
Revelation tells us that John is worshiping: He’s “in the Spirit”, we read. So, John is experiencing a time of deep communion and fellowship with God – (right there while he’s on that prison-island, a deep time of fellowship with God) – and John is given a vision: A series of visions, really. (Revelation is a series of visions told one after the other.) And John writes these visions down.

In these visions, the glorified Jesus reveals Himself to John. Jesus speaks in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and reveals to John that He is always with His Church, walking among us. Jesus reveals to John that He is both the “One like a Son of Man” from the Prophet Daniel’s vision – the Eternal King, and that He is also “the Ancient of Days” from that same vision – One with God the Father All-mighty!
The Lord Jesus reveals to John that He has His hand of authority and blessing upon all those who proclaim His message through preaching, teaching, and prophesying. And the Lord shows John that the Word of God is always on His lips and coming forth from His mouth. Jesus reveals to John that He brought about the Beginning and that He, likewise, will consummate the End. And that His dying and having come back from being dead proves that He alone of all people can grant life to the dead and grant new life to those who are living, but since they are living their lives apart from God, might as well be dead!
The Lord Jesus dictates letters to seven churches, churches that were going through different degrees of persecution in what was then known as the Roman Province of Asia, what we now call Turkey. But there were many more churches in that region than just those seven, so we know that those churches must have been representative to the Lord: Him writing to them on behalf of all the other churches across the Empire, and now history, who were in the same situations like them. (And so churches can say, “We’re going through an Ephesian-time right now,” or, “we’re going through a Laodicean-season right now.” And you can read those letters from chapter 2 and chapter 3 to see what it means to be going through “an Ephesian-time” or “a Laodicean-season”.) (Someone recently likened our church to the Philadelphian church, which is quite a compliment in many ways. I hope that was spiritually-discerned and true. ?)
And then the Lord calls John, in the Spirit, in this vision He’s having, up into the heavenlies. And that brings us to our reading for this morning…

The Revelation 4:1-11 [NLTse]
Then as I looked, I saw a door standing open in Heaven, and the same voice I had heard before spoke to me like a trumpet blast. The voice said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after this.” 2 And instantly I was in the Spirit, and I saw a throne in Heaven and Someone sitting on it. 3 The One sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled His throne like a rainbow. 4 Twenty-four thrones surrounded Him, and twenty-four elders sat on them. They were all clothed in white and had gold crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder. And in front of the throne were seven torches with burning flames. This is the sevenfold Spirit of God. 6 In front of the throne was a shiny sea of glass, sparkling like crystal.
In the center and around the throne were four living beings, each covered with eyes, front and back. 7 The first of these living beings was like a lion; the second was like an ox; the third had a human face; and the fourth was like an eagle in flight. 8 Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying,
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—the One Who always was, Who is, and Who is still to come.”
9 Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the One sitting on the throne (the One Who lives forever and ever), 10 the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the One sitting on the throne (the One who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say,
11 “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For You created all things, and they exist because You created what You pleased.”

Sermon
There’s lots that can be said about the heavenly Tabernacle, which is what John’s been called up into here, but I’d like us to focus today on the 24 elders, and how they lay their crowns before God’s throne and sing Him songs and worship Him…
These 24 elders, who represent the 24 divisions of priests who took turns leading worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, also represent all of those who’ve lived by faith in Christ: Those from among the Twelve Tribes of Israel who lived and ministered and preached in expectation of Jesus’ coming, alongside Jesus’ Own Twelve Apostles and all who’ve lived, ministered, and preached the faith since.

And these 24 elders – representative of all the saints who’ve gone before us into Heaven – are dressed in white (representative of Jesus’ righteousness that covers their sins) and they wear golden crowns that, as we’ve read, they lay before the throne of God when they worship Him.
There are two types of “crowns” in Revelation: There are “crowns” that represent victory called stephanos (like the victor’s crowns given to athletes in ancient times) and there are “crowns” that represent rulership called diademos (where we get the word “diadem” and they are like the crowns kings and queens wear).
The elders wear stephanos, crowns of victory.

Overcoming, achieving victory, is a big thing across Revelation. It’s a big thing everywhere. Nobody wants to be a loser. Everybody wants to win! (Have you ever played “King of the Mountain”? “King of the Mountain” is a game played on a huge pile of dirt, usually on a construction site. And everybody runs up the dirt pile to get to the top, but only one person gets to be “king”, so to do so you have to throw everybody else off! And the whole game is everybody trying to get to the top and, once there, to stay on the top.) So, if you’ve ever played “King of the Mountain” you know that there can only be one person at the top. And with the Olympics so recently behind us, we know that only one person gets the gold.
And here we have 24 elders all wearing “victors crowns”, because “victory” to God is very different than “victory” here in the world.

“Victory” in God’s eyes is achieved when a person works hard for the sake of the gospel – at school, at work, among your family or your community, here at church. “Victory” in God’s eyes is you and I patiently enduring opposition to our faith in Christ: People making fun of us, saying and doing hurtful things to us because we’re Christians. That’s “victory” in God’s eyes. When we don’t tolerate evil going on around us, if we can help it, that’s “victory” to God.
“Victory” in God’s eyes is our striving to keep our love for Him fresh and new; striving to do what we do on account of loving Jesus, that’s what “victory” looks like in God’s eyes.

“Victory” in God’s eyes is being loyal to Jesus, no matter what; obeying Him, no matter what; no matter what our family members or friends say or do, no matter what our schools or workplaces say or do, no matter what our government says or does.

And “victory” in God’s eyes doesn’t mean always getting it right! We can have “victory in Jesus” even while we’re messing up! Because “victory” to God is repenting, too. It’s admitting that we’re sinners, it’s acknowledging our sins, it’s asking forgiveness for those sins, being sorry, and then trying again to get it right next time. That’s “victory” in God’s eyes!
“Victory” in God’s eyes is not looking to our own purity or depending on our own righteousness or thinking we can understand it all just by working, studying, or trying harder. No, “victory” to the Lord is getting our purity from Jesus: No matter how broken or how dirty, Jesus can make us pure, if we come to Him. “Victory” in the Lord is knowing that our sin became Jesus’ sin on the cross, and that now Jesus’ righteousness has become our righteousness, if we believe. And “victory” in God’s eyes is our depending on the Holy Spirit to give us understanding about the things of God: Yes, doing our part to read and study and learn from those who know more than we do, but all the time knowing that only the Holy Spirit can light up our minds and make it all “click”!

And our reward, our “crown of victory” is sitting with Jesus on His throne, eating fruit from the Tree of Life, being absolutely forgiven and given a brand, new start, living knowing we are righteous in Jesus Christ, our name written with permanent-marker in the Book of Life, God protecting us from the times of testing and troubles coming upon the world, living as citizens of Heaven with God’s name and Jesus’ new name engraved upon us…
[Pastor Lifting up the bread…]
Feasting on bread from Heaven.
[Embracing the whole Table…]
Sharing a meal with Jesus as friends.

Worship Team: Would you come forward?
“Victory” in the world only goes to those who are the strongest, the fastest, the smartest, the richest, have the most influential family members or friends, the hardest workers, and the like… But in Christ everyone who’s faithful wins. Everyone who overcomes gets the “victor’s crown”! But Jesus gets the glory, and we lay it before Him as we worship Him: