Summary: Jesus is not only the beginning and the end, he is also the center, around which everything holds together and without which everything falls apart.
John never expected what happened that long-ago Sunday morning. There he was, worshiping as usual on Sunday morning, when all of a sudden a clear, loud voice - a voice as impossible to ignore as a trumpet call, lifted him to his feet and spun him around. And there before him was a vision, a blazing figure the likes of which no one had seen since Daniel and Ezekiel almost 700 years before. Or if they had seen anything like it they hadn’t told anyone. And John fell flat on his face, in awe and fear and sheer astonishment.
He was just worshiping. No doubt he had been worshiping in much the same way every Sunday of his life since the disciples had started to gather together in Jerusalem to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection some 50 or 60 years before. And certainly there had been wonderful, powerful, moving moments - like the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit first came. And there were the times when he or Peter or John had been telling the Gospel story and people had been healed, or felt the presence of God and shouted out with joy. And of course worship was especially meaningful as the day grew ever closer to the time the Lord would call him home. All the others who had been with Jesus when he walked the earth had already gone, and sometimes John wondered what more it was Jesus wanted him to do. He felt sure his work was done; he had finished writing his memoirs of his days traveling around Palestine with Jesus, not everything, of course, but the most important parts, the things people would need to remember. He had kept in touch with the churches in Asia Minor, his particular charge, and knew that they would copy his letters and send them on to the other provinces as well. He had warned them against false prophets and reminded them that the key sign of Jesus’ followers was love of one another and faithfulness to the crucified and risen Christ.
But there was one more thing John had to do.
John had to give the church a new vision of Jesus, a more powerful vision, a picture so overwhelming that everything else - persecution, temptation, doubts - would simply fade away in the blaze of glory.
"Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches,” [v. 11] said the voice. As we saw last week, although only the seven main churches in what is now the eastern part of Turkey were named, but the clear intent was that this vision should be communicated to all of Christendom, the church universal, not just a handful of local congregations. What John was about to be shown was the last gift the church would need to keep them faithful during the long years of waiting that were to come.
But not just anyone could have seen this vision. John had been specially prepared. Remember what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount? “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” [Mt 5:8] But where does purity of heart come from? One of the leaders of the church in the next century, a north African bishop named Tertullian, quoted Jesus as saying,“No one can obtain the kingdom of heaven without first passing through testing.” Well, John had been tested, John had been purified by the refiner’s fire. And he saw God. His
hearers would also be tested, and he is promising them that if they, too, endure, they too will see what he has seen. John had been persecuted, exiled, and flogged. He had no doubt been slandered and vilified and spat upon, as well. And so John reminds his hearers that he isn’t speaking from some lofty mountain of spiritual privilege, but from right in the middle of the same kinds of abuse and harassment and injustice that they are experiencing. He’s one of them. And as he reminds them of his participation in their suffering, he assures them that the vision he sees will also be given to them, because they, too, purified by suffering, will participate in the kingdom, if they, too, endure patiently what is to come. “I share with you,” says John, “the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance.” [v. 9]
But it takes more than testing to prepare someone for a vision of Christ. It’s also worshiping. John was, as he says, “in the Spirit”. Different churches and cultures have different understandings of what “Spirit-filled” worship is. And within each church and culture, each person brings his or her own expectations and temperament to worship. What is it that lifts you up into the presence of God? Is it prayer? Is it music? Is it Holy Scripture? Is it the sense of connection to the sisters and brothers worshiping with you in the pews? Do you come into the sanctuary expecting to hear from God? However you come, whatever the key may be to opening your heart to God, it is God’s Spirit who opens the door the