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Author:Rev. Daniel R. Hyde
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Congregation:Oceanside United Reformed Church
 Oceanside/Carlsbad, CA
 www.oceansideurc.org
 
Title:Greetings From the Triune God
Text:Revelation 1:4-5a (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:End Times
 
Preached:2004-04
Added:2006-01-04
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Daniel R. Hyde, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Originally published in The Presbyterian Banner (April 2004): 10-12. Reprinted here with permission of the author.

 

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“Grace to you and peace.” We hear this so often in Reformed worship - every Lord’s Day to be exact. We receive the blessing of our covenant God week after week in the liturgical dialog between God and His people. These words upon the lips of our minister are the very words of God Himself as He welcomes us into His holy presence, placing His name upon our foreheads to claim us for His own namesake.

Yet we have a tendency to become accustomed to these words, and we do with many things. Because we are simultaneously justified and sinful, we still have a sin nature that clings to us like “a body of death” (Rom. 7:24). But as we look at this text, we are ever-reminded that our Christian life is a continual application of our baptism. We must continually die to our sin and rise in newness of life, having been identified with Christ’s death and resurrection. Die to self and live to God as we meditate upon the words of Revelation 1:4-5, being renewed in our knowledge and understanding of these words and their use as “God’s Greeting” in Reformed worship.

Its Recipients

Notice to whom these words were written: “the seven churches that are in Asia” (v. 4). These seven churches are mentioned for us in 1:11, as well as in chapters 2-3 as Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. These seven churches were real, actual, historical congregations within the Roman Empire. These real cities had real churches which had real Christians in them. And those believers struggled with their faith just like we do today. They had to endure persecution just like we as members of the universal Church do today - from the hands of tyrannical governments and unbelieving co-workers, neighbors, and family. John wrote to these Christians because they needed to be comforted. Remember, Revelation is not a book that was written only for the church in “the last days;” instead, it was written to churches in the first century which like the church today, is in “the last hour” (1 John 2:18).

So why did John write to these seven churches? There obviously were more churches in the region these church existed. The answer is that Revelation is filled with symbols, and the number seven is no exception. It is used over fifty times in Revelation as a symbol of completeness, perfection, and fullness. How do we know this? We have to go no further than the opening words of the Bible, where Moses gives us a beautiful picture of God as a master craftsman who is bringing into being all that exists in six days. But what does God do on the seventh day? He rests. Why? Because His creative work was complete. Having fulfilled what He intended, God took delight by “rejoic[ing] in his works” (Ps. 104:31).

Therefore these seven churches are symbolic of the entire church that existed in Asia Minor in that day and in the world in that day and through all ages. In literary terms the number seven is being used as a “synecdoche,” which means “part for the whole.” The part (the seven churches) represents the whole (the church universal). So in writing to seven first century churches, John writes to the Church.

Its Contents

So the Lord, through John, greets the Church; but how does He greet us?

Grace

He greets us, firstly, with grace. Grace is one of those words that is used so flippantly in our culture. When we sing to God for His grace what are we singing about? What is so amazing about it?

Grace has two parts. First, it is the unmerited favor of God. This means that He gives us what we do not deserve. As Paul said to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved…not as a result of works” (Eph. 2:8-9). God has saved us despite our being unable to anything to earn it. And the reason that God has redeemed us in this way is “so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:9). God gets all the credit. He gets all the praise. He gets all the glory. Paul again says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31). “Amazing grace?” Yes! Truly amazing!

But grace is also so amazing because it is the de-merited favor of God. This means that not only have we done nothing to deserve grace, but in fact that we’ve done everything to forfeit it! We were “dead in…trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1); our lives were once characterized by “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2); we were “sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2); we once “lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:3); and therefore we were “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).

“But God!” (Eph. 2:4). Here is grace. Here is something to get excited about! Here is a reason to sing louder than ever. God’s grace is much more than just a gift which God holds out for us. For this is a static picture of grace. This is a lifeless idea of God’s grace. His grace is dynamic! God actually does something. What does He do? In His grace He pardons all of our sins and imputes to us the perfect righteousness of Christ to our account. All our de-merits are credited to Christ on the cross, and all of His merits are credited to us! Beloved, grace to you!

Peace

We are also are greeted with God’s peace. Notice how grace comes before peace in this list of blessings. This is no coincidence. In fact, it is because of God’s amazing grace that HE can be at peace with us, and we can be at peace with Him. Peace is the result of grace.

So what is peace? Some of us lived during the 60’s and the American peace movement. Just ask one of them what peace meant to them at a time in which America was at war abroad and within. The opposite of peace is enmity, hatred, as we see in the Middle East with two groups that absolutely hate each other. But God’s peace is infinitely greater and different. His peace is His smiling face towards us because there is no longer strife between us.  And in Christ we have received a greater reconciliation. He has reconciled two parties who were one time at war with each other. We once were “hostile to God” (Rom. 8:7), hating Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. But having been justified by faith alone “we have peace with God” (Rom. 5:1). We are now the friends of God. Even more, God is our friend. This is so amazing that Paul describes the peace of God as “the peace which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). Beloved, peace to you!

Its Giver(s)

As we’ve been looking at this text we’ve assumed that it is God who gives us the standard greeting of grace and peace. This is also how ten of Paul’s thirteen epistles open. But although this greeting comes from God, as we would expect, this portion of Scripture has a surprise for us. This greeting comes from the Triune God with each Person described with vivid, poetic, and prophetic terms not used in other New Testament greetings.

Him Who is and Who Was and Who is to Come

We are first greeted by “him who is and who was and who is to come.” This is a majestic portrayal of God the Father. When you hear this description of the Father, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? I’m willing to guess that you think of God’s eternality, His being outside of time and not being bound by the laws of this world - right? You probably think of a number line that has an arrow on each end showing that it has no beginning or end.

While it is true that God is eternal, this phrase means so much more. It is a way of describing the unchangeableness of God as the God of the covenant of grace. As our unchanging covenant God, God the Father alone is the covenant LORD, the unique and only God. As Isaiah 41:4 says, “I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.” Isaiah later records the word of the LORD, saying, “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no God’” (Isa. 44:6) As well, as our unchanging covenant God, God the Father will always be present with us His people in grace and peace. He is more than the eternal God - He is eternally for us His people. This is the meaning of the words of the LORD Himself in Exodus 3:14 where He declares His name to be “I AM WHO I AM.” Beloved, grace to you and peace from your unchanging, ever-present Father!

The Seven Spirits

We are also greeted by “the seven spirits.” The best translation of this phrase is that of The Living Bible, which interprets it for us to say “the seven-fold Spirit.” John is using the poetic description of Isaiah 11:2, where he speaks of the coming Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ, as having a sevenfold anointing of the Spirit unlike any other prophet, priest, or king before: the Spirit of the LORD, of wisdom, of understanding, of counsel, of might, of knowledge, of the fear of the LORD. Remember that the number seven signifies fullness. So when we are greeted by the “seven spirits” we are being greeted by the Holy Spirit in all His gifts and graces. Beloved, grace to you and peace from the full power and ministry of the Holy Spirit!

Jesus Christ

We are finally greeted by the Savior Himself. And here is where this greeting reaches it climax. As if it couldn’t get better we receive the blessing of Jesus, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

The Faithful Witness (Prophet)

As the “faithful witness,” we are receiving the blessing of Christ our prophet. As our prophet He was made by the Father to be “a witness to the people” (Isa. 55:4), in order “to bear witness of the truth” (John 18:37) and to confesses “the good confession” (1 Tim. 6:13). He is the prophet of God par excellence, the “faithful and true witness” (Rev. 3:14).

Our Lord came to a dark world that is anti-Christ and bent in on itself. In spite of this He was a genuine witness of the Father’s mission. He came to save those whom the Father had given Him, He came with a kingdom not of this world, He came that He might be shown to be the One to whom Abraham looked and rejoiced. He is our Chief Prophet and Teacher, and the prophet that Moses foretold in Deuteronomy 18.

This greeting gives us confidence as we are called to be witnesses of Christ, the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Although we may be forsaken by family and friend alike, take heart for the Lord Himself gives you the strength to be faithful in your witness with your words and deeds. Beloved, grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness!

The Firstborn of the Dead (Priest)

And Jesus is also our only High Priest. As the “firstborn of the dead” the Lord offered up Himself as priest to be the victim for our sins. And this sacrifice was accepted by God. And as the “firstborn of the dead” He was raised so that He might “ever live to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25), as the “living one” (Rev. 1:18), whose ministry from heaven cannot be thwarted and whose eternal prayers are always effectual.

Amazingly, in His resurrection we are raised as well. He is the “firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:18), “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). He raises us up that we might be a kingdom of priests to serve our God and Father forever and ever (Rev. 1:6). As the greater Aaron, He comes forth from behind the veil and blesses us each and every Lord’s Day (Num. 6:24-26). Beloved, grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ, the firstborn of a new race of priests!

Ruler of the Kings of the Earth (King)

This greeting concludes from Jesus as the “ruler of the kings of the earth.” At His resurrection He received a name above all names, at which name, every knee should bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord (Phil. 2:8-11). Jesus is King! He rules over us. He rules over the entire world. And how we need Him as king in a world full of greed, ungodliness, wickedness, and corruption. We need a king who has a kingdom that is not of this world so tat when we suffer we have something to elevate our minds beyond our finite circumstances. He is King! His kingdom is a present, yet future reality which gives us stability to get through our days as we watch the chaos all around us. He is King! Know that Jesus reigns, Jesus reigns!

Beloved, grace to you and peace from Jesus Christ, our eternal King, who shall not let you slip out of His hand and who rules over even the most tyrannical kings of this earth! Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Daniel R. Hyde, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2004, Rev. Daniel R. Hyde

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