Text: Revelation 14:6-7
Date: Reformation Day (Observed) + 10/28/12
It is a most difficult thing even for a Christian when a loved one dies. Yet faith formed by the Word of God and crafted in the heart by the Holy Spirit gives amazing strength even through the tears and grieving.
How different for the person who has not been born from above to the life of faith. For many, when a loved one dies there seems to be so much confusion if not outright fantasy that drives people in dealing with the tragedy. A constantly repeated phrase, for instance, is the idea that the deceased loved one is somehow “looking down on us,” which, of course, makes the deceased into some sort of an omniscient, god-like being. It is also not true that the dead are at all aware of things here on earth (Is 63:16). Just last week I heard a poor father, on TV, say of his little deceased child, “She was an angel here. And now she is a real angel.”
We don’t turn into angels when we die. The angels are created spirits with intelligence but no physical bodies. However, in the last book in the New Testament, Revelation, St. John writes not only in literal but also apocalyptic language. He does refer to the ministering spirit angels, but then he also speaks of pastors and ministers in the Church calling them “angels.” The word “angel” means simply to announce, proclaim, preach or testify as in the word “evangel.” So when John writes in the beginning of Revelation, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write” (Rev 2:1), he means the proclaimer, the preacher, the pastor of the church in Ephesus. So there is also this metaphorical use of the word “angel” in the book of Revelation.
Our text today is the traditional text for the celebration of Reformation Day. It is so because our predecessors interpreted this text to be referring in part to the reformers of the Church, especially Martin Luther. While we cannot claim that this points to Luther specifically, textually we can claim that it points to all proclaimers of “the eternal gospel…to every nation and tribe and language and people,” that is all pastors, preachers, evangelists and witnesses.
The Reformation is the celebration of the liberation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the shackles of a theology and practice of Law and legalism not unlike that of the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ time, and not only in the 16th century but in every century as the forces of sin and the devil attempt to blur or hide the Gospel.
St. John says the preaching of the eternal Gospel is like an “angel flying directly overhead,” at high noon, in the middle of the day while there is still time for repentance and faith before the night of God’s judgment comes. It is an “eternal” gospel in that it never changes and is the one and only gospel, namely, all about Jesus Christ; yes, the hope of God’s deliverance ever since the Garden of Eden, the actual working out of that deliverance in the body of Jesus from Bethlehem to Calvary, and the hope of salvation to everyone since who believes this gospel.
The angel in every age preaches, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” Fear God, give him glory and worship him all in view of the coming judgment which will be for unbelievers and the unrepentant a day of wrath and for believers the great and happy day of final deliverance.
Fear God. The angel preaches “the gospel” in the wide sense, that is, “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), both the law of God’s judgment and the gospel of God’s deliverance. Fear is the first and continual response that comes from learning about God through hearing his Word. God said to His “angel” Moses, “Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth” (Deut 4:10). The fear of God expresses itself in contrition or sorrow over sin and in a life of hopeful repentance. In this way we, as the book of Acts describes the early Church, walk “in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:31). Fear and Comfort! It is a blessed fear in light of the coming judgment as the Revelation says, “The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great” (Rev 11:18).
“Fear God and give him glory.” To give God glory is, above all, to come to Him in Jesus’ name. Jesus said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). Of course this is the only goal of repentance and the only way of salvation. As our second reading for Reformation Day declares, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.” It is God’s glory that He justifies “the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:20, 26).
Fear God, give Him glory and worship him. “Worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” The worship of God is not only what happens in the Divine Service. It is, to say it simply, to keep the First Commandment first in all things in all of the created world, as the heavenly song of praise says, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev 4:11). St. Paul says of all people that “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:19-20). Christians join in this worship especially because of our salvation in Jesus Christ as the Revelation says of Christ, “Worthy are you…for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). The end purpose of salvation and faith is the worship of God as our Creator and Redeemer.
But there’s one more thing. The angel calls us to worship God “who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” The God who created everything is the one, true God. But to say He created “the springs of water” is to call to mind how God also continually gives and sustains us in life each and every day. God is not only the powerful, Almighty but also the strong Father who provides for our every need in this life and for the next.
And for the next life this chapter of Revelation culminates in that wonderful blessing we hear in the liturgy of the Burial of the Dead, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” (Rev 14:13). This is the blessed hope and certainty of eternal rest and victorious peace for all who fear God, give Him glory and worship Him. This blessing is the true comfort for all who are dying and who are going to die in the Lord. “They are blessed because they are dying in the Lord, dying in their hope in him and in his saving care. Death cannot rob them of life and peace, for they are in the hands of the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:27-28). And this great consolation for the dying is also a solace and balm for the grieving Christians they leave behind (temporarily!) in this world.”
If Reformation Day is to be more than just the commemoration of an historic event it is to be re-formed by the eternal gospel proclaimed by the Church that results in the sure and certain faith that fears God, gives him glory and worships him now and in all eternity.