“Experiencing the Father
through the Son”
An airline pilot was once flying over a city in the southeast and called the local tower, saying, “We’re passing over at 35,000—give us a time check.”
The tower replied, “What airline are you?”
“What difference does it make? I just want the time,” said the pilot.
The tower responded, “Oh, it makes a lot of difference. If you’re TransWorld Airline or Pan Am, it is 1600. If you are United or Delta, it is 4 o’clock. If you are Southern Airways, the little hand is on the 4 and the big hand is on the 12. If you are Skyway Airlines—it’s Thursday.”
Perspective matters …
I like football a lot and it’s almost time for the season to begin. Well, way back in 1966, when John McKay was coaching USC they suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Notre Dame. The game ended 51-0. McKay came into the locker room and seeing his band of beaten and thoroughly depressed young football players who weren’t accustomed to losing he stood on a bench and said, “Men, let’s keep this in perspective. There are a billion Chinese who don’t even know this game was played.”
That’s what I call perspective.
It’s good for us to remember what I said last week: The book of Revelation was given to us by God for encouragement. God is pulling the curtain back and showing us realities beyond our five senses so that we’ll see all of life in perspective.
Sometimes perspective dries tears, but often it doesn’t. Yet one thing perspective always does is give internal strength to hang on during difficult times. Interestingly, it was the atheistic philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche who said, “The one who has a why to live for can endure almost any how.”
How many of you have been to a museum and walked around, looking at art? How do you judge if a painting is good or not? Here’s how I judge it: If I stare at it and it moves me, even to sadness, then it’s got something going for it.
As I turn now to our passage for the morning, I think John paints us a magnificent painting. He’s using words, of course, but I think it moves us to experience something of Jesus’s majesty. He brings it into our consciousness, causes us to get comforted by it, and that—if you think about it—puts things into perspective.
Revelation 1:9–20, ESV
I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
Experiencing the Father in the Son
Every so often there’s a solar eclipse, and they tell you: “Don’t look at it!” Even if you’ve got binoculars or a telescope they say, “Don’t look at it!” … because if you start staring at the solar eclipse you’ll get retina damage.
Long ago, in London, England, the city sent out radio and TV reports telling people an eclipse was coming. A “health and safety” announcement was also printed in the London Times. One person got really really angry about the announcements and wrote the Times a letter of complaint, saying, “If the government knew that the eclipse was so dangerous, why would they allow it to happen in the first place.”
Anyway, the danger of sunlight at full strength is worth thinking about. It’s pretty amazing. It can get pretty hot; people and dogs can die just sitting in cars—it’s a big deal. Think about that as we begin to consider John’s vision of Jesus.
Because… you know some people think about Jesus someone far away, a figure out of some fantasy. Others think of Jesus, and the image they have in their mind is a soft-filtered Jesus with children and sheep.
There was an African-American pastor in Harlem who confessed that that was the only image of Jesus that he had for the longest time. He told a friend of his: “You know what? I don’t think that Jesus could survive a single moment in my neighborhood.”
Well, what about the Jesus we find here in John’s vision? What about the Jesus whose voice is like thunder, and a waterfall, and a trumpet? What about the Jesus whose robe is long and whose hair is stark white? What about the Jesus whose feet are like flaming fire reflected by burnished bronze? What about the Jesus whose face shines more radiant than several suns?
If you get that Jesus into view, when you get that perspective, then … perhaps the Harlem can’t survive a moment in his presence. It kinda flips things around, doesn’t it?
The picture John paints is really close to the one Daniel painted. Look… let me show you I’ll read to you two descriptions from Daniel.
As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking (Dan 7:9–11).
That’s a terrific image. Did you notice when Daniel said: “I looked then because of the sound … the horn was speaking.” The horn, that’s a king. He heard the king speak. That’s very similar to what John said: “I heard a sound of a trumpet speaking and I turned to look.”
What’s also interesting is that Daniel says, “The Ancient of Days took his seat.” Daniel is painting a picture of God the Father. Yet John is using the same language to describe Jesus.
Now, check out another vision that Daniel has…
I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude (Dan 10:5–6).
Daniel has depicted two figures in his two visions: the Ancient of Days and Jesus. John’s descriptor borrows bits and pieces from both visions to describe what he’s seeing. That’s really interesting!
As I considered that, I said, “Oh my goodness, I get it.” John is seeing one image overlaying the other. That’s really cool. That’s radically biblical. That’s really wonderful.
Here’s how it goes: When John looks and sees Jesus, he’s looking through Jesus and sees the Father. Remember what Jesus said: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). John’s like: “I see Jesus, but I see the Father, shining through him.” Yes, yes, yes!
Jesus the king, the horn, has a voice that sounds like a trumpet, it’s the Word of the Father coming through the Son. For Jesus is what…? He’s the Word of God; the incarnate Word, the Word made flesh. Therefore, when you look at Jesus you see brilliance of the Father’s character and the heart coming through. John sees the Father through the Son. Wow!
Experiencing the Presence of Glory
Now, imagine visually that you are standing before a waterfall, like Niagara Falls. Is it loud? The closer you get the more thunder you hear; do you feel the bass pounding, maybe? Now, think about standing really close, maybe on the catwalk around the falls and you’re feeling the bass and the thunder and it’s roaring, and then imagine that a marching band shows up and they just blast and don’t stop—it’s a lot of noise.
Then, imagine that you’re there and hearing all of that in the middle of a summer day and the sun is beating down; it’s hotter than hot, not a cloud in the sky. Now, magnify the decibels and the light by seven times seven. What would you do?
You’d probably cower. It’s just too loud, too hot, too intense! It would be like you were going crazy; you’d fall to the ground in the fetal position. You might feel like you’re ripping apart.
Did you know our government has some weapons that give off a blast of sound? Yup, they fire a low hum that incapacitates people, causes them to lose their cookies and go crazy.
Just think of the intensity of being in the presence of the glorified Jesus. All of the imagery we come across is trying to paint a picture for us of Jesus’ glory. When Daniel and Isaiah experienced it they fell on their faces, which is also what does: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev 1:17).
Experiencing the Presence of Grace
The weight of Jesus’ glory is overwhelming. But he also feels something else— this is really important! He feels the weight of Jesus’ right hand—the hand of fellowship, the hand of grace. “Fear not,” Jesus says. Why not? “[Because] I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev 1:17–18). In other words, “I died for you, John. I arose for you. I hold you eternal destiny in my hand, yet I’m offering you fellowship.”
The hand Jesus holds out was the same hand that held the seven stars, which are typical symbolic for angels, but here means “messenger,” I.e., the churches which carry Jesus’ message to the world. Where the lampstands signified Jesus’ presence through the Holy Spirit, the stars signify Jesus’ protective possessiveness—he’s got the churches in his right hand. The same protecting hand that he lays on John.
I don’t know if you know the story of John. You probably know about Peter’s three denials on the night of Jesus’ arrest. But do you know what John did?
John was there in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night Jesus was arrested. Yet he abandoned Jesus. He ran so fast that the scriptures say that he ran right out of his clothes.
And here Jesus says, “Don’t fear, my beloved disciple. Don’t run, John. I will protect you. I will hold you. Don’t fear.”
So often—I can’t even tell you how often—those are words I deeply desire to hear. When fear and anxiety and worry make me feel uneasy, I want to hear those words. When I am afraid that what I do isn’t good enough and won’t turn out successful, I want to hear those words. When I fear what others think, or say, or do, I want to hear those words. When I find myself fueled by fear, trying to manage it, avoid it, I want to hear those words.
The soviet dictator Joseph Stalin tried to manage his fear too. His home in Moscow contained eight bedrooms and he so feared for his safety that each night he chose a different bedroom at random to sleep in, ensuring that no one knew exactly where he was sleeping.
Our deepest fears, our deepest terrors, the one’s that seems to lay beneath so many of our behaviors, they can really make us neurotic. It was out of Stalin’s own fears that he committed so many atrocities and made so many oppressive policies.
Once Nikita Khrushchev, which he was serving as the premier of the Soviet Union, he censured and denounced Stalin in a public meeting. He was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience. “You were one of Stalin’s colleagues. Why didn’t you stop him?”
“Who said that?” roared Khrushchev. An agonizing silence followed as nobody in the room dared move a muscle. Then Khrushchev replied quietly, “Now you know why.”
Fear. Stalin insights fear, because he was himself afraid.
But God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Tim 1:7), Paul said. Rather, he delivers us from our fears (Psa 34:4). Sometimes it doesn’t seem like he does, but he does. He protects those who carry his message. We’re accustomed to thinking of protection as removal from hardship, but more often than not the protection the Bible has in mind is protection from abandoning faith in the midst of hardship.
In the book of Daniel there is a story in which three of Daniel’s friends refused to worship the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar. So they were tossed into a furnace, which was heated up seven times hotter than usual (Dan 3:19). It was so hot, that when the king’s man open the door to look inside he was killed by the heart. When another looked inside he observed fourth figure standing with the three men, describing him as “a son of the gods” (Dan 3:19).
Who was with them? Who was protected them?
Jesus protects his people. He walks between the lampstands; that is, he does goes into the suffering with them. He keeps them strong; that’s how he quiets fears.
When I was sent to Turkey with the Air Force for Operation Northern Watch I was surprised to learn that the commanding general in charge of the operation didn’t stay back at the base . Each time a sortie was launched over northern Iraq the general was commanding the days events from the cockpit of an F-16. He was flying. He was right their with his pilots; his presence quieting their fears.
Maybe you’re bewildered. Maybe the weight of the world is coming down on you. Maybe you’ve received some news that’s torn your heart in two. Jesus is there. He’s there with his people in the midst of their sin—he died for them; and in the midst of their suffering—he walks among the lampstands with flames, and holds the stars in his right hand.
For those of faith who are hearing this … Jesus is speaking to you.
How do I know he is? Because of the repeated number of seven. Seven lampstands, seven stars, it’s the number of completeness, just like the seven days of creation. The roaring and piercing words of Jesus are for all his people: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one.” (Rev 1:17). “Have no fear,” he says, “I am here.”
You may at times feel alone in your troubles, but you’re not.
Look to Jesus, and experience the Father through the Son.