The Eternal Gospel
Revelation 14:6-7 6 Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth -- to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people -- 7 saying with a loud voice, "Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water."
St. John was the last surviving apostle of the twelve apostles. One by one he had either seen or heard about their deaths as Satan worked with all his might to crush the fragile church that the Holy Spirit had called into existence through the preaching of the Gospel. He was also very aware of many Christians who were killed or forced into poverty because of their faith. Would Satan have the last word? Would the goodness and grace that Jesus brought into this world be buried forever? John himself was now exiled to the rocky island of Patmos, and he knew that he was the last apostle. Would the Gospel die with him?
God answered Johnís concerns with a series of visions that would become the Book of Revelation Ė the last book of the New Testament. In these visions John sees the wicked efforts of Satan to suppress the Gospel. He sees the mighty judgments of God upon those who join forces with Satan. But above all, he sees the victory of Jesus, who lived the perfect life and died and rose so that sinners could be forgiven. Ever since Jesus ascended into heaven and sent His disciples to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth Satan has used every possible means to prevent the Christian faith from spreading. But God has promised, "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12.32).
I. The Problem
A few years ago a member of our church stopped coming to worship. I went out to visit, and to see if I could help. The man told me that he didnít like our church because he heard more about Satan here than anywhere else. He wanted a different kind of church. Obviously that man didnít know Martin Luther very well. Luther, the Catholic monk who began the Reformation in the 1500s, talked often of the reality and methods of Satan. This man did not know Jesus very well either. No other person in the Bible speaks more about Satan than Jesus. In fact we speak about Satan every time we pray the Lordís Prayer. In the Seventh Petition we say, "Deliver us from evil." But that sentence can (and perhaps should) be translated, "Deliver us from the Evil One." "Evil" is not accidental. It is not "bad luck." Evil is very real and it comes from a very real source Ė Satan. Yesterday I was out passing fliers inviting people to come to our church. I noticed a lot of Halloween decorations. There are more and more every year. Most of them try to make evil look comical Ė monsters, ghosts, and goblins of various sizes and shapes. One house even had a "child-sized" skeleton laid out on a bench on the front porch. But this is all part of our problem today. The devil, and anything associated with him, is thought to be silly. In reality it is very serious. How is the devil working among us today? One way is that he is highly effective in getting people to believe that he doesnít really exist.The devilís best work, however, can be seen when we come to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He doesnít like it, and he will do whatever it takes to keep us from hearing and believing it. Sometimes he uses force and violence as we see today in countries like Sudan where Christians are being killed and enslaved. Sometimes he uses corruption within the church. This was the most serious problem in Martin Lutherís day. The church leaders were so eager to pay for the building of St. Peterís Basilica in Rome that they were literally selling the forgiveness of sins in the form of papers called indulgences. Sometimes he uses deceit and debauchery. St. John talks about all these methods in his Revelation. In America Iím afraid number three is his preferred method. Nowhere in the world is there more freedom to speak the Gospel. Nowhere in the world is there less violence against the Gospel. But at the same time Ė nowhere in the world is there more indifference to the opportunities to hear the Gospel. What Satan canít take away with pain, he takes away with pleasure.
I sing a song with the preschool children: "The B-I-B-L-E, yes thatís the book for me. I stand alone on the word of God, the B-I-B-L-E." But it isnít long before they grow up and should really begin singing: "The B-I-B-L-E, yes thatís the book for me. It sits on the shelf and gathers dust as I sit and watch TV!" Time and time again people tell me that they are too busy to come to church for worship. "Busy" in that sense is a misnomer. It doesnít mean that they are overworked. It really means "Being Under Satanís Yoke." We are deceived. We fill our lives with so many things to do Ė all of them more important to us than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My how the devil has deceived us! But thatís not all. Even though we are too busy for the Gospel or simply not interested in it, we will readily look to other sources of inspiration and spiritual advice.
"Eat, Love, Pray" by Elizabeth Gilbert has been on the New York Times Best Seller List for 39 weeks. In this book Ms. Gilbert tells about her ugly divorce, an affair that ended badly, and a quest for spiritual enlightenment that took her to Italy, India, and Bali. At one point she writes that the god she called to in her darkest hours seemed to be her future, healed, actualized self talking to her in the past from the future. How sad it is when people give more credence to the voices they hear in the heads than to the voice of God in the Holy Scriptures. How convenient to listen to this kind of "god" that tells us everything we want to hear. St. Paul expressly warns us against this when he wrote: "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 speaking lies in hypocrisyÖ"(1 Timothy 4.1).
We are surrounded by a culture that is more and more drawn away from Godís word and from the Gospel of Jesus. It is important that you are not drawn away as well.
II. The Solution
What I have just described is depressing and discouraging. It saddens me very much. But when I look to the Bible I am encouraged. It has happened before, and God has always been there to preserve the faith through the preaching of the Gospel. Here are just a few examplesÖ
Noah was said to be a "preacher of righteousness"(2 Peter 2.5). If we judge the effectiveness of preaching by the number of converts, then Noah would have to receive the lowest marks. Only seven people believed him Ė the seven members of his own family. Nevertheless God saved Noah and his family, and the preaching of righteousness was not lost to the indifference of this sinful world. Noah built an ark that saved him, his family and the animal kingdom. But all who rejected his message of righteousness perished in the flood.
Jonah preached to Nineveh Ė "Repent." At first he tried to get out of it and that for understandable reasons. In our Monday Morning Menís Bible Study we just finished reading through Jonah. We noted that the Ninevites had a nasty habit of skinning alive anyone they didnít like. No wonder Jonah had reservations. No wonder Jonah doubted that his preaching would do any good. But Jonah did as God commanded. He preached and people believed Ė the entire city of Nineveh.
When Jesus began His public ministry, He began preaching. St. Matthew summarizes His sermons with these words: Jesus said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"(Matthew 4.17). Even to the very end of His earthly ministry Jesus was concerned with repentance and forgiveness. While Jesus was dying on the cross for the sins of the whole world, He preached, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23.34).
Martin Luther continued in this very same tradition. When he observed that people were trying to take spiritual short-cuts, avoiding repentance by buying indulgences, he posted the 95 Theses.* The very first was: "Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite (Repent, ye), willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance." Luther continued to stake his entire life on the hope that all would be able to hear the Gospel message and be saved.
And that brings us finally to St. Johnís vision in Revelation chapter fourteen. John says he saw another angel Ė this angel represents all the faithful preachers of the Gospel beginning with Noah and ending with the last disciple Ė whoever that may be. But the voice of the eternal Gospel will be heard by every nation, tribe, tongue, and people, "Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made the heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water."
Even today there is still hope. In some of the most surprising places you will find the fear of God. The movie "Bella" began showing Friday night in cities around the U.S. "Bella" is not your typical Hollywood movie that glorifies selfish pleasure and revenge. "Bella" is about a single waitress who becomes pregnant and wants to have an abortion. But she spends a day with a man named Jose who changes the course of her life. Interestingly the actor who portrays this man (Eduardo VerŠstegui ) is one of the most popular actors in Mexico. In many of his films he portrayed people that werenít listening to God and were pursuing sinful pleasures. However, he found a renewed relationship with God and decided to begin making movies that glorified God and His goodness rather than man and his sinfulness. He and another film director formed Metanoia Films. The word "metanoia" is the New Testament word for "repentance."
Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit eastern Germany. Here was the land that gave birth to the Reformation. Here was the land that 400 years later suffered under communist oppression. The Gospel message was suppressed. But the dark night of communism did come to an end, and the Gospel is again being heard. In one of the cities I visited there was a porcelain factory. I was given a gift of a flower vase which had these letters: VDIMAe. These are the first letters of the Latin words "Verbum Domini in Manet Aeternum." Those are the words of St. Peter. "The Word of the Lord endures forever"(1 Peter 1.25). It is even more significant that those letters were placed upon a flower vase, because the verse actually reads: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of the Lord endures forever."
When the final judgment comes there will be only one thing left standing: The Eternal Gospel and all those who have been set free from the slavery of sin by its truth. I pray for Godís blessings upon all who hear this message. That by it the Holy Spirit will lead them to humble themselves before God and be lifted up by His grace in Jesus. As we die with Jesus in repentance, so also we rise with Him in faith, and Satan has no power over us. Amen.
* To read the 95 Theses online go to: http://www.projectwittenberg.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/web/ninetyfive.html
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Reformation Sunday, October 28, 2007
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
618-344-3151 / fax 618-344-3378
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2007
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