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Church in a Hostile World

Published: 2 years ago- 21 August 2022
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Big Idea: The revelation of the conflict facing God’s people until the end.

The apostle Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of salvation for all who believe. We may nod at that well-known verse. Some of us could quote the chapter and verse numbers.

But I think there is a danger that we know it here [head] but not here [heart].

If the gospel is the power of salvation, the good news that the world needs to hear, the very thing that sets us free, gives hope, leads to life… Then why does this whole Christian thing seem so weak and limp and ineffective? Seriously, do you turn up to church each week thinking that the gates of hell are trembling because the people of MPC are getting together? And, if the gospel promises joy and peace, then why when we have so much prosperity and such an elevated lifestyle compared to 95% of the world, why are we just so spiritually depressed and bored with the good news of the gospel?

Why is it so easy to get so passionate about every other thing but not church; not gospel living; not taking the message of the good news of God’s grace and the offer of eternal life through Jesus to the world?

Everyone is glued to MasterChef and gets all passionate about food. Everyone tunes into The Block and gets enthused about spending $70 000 on a bathroom reno. Everyone watches sport and thrills to the antics of overpaid teenagers. And yet when it comes to the gospel … meh!

Did you know that the national average for church attendance is 40%? On any given Sunday the best we can expect to turn up is 40%, of regulars! The church is redefining regular! Why does the church seem so weak, ineffective and indifferent? Where’s the power [of our salvation]?

Revelation 12 gives us some insight into our situation. As we think about this passage my prayer is that it will give us a better perspective on the gospel-shaped life. I also pray that it will lead to more enthused response, a recaptured vision of what it means to be the church of the One Who Sits on the Heavenly Throne and of the Lamb; and what it means to be the church in this age, the last days.

The movie Terminator tells the story of the robotic enemies of the human race sending a humanoid cyborg back in time to kill the unborn child of Sarah Conner. This child will grow up to be the leader of the human resistance; a leader who is proving to be too strong and too effective and who is leading the human army toward certain victory. If the robots can go back and destroy him as a child then their battle will be won.

You might make the mistake of thinking that Terminator, and other stories like it are nothing more than the product of Hollywood imagination. But, as we will see these Hollywood productions tell a tale as old as time itself. Revelation 12 is dominated by a tale of cosmic a battle, told from the grandstand of Heaven. The account of something non-human seeking to destroy the only hope for all humanity.

We see that right from the start … Read v1. A great sign appeared in heaven: … says John. There are only three such signs in the whole book of Revelation – two are in our passage. The other one is in chapter 15. At this point, the half way mark of the book, John is given… a heavenly perspective, a God eye view of things as they stand in our world. So we are going to get a view of things which is not possible from our earth bound perspective. An understanding that we cannot arrive at just through daily observation.

The faithful Christian life is one lived according revelation not observation. The sign, a vision from heaven reveals a woman in some pretty fancy gear. v1b a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.

Shining clothes, a twinkling crown, moon boots. Is this every little girl’s dream? Even if it’s not … It does remind us of Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37. In that dream the Sun his dad, the moon his mum, the stars his brothersthese are the people of Israel. There is a connection between this woman and God’s chosen people. And v2 this woman is about to have a baby. Read v2.

She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.

A heavenly vision but a very earthly experience – Sam will no doubt be telling us all about it next week. This lady is OT Israel living in a state of expectancy. But while we are thinking about this lady with the sensational maternity wear …

John sees another sign from heaven, the second sign. Read v3:

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.

The picture is joyful and expectant, but the music just grew ominous. You get the sense that this is not a friendly dragon. Not a plush toy for the nursery. And not entirely new. John is not the only one to have these visions. As we read v3 we are meant to be reminded about another vision that another guy had many hundreds of years before. That guy’s name was Daniel, of Daniel and the Lion’s Den fame.

This is what I mean by ‘nothing new’ in Revelation. Here we are pointed back to the OTgo read what God has done to understand what God is doing. Daniel could tell us what he saw (Beasts with heads and horns and crowns, cosmic conflict. Dan 7-12; go read and you’ll get the gist). It caused him great anxiety. But, he couldn’t tell us what it meant. And many Bible readers for centuries shared that anxiety, wanting to understand, waiting to see what is going on, how will it all unfold?

We pick up that story here. A little different But we can sympathise with Daniel’s anxiety. It speaks of conflict, conflict between this ancient dragon and this soon to be mum. A vulnerable woman stalked by a powerful opponent. Read v4.

Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.

The dragon has some impressive power, sweeping stars out of space, but it’s not comprehensive power, it’s not absolute power. Not used for anything constructive … or good. Because (v4b) we read that the dragon is poised ready to devour the baby, to eat the baby as soon as the baby is born.

v4b The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.

This is the stuff of nightmares. A woman about to give birth while a drooling dragon waits hungrily. Lots of things have changed in the maternity ward since we were having babies. But I don’t think infant eating dragons have ever been a feature. But for all the build-up, for all the pre-match hype the battle is over in an instant, finished before it started and [for the NRL fans] the dragons go down and everybody cheers, yaaaa!

Let’s read the post match wrap up… read v5.

She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.

She gave birth to a son … and he is now seated on the Heavenly throne with God.

The quote in this verse, who “will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre” is from Psalm 2, identifying this child as God’s promised Messiah. This baby is Jesus and in this verse his whole ministry, in fact the whole plan of salvation has been condensed into half a sentence. The dragon thinks dinner, I will devour him (v4) and in the gospels we read that he used a number of tactics… King Herod, temptation, Pharisees and Sanhedrin, anxiety in the garden, treacherous disciple, Pilate, the Romans and their crucifixions.

But from the heavenly perspective – never any doubt or worry. God says … He is a Saviour King. Not just of Israel but of ALL the nations (v5). Psalm 2:7-9 I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron [sceptre]; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” The son, the Risen Lord Jesus has won the victory, smashed the enemy like pottery. Our kids usually smashed our crockery on the stone bench top, when they emptied the dishwasher. But the Son will use his iron sceptre. Iron sceptre is a symbol of authority – a king could determine your future or lack of it with the motion of his sceptre (cf Esther).

Jesus is the one in authority as he is seated on the throne with God. The war is won but the battle continues. The Terminator sent to destroy the seed of the woman before he can grow up to crush the serpent’s head has been beaten. But like all great Terminator movies … There is a sequel, the enemy does not accept defeat. Terminator 2. In the sequel the woman who delivered the baby escapes the opposing forces who are very angry that they have lost the war but are still eager to inflict as much pain on the woman as possible before their ultimate demise – which they know is coming. So we now meet the woman in the wilderness… Read v6.

The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

The woman has fled from her aggressor, into the wilderness. But it is to a place prepared for her by God. This is not a contingency plan, it’s not plan B. This is part of God’s master plan.

Traditionally the wilderness is the place where God prepares his people. Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness preparing for the promise land. John the Baptist preached in the wilderness preparing the way. Jesus, 40 days in the wilderness preparing for his earthly ministry. And notice that the woman is in the wilderness for 1260 days.

We’ve heard that number before. It refers to the age of the church. 1260 = 42 months = times, times, and times and a half. We’re not suppose to count off the days. Peter Brock – 05 The number 1260 stands for the age of the church, the last days, the time between Jesus’ ascension and his return. That’s the number of days which the witnessing church will bear testimony to Jesus in the hostile world; knowing security but enduring persecution; possessing salvation yet persevering under hostility and the constant threat of death. Having the promise of being co-rulers with JX BUT being weak and marginalised in the world during the last days – much like our King. The woman, now in motherhood represents the witnessing church. The woman in the wilderness is the witnessing church in these last days being cared for by God and being prepared for her eternal reward.

In fact, the woman throughout this whole account represents the people of God stretching back to the time when God sounded the first promise of the defeat of Satan just when Satan thought he’d destroyed God’s plans, This is Gen 3:15 … God says to the serpent, And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Satan will inflict a wound; But the offspring of the woman will crush his head. One will recover, the other will perish. This Satanic rage against the offspring has sewn a red thread through the whole history of the Bible. Cain v Abel Ishmael v Isaac Esau v Jacob Edom v Israel Saul v David.

But the outcome was never in doubt, the serpent would inflict a bruise but the offspring of the woman, the child born to her would deliver a crushing blow to the serpent. The Lord Jesus. Born of a woman, a descendant of Abraham, a son of Eve; the seed, the offspring to crush the serpent’s head, promised all that time ago.

I think that The Terminator is a great movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger at his best. I first saw it with my brothers. I’ve watched it with Jo. I have watched it with my kids as part of being a responsible parent, making sure they have a good well rounded education. After preparing this sermon tempted to watch it again. That’s what you do with great movies isn’t it – you watch them again. Sometimes you even buy the movies so you can watch it multiple times. When you buy a movie often you get the director’s cut. The director speaks over the top of the movie explaining what was going on behind the scenes, things you can’t know by watching the feature film.

And that is what happens in next part Revelation 12. When you get to v7 you start watching the movie again, but as the director’s cut. This is what was going on behind the scenes. Take a look at v7-9 The archangel Michael and his angels are fighting against the dragon and his angels. The dragons lose … again, happy day. v9 The great dragon was hurled down-that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Satan no longer in a position to bring accusations against God’s people before the throne of heaven cf Job 1 Not only because he has been thrown to earth. But because for the people of God there is no longer any accusation to be brought.

Rom 8:1 There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. And the crowds of heaven cheer … LISTEN v10-12

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.

  1. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb

and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

  1. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!

But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.” Here is the power of the gospel.

That Jesus Christ through his sacrifice on the cross, on behalf of all those who believe in him, has secured the victory for his people. No matter how vile the accusations against us, though faith in Jesus we are forgiven. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. The dragon has nothing. But he still squirms.

Growing up on a farm crossing paths with snakes was a common occurrence and at times they needed to be dispatched. Even when dead they still wriggle. Satan is still wriggling. The Apostle Paul writing to the Ephesian church says that our battle is not against the people of the world but the spiritual powers which oppose God’s plan and God’s people. And this vision from heaven shows us that this is indeed the case. The point at which this Cosmic spiritual battle was won was when Jesus died on the cross and then rose from the dead three days later. The way that the church will resist Satan is through continued faith in Jesus; being shaped and guided through His Word and maintaining our testimony in the world, even to death. Read v11

They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. And by remembering that our battle is not against people but against Satan. We need to be very careful not to sit in judgment on the world but to point the world to Jesus. People will not be saved by rules and behaviour but only through the gospel. We must be outspoken – but speaking out the gospel of grace, with grace. That’s what v11 is saying, The power is in the good news of the gospel.

Satan is defeated, the war has been won, but there are battles still to be fought. Some reports coming in from Growth Groups is that as Presbyterians we don’t talk about Satan. Thinking that somehow we give him power when we talk about him. He is a stalking lion. He is to be resisted. He is a liar and accuser. And he really is angry Look at v13-14. And he is bent on wreaking havoc on the church. Read v15.

Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent.

In Revelation when something is described as coming from the mouth it symbolises words and their power. We will see that the Messiah has a double-edged sword coming out his mouth. Here the dragon spews forth deceptive teaching – nothing new for him. Seeking to get the church to question God’s wisdom, doubt God’s provision, second guess God’s motives, harbour uncertainty in the power of the gospel. To be ashamed. But the only safe place to stand in this flood is on the rock of God’s Word – Isaiah … Isaiah 43:2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. For those who side with God and his prophet they will be safe, but for those who disobey and reject God, like the rebels against Moses in the book of Numbers the earth will open up and swallow them. So it is here. v16 But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Defeated in the battle, defeated in the sequel but he will not lie down, not yet … Read v17

Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring -those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. We see the nature of that raging in the seven letters to the seven churches ch2-3. Persecution and Compromise. Compromise is the one that leads the church astray. To have victory, to overcome, to conquer is maintaining the testimony of Jesus until the end, until his return or until we are called home. He is our hope and power.

The church will seem weak to the world, in the world; to us. Ministry will be a battle in this age. Maybe that’s why it’s called MINI-stry not MEGA-stry. It is going to be hard, spiritual work. I heard of a group who were meeting and praying that the church in China would flourish even under communist rule and even though all missionaries were expelled. They met for 50 years. It seems their prayers have been answered. It seems that they have been hard at ministry. The key is not to lose hope. MINI-stry, not MEGA-stry. Not to become disheartened. Not to be disheartening to others. Do not retire hurt, or retire early – this is not our place or time of rest. The life of discipleship is the life of an alien, a refugee, someone from another empire; we are not at home in this world, we will not be welcome in this world, we have a motivated enemy. We are not heroes of our salvation story or anyone else’s. Jesus is. We are beggars showing other beggars where the food is. BUT know this …

When we gather each Sunday to sit under God’s word together, be reminded to push on in following Jesus … the Gates of Hell do tremble. When we meet up One 2 One to read the Bible together and pray, encouraging each other to develop the character of Jesus and when we get to our Growth Groups to do the same the gates of Hell DO TREMBLE!

When God’s people make time to be in his word and meditate on his word, and change their lives in line with his word the gates of Hell DO TREMBLE.

When God’s people shape their life on the gospel, making costly decisions; strange decisions from the perspective of this world, the gates of Hell DO TREMBLE.

When followers of Jesus share the reason of their hope with friends and neighbours the gates of Hell DO TREMBLE.

When the people of God maintain their faith in Jesus and their testimony to Jesus even in the face of derision and death the gates of Hell DO TREMBLE.

Here are those living obedient lives, expressing hope in the gospel, standing on the rock even as the deceptive waters of the dragon flood the world around us. Brothers and Sisters – will that be you?