Living in Truimph and Truth

And you thought the Angels defeated the Dragon? It was the Saints.

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Revelation 12:1-17; Luke 6:20-31

I am going back to Revelation today. Next Sunday, I’ll preach a stewardship sermon. And the following Sunday,Christ the King, I hope to finish up with Revelation, so that we can be done before Advent.

At the end of chapter 11, we hear the announcement: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” This sounds like it is the end of the story. But it only signals the end of the first act, not the end of the drama.

I have sometimes referred to Revelation as the “Star Wars” of the Bible. That comparison may not apply to the first half of Revelation, but it does to the second half. Heroes and villains are locked in all-out battle for the domination, or the freedom, of the galaxy. It is the battle of good and evil – with loads of special effects!

The second half of this story begins when a pregnant woman appears. She is wearing a crown of 12 stars and is in the midst of labor pains. She is attacked by a dragon with seven heads. But his real aim is the child.

The child is born, one to rule the nations with a rod of iron. Before the dragon can devour him, he is snatched away and taken to God and his throne. The woman flees into the wilderness for safety and nourishment.

Of course, we can hear thestory of Jesusin this telling. We might first think of Mary as the pregnant woman, but she is more likely Israel , thepeople of God, because she wears a crown of 12 stars, signifying the 12 tribes of Israel . Also, she goes into the wilderness after escaping the dragon. And the son is born to rule the nations.

Just as we would, of course, the Christians to whom John is writing would hear this as a retelling of the story of Jesus. But they would also hear something more. They would hear the story of the birth of Apollo, whose mother, Leto, was pursued by the dragon, Python, to kill her and her child. The north wind blew her to the island of Delos , where she gave birth. After Apollo was born, he pursued the dragon, killed it, and established a time of peace and prosperity. Christians would recognize this story as well, because Roman rulers would tell the story about themselves to legitimate their place on the throne and their efforts to impose peace.

So, just as I might use the story of “Star Wars” or “The Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter” in order to illustrate a truth about Jesus, so John uses a story from his own culture to encourage the Christians in theseven churcheswith a truth about Jesus.

The foiling of the dragon and the enthronement of the child sparks awar in heavenbetween the dragon and his angels and Michael and his angels. The dragon is defeated and thrown down out of heaven.

At the defeat of the dragon, a proclamation is sounded in heaven. A voice announces victory for God and the establishment of the authority of Jesus. Because Satan is banned from heaven, he is no longer able to accuse the saints before thethrone of God. Instead, through thedeath and resurrection of Christ, it is now Jesus who stands before thethrone of God. And he intercedes for us, as Paul says in Romans 8. We are no longer accused. We are now approved.

The defeat of the dragon also means that his time is short. He is cast down upon earth. He has been active on earth up until now. His work has been deception. But now, after his defeat, he unleashes his fury upon the people of God. This is not because he is so powerful. It is instead because he is so vulnerable. His time is short. Thebattle in heavenhas settled things. There is still suffering for the faithful on earth. Yet, it is simply a matter of time before he is cast into the abyss after his final defeat in chapter 20.

What is most amazing to me about this song, though, is what is told in verse 11:

But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.

It is the people of God who have conquered the dragon! And they have done so, first of all, not because they have shed anyone’s blood, but because Jesus shed his blood when he was crucified by the Romans. Secondly, they have conquered because of their witness. They know that there are things that are more important in life than avoiding death – living according to the truth of the Lamb.

We are not threatened with persecution or with death because of our faith. But we can still witness by living according to what Jesus taught. And we find no better example of what he taught than in Luke 6.

This is Luke’s version of Jesus’ teaching we call, “TheSermon on the Plain,” since it is delivered to a great crowd of his disciples from “a level place.” It contains the familiarBeatitudesthat we know from Matthew, as well as a series of woes. These beatitudes and woes reverse our expectations about who is blessed and who is not, who is well off and who is not. These are not prescriptions of what to do. They are descriptions of what is really real.

We think that we have failed when we are poor, when we are hungry, when we are in grief. No, says Jesus. When this happens, your real prospects are actually far greater than you imagine. We think that we have succeeded when we are rich, when we are well fed, when we do not have a care in the world. That is the way the world thinks, but Jesus disagrees. When this happens, it is no guarantee of your prospects.

The way God sees things are completely different than the world sees things. This is the basis for everything that Jesus teaches. And because God sees things differently, then we are to act differently in the world.

The world says, “Hate your enemies.” Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” The world says, “Seek the well being of those closest to you.” Jesus says, “Seek the well being of those who are against you.” The world says, “Do unto othersbeforethey do unto you.” Jesus says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

We seek to love in this way, Jesus goes on to explain, because this is the way thatGod loves the world. If you love those who love you, that’s nothing special. Even the worst kind of people do that! But God loves everyone – regardless of their behavior, no matter what their attitudes. And God cares for them. So, be merciful, Jesus concludes, even as yourFather in heavenis merciful.

When we seek to live in this way – even when we do so imperfectly – then we bear witness. Our lives are a witness to the transforming power of thelove of Godand to the saving power of the Lamb who was slain. Not only this, when we seek to love in this way, our hearts are changed. Our hearts are transformed evermore into the people that we are made to be.

To others, there may appear to be doubt about the outcome of the fight between good and evil, for there continues to be suffering in the world, even in thelives of the saints. To many, things remain uncertain.

We know that things are not as they appear. In a world of uncertainty, we know that the battle has already been won. In a world of uncertainty, we witness to the triumph and the truth of the Lamb. In a world of uncertainty, we live as people of Hope.