King Solomon got it right when he said, “Where there is no vision, the people perish …” (Proverbs 29:19). What I’d like for us to think about in the sermon tonight is the flip side of the coin: “Where there is vision, there’s hope.”
No one knew this better than John. John moved to Ephesus after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. He took Mary with him. That was to fulfill the charge Jesus gave him as he hung from the cross – where he said to Mary, “Behold your son,” referring to John who stood by her side; and he said to John, “Behold your mother,” and entrusted the care of his mother to him after he was gone. (John 19:26-27)
As one of the disciples, John was held in high esteem among the Christians in Ephesus. He lived to a ripe old age and commanded a place of authority and respect among the churches of Asia Minor.
Sadly, things went downhill during John’s lifetime. The Romans not only destroyed the temple and dispersed the Jews; they turned their wrath on the Christians, as well. Romans found it sporting to throw Christians to the lions or have them burned at the stake.
As for John, the Roman Emperor, Domitian, spared his life but sent him to live in exile on the island of Patmos, and it was from there that he wrote this seemingly strange and cryptic letter we call, The Book of Revelation.
Written in the style of apocalyptic literature – which was popular at the time – Revelation is actually a word of hope addressed to Christians under persecution. It can be summed up in three words: Hang in there! Yes, things are bad … and they’re going to get worse. The Good News is God’s in charge, and it’s God who will have the last word. So, be brave and keep the faith and never lose sight of the vision for which we strive: The Kingdom of God on earth.
Thinking of the Book of Revelation in this way, imagine yourself huddled with a small group of other Christians – perhaps in a home or a cave or some remote hideout – reading John’s words and picturing the vision he casts, as he writes:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea (that is, all that is opposed to God) was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more; neither will there be mourning and crying or pain any more, for the former things have passed away.’”(Revelation 21:1-4)
The telling words come in the next verse: “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 1:5) No matter how bad things are in the world around you – or in your personal life – God has the ability to restore peace and health and beauty and vitality. It’s up to us not to lose sight of the vision.
Apply this to your own life. Have you ever wished you could wipe the slate clean and start over? We all make mistakes. We make bone-headed decisions and bad choices, and sometimes those bad choices have lasting consequences.
Well, you can’t go back. What’s done is done. But you can start anew. That’s the Good News. At any given point in time, you can say to yourself those three critical words, “From now on …” and resolve to do things differently.
Of course, it helps if you know where you’re going, and that’s where having a vision is so important. Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)
So, where do you begin? What’s the first step? The first step is to rededicate your life to Christ. Think of it as being born again. Simply resolve from this moment forward to put Christ first and honor him as the Lord of your life; then do your best each day to obey his Word and follow his example. You’ll be amazed at the difference it’ll make. Paul told the Corinthians,
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has passed away; the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Putting Christ first allows you to know that, beyond all else, you are a child of God; that no matter what you’ve done or what others say about you, nothing will ever be able to separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:38-39)
But be careful: If you try to overcome the temptations of the world, the criticism of others or your lack of self-esteem by your own power, you’ll fall short every time. Only as you turn to God and rely on Him will you find strength to overcome the obstacles and experience the abundant life God has in store for you.
Keep this vision before you: You’re a child of God, for whom God’s Son died. But don’t stop there. Apply the vision to others. Look beyond the exterior surface and strive to see everyone you meet as a child of God, as well. It’s easy to let a person’s outward appearance affect how we relate treat them.
In the Old Testament, God sent the prophet Samuel to the home of Jesse in search for the next king of Israel. Jesse had eight sons, seven of which were big and handsome and fitting to serve as king. One by one, Samuel rejected them. Then he asked Jesse, “Do you have any more sons?” And Jesse said, “Yes, there’s the youngest, but he’s only a lad, and he’s out tending the sheep.” “Bring him to me,” Samuel said. He took one look at David and said, “This is he!” Then he told Jesse what we all need to remember – he said, “Man looks upon the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
Listen: Christ died for the sins of the whole world. Let that be the vision that inspires you. Look for signs of God’s presence in the faces of each person you meet. Say to yourself, “This is a child of God, for whom Christ died,” and treat them accordingly.
Lastly, apply the vision to the world around you. It’s no secret: We live in a broken and fallen world. Sin and evil lurk around every corner. What’s more, the world around us is changing so fast, it’s hard to know who’s on first. Sometimes you feel like a stranger in your own home town.
That’s why it’s so important not to lose sight of Jesus and his kingdom, but to stay focused and keep the vision before you. One of the best ways to do this is to remember the parables of Jesus. They’re all about the kingdom of God. Say to yourself: The kingdom of God is like …
• A good Samaritan, who cared for a stranger in distress.
• A farmer who sowed his seed and, in spite of all the obstacles, it yielded a hundredfold.
• A great banquet in which the dregs of society were treated as honored guests.
• A good shepherd, who left the flock in search of one sheep that was lost.
• A loving father who had two sons, one who was faithful, one who was not, yet he loved them both the same.
• Laborers in a vineyard who were paid the same daily wage, though some worked a lot longer than the others.
Keeping the vision of Jesus and His kingdom alive allows you to be confident that He is at work even now reconciling the world to Himself and blessing us with the gifts of his grace and love. Where there’s vision, there’s hope.
Nobody knew this better than Samuel Stone, who wrote the words to the hymn, “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.” The fourth verse says it best:
“’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.” Amen