by Roger McCay
21 February 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 1:14-20
Link to Audio Version
The story is told of Mrs. Monroe of Darlington, Maryland. She’s the mother of eight children. One afternoon, she came home from the grocery store, and as she walked into her home. Everything looked pretty much the same (though it was a bit quieter than usual). She looked into the middle of the living room and five of her darlings were sitting around in a circle, exceedingly quiet, doing something in the middle of the circle. She put down the sacks of groceries and walked over closely and saw that they were playing with five of the cutest skunks you can imagine. She was instantly terrified and yelled, “Run, children, run!” Each child grabbed a skunk and ran in five different directions. She was beside herself and screamed louder. It so scared the children that each one squeezed his and her skunk. And as we all know, skunks don’t like to be squeezed.
Fear is a natural response to danger and things out of our control. It’s the cause of panic, anxiety, and people can, apparently, die from it. In such ways it’s an emotional response. It can also be a rational response, leading to wise actions in the face of danger, what we might call a healthy fear. It is in the face of fear, too, when the virtue of courage shines bright.
Fear is also a most sensible response when it comes how we understand the Lord in relation to ourselves. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” and “wisdom” (Prov. 1:7 & 9:10). For the redeemed, God’s covenant people purchased by his blood on the cross, fear of the Lord is not a fear of death, damnation, or suffering God’s wrath. It is, rather, the opposite. The fear of the Lord emanating from his beloved people is a response of respectful, worshipful, loving awe of the Almighty. Thus, it is from that point, in the fear of the Lord, that we journey into true knowing and the understanding of the deeper things. And, too, as God’s people, our fear of the Lord means we have a solid foundation for courage in the face of anything.
Jesus, the incarnate Lord, has a transverse presence—transversing heaven and earth. As God, he is omnipresent (also omniscient and omnipotent). As Man, he has a physical body, and can manifest his presence anywhere at will. In the case of our passage today, the Lord’s coming to a particular place and time and to a particular man reveals aspects of his loving assurance, exalted reality, and shepherding concern.
So it was that, sometime in the mid-60s AD, John was on the prison island of Patmos, worshipping in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, Sunday, and Jesus appeared to him in his glory. John knew Jesus well. He was one of Jesus’ twelve specially called disciples, who spent the years of Jesus’ ministry with him. Within that group he was of the Peter, James, and John trio. He also knew Jesus as a best friend, and is known as the beloved disciple. John saw Jesus transfigured and meeting with Moses and Elijah, and he saw Jesus crucified, risen, then ascending. John was also the one to whom Jesus entrusted his mother, Mary. Yet, we see that despite his very close relationship with Jesus, John was overwhelmed with a healthy fear of the most powerful being in existence paying him a visit, in the flesh—Creator to creature, Sovereign to subject, Redeemer to redeemed, eternal Word to apostle. John’s awe and natural response, in the sudden manifested presence of the risen, glorified Lord, led him to fall down on his face as though dead (Rev. 1:17).
Notice how Jesus responded to John’s falling on his face, in vv. 17-18.
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.”
Jesus responds to John’s prostration with assurance, with both a touch and knowledge. The physical touch of the Lord tells us that John was not hallucinating, or simply experiencing a trancelike vision. The Lord was physically present with John. Considering the circumstances (with John on a prison island and his tribulation), this brings to mind the Lord Jesus’ physically appearing to Paul (when Paul was imprisoned in Jerusalem), both as a comfort to Paul and to give Paul a message that would sustain him through the coming hard times (Acts 23:11).