As you turn to Revelation 10, if you’re not already there, page 1033, if you’re using one of the seat Bibles, I want to share an exciting opportunity as you get ready to dive in the Word. About fourteen churches are gathering together for a 24-hour time of prayer coming up on October 2. This is a desire obviously to see God continue to move and even move in a greater way in our city and around the world. It’s just very powerful when many churches can come together and cry out together. At Edwards Road Baptist Church on October 2, 6 a.m. to October 3, 6 a.m. You can sign up online for 1-hour slots, and there’s even childcare for certain times. Jump online, you can get the information, and I hope hundreds and hundreds of you will sign up. And you want to sign up early, so you’re not stuck with the 3 a.m. slot. No, we’ll take anything, right?
One of the greatest challenges to our faith is delay. Delay. Think Abraham, Sarah, promised a son, year after year, decade after decade, waiting for God’s promise. Think Saul, King Saul, waiting seven days for Samuel to show up. Or David in Psalm 13, “How long, O Lord? Will you forsake me forever?” Or Simeon in Luke 2, waiting for the “Consolation of Israel.” Or the people in Luke 19 who expected the Kingdom of God to appear immediately, and their wrong assumption prompted Jesus to tell a story of a nobleman who left town, entrusted everything he had to his servants and told them during this time of waiting, “Engage in business until I come.” What we do during our waiting matters. How about the people in Thessalonica who apparently got tired of waiting, quit their jobs, and thought Jesus should come right then. Or the people in 2 Peter 3, the skeptics who said, “Where is the promise of his coming?” Or the martyrs in Revelation 6, “How long before you avenge our blood?” Waiting.
During delay we are tempted to try to jumpstart the promise of God, like Abraham deciding, “Well, if God’s not going to fulfill his word, maybe I need to help him.” He slept with Hagar, created all sorts of issues. Or Samuel being delayed prompted Saul to offer his own sacrifice. During delay our faith, really the object of our faith, is revealed. Delay displays the object of our faith. Delay is one of the most vivid images of the condition of our faith. It’s like an MRI. Delay displays tumors of doubt. It images, it reveals infections of self-confidence. We become irritable, impatient. We look for shortcuts, quick fixes, distractions, escape plans, anything but waiting.
As we saw last week, these seal, trumpet, bowl judgments are sprinkled with interludes. And these interludes are not just random rabbit trails. They communicate something very powerful about what we do in delay, what we do in our times of waiting when we live in a broken, fallen, groaning world. When nothing good seems to be happening (chapter 8 and 9), when everyone is pursuing immorality and idolatry (end of 9, 9:20-21). What is God up to and what is he calling us to? That’s chapter 10.
We could call this the drama of delay, because John is not merely describing a vision, he actually enters into it. Kind of like “Night at the Museum 2,” (You were thinking of that weren’t you?) when Larry Daley and Amelia Earhart jump into a monochrome 1945 Times Square picture on V-J Day. They are not simply looking at the famous picture, they have become part of it.
Here in Revelation 10, John is not merely describing a vision, and he does it from many different perspectives, but at times you will notice him actually enter into it. Like in this chapter when he was told to actually take a scroll and eat it. It’s more than just … He’s more than a postal service. He’s more than merely a messenger; he actually becomes part of the message. This drama of delay gives us a behind-the-scenes vision of really what is our worst nightmare yet what God is up to and how we should respond. Let me give you three thoughts. Let’s look at three thoughts that will lead to one big response. Three big thoughts that lead to a vital response.
Number 1, we know what we need to know. We know what we need to know. In verse 1, “another mighty angel” is coming down from heaven. Now the “another” points back to the mighty angel in 5:2 who there is described as a “strong angel,” but in the Greek it’s the same word. It seems that he’s referring to that angel, which means he’s not describing Jesus Christ. But notice the appearance of the angel makes us think he is. Verse 1, he is “wrapped in a cloud” just like Jesus was in 1:7 and the glory of God was in Exodus 16:10. With a “rainbow over his head,” just like God’s throne in 4:3. “His face was like the sun” like Jesus in 1:16. “His legs like pillars of fire,” similar to the feet of Jesus in 1:15, burnished bronze refined in a furnace or the pillars of fire back in Exodus 13:21. The angel’s appearance is making clear that he is not a rogue angel coming on his own. He is representing God. All those images are communicating he is coming with divine authority.
Notice secondly, the angel’s message. Verse 2, he had “a little scroll open in his hand.” Little perhaps because of the size, in contrast to the size of the angel. The scroll is open, it’s no longer sealed like back in 5:2. “He set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land.” Now this phrase is going to appear four times, something similar in verse 2, 5, 6, 8. Notice in verse 5, the angel whose feet are on the sea and the land has his right hand in the heaven. All of these images communicate God’s universal dominion. There is no sphere, no land, no piece of property, no molecule of water, no place as high as you go into the heavens, that God does not say, “That is mine. That is my jurisdiction.” God’s universal dominion is communicated here. Verse 3, “He called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring” and the loud voice triggers seven thunders. Verse 4, when these sounded, John was about to write what the thunders, the seven thunders … These seven thunders weren’t just thundering, there was some clear message they were communicating that John felt compelled, “I’ve got to write this down. Everybody needs to hear this.” Then a voice from heaven said, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.” We’re not going to know what the seven thunders said, verse 5. Then the mighty angel whose feet are on the land sea, right hand in the heavens, vowed that there would be no more delay. When the seventh trumpet sounds, the mystery of God would be completed, fulfilled, just as announced to his servants, the prophets.
Woah! There’s a lot there, isn’t there? Through this angel we are reminded that there is no power in land, sea, sky that will keep God from completing his perfect purposes even when we don’t understand what they are. That’s the seven thunders being sealed. You have this open scroll and these closed thunders. That communicates a very powerful point for us. We can clearly understand what God reveals, but there is a lot that we do not know and will not in this life. It’s similar to what Paul was getting at at the end of Ephesians 1 when he talks about what God has revealed:
“Making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
When we are in the midst of the drama of delay, we can focus on what we don’t know or what we do know. The first big thought: we know what we need to know.
Secondly, we consume what we need to know. Look at verses 8-10. We consume what we need to know. Verse 8,
“Then the voice that I heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, ‘Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’ So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.’ And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angle and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter.”
This event mirrors Ezekiel’s call. God gave Ezekiel the Spirit, told him he would send him to a stubborn people who refused to hear. Does that sound familiar? Think Revelation 9:20-21, they would not repent. He was even told that he would sit on scorpions. Sound familiar? Revelation 9, the locusts, scorpion things. But whether they will hear or not, they will know that a prophet is among them. Ezekiel 2:8,
“‘But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.’ And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he said to me, [Ezekiel 3:1] ‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’”
Ezekiel ate it, and it was sweet in his mouth like honey (Ezekiel 3:3). Later, 3:14, “it was bitter.”
Likewise, John is being drawn out of the balcony onto the stage of this vision and given a scroll and told to eat it. It will be sweet in your mouth, but it’s going to make your stomach feel … it will taste bitter. John is called not to merely deliver a message but consume it.
Third big thought, we share what others need to know. We share what others need to know. Verse 11, like Ezekiel, John was told,
“You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”
John, like Ezekiel, is a true prophet. We moved quickly through the text. How should we respond to that? There are a lot of images that are quite foreign to us, but embedded in those is a message we need to hear. Three big thoughts, one vital response.
In the second half of the 1600s, beginning of the 1700s, moderate Protestants in Europe, the scholars and ministers, many were moving towards skepticism. And it wasn’t a complete outright denial of the Bible. They would say that the Bible is important in certain ways. It helps us know to look to the world as an orderly world. It helps us see some moral examples we should follow of Jesus, the way he lived. But they would say following the Bible as an authoritative message for us today is childish. That was for a more primitive people; we are now enlightened. We know so much more, the world has opened up to us. We need to put the Bible in the back, and we need to move on to more sophisticated things.
Cotton Mather rejected this. He’s the guy with the wild wig. Now, it is not that he was anti-intellectual or against observational science. He actually graduated from Harvard at 19 with a Master’s. He spoke many languages and knew many — Hebrew, Greek, French, Spanish, Iroquois. He loved to study astronomy, loved to study the sciences. But one of his favorite visionary events was in Revelation 10. And he would say it this way, his translation of what John was commanded to do: Eat this book. Eat this book. The word scroll in Ezekiel, I’m sorry, in ESV of Revelation 10. The word “scroll” is from the word biblion. We get our word “Bible” from that. It’s the word “book.” Mather translated it “book.” Eat this book.
He would contend, yes, we need to study the sciences. Yes, learn languages. Yes, explore the world, learn everything you can learn. But when it comes to the one book, you need to more than know, you need to consume. You need to consume the Word of God, and you are not beyond it. You haven’t outgrown it. If we are to follow Jesus in a time of waiting, a time of delay, when everything around us looks, perhaps, more attractive or less offensive, we must not merely have a Bible or hear a Bible or kind of know the Bible, we have to consume it, devour it, digest it. Consume the purposes of God. Because if delay displays the object of our faith, where our faith really is located, then the Word of God is what reorients us and grows our faith in the direction it needs to be, in God himself.
To help us wrestle with this I’ve been asking myself a few questions that I hope will help you learn to, well, just this morning to wrestle with “Where is my faith really located?” and “How can I very practically consume his Word?” A couple questions. What keeps me from doing this, devouring his Word? And you’ll notice as we go through, we’ll also see the positives, what helps us truly eat his Word. I asked myself this question: What keeps me from this? Here are four things.
One, I get distracted by what I don’t know. I get distracted by what I don’t know. When I’m reading the Bible, my brain churns out an endless stream of questions. Some of these questions are really good questions that I need to explore. Some of these questions are just crazy ADD questions that are not helpful at all. And when I read this chapter and these thunderous voices that John heard and wanting to write it all down and told “No, seal it up,” I just see an illustration of what’s happening in my head. These thunderous voices that seem so strong, “You’ve got to know this … And what about this …” Some of them are very practical things about things I need to get done, and many of them are theoretical things of what if? and what about? and if only. Seal up the seven thunders. Obviously, John was commanded to do that at a particular time for a particular purpose. But I wonder if that example can help some of us who need to learn how to funnel our curiosity in edifying directions lest we simply get around the things of God but never really absorb them, never really consume them. We taste, we nibble at, but we don’t truly consume, and it doesn’t get absorbed into our system.
Maybe you could say it this way: We have to know what to do with what we don’t know. We have to know what to do with what we don’t know. There will always be things we don’t know. And that’s true not just for Christians. Scientists, as they explore how our brain works. The more you learn about our brain, the more you learn that you don’t know anything about how our brain works. If you can’t explore neuroscience without knowing everything about it, you will never be able to learn anything. And so it is with the things of God. We need to know what to do with what we don’t know so that we can truly respond to what we do know. That perhaps is the positive side, the better question. As I’m reading his Word, soaking in his Word, yes, I’m always writing down questions I’m going to explore and some of them I can explore then, but many I can’t. I’ve got to wait. But a better question I have to come to is, what do I know? What do I know right now? And I am I responding to that?
Second, what keeps me from this, eating his Word, is I don’t take time to digest. I don’t take time to digest. Did you see a couple weeks ago there was a big article about a 17-year-old boy who has lost his vision, and other senses are greatly diminished? They’re believing now, doctors believe, that the reason is his diet. He has consumed, since elementary school, pretty much only French fries and chips. And his body, at 17, is falling apart. That’s a picture of some of us spiritually, right? We’re doing the grab-and-go, fast food thing, and some of us wonder why spiritually we’re losing our senses. We can’t see clearly. We’re not hearing well. We’re not really tuned in to what God is saying, and our body doesn’t absorb what we put into it. We can hear a sermon and walk out and be unscathed. We can know so much and yet it have no power in our lives, no transforming power.
What does it mean to slow down and digest? Let me try to stimulate your imagination a little bit. I was eating lunch a couple of weeks ago with a man in our church and he was telling me that he and his wife, when God speaks to them through a sermon, throughout that next week they will listen to it again and then again. They will talk about it together. And he was telling me how … He said it’s a totally different world between hearing it one time and running out and being done or hearing it several times (gluttons for punishment), hearing it several times and then talking about it, applying it, like we do in many of the life groups. I do the same thing when God speaks to me through a message. If I hear it once, I’m moved, but it generally doesn’t sink in deep until I respond. That may be hearing it again. It’s one of the reasons I journal. It’s another big way to take the truth that you’ve heard and say, “God, what are you saying specifically to my life?” and responding and working that in. What you’re doing is, you’re slowing down long enough to digest rather than jetting forward.
This is something I’ve really wrestled with as a pastor in the same place for a really long time. Because if you’re speaking in lots of different places, you can have your one good sermon. But when you’re speaking all the time you’re on to the next message, the next message, the next message. Monday morning you don’t have time to cry over spilled milk. You’re on to the next message. And the Spirit’s saying, “Slow down. How have you processed what I just said to you?” And however you do that — through journaling, through prayer walks, through multiple listenings — whatever it is, “Eat this book!” We need God’s Word not to merely be bouncing around in our ears but become part of our cells, absorbed through our bloodstream, spiritually. John is illustrating this for us.
Last week in elder meeting we began by meditating, we began our meeting by meditating on Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28. He said,
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock.”
And we focused primarily on those first words, “pay careful attention,” because we, today, live in an attention economy, right? You have a certain amount of attention that, to marketers, is a commodity. It’s actually a resource, and it’s scarce, and there’s only so much you have. And people (marketers and other media) are fighting for your attention. And when they get it, they know every speck of attention they get from you is not going somewhere else because all of us only have so much of it. It’s why that word “pay attention” in English is such an interesting phrase because you’re literally paying out attention. You start the day, let’s say, with 24 “attention bucks,” hours of attention. And you’re paying these “attention dollars” all day long to different things and at the end of the day you’re broke. You have no more attention. You get a new bunch the next day, but you’ve paid out a certain amount of attention. What are you paying attention to? And are you letting other people define what you pay attention to? Other forces?
What Paul is saying to the Ephesians elders is, “You pay attention!” Careful attention. First of all, to yourselves. How are you feeding on God’s Word as shepherds, as life group leaders, as elders, as parents? Yes, it’s vital that we care for others. But notice Paul says first, “You’ve got to be feeding, or you’re going to die, and you’re not going to be able to feed others.” Feed yourself, care for yourself, and to all the flock. And we wrestled with and prayed over what does that look like? What are healthy ways to care for ourselves? What are unhealthy? What are healthy ways to care for the flock?
Back in 1657 Richard Baxter first published his classic book, “The Reformed Pastor,” and he gave two great illustrations of the danger we are in in this area.
“Many a tailor can go in rags while making costly clothes for others. Many a cook may scarcely lick his fingers when he has prepared the most sumptuous dishes for others to eat.”
He is warning us that it is possible to snack on God’s promises but not absorb them even while you’re passing them on to others. Revelation 10, John is embodying the opposite. You see this scroll? This message of my purposes? I don’t want you just to deliver it, I want you to eat it. I want it to go in you and become part of who you are so that you’re not just aware of my purposes, you embody them. God is calling us to something like that. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Eat the good food that I have for you.
What keeps me from doing this? Third, I want to skip hard words. I want to skip the hard words. Have you noticed the Bible fits well with my cravings and my culture in some areas, and it doesn’t in other areas? Have you noticed that? It’s really easy for us to believe the Bible in the areas that fit our cravings and our culture and just kind of consume them and skip the other parts. When you eat The Book, you take it all in. John even illustrates that with the sweetness in his mouth and the bitterness in his stomach.
I remember when this first occurred to me. I was a brand new Christian. I had heard the gospel for the first time. I was under deep conviction, and then when I believed it was just like sunrise in the morning. I am forgiven, free from all my sin! And there is a sweetness to that that words cannot describe. But then as I began to follow him as a teenager in a huge public school where I didn’t know any other Christians, and I realized that a lot of the things I did with my friends I can’t do any more, there becomes this bitterness where you realize, “Wow, when you follow a crucified Savior, it’s not always going to be fun.” He’s calling us to take up our cross and follow him, to deny ourselves. And there is sweetness. But if we’re saying, “Hey, I’m in for the sweetness but I’m going to spit out the bitterness,” we’re not eating the book. We’re tasting our version, but we’re not truly “eating this book.” This is why we walk through parts of the Scriptures that are hard and talk about things that in our culture you’re not supposed to talk about, because we want to eat it all even if it’s hard, bitter.
Finally, what keeps me from this? I don’t share what I learn. The danger here is to take it in just kind of for my own purposes. Let me remind you of our church purpose, and look at the movement here. We are called to believe God’s Word, and then to connect with his people, and then to get it out. Share his story. If we say, “Hey, I’ll take this. I don’t know about connecting with you people, and I’m certainly not going to share it,” We’re rejecting the call of Christ. Go make disciples, all nations, baptizing, teaching. That’s our call.
Now, John’s call was very specific. I’m calling you to be a prophet, to prophesy, to take what you’ve consumed and communicate it. But it’s that same idea. When we truly eat his Word, it’s going to come out. It’s got to come out. We’ve got to share it. And in many ways, we don’t really know it until we what? Teach it. You haven’t really learned something until you teach it. Part of what might stop some of us from truly eating his Word is not … Many of us are rabid learners but we go decade after decade still fearing that we don’t know enough to teach. And let me tell you, that’s never going to change. Every Sunday I think I don’t know enough to teach, but when the call of God is on you, you take in and you give out. And whether that’s very casual, sharing what you learn in your devotions that morning, or very formal, we share what he gives us.