If you’re not in Revelation 16 already, go ahead and turn there. Revelation 16, and it’s page 1037 if you’re using a seat Bible. And I would encourage you, if you don’t have an outline, to get one because there’s a little exercise at the end I want us all to be able to do. Revelation 16, page 1037 if you’re using a Bible from the seats.
Last year Andrew Roberts published his rather large book on Winston Churchill — 1100 pages, well-written, fascinating biography, destined to be a classic, I believe. Churchill, as most of you know, was an enigmatic person, a puzzling person. At times we pity him. As a boy he was neglected by his stunning yet absent American mother. He was castigated by his aristocratic, British father. At times he is repulsive when he exhibits an imperialistic, aristocratic attitude. But at times you have to admire Churchill. He probably had a photographic memory. He would memorize huge sections of poetry or stories and then bring them back quite naturally decades later. His eloquence was spellbinding and humorous, even to his enemies. He exhibited remarkable courage in battle. He fought in four wars at the beginning of his 20s, a very young man. He opposed apartheid, pursued many social reforms — worker rights, poverty alleviation. But I think one of the things he’s most known for is his remarkable foresight. He saw things before most people saw them.
And this is quite evident in the years 1936 to 1939. In chapter 17, Roberts calls this the “Apotheosis of Appeasement.” The Apotheosis of Appeasement, that is the climax or the highest peak, the apex of appeasement (when appeasement is at its greatest manifestation), is what that chapter is all about. During that time Hitler was rearming Germany, preaching anti-Semitism, attacking Jews, entering the Rhineland, while at the very same time promising peace to Europe. Chamberlain, the prime minister of Great Britain, was trusting Hitler’s promises of peace. He signed peace agreements, and despite evidence to the contrary, Chamberlain trusted Hitler. One time when he came back from Germany he confided in his sister, “I am the most popular man in Germany.” This is the prime minister of England boasting in his popularity in Germany. Churchill, however, once warned his godson,
“Never confuse leadership with popularity.”
Never confuse leadership with popularity. He also said,
“How few men are strong enough to stand against the prevailing currents of opinion!”
How few men [and women] are strong enough to stand against the prevailing currents of opinion. While Churchill wanted peace, he pleaded with his government to stand up to Hitler and prepare for the worst. Right before the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly to agree to affirm the Munich Agreement, this peace treaty with Hitler, Churchill stood up before the House and said this:
“I will therefore begin by saying the most unpopular and unwelcomed thing.”
That was classic Churchill. In one debate Churchill said,
“The Government simply cannot make up their minds, or they cannot get the Prime Minister to make up his mind. So they go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.”
In another debate he argued,
“There is no greater mistake than to suppose that platitudes, smooth words, timid policies, offer today a path to safety.”
He was desperately, at times almost single-handedly, trying to wake up the world before it was too late.
On a far greater scale, Revelation 6-16, this is the section we are focusing on this fall, is fulfilling that same role. In a far greater way, trying to wake up the world before it’s too late. At the end of this trilogy of cataclysmic judgments — trilogy, remember: seal, trumpet, bowl judgments — Jesus inserts a warning and a blessing. Look at chapter 16:15 in a parenthesis.
“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”
We want to land on that vital blessing. But to get there we want to summarize chapter 16 today. And then, as Alan mentioned some of this, next week baptism and Members Meeting, big time of celebration the following week, Thanksgiving. Lots of praises the following week. Sorry, the next week is Anniversary, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas series. Then the end of January, Lord willing, we’ll come back, pick up in Revelation 17 and move toward the happier parts. We’ve been slugging it out in chapter 6-16 this fall, and it is tough stuff, a section on judgment, but it is so important.
We have called this series, 6-16, “Controlled Chaos” because it feels/is like utter chaos from an earthly perspective. But controlled. God is sovereign in the midst of this chaotic judgment of evil, and he manifests this control in so many ways. The words “it was allowed” appear over and over again. Even the idea of seven is communicating intentionality, completion. We saw seven seal judgments with interludes in between and then seven trumpet judgments with interludes, and then seven bowl judgments with interlude. Each judgment sees heaven open and then seven things occurring. The interludes help clarify what is happening, providing assurance that God is still in control, and his people are secure.
Let’s see if we can summarize the purpose of these judgments. This is adapted from Osborne and Schnabel. Number 1, God reveals the misery of iniquity as he judges the earth and its occupants in an increasing intensity. (Remember the seal judgment 1/4 of the earth, trumpet judgment 1/3, and now we’re going to see today the bowl judgments are all.) Sometimes simply allowing evil to run its course. That’s that sting operation, the police chief allows evil to run its course in order to reveal evil as evil. That’s a great summary of 6-16.
Number 2, God reminds his people that they are never under his wrath; they are safe in his protection, yet some will witness to the Lamb as martyrs.
Number 3, God provides a final chance to repent, yet many will refuse to worship the Lamb and prefer the very demonic forces that bring about their demise. God shows, as we saw last week, his wrath is right. His wrath is just.
Number 4, God calls His people to follow the Lamb as missionary witnesses despite being hated and, at times, martyred.
Number 5, God, in the end, will dismantle his creation in order to introduce his perfect new creation. And we will see that beginning the end of January.
But for today, let’s focus in on the seven bowls of God’s wrath. Verse 1, “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, ‘Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.’” Let’s walk through each one of these and summarize them. Verse 2, angel 1 pours out his bowl on the earth and there are harmful and painful sores on everyone who bore the mark and worshiped the beast. See the irony? They take on this mark in order to immunize themselves from harm. And what God is telling us, compromise with evil in order to immunize yourself from harm always results, in the end, in more pain and greater harm. Huge, huge point.
Verse 3, angel 2 pours out his bowl into the sea and the sea becomes like the blood of the corpse. Everything dies. Remember second trumpet a third of the sea turned to blood. Here there is an intensification as the created order is crumbling.
Verse 4, angel 3 pours out his bowl into the rivers, in the springs. They become blood. And then verses 5-7 we get an angelic commentary explaining the fact that the punishment fits the crime. Today, suffering typically will feel to us, look to us from our earthly perspective, random or arbitrary, sometimes meaningless. But here God is showing, no, his judgment is just. You shed blood; you swallow blood. You drop it, you drink it. Very strong statement of God’s judgment so that his people will allow God’s wrath to be carried out rather than us trying to carry out wrath on our own.
Verse 8, angel 4 poured out his bowl on the sun. People were scorched. Notice, verse 8, “It was allowed.” God allows the earth’s orbit around the sun to move slightly out of its goldilocks zone, the habitable zone, where people … It’s a remarkable thing. If we are closer to the sun at all, immediately we are scorched, water evaporates. Verse 9,
“They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.”
They blame God, but they will not turn to him. Notice all these are natural judgments on the natural world.
Now we’re turning to the supernatural world. Verse 10, angel 5 poured out his bowl on the beast’s throne, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. Its kingdom was plunged into darkness. Colossians 1:13 tells us that God
“has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”
The devil’s kingdom is now characterized by darkness, but it’s not obvious. Sometimes today the devil’s kingdom looks quite successful, sexy, attractive, irresistible, bright, shiny, beautiful. But what God is telling us here, one day his kingdom will appear as it truly is. It is a kingdom of darkness. But rather than move toward the light, second half of verse 10,
“People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.”
When these bad things happen, rather than raising their hands in worship with humility, they clench their fists and gnaw on their tongues. They curse the God of heaven. Proverbs 19:3 explains,
“When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord.”
Just let that sink in to all of us today. When we have enough faith to blame God, to rage against God, but not enough to repent, to humble our hearts, that’s a very scary place to be. I think we need to pause right now in the midst of these judgments to say, “Am I there?” Are any of us there right now? And to receive this word from God saying, “Please, please humble your heart.” Raging against God is an extremely dangerous hobby. It may make you feel righteous and powerful to shake your fist at the God who made you, but it is not safe nor sane.
Verse 12, angel 6 poured out his bowl on the River Euphrates. It dried up, and it dried up for a very specific reason — to prepare the way for the kings of the east. This is the opposite of the Red Sea crossing. The drying up of the river removes a hindrance, and anyone in the Roman Empire would have known exactly what that meant because the Euphrates River formed a boundary between the Parthian empire and the Roman Empire. God is removing his common grace, this boundary. And you imagine, all of a sudden there is going to be massive infighting, massive conflict. But no, something remarkable happens. Verse 13, the anti-trinity — the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet — belch forth demonic spirits which spread out to the leaders, prompting them to actually gather together to assemble in battle. Now these demonic spirits, verse 13, are compared to frogs. Doesn’t that sound weird? Where do we get the frog thing, and how are they like fearful, demonic spirits? I think J.P. Love is right when he says frogs are
“a devastating caricature of the failure of evil. That which men fear most because it appears to be mighty and eternally entrenched, becomes at long last only a ridiculous spawning of sickly creatures of the night.”
These frogs croak and then dip back into the darkness. These demonic spirits prompt the leaders to actually assemble to fight against God in “the great day of God Almighty.” Verse 14, this is the Day of the Lord that the Bible has spoken of throughout. This is describing a great battle on the plane of Esdraelon, the symbol of man’s excessive pride.
And right in the midst of all this, Jesus speaks a blessing. Don’t miss that. Right in the midst of the systematic judgment, horrible plagues, unthinkable evil, in a parenthesis Jesus says,
“Behold, [“Hey, all you, look over here.”] … blessed is the one who stays awake.”
Blessed is the one who keeps his eyes open and his clothes on. We’ll come back to that in a moment. Verse 17, angel 7
“poured out his bowl into the air and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne saying, ‘It is done!’”
It is done. Judgment upon the prince of the power of the air. And there are, verse 18,
“flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake” like no other.
This is the friction that is caused when earth and heaven collide. By the way, you will notice a bunch of “greats” in this paragraph. In the Greek there are more than the English shows. It’s the Greek word “megas.” Megas, great. Let me show you a few of those. Verse 17, a great voice, a loud voice. That’s the word megas. Verse 18, great earthquake, twice in verse 18. Verse 19, great city, Babylon the great. Verse 21, great hailstones and the plague that was so great, so severe, so megas. Seven greats in the seventh bowl.
What’s the point? This is the peak, the climax, the pinnacle of adversity and tribulation. The great city is split into three parts, verse 19, communicating the fragmentation of the cities of the nations. Verse 20, every island fled away. No mountains were to be found. Great hailstones, about a hundred pounds each. Plague severe. All of this is signaling the disintegration of the natural order with the result, you would think, would be a global revival and repentance. But no, they cursed God.
In contrast to that, how should Christians respond to these judgments? And I think we need to go to verse 15 to get an answer.
“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”
This blessing, that “blessed is the one who stays awake,” this is the third of seven blessings in the book of Revelation. In light of the fact, Jesus is saying, in light of the fact that I am coming, the one who stays away and stays dressed is truly fortunate, truly blessed, truly happy, truly successful, blessed. That implies that there is going to be a hypnotic compulsion to fall asleep spiritually and strip off these garments of grace that Christ clothes us in. Let me say that again. This time is a wicked time of judgment and, as we’ve seen throughout this study, I interpret this as now and not yet. We experience all of these things in smaller expressions, now. That’s why these are relevant words to us like they were to the early church. But yet there is an intensification, a building up toward the future. In light of that, there is this hypnotic compulsion to blend in, to go with the flow, or in Churchill’s words the “current opinions,” to fall asleep spiritually.
Dr. George Beasley-Murray who got his doctorate at Cambridge lived pretty much through the whole 20th century. He was born in 1916, died in 2000. He said this, wrote this,
“It is ironical that the century which has witnessed the death of the Devil and the Antichrist in theology”
Stop for a second. What is he talking about? He’s talking about the 20th century was the century which was the most, became the most fashionable of any century, especially in academic circles, to deny the reality of the devil, the reliability of the Bible, the coming of Jesus. All these things were swept aside. In contrast, we are going to live enlightened lives, putting the primitive past behind us. And Dr. Beasley-Murray writes, it is ironical that that century which tried to wipe out the reality of the devil and deny all the realities of Scripture
“has experienced the most appalling manifestations of demonic statecraft, the most terrible desolation of war, and the most widespread oppression of the Christian faith in all history.”
We were promised utopia through denying the reality of evil, yet we became swallowed up in it. This is why Jesus is issuing the warning. Keep your eyes open. Keep your clothes on. If you try to go with the flow of the times, you will be shamefully unprepared.
What does this mean to stay awake and stay dressed? Let me answer this generally, and then we’ll work towards some more specific applications. Generally, the more I meditate on this, the more I’m convinced he’s talking about our purpose as a church. What does it mean to stay alert, to stay awake, to stay clothed in what Christ has given us as garments of grace? What does it mean? It means to believe God’s Word. It means to connect with his people. We can’t do this alone. And it means to shine as lights as we share his story. This is a very general way. You’ll notice all throughout this section we’ve received calls to endurance, calls to not forsake who Jesus is and what he calls us to. You cannot do any of these three passively. It takes intentionality, alertness, responsiveness. Let me show you this in a corresponding passage. It touches on some of these same things. 1 Thessalonians 5:1,
“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
He uses the same language Jesus uses.
(Verse 3) “While people are saying,”
Stop there. “While people are saying,” What is he talking about? Prevailing currents of opinion. People will speak the contrary, saying “There is peace and security.” Settle down. Why do you people talk about sin? Why do you talk about judgment? Can’t you just get along and calm down? And the word is saying, people are going to be saying,
“‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, [You’re not in darkness.] brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. [Notice he goes right after our identity.] For you are all children of light,”
Why are you stumbling around as if you’re in the darkness? You don’t just have the light, you are the light because of Jesus Christ. If he’s in you, you’re children of light.
“children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, [Now he’s talking about getting dressed. Not being naked, but] having put on the breastplate of faith and love, [you’re clothed in the righteousness of Christ. You’re covered in faith and love, these garments of grace that Colossians 3 describes.] and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we [and here he uses the analogy of sleep differently], whether we are awake [that is alive] or asleep [that is dead] we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
You see, you can’t do this alone. If you think you can make it through the hypnotic compulsion to blend in alone, you are delusional. Encourage one another. Build one another up. Believe his word, connect with his family, share his story.
A couple years ago Brett McCracken wrote a book called “Uncomfortable.” It’s subtitled: “The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community.” And corresponding with that, he produced an article with “8 Signs Your Christianity Is Too Comfortable.” And I think this would be a helpful series of signs for us to examine in light of Jesus’ words to make sure we’re not spiritually asleep, getting too comfortable in an amazing place like Greenville. He’s going to mainly look at it from a community perspective. But I think there are applications here for all of us.
Number 1, sign … Oh, and by the way, he quotes C.S. Lewis who says,
“If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
C.S. Lewis suggested a bottle of port instead if your goal is purely comfort. “8 Signs Your Christianity Is Too Comfortable,” and please, please pray over these as we read over these and say, “Lord, show me if I need to hear one of these specifically.”
Sign number 1, your Christianity is too comfortable if there’s no friction between your Christianity and your partisan politics. Now what he’s saying there is not that you’re not going to be a part of politics, you’re not engaged in politics. You can have very strong opinions, convictions about those things. But if you can vote and participate in a certain party, whether Democrat or Republican, or watch CNN or Fox News or whatever media outlet you watch, and as a believer if you’re never yelling at the television, if you’re just agreeing with everything that’s being said because it’s said by your group, then you’re probably spiritually asleep. Can I get one amen? There were more. Wow!
There are no paradoxes, tensions, or unresolved questions. You may be spiritually asleep, way too comfortable, if you’re waiting to follow Jesus until your questions are all answered. Because unfortunately, and I’ve complained to Jesus about this, but he doesn’t seem to be changing it. But he answers many of our questions on the road, as we follow him and step out and trust him, even before we get all those questions answered.
Number 3, your friends and co-workers are surprised to learn you’re a church-going Christian. That may be a sign your Christianity is a tad too comfortable if when they ask you, “So what did you do Sunday?” “Well I went to church.” “Really? Didn’t see that coming!”
Number 4, you never think about or even remember the sermon on Monday. Now that may say more about the quality of the sermon, but I’m going to deny that. I’m going to go to Hebrews 4. Hebrews 4 says the word of God is what?
“Sharper than any two-edged sword. It pierces to the division of soul and spirit, bone and marrow.”
It gets to parts of us that no other tool or weapon can ever get to us. It’s actually a critic, a discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart. That’s how deep it is. And the next verse says,
“and no creature [There’s not one person in this room right now that] is hidden from his sight. But all things are naked and open to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Do you notice that naked language again? What’s happening on Sunday when we open God’s Word together, is the Spirit is exposing parts of us we would rather not see. And our fleshly dependence wants to push back on that and reject that or think about someone else who needs it. But we would do well to receive that, because when he does expose us, he does it because he loves us. And the goal is, as we rehearse this piercing, exposing each Sunday, and as we gather in life group, and as we open his Word alone in the morning, and we feed on his grace, that one day when we stand in the presence of his melting, exposing, holiness, we will be clothed in his righteousness. There will be no nakedness then. We receive the exposure today so that we won’t tomorrow. Does that make sense? And so this question about “church is relevant,” because if I can go week after week (I’m not saying every week it’s going to speak to you at the same level.) But if you can go weeks without God’s Word penetrating, maybe even upsetting, turning a rock over and getting to parts of you that you’d rather not think about, if you can do that for weeks or months, you’re probably spiritually asleep. You’re way too comfortable, dangerously comfortable.
Another one, no one at your church ever annoys you. Now some of you are on the other side and you’re annoyed at everything, and so that’s a different problem. But if you can be a part of a Christian community and never be annoyed, you’re probably too comfortable. Why? Because Jesus has a way of putting us with people who will annoy us. And if you try to protect yourself from that, it’s probably because you’re only getting around people who are just like you. And that ain’t healthy! It’s a tad incestuous. He puts us in a community to expose parts of us that come out when people who are different from us, who look at things different from us, they say things that are frustrating, they point out things in ways that are not helpful, and we can focus it all on them. But the Holy Spirit turns that, and he reminds us that we’re with these people for a reason. We need each other because that helps wake us up. We see things we would not see if we only were with people who were just like us. If no one at your church ever annoys you, you might be too comfortable.
You never feel challenged, only affirmed. You are snoozing.
You never had to have a “truth-in-love” conversation. Do you realize difficult conversations are often signs that you’re awake? For example, even in marriage. Marriages that can go years without any tension often come to a point where they just, the relationship just disappears because there’s no real engaging. And love at times has to confront, which is hard. If we’re a part of a body of Christ, then we have to, when we see something that, not being petty, but something that is serious, we need to be willing to have that difficult conversation. “I may be wrong, but I feel like I need to come to you.” That’s not a sign that you’re in the wrong church or part of a broken body. That’s a sign of life. Ministry is right in the middle of the mess.
And then finally, no one in your church could comment on any area of growth they’ve seen in you. Are you changing? A sure sign of slumber is when we remain unmoved, unchanged, motionless. That is why it’s so interesting in Ephesians 5 when Paul says, “awake you sleeper!” Right in the middle of Ephesians 5 there’s this “Awake, O sleeper.” But think about the context of that command to wake up. It’s embedded in this sea of “Jesus loves you.” He describes in verse 1, you’re “beloved children” of God, now walk as children of God. And then he gets really specific. Walk away from sexual immorality. Turn your eyes from porn, impurity. Reject covetousness. He talks about foolish talk, crude joking, all kinds of impurity. That’s right there in Ephesians 5, surrounded by love, infused with grace. If you think grace is just the ticket out of hell to heaven, and you’re good to go, you don’t know what saving grace is. Saving grace changes us. It empowers us. We want to become like the one who is transforming us. If you look at your life and you say, “Man I can’t think of anything that has changed the last few years outside of more gray hairs,” then you may want to wonder, “Am I asleep? Am I way too comfortable? Am I just going with the flow?”
What I’d like you to do right now is look over that list, that list of seven, and I challenge you to circle the little box of three of them that you … These are stated pretty strongly, so I’m not saying you completely agree with the whole thing. I’m all of this or none of this. But just circle three of them that you say, “Yeah, if I were to fall asleep, that would be an area I’d have to watch out for.” Start there. See if you can nail it down to three where you see the Spirit saying, “Hey, you could be vulnerable there.” Once you’ve done that, see if you can put an arrow next to the one that you say, “This is really the one that the Spirit is putting his finger on for me.” If I’m going to wake up, this is an area the Spirit today is saying to me, “Let’s start here.”
Father, thank you for inviting us right in the middle of a series of judgments to look. You remind us that you’re coming. You’re coming like a thief at a time, in a way, that we can’t nail down. And that you’re offering us this morning a blessing. A blessing on all those who spiritually stay awake. We’re not drifting off, trying to just blend into this world we live in, afraid to make any waves, afraid to disagree with anyone, wanting just to fit in and be comfortable. That’s not where the blessing is. The blessing is with you. May we as a people stay awake. May we keep our garments of grace on, wrapped up in your favor, your love, your truth. Protect it. Thank you for speaking to us. Father, I pray that when we feel conviction, we would know your love. That all your children who are truly yours will at times feel conviction. And that we would realize your purpose is not to just send us out with a vague sense of failure. That is not helpful. But specific conviction and then a crying out for grace. And then you’re ready to wrap us up, to pour out your love because of Jesus. You died for all our sin! When Satan tempts us to despair, we look to you, Jesus. Right now as we experience conviction, we run to you. You wrap us up in your garments of grace so that our nakedness is not exposed. Thank you. Let us be a people who are truly awake today and responsive because you are speaking. We thank you in Jesus’ name, amen.