May 16, 2010
“The Last Word”
Are you one of those people who like to have the last word? Does it just stick in your craw if someone else gets in that last jab or snipe? You want to be the one to leave them with something to think about, right? You don't want them or anyone else thinking they won the argument. After all, you're right, right? Our sinful pride drives us to many childish ways of behaving, and always wanting to “have the last word” is just one in our long laundry list of flaws.
Of course, you don't get to have the last word when it comes to God. He always has the last word. Today, let's consider this passage from the very end of the very last chapter of the last book in our Bible. How does it end? God's last word....
Revelation ends on a high note. All of the plagues and devastation fade away, as the vision John sees of the end turns to the glory of the eternal city – the holy city of Jerusalem. Some of the most beautiful and comforting promises in all of Holy Scripture are found in these 2 chapters. No more darkness, pain or sorrow. God wipes every tear from our eyes. The nations are healed. We will see God's face.
In fact, much of what was lost in the Garden of Eden with our fall into sin – now is restored in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Even the Tree of Life reappears. All that has gone wrong is made right forevermore.
John is so impressed by this vision, so overcome with awe, that he falls down at the feet of the angel who showed it all to him. But the angel quickly corrects him – don't worship me, I'm just an angel. Worship God alone!
And then in verses 10 and following, we have some words about these words. We have some instructions from our Lord himself – the Alpha and Omega, Jesus Christ, concerning the words of the book we are reading.
Don't add anything, and don't take anything away from these words! Or else! That's the basic message. It echoes Moses' words from the end of Dueteronomy “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law.”
Here, we have similar last parting words from Jesus. And they apply first of all to the Book of Revelation. But we can also rightly apply them to all of Holy Scripture. For all of His Word is holy – set apart – and not to be tinkered or trifled with.
Perhaps you've heard of Thomas Jefferson's attempts to condense the New Testament. In his great arrogance this American forefather deleted large swaths of the New Testament – those he found supernatural, unbelievable, and those he simply didn't like. He wanted a bible ““the corruptions of reason among the ancients”, but he was not the first or the last to ignore Christ's warnings here. Many, even many Christians, would do the same – turning away from this or that portion of God's Word.
The threats and the promises must stand. Some would de-claw and de-fang the threats of Scripture. Oh yes, we believe in Heaven but not Hell – God, but not the Devil. We believe in forgiveness but not judgment, you see. God is all good and loving all the time and the parts about him hating evil – we'll just ignore those. But woe to you who take away from these words, Jesus warns.
Still, there are those who would take away the other words. The words of hope. They would turn Revelation into some roadmap of plagues and signs, all the while ignoring the promises of hope that are really the main thrust. Just as many turn all of Scripture into a playbook for life, a helpful hints from Heloise for the Soul. Martha Stewart's Spiritual Living. But the word of God's law – his “how to” - mostly shows us that we can't and we don't keep it. You can't follow his recipe for holy living, because you sin. You can't keep his law, do right, and be holy. You need that other word – the word of Gospel!
And so here it is – in Jesus. And between the Law and the Gospel, the Gospel is the last word.
Think about Jesus “last words” from the cross. We pondered them closely on Good Friday. Each one points us to his great love for us, and how his sacrifice at the cross accomplishes our salvation. With the words, “It is Finished” our Lord shows his death as the fulfillment of all things. The “filling up” or “completing” or “perfecting” of God's great plan for salvation.
And just as no word should be added or subtracted from God's word, no work should be or can be added or subtracted from Christ's Cross. His cross is all we need. We can't add any human work to it. We bring nothing to the table. And if we try, we're only taking away from what he did there. As if to say, “Oh Jesus, we appreciate your dying and all... but it wasn't quite enough. We have to finish the job by how we live” Are we really so foolish and insulting to add one little thing to the cross? But don't take anything away from it either, for there in the death of God's Son, there in the precious blood of the spotless lamb, is atonement for ALL sins of all time of all people.
Which reminds me of some other last words of Christ. His last will and testament. Where he gave us a word attached to something tangible – a promise bound up in bread and wine. Here at his meal we neither add nor take away from anything that he gives, but receive the bread and wine that is his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Yes, here, each time we receive Him, He has the last word. Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.
And the last words of scripture are also a promise. He who came and lived and suffered and died and rose and ascended – he who appeared to John in this great vision of things to come – he will come again. AND SOON!
The prayer of the church is that He would do just that – keep his promise and come soon. We look forward in great and eager expectation to the day when he keeps this last promise and comes, comes to judge the living and the dead, comes to call the dead to life again, comes to meet us and all believers, to take us home to that holy city, that paradise restored. There, your sins will haunt you no more. There, he will have the last word forever.
Until then, treasure his words... all of them. Don't cut and snip the words of the Law, those words you don't want to hear. You need to hear them. We all do. But don't neglect or ignore those precious words of Gospel – words which point you to Christ, to the cross, to the altar, and ultimately to heaven.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with us all. Amen.