Don't Blow It - Could Be The Last Chance - Revelation 9:20-21
If you have ever watched the movie Transformers, you’ve seen Scorponok in the massive desert battle. When I read the description of the creatures erupting from the fifth trumpet, this is the vision that comes to mind. Scorponok was a scorpion-based evil Decepticon. The creatures from the fifth trumpet are metal plated scorpion based locust. Both images, though slightly different, offer a completely terrifying vision. Could Scroponok’s design been influenced by this passage of Revelation? I could not find anything to indicate that it was, but the image just proved fresh and just as terrifying. Scorponok’s superior was Megatron…here we read that these locust based scorpions are not ruled over by Megatron, but by an angel from Satan’s realm…the angel was called Abaddon or Apollyon…translated as Destruction and Destroyer. However, before I have us all expecting a Decepticon-like emergence of Revelation’s creatures, remember that what we are dealing with here is a vision. It is the vision given to John by Christ to communicate hope to the people undergoing persecution under the Roman Empire, and in turn give hope to any of us who are suffering, particularly those who are experiencing persecution for their faith. The seals offered the horses from the cavalry of an invading army…the trumpets take the two creatures that were among the most feared, locusts and scorpions, combined them, and “ramped” them up unbelievably. Like the opening of the seven seals, this series of trumpet blasts offers a visionary picture of the persecution that the people were undergoing, and the coming judgment that God is going to bring upon the persecutors...the type of judgment that hopefully none of us will face, as we make sure that we are not persecutors of those living out their faith.
Since we have already discussed the persecution that the people of Asia Minor were undergoing in the opening of the seals and the certain fact that God is going to come in judgment on those doing the persecution, I want us to shift our focus as we consider what we read in chapter nine, and that is why I asked our reader to only read these last two verses.
With the opening of the seals, we remember that the horsemen were sent out and allowed only to bring damage to one-fourth of the earth. Here, as the trumpets are blown, the destruction is limited to one-third of the earth: “…a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the tress were burned up…a third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed…a great star…fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water…A third of the waters became wormwood…a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light was darkened; and a third of the day was kept from shining, and likewise the night…By these three plagues a third of humankind was killed…”.
We have to stop and ask ourselves, if those who were persecuting God’s people were so evil, why did God not, like he did when “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created….”[i] Well, first we remember the scene from the throne room…how the images in Revelation, and the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, included the rainbow…reminding the people of God’s promise not to destroy all of his creation. Then, we hear the words that were read from chapter nine this morning: “The rest of humankind, where were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshipping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts.”
Why did God not just wipe all the persecutors from the face of the earth? It was because God’s desire was that those who were not destroyed would see the error of their ways, repent of their sins, and come to Him. God’s desire is never for our destruction, or the destruction of anyone or anything…his desire is for repentance and relationships.
Remember the words of Peter in his second letter…we can picture Peter’s scene. The people had been expecting Christ to return within their lifetime…yet new generations were being born, and some were dying. The people began grumbling…”maybe Christ isn’t coming back”…or “well, we believe he’s coming back, but God is just slow about keeping His promise…” Peter, though, counters those arguments with this statement: “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”[ii]
God is wanting folks to repent…He wants folks to turn from their sins, and return to Him. God is always patient, always waiting, always desiring. The prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Isaiah that we have seen referenced so many times already in Revelation, are constantly calling God’s people to repentance…John the Baptizer calls God’s people to repentance…Jesus calls God’s people to repentance, and the apostles of the early Church call God’s people to repentance.
What is repentance? Repentance is our response to grace. God freely and lovingly pours out His grace upon us. God offers us the grace of forgiveness through the death of His Son on the cross. We were sinners, we deserved to die…we deserved to be like the fourth of the earth, like the third of the earth, we deserved death for our sins. Yet out of His love for us, God freely, at great cost to Himself, offered and offers us forgiveness. Our response to that forgiveness is repentance. What is repentance? It is recognizing that we are sinners, and, not simply saying we are sorry, but turning out lives around and walking back toward God. It is, through the sanctifying grace of God, the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us, walking away from the sin, and returning to God. It is only when we repent of our sin that we can be reconciled, returned to proper relationship with God.
As we read these first chapters of Revelation, we come to understand that God’s desire is for the repentance of the inhabitants of the earth, but, as we read: “The rest of humankind…did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshipping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts.”
A loving and patient God…the threat of horrific judgment and death…and being separated from God forever, yet: “The rest of humankind…did not repent….” Why would anyone not repent?
1) Some may have thought there was nothing to repent from. Anyone who has talked to a drug addict or alcoholic in the throes of their sin and disease know exactly what I am talking about. “I don’t have a problem,” comes their response to any confrontation. Maybe it is someone living in a sexually sinful lifestyle that doesn’t think there is anything wrong with adultery, homosexuality, fornication, or, a new way of looking at sex in a non-marital relationship, with not even any intention of heading that way, “friends with benefits.” They claim that they are not doing anything wrong.
2) Some may have claimed that “why should they stop if everyone else is doing it.” It does not matter that everyone else is jumping off a bridge that will lead them to eternal separation from God, they felt that if everyone is doing it, then it is unfair of God to ask them to stop.
3) Some may have claimed that they did not need to repent and stop their acts, because they would ask forgiveness, and God was bound by Jesus to have to forgive them. I have had folks actually tell me that they knew what they were on their way to Atlantic City, and they believed that gambling was wrong, but because they were going, they were going to gamble, and they would just ask God to forgive them later, and he would have to. My friends, I call that playing God for a fool. Dietrich Bonheoffer, in The Cost of Discipleship, calls it “cheap grace:” Cheap grace is “Grace [that] is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits…in such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin…Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”[iii] Either way you look at it, it is simply not the way God or grace works.
4) Some may have just thought, “why worry about tomorrow when I can enjoy today.” Some may have felt that the pleasure they felt they were having today outweighed any pain they may have to face tomorrow. Others may have felt, I can enjoy the pleasures now, and wait and repent later. They may have thought, “I have plenty of time, Christ hasn’t come yet, and He probably won’t come any time soon.” Saying this, they forget the words of Christ, words echoed by 2nd Peter just after talking about how patient God is: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”[iv] There will come a time when it will be too late. We don’t know when that is…but we know through the words of Christ, that there will be a time…like the five virgins who failed to have enough oil for their lamps and ended up shut out of the bridegroom’s celebration…that it will be too late.
We don’t know why, when given grace by God, that the folks of the Roman Empire did not repent of their sins when the judgment came…the question, though, is “have we?” “Have we repented?” “What sins have we failed to repent from…and why haven’t we repented?”
Do we think we have nothing to repent from? 1st John answers that question, “If we say that we have no sins, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…If we say that we have not sinned, we make [Christ] a liar, and his word is not in us.”[v]
Do we think we should be able to do what we want, just because everyone else is? Do we want to spend eternity with everyone else, or with God?
Do we believe in cheap grace? Look at what it cost God…was it really cheap?
Do we think we have plenty of time? What if Christ returned this very second?
Are we simply scared that it will be hard? The truth is, my friends, it is…it is very hard. C. S. Lewis puts it this way in Mere Christianity: “Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.”[vi] My friends, it will be hard, it will be extremely difficult, because it means that we have to put to death our own self-interest and our own desires, and in their place, allow God to: “…put [His] law within [us], and…write it on [our] hearts.”[vii] It means seeing ourselves and the world through God’s eyes and will, and not our own. It means that when we claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we have actually turned our lives over to Him, and no longer hold onto them ourselves. It means, as Paul told the Colossians: “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient…you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator…As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, cloth yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you. Above all, clothe yourselves with love…And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”[viii] Is there anything we need to repent of? Paul gives us a simply way of examining it. If there is anything in our lives, anything we do, any way we act, any feelings we have, that we cannot, “in word and deed, do…in the name of the Lord Jesus…” then it is something we need to repent of.
Is it going to be hard? Yes.
Do we have to do it alone? No. Look around this sanctuary…everyone in here will be traveling the same journey.
Do we have the strength to do it? No…but we don’t have to…”Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us…seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”[ix] It is God’s costly grace that calls us to repentance…and God’s costly grace that gives us the opportunity to surrender to God…and God’s costly grace that gives us the opportunity to live for Him and not for ourselves.
My friends, like those in the Roman Empire, those in that special one-fourth, in that special one-third, God in his grace has given us a chance, given us time! Let’s hope we don’t blow it, it could be the last chance…
Come to Him…Bow before Him…Leave the sin…receive the grace… “He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters…stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.”[x]
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
[i] Genesis 6:5-7
[ii] 2nd Peter 3:8-9
[iii] Dietrich Bonheoffer, The Cost of Discipleship, pgs 42-44
[iv] 2nd Peter 3:10-13
[v] 1st John 1:8-10
[vi] C. S. Lewis, A Year With C. S. Lewis, “9 May – Full Surrender”
[vii] Jeremiah 31:33
[viii] Colossians 3:5-17
[ix] 2nd Corinthians 3:17-18
[x] Philippians 3:21-4:1