Two little verses in the cosmic vision of St. John. Two little verses out of the hundreds describing the last days of this fallen creation and the battle between good and evil. Two little verses that would be so very easy to overlook. But Don’t. For these verses mean everything for those of us living in these dark and latter days. These brief verses are your lamp shining in a dark place, lighting your way through these black days.
6Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
To set the scene for this heavenly messenger you must recall John’s vision of the dragon’s two beasts in chapter 13. The terrible beasts emerge from the sea and the earth, and having been given the authority and power of the devil, they make the earth their dwelling place. But then there appears the lamb standing victorious on Mount Zion together with the 144,000 who had been purchased from the earth singing His praises in glorious worship.
In the great turmoil of the last days the devil, his beasts and all of his anti-christian deceit, propaganda and tyranny come up out of the earth. It is base and vile and panders only to the lowest and most depraved. It is getting more bold and vocal in our culture every year. Its effects are intruding in each of our lives and congregations more and more all the time. Yet for all its might, the beasts and their lies do not win. The Lord is already victorious and His saints are delivered out of their terrible hands.
6Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. This angel and the Gospel appear from heaven. They are from above, and cannot be buried, trampled or covered over. No power can stop it or hide it. No evil or shadowy corner will remain in darkness. Where this message is proclaimed. This servant of God proclaiming God’s eternal Gospel appears directly overhead. In “mid-heaven”, as some of the older translations say. Think of the sun at noon – at full zenith, blazing bright, hot and radiant, and too brilliant to look at.
The kind of scorching glory that withers and melts, that makes men avert their eyes and shield their faces. For here, in this eternal gospel blazing down from heaven we have the place where the judgement of God is announced and executed. Where the darkness of sin is withered and shrivelled. One little word to fell him. A judgement of God at the End, after which would come the new creation … the full revelation of His heavenly glory displayed at the ushering in of the new heaven and earth.
For this blazing glory directly overhead is also a brilliant and life-giving light that comforts those beset by this world’s darkness. For this eternal gospel cannot to be disconnected from God himself. This good news is the proclamation of that victorious lamb surrounded by the saints of God. This lamb, Jesus Christ, sent from God to the earth to redeem sinful humanity and restore the fallen creation, is God’s ultimate and eternal good news to the world. God redeems his fallen creatures through Christ so that he may restore them to himself. As his people they glorify and worship him as their God forever.
The bright light of this eternal Gospel was proclaimed in the bright star and the heavenly choirs shining bright on the night of Jesus’ birth. A saviour in the flesh, come for all nations. That same eternal Gospel shone forth in the cloud of glory and the voice from heaven at the bank of the Jordan and on the mount of transfiguration. This Jesus is God’s own Son, with whom the Father is pleased. His words are life giving, His deeds ordained by God. And not even the darkness of the Garden, or the cross, or the tomb could bring down this eternal Gospel. For on the third day it blazed as brightly as ever when the angels flung away the stone and filled the now empty tomb with the Good News. Death is swallowed up, the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign. And until the day he returns again in glory and bright light, this Good News will never disappear. For angels above and men down below will pick up its call and shout it to all the world. Jesus Christ is the light of the world … the light no darkness can overcome!
That is why this eternal Gospel includes the purpose of moving people to worship God the Creator of all life. That is why it is not just Law (that is the coming judgment) but also a gracious call and invitation (that eternal Gospel). The proclamation of this Gospel has as its end the moving of people to fear God for repentance and salvation through Christ’s forgiveness. The bright beams of this message are brought down that people might be led to (1) fear God, (2) give Him glory, and (3) worship Him.
Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. An essential part of contrition and repentance. Glory is given to God in and through Jesus Christ, the glorious Light of the world. God is glorified when people come to Him in Jesus’ name and thank Him for what they have received in Christ. And Worship always comes out of and back to these. The saints now join in the heavenly worship of God because of the Lamb’s victory on their behalf, the very same Lamb whose blood restores God’s people to their rightful place in worship.
Rightly fear, give all glory, and worship God alone. It is, as it always has been, the task of God’s church here on earth. A task no less important today than it was in the days of the reformation, or of the apostles. Yet it no less difficult either. Given the state of the world today, or the circumstances we now find ourselves in, or the resolve that often just seems to dissolve we might rightly question whether our endurance or faith is strong enough to do so. We might also rightly answer NO, it is not, and never will be. But that is the gloriously eternal Gospel that our Lord shines down upon us here even in the valley of the shadow of death … Our God, our “ever present help in distress” is with us in Christ who holds us tightly and sustains us with his Spirit in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, the waters of our baptism, the study of His Word and the company of the saints who surround us in the community of His followers. All of this will strengthens us to live in Christ even through the most dark and distressing circumstances. All of this is that very eternal Gospel we proclaim.