Sermon preached by
And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down-that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short."
Books like Daniel and Revelation are difficult to understand
Used to be a joke about 'Have you read the Bible?' to which the response was 'No, but I've read the last bit and we win in the end!'
That's true, we, God's people do win in the end, or more accurately God confirms His ultimate victory at the end.
People often read the end because they want to know what happens in the end, they want to know what's going to happen in the future.
Some people, like Dionysius, didn't even want Revelation included in the Bible because people became too concerned with trying to interpret the future and not concerned enough about the impact and implications of their faith for their daily lives.
But the old joke does present a challenge.
Because Revelation is difficult enough to understand and interpret, it's nigh on impossible if we haven't read the bit in between 'In the beginning God created…' and …'May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all, Amen'.
So the first challenge the book of Revelation presents us with is to read the bits in the middle, and certainly from the bit that begins 'A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ…', so we can begin to understand what it's all about.
(It is possible to read the Bible in 1 year by reading about 2 chapters of the Old Testament and 1 chapter of the New Testament a day.)
In today's story from Revelation we have St Michael defeating the dragon, the serpent, satan, who is then thrown down to earth.
To the Jews and the Greeks reading the story it would have been a familiar tale which has become known in literature as the 'classic combat myth'
- there is an existing order which is challenged by a usurper, often symbolised as a dragon or a beast
- chaos and disorder ensue
- a battle takes place
- the ruler is killed and the forces of darkness cause mayhem for a while
- the legitimate ruler is restored to life again, goes into battle, re-establishes order and reigns supreme
Now if we've read the bit in the middle we've already come across this in Isaiah (chapter27) and several times in the Psalms.
Similar stories are in Jewish literature and the Qumran scrolls and the Apollo and the python is a classic Greek myth in this style.
Did John see this happening to the Roman empire because of the incarnation and intervention of Christ perhaps?
Even if he did it does not devalue the story in Revelation.
The reason John rewrites it here is to show his understanding of the battle of good and evil, the battle we're engaged in today.
Whatever onslaught, trials and tribulations we face, the ultimate final deliverance will come, it's assured and guaranteed.
And we will be involved in trials, because there is a battle between good and evil here on earth, we just have to look around to see it.
But perhaps John is also writing to point out what he sees as a more pernicious and sinister threat.
Throughout Revelation there are many references to the beast, to the worship of the beast and the influence of the beast on society.
The beast is generally interpreted as symbolising the Roman empire (Caesar Nero, the emperor, is 666 when written in Hebrew)
John's concern is to expose the diabolical nature (as he saw it) of emperor and worship of the state. Rome and all it represented, the abuse of power was morally bereft and openly blasphemous against God and John wanted to call attention to this and urge Christians to be aware of the effect this was having on their faith.
Which takes us up to today.
We need to be concerned, as John was in Revelation, with the here and now, not worried about trying to interpret the future. Living out the reality of our faith and the relationship we have with the God the Father through Christ's death and resurrection.
We need to engage in the spiritual battle on earth through prayer. Which implies we need to know how to pray and what to pray - and that's much easier if we're familiar with the bit in the middle.
Engaging with God.
We also need to guard against the secularisation of our faith - not perhaps as John against too much influence by the state in what we say and what we believe, and how we express our faith - but against those elements of society and out community which would seek to undermine the value and basis of our faith.
We need to engage in the spiritual battle by speaking out when we see and hear things which are contrary to God's rule here on earth - they overcame by the blood of the lamb and by their testimony - what they said.
We need to be relevant to the world around us but not conformed to its mould.
The battle is over, the war is won, but there is still a bit of cleaning up to do.