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©Douglas Beyer 2000

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AUDIENCE AND OBEDIENCE

Seven times in the book of Revelation the word "blessed" rings out declaring the special happiness that belongs to certain people. You may not be accustomed to thinking of the last book of the Bible as an especially happy book. Many are puzzled and maybe even frightened by its strange imagery. But to those who understand its message it is as comforting today as it was to those persecuted Christians who first read it at the close of the first century.

Jesus' recipe for happiness had been tested for thirty years. To the eight beatitudes he gave in the Sermon on the Mount, the book of Revelation adds seven more. The first and sixth are actually the same beatitude placed like bookends in the first and last chapter of this book.

"Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near… Behold I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book" (Revelation 1:3; 22:7 NASB). Revelation is the only book of the Bible in which there is a specific promise of blessing to those who read it and head it.

Revelation completes a marvelous symmetry in the Bible.

In Genesis the earth is created
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).

In Revelation the earth is recreated."
I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away" (Revelation 21:1 NASB).

In Genesis the sun and moon appear.
And God made two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night" (Genesis 1:16).

In Revelation there is no need for the sun and moon.
"The city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it" (Revelation 21:23).

In Genesis we see Satan's first temptation.
"The serpent said to the woman, 'You surely shall not die! For God knows that in the day that you eat from it (the forbidden fruit) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5).

In Revelation we see Satan's final destination.
"And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years… And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone… and will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Revelation 20:2,10).

In Genesis the curse is pronounced.
"Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life" (Genesis 3:17).

In Revelation the curse is repealed.
"There shall no longer be any curse" (Revelation 22:3).

In Genesis we have the great beginning and in Revelation the grand conclusion of God's plan for his world. "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear."

Carrington said, "In the case of Revelation, we are dealing with an artist greater than Stevenson or Coleridge or Bach. St. John has a better sense of the right word than Stevenson; he has a greater command of unearthly supernatural loveliness than Coleridge; he has a richer sense of melody and rhythm and composition than Bach… It is the only masterpiece of pure art in the New Testament… Its fullness and richness and harmonic variety place it far above Greek tragedy." (Cited by William Barclay, Daily Study Bible, The Revelation of St. John, Vol. 1, Saint Andrew Press, 1959, page 2)

It is a pity that so many have neglected this great book thinking it is difficult to read and understand. Of course it is written in very difficult form from most of the Bible. Its rich symbolism can be more easily understood if it is regarded, not as an allegorical jig saw puzzle, but as a surrealistic work of art. It is the "Revelation (singular) of Jesus Christ," not the revelations (plural) to satisfy idle curiosity. If in reading it you get anything other than a glorious image of Christ's sovereignty over all creation, then you have misread it. For that is its declared purpose. "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear."

He who has an ear, let him hear!"He who has an ear, let him hear" (Revelation 2:7). A favorite platitude of Mother Goose theology is that since God gave us two ears and one mouth, he must have intended us to listen twice as much as we talk. Though the exegesis is faulty, it does illustrate our penchant for palaver, our tendency to talk.

When one little boy became old to leave Junior Church and began to sit with his parents in "Big Church," he told his parents he thought he'd like to become a preacher. When they asked him why, he said, "I figure it is a lot more fun to stand up and talk than to sit still and listen."

But the sermon at its deepest level is not talk about God, but an opportunity for God to talk to you. A poor listener never gets anything to take home because he or she never brings anything to take it home in. Hearing is supposed to become more acute when one's eyes are closed. I've noticed several parishioners who never fail to test that idea in church. When one fellow was asked the color of his pastor's eyes he said, "I don't know. When he prays he shuts his eyes and when he preaches I shut mine."

I'm going to suggest that the genetic research department of our local seminary cross a parrot with a tiger. I don't know what to call it, but when it speaks, everybody will listen!

James said, "Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger" (James 1:9). That's one of the best kept secrets of ministry. You don't have to know much. People don't care how much you know, but they know how much you care by the way you listen. "He who has an ear, let him hear."

    His words were slow,
    His words were few,
    And never formed to glisten.
    But he was a joy
    To all his friends —
    You should have heard him listen
. (Author Unknown)

The blessing is promised not just to those who hear, but to those who heed. "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is at hand." Hearing is not enough. Audience must lead to obedience.

James demands, "Be doers of the word and not hearers only" (James 1:22).

God told Ezekiel, "Mortal man, your people are talking about you when they meet by the city walls or in the doorways of their houses. They say to one another, 'Let's go and hear what word has come from the Lord now,' So my people crowd in to hear what you have to say, but they don't do what you tell them to do. Loving words are on their lips, but they continue their greedy ways. To them you are nothing more than an entertainer singing love songs or playing a harp. They listen to all your words and don't obey a single one of them" (Ezekiel 33:30-32 TEV).

That's dangerous. Jesus says that those who hear without heeding build without securing. "Anyone who hears these words of mine and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, the wind blew hard against the house and it fell. And what a terrible fall that was!" (Matthew 7:26,27 TEV).

The church is in constant danger of producing connoisseurs of religion: experts in hearing, but amateurs in doing. Some have spent years reading and hearing the gospel, but still haven't heeded the gospel. They refuse to commit themselves to Christ in baptism or to the church in membership. Others are like King Amaziah of whom it was said, "He did what was right, but sometimes resented it" (2 Chronicles 25:2 LB). They remind me of the classified ad a little boy placed in the local paper: "Puppies for sale. Housebroken, except when happy." Some Christians seem to be housebroken, except when they are happy. They haven't discovered happiness to be found in obeying the Heavenly Father.

An auditorium and a sanctuary look a lot alike. They are both big rooms where people sit. But there is a difference. An auditorium is where people hear something religious. A sanctuary is where people do something religious. Do you worship in an auditorium or a sanctuary? Are you doing something religious, or merely hearing something religious?

Zachariah says, "God wants to know why you are disobeying his commandments. For when you do, everything you try fails" (2 Chronicles 24:20 LB).

    Sure it takes a lot of courage
    To put things in God's hands,
    To give ourselves completely,
    Our lives, our hopes, our plans;
    To follow where he leads us
    And make his will our own.
    But all it takes is foolishness
    To go the way alone.

Blessed are those who hear and heed.

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