The blessedness of preaching Revelation

There are great blessings in preaching through the book of Revelation. Blessings for those who preach it and those who hear it. “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.” (Rev 1:3).

The greatest blessing for me is the confidence and sense of achievement it gave me. Completing the whole series was not smooth sailing. It was challenging. There were times when I had inadequate time for research but the sermon had to be delivered. There were times I was groping for answers to my questions. Quite a few times I was sure the sermon fell flat. Other times I struggled to find interesting connections and applications. However, once it was finished, I felt something similar to that of climbing Loh’s Peak for the first time: a deep satisfaction and a super high. With this experience of perseverance and passion, I feel that I can tackle any other lengthy book of the Bible if I am led to do so. There cannot be anything more difficult in the Bible.

Preaching Revelation had forced me to grow as an exegete. I had to apply principles of interpretation that is unique to apocalyptic literature. I had to grope with controversial issues and work with them to a conclusion even if a tentative one. I had to sort out and learn to recognise different approaches like the dispensationalist approach. I had to learn to remove my coloured lenses due to years of hearing sermons and reading books on Revelation that uses a particular theological viewpoint. Reading many commentaries have broadened my mind. Yet I observe that in terms of the main themes many of them share similar views. I am now better able to handle such types of literature (genre) in the Bible.

My hope was rooted deeply in God’s sovereignty. The dominant themes of stubbornness, idolatry, judgement, holiness, conflict and persecution, God’s sovereignty and faithfulness kept reappearing. It made me realise the importance of being watchful and faithful to the end. I have to persevere in the grace of God knowing that in the end injustice will be overturned, and  the victory will be manifested in fullness.

How I decided to preach through Revelation

Preaching through the whole book of Revelation was something I was apprehensive abut. When it was first suggested to me by Deena, a church leader, my reply was, “Wah, that book is too controversial. How to preach? Maybe a Bible study discussion class is a better format. Cannot lah!” The reasons for my apprehension were a few. I had never studied the book of Revelation for myself before. All I had been exposed to during my spiritual beginnings were the early teachings of our church’s founder, Brother A.M. Mathew, who loved to preach from that book. Of course like many other Christians in the 70s, and 80s, I had heard and read a smattering of messages and books a la Hal Lindsey, Dwight Pentecost, and Tim La Haye. I now know they belong to the school of interpretation called Dispensionalism, but not at that time. Seminary did not teach it. I had on a few occasions tried to study the Revelation, but each time I never got beyond chapter 6. So I had a general idea what Revelation was about. I had in my hands several pieces of a strange jig-saw puzzle that looked familiar. However, by and large, I was apprehensive that if I were to embark on a series, I would be entering without a clear idea of my view. I had a lot to research and learn, and was unsure if the congregation would be able to “endure to the end, and be saved”.

Providentially, by the mouth of two witnesses, the power to embark on this long uncertain expository journey, was imparted. One was the Turkey-Greece exploratory trip organised by Bible Society and Omega Tours for pastors. During the trip in 2015 pastors took turns to share devotions about the messages of the glorified Christ to the seven churches. As I listened to those devotions the Lord drew me in and shifted my “impossible” attitude towards preaching Revelations, to one of “maybe it can be done”. Then back in Singapore I was sharing this with pastor Eng Hwa, an evangelical free church pastor, and he said he has done it before and shared how he did it. That got me thinking it can be done.

I prayed some more, discussed this with my colleagues, and explored different ways of doing this project. My colleagues, pastor Thomas, and Ethel the youth worker, did not object and were supportive. Looking at different outlines and examining the church calendar, I tried different options of doing Revelations. However, the best option was to divide out the book into its natural sections, and have other more topical, accessible and practical sermon series interspersed with the more serious and sobering themes in the Revelation series. Rightly, I figured that the darker themes of judgment, conflict and disaster in Revelation would be balanced out with lighter seasons of lighter practical, relevant subjects that directly touched the congregation’s felt needs. It was like making sure we add to the year’s spiritual menu with some foods they can enjoy together with the vegetables and fibre of Revelation.

Finally, I had to take the first step of faith of announcing the series, which I called Revelation Made Simple, to remind myself through the series to keep it simple. When that was done there was no turning back. However with the relatively more easy preparation required in the early parts of  Revelation chapters 1 to 5, I would have about three months of buffer to begin initial preparation of the more difficult sections which starts from chapter 6. An exciting sermonic adventure had begun for me on the 5th July 2015. As the angels in heaven had sung, so did I resound with a loud, HALLELUJAH, when I completed preaching through Revelation, and all God’s people having gone through the great tribulation echoed, Amen, on the 29th of May 2016. Glory to God.

A.M. Mathew has gone home to his Lord and Master

I saw a follower by the name of Timothy Mathew on the church’s Facebook account. Is this the son of A.M. Mathew the founder of World Revival Prayer Fellowship? I found that he was and so I asked about his father. A.M. Mathew had been living in Toronto, Canada for close to 40 years and was in his late eighties. I asked about them and it was sad to learn that he had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease and his wife had dementia. I brought this information to the church and we prayed for him. I got them to pronounce the Aaronic blessing on A.M. Mathew which we then posted on the church Facebook account and over in Canada the son could show it to his dad. We were glad that we did that but soon after that we received news that the Lord and Master of A.M. Mathew has brought him home to glory on the 21st of September. It was a sad loss but it certainly freed him from terrible suffering of pains in his body. It was so bad that despite palliative care, he could not sleep well, wracked as he was in much pain. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away”(Rev 21:4). I informed the church of this and we prayed for the bereaved family. I adapted the death notice from the cemetery website and put this in the church bulletin:

 

A.M Mathew with his wife Saramma Mathew
A.M Mathew with his wife Saramma Mathew

Rev Arranghat Mathai Mathew (November 12, 1926 – September 21, 2015) – passed away peacefully on the morning of September 21, 2015 at his home in Mississauga, Ontario at the age of 88. Beloved husband of Mrs. Saramma Mathew and loving father to Josephine Mary (Dr. George Abraham), Rachel, Sara (Mr. James Havlik), and Timothy, and a devoted grandfather to Elizabeth (Andrew Douglas), Ruth, Benjamin, Stephen and Joshua. He will be greatly missed by his family, who cherished his kind and loving spirit and are grateful that he has gone home to glory to be with his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. A.M. Mathew leaves a memorable legacy, having founded World Revival Prayer Fellowship in Singapore in 1972, and later beginning a Canadian chapter in 1978 upon his move to the Greater Toronto Area with his family. Through Brother Mathew’s tireless efforts, his ministry eventually extended to Jamaica, Bangladesh, the Himalayan foothills of Assam in North India and Tamilnadu, Kerala State, India and the Six Nations Reserve in Ohsweken, Ontario. Brother Mathew made it his life’s mission to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it was clear to all who knew him that he was an unashamed witness for the Lord. Please remember his bereaved wife, children and grandchildren before the Lord.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

The family at the Paya Lebar Airport leaving for Canada.
The family at the Paya Lebar Airport leaving for Canada.

I was never close to A.M. Mathew. I was probably anonymous and inconspicuous in church in the early formative years of WRPF. Reserved and shy, I did not easily socialize, and deferred and respected leaders from a distance. My personal impressions of A.M. Mathew was his bold witness for Christ, and an overriding passion to prepare the church to be that spotless Bride when Jesus comes again. To this effect he would preach doctrines Sunday after Sunday. I remember being taught regeneration, baptism, baptism in the Spirit, holiness and sanctification, the Lord’s Supper, the second coming of Christ, the church as the bride of Christ, and the book of Revelation. He gave out notes on the doctrines. I still recall his openness to the power and gifts of the Spirit, and yet knowing that his gift and forte was teaching the word, which he did with passion. Interestingly, I am currently preaching through the book of Revelations. On the Sunday I preached about 144,000 and the countless multitudes of white robed saints of Revelation 7, Zach Wong, a pioneer member from the original first eight who were baptized, came to me and remarked, Now that brother Mathew has gone home, you have taken over his role of preaching Revelation, his favourite book. I was slow to take in what he said and respond. I could only smile. Now that it has sunk in, I pray I will be able to preach it with the same passion and love for it, and to do it with interpretative skills I have learned from seminary and years of preaching. Yes, may I be able to deliver Revelation Made Simple with a similar passion and greater insights. I am sure he would want me to do it better than him.

Preaching Revelation: two thoughts

Sensationalizing Revelation

I have begun preaching through the book of Revelation in church. It gets more exciting as one passes chapter 5. I dislike sensationalizing this precious book with connections which have no basis in a proper interpretation of Scriptures. Those sensational and speculative interpretations and applications tickle the curious and fool the naive. They sell books and tapes and “energizes” some believers for a while, the way Red Bull gives a brief boost. Unsustainable. You want to give members slow burn carbs that can help them run the marathon called the race. This is what hope does: it gives endurance, sustained movement towards the eternal city.

One member told me a friend believed deeply that the “rapture” would happen by Monday or Tuesday. Her friend was frightened. Another couple sold all their stocks because they believed the “shemitah” would cause a collapse in Wall Street and ripple around the world.  Shemitah has passed and the stock market has not collapsed. God is still on His throne, and refuses to dance to the tune of suspect interpretations of His Word.

So on Sunday I asked the congregation to lay aside their theological frameworks and preconceived ideas of the end time schedule, even if an angel had whispered it to them. Stick to the Word and let the Word reveal what is there. If it’s not there be quiet. Having a set framework prevents us from seeing the truth that is actually there! Some 50 years ago, this was a shortcoming of those who believed in the “cessasion” of miracles. Their theological framework  could not accommodate the truth and the reality of the gifts of the Spirit in this age. As a consequence, they missed out on a grand blessing. Sad.

Interludes in Revelation

Yesterday my sermon title was “The Seven Seals” from Revelation chapter 6, but without explaining why, I stopped at the sixth seal. It was after all the end of the chapter. Furthermore, chapter seven is an interlude about the sealing of the 144,000 and the blessedness of the innumerable followers of the Lamb in eternal glory.

However after the worship service a few members asked, What about the seventh seal…you didn’t talk about the seventh seal?  I saw how not talking about the seventh created suspense, tension, a desire to know what would happen next. Was this perhaps the intention of the interludes in the vision – to create anticipation?  The interludes appear first in Rev 7 as above, and later on in Rev 10, when the two witnesses suddenly appear after the sixth trumpet. The pauses create suspense. You feel a tension as you want to know what would happen next. Your attention is captured. You will not let up on your curiosity until the last seal is opened or the last trumpet is blown.

Revelation adventure

I have started a series of sermons on the book of Revelation. I never thought that I would ever preach through such a puzzling book. A leader suggested it recently and my immediate reaction was that there were too many interpretations. A Bible study or small group discussion instead of the Sunday pulpit would be a better place to explore it. That was that. However, over a period of time something happened inside that I cannot fully explain. Like the tide, grace came in and I was ready to go for it. One reason could be the messages to the seven churches that I heard during the Turkey-Greece Bible tour. Another was simply a sense of the Spirit inviting me to get out of the safety of my Pentecostal boat and walk on expository waters over the long stretch. In addition, there was that inner freedom to delegate my other duties and to  focus on maximizing my spiritual gift of teaching/preaching.

I know that the easy portions of Revelation chapters 1-5 would give me about 3 months to examine the more difficult terrain beyond. Beyond are the lands of dragons, seals, trumpets, beheaded saints, pale horses and all kinds of strange creatures. This is going to be an interesting journey. I hope to blog a little about the insights I gained while preparing these sermons. I trust I am not biting more than I can chew.

Last Sunday I preached Revelation chapter 1 and sort of gave an introduction to the series. The who, why, what, where, how and when questions were answered in the course of going through the text. The real meat was the vision that John had of the glorified Christ. It was an overwhelming vision of a Christ John never quite knew. John lived with, touched, saw, talked to the Word made flesh, the meek Lamb of God, but this time he had a startling vision of great majesty and glory of a risen, exalted, fierce Christ who symbolically revealed Himself as the Sovereign and Judge (Rev1:13-17). It was so powerful that strength and energy left him and he fell dead like one electrocuted by Life.

We always have to stay in the creative tension caused by the opposite pulls of polar truths. In this case it was Christ as both Saviour and King/Judge. If we see Jesus only as the King and Judge, full of ruthless severity we will cultivate a spirituality that tends towards being Pharisaical – full of hypocrisy and hidden sin, or a self righteousness and a joyless religiosity and pride. If on the opposite end we see Jesus only as the Saviour full of gentle kindness always, we will develop a spirituality that tends towards that of the Sadducees – tolerant to if not compromising to the values, practices and spirit of the world. But if we view Jesus in his fullness as Saviour and King/Judge, we live in a creative tension that grows a wholesome discipleship after Jesus own heart. “Make sure you stay alert to these qualities of gentle kindness and ruthless severity that exist side by side in God. (Romans 11:22 Message).