This is a weekly article series working through the book of Revelation. It is followed every Friday morning at 8 am (CST) by a live devotion dealing with the same subject matter and often additional material for your edification. Tune in Friday mornings on Christ Hold Fast's Facebook Page to learn more and ask questions.
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. -Revelation 1:3
John ends the prologue of Revelation in verse three with a three-part blessing. The blessing is proclaimed on the one who reads, those who hear, and who keep what is written. What John is writing here must be interpreted within the context of the community of faith. The community of faith, or the Church, looks like a pastor and the people gathered together around, and receiving the proclaimed Word. This is the motif that John gives us to understand and comprehend how God delivers the blessing. But what exactly is the blessing?
After serious consideration and study, I can arrive at only one conclusion: the blessing is the riches of God’s salvation delivered through faith.
St. Paul, in Romans 10, writes,
11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Notice that Paul presumes it is impossible to believe in, and call on, the Lord in faith without first hearing the proclaimed Word. How will they call on Him without belief, believe if they have never heard, and hear if they have no one to preach? And who will preach if they are never sent?
“So,” Paul concludes, “faith comes from hearing…” But he doesn’t end there. Hearing, really hearing–the ability to hear in a way that actually does something to us, changes us, kills and raises us to new life in Christ!–this kind of hearing comes only through the Word of Christ.
Do you believe? And in such believing, do you call upon the Lord (e.g., daily prayer)? This grace that you experience on a daily basis is not of your own doing. It is the work of God, not your working it out. The faith you have received, yes, it is yours. It was given to you by our heavenly Father who loves you. He will not put you to shame. Instead, He will destroy your preconceived notions of self-righteousness to raise from the dead, and create, ex nihilo, out of nothing, a life pleasing to Him hidden in the person and work of the only truly pleasing One, Jesus the Christ.
Pastors and hearers–both are necessary for the blessing to be realized–are blessed in participating in the reading and hearing of the proclaimed Word, gathered together by God according to His will. Here in the assembly, whether great or small, whether two or three or a multitude, God confers a blessing on you. Whether reader or hearer, both together, and never without the other, are kept in the keeping of God’s Word. What a great blessing!
But how, one might ask, does one keep what is written? Why by reading and hearing! It must be understood that what is required, if the Word is to be truly kept, is that readers read, and hearers hear. They are to cherish and guard, observe and watch over the Word. This is what it really means to "keep" the Word, Law, Commandment, or, "what is written." Not in an insular, defensive way, but quite the opposite. The community is to share and rejoice in the Word, the very thing through which the Holy Spirit has brought them to faith, and continues to preserve them in the faith through.
Martin Luther wrote,
“I believe that I cannot, by my own understanding or will, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. This is exactly how He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In the Christian Church, He daily and richly forgives me all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day, He will raise all the dead and me, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”
As I am kept in the Church as a baptized child of God, with Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit, so also do I participate in the task of keeping God’s Word. Together, you and I, sisters and brothers in Christ, watch over, take care of, and guard the Word of God entrusted to us, the Church. It cannot be done individually. It must be done together in the community of the Church. But we can only do it as God enables and wills it. If God removed His Spirit, even for a moment, the whole thing would fall into ruin in an instant. We don’t sustain this thing, but the good news is that God has promised that He will sustain and preserve us along with the whole Christian Church.
Praise, honor, and glory be to God alone! The keeping of God’s Word is not given to individual hands. It is given to the collective hands of those who are kept in the strong hand of the Lord, our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. You and I are kept safe and sound within the ship of His Church by the power of His Word.
Only within the Church, within the Faith, in the ship of Christ, will you find the blessing of being kept in the keeping of His Word. Leave the ship, and all will be lost. Jump overboard, and it will all fall into ruin in an instant. You cannot do this on your own. You were never meant to go it alone.
Fear not, though, for through His Word of promise, which is kept in the true Christian Church, you are kept in the gracious will of God in Christ for you. Here you are kept in the keeping His Word.
Until next time, the grace and peace of Christ be with you.
Make sure to catch the live, Friday morning devotion at 8 am (CST) over at Christ Hold Fast's Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/ChristHoldFast.
If you find that you have questions, tune into the live devotion and ask them in the comments.b