WILDERNESS COURAGE
Expository Sermon on Revelation 12
Bellevue SDA Church 10/7/2017
©2017 by Maylan Schurch

To hear the audio for this sermon, click the white “play” triangle at the left of the line just below.

 

Please open your Bibles to Revelation chapter 12.

Just a quick note about our sermon this morning. If you are following through the Andrews Study Bible reading plan this year, and were expecting to hear something from Paul’s writings this morning (because this year I usually preach from passages based on each week’s reading schedule), don’t be alarmed.

The reason I’m jumping ahead to Revelation 12 is that at the end of the sermon I’ll be introducing a weekend series called “A Pale Horse Rides,” which features Voice of Prophecy speaker/director Shawn Boonstra. That series is based partially on events which were prophesied in Revelation 12. If you don’t happen to have a Bible with you, I would suggest you pull a version up on your Internet device, or you can see if there is still a spare Bible in the little container under the pew in front of you.

Revelation 12 is one of the Bible’s most fascinating chapters. Its 17 verses form a mini-history of the Christian church.

When I study for any sermon I preach, I print the Bible passage out in several different translations, plus the original language. Then I staple all the sheets together, and carry them around with me along with a notebook.

Yesterday morning I had this little stack of Scriptures on the desk in my home office. Since my cataract surgery a couple of years back, I need glasses to read with, but I wasn’t wearing my glasses when I glanced at the first verse of Revelation 12. And as I looked at those fuzzy words, this is the way my brain translated it: “Now a great SIGH was heard in heaven . . . .”

Do you think that people are sighing up there in heaven? I suppose we need to be careful in answering that. After all, there are many different kinds of sighs. There are sighs of despair, there are sighs of empathy, there are sighs of frustration.

Knowing the emotional energy the Trinity has lavished on us down through the centuries, I’m sure that if there is any sighing going on in heaven, those sighs are sighs of empathy. After all, Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, a man He knew He would be raising to life a few moments later. On another occasion Jesus wept over Jerusalem, longing for them to receive Him as their Messiah and Savior.

Once I got my glasses on, of course, this “fantasy translation” disappeared, and the true meaning came into view “a great sign appeared in heaven.”

If you’ve been to evangelistic series’ at all, or even if you’ve been an Adventist (or a member of another Christian church which focuses on prophecy) you know the outline of Revelation 12 pretty well. The woman in this chapter represents God’s faithful followers. The dragon represents the devil. There is a conflict between the dragon and Michael the archangel, and the dragon and his fallen angels are cast down to this planet. At that point Satan the dragon devotes all his energies to persecuting the descendants of that figurative “woman,” God’s faithful people.

If you look at it the wrong way, of course, Revelation 12 can be quite discouraging. Putting it another way, if you are reading Revelation 12 from the “on the ground” level, it can indeed be overwhelming. Nowadays in business discussions, someone often suggests that everybody try to view a challenge or a problem from the “30,000 foot” level – in other words get above the challenge so you can see it in its proper perspective.

That’s sort of what I would like to do for the next few minutes this morning – look at Revelation 12 from a different angle, with maybe better perspective.

As you might remember, the faithful symbolic woman in this chapter has to flee into the wilderness at one point. That’s not a very pleasant prospect, but as I studied through the chapter this week I discovered a lot of encouraging concepts in it. That’s why I’ve called this sermon “Wilderness Courage.” In fact, I found at least four ways this chapter gives me courage.

I can’t remember a time when we might need this encouragement more than we do today. This morning as I pushed the little “On” button on my iPad, a couple of little news-boxes came up on the screen. They’re designed to get you to click on the story and read it.

This box was from the Washington Post, and here’s what it said: “Mass murder. Climate change. How long can things go on? Actually, we can predict when humans will go extinct.”

Knowing already that humanity won’t go extinct, I didn’t bother reading the story. But even the great Washington Post perceives that a lot of people are just wandering through the wilderness, not really knowing where they’re going. Whether it’s politics, or lifestyle, or mind-jolting tragedies like what happened in Las Vegas, we need some wilderness courage. We need that courage for ourselves, and we need to be able to share that courage with others who have come to realize they need it.

So let’s discover what I think is the first courage we can find in this chapter.

Revelation 12:1 [NKJV]: Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.

I don’t think that I, personally, have paused to meditate on this verse as much as I should. As I mentioned, when we think back to Revelation 12, we think of the woman persecuted in the wilderness. But let’s pause for a moment and look at her here. Because I think we could call this Sermon Point One.

What’s the first bit of “wilderness courage” we see here in Revelation 12? I think you could put it like this.

Take courage! God’s faithful people are bathed in His glory.

Again, God’s faithful people are bathed in His glory.

If you’ve been to a prophecy lecture which introduces this woman, you may have seen a slide which features an artist’s painting of her. No painting I have ever seen does justice to what the verse says this woman really looks like. The picture I am most familiar with is of a beautiful dark-haired woman in a white robe, a robe that looks like cloth.

But the verse says that this woman is clothed with the sun, not cloth. In other words, she is the brightest thing in the sky. And around her head is a crown of 12 stars, which of course represents the 12 tribes of Israel, God’s chosen people. God has always wanted His people to be on display – that’s why He located Abraham on the land bridge between the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Desert. God wanted other people to observe Heaven’s culture in action.

Jesus makes similar comments. For example, in His Sermon on the Mount, He tells His listeners: ““You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14 – 16)

Now, as you move through your daily schedule, meeting the people you meet in doing the tasks you need to do, you may not see yourself as any kind of light in the world, let alone THE light of the world. But Jesus, who sees things from the 30,000 foot level, knows that you are. If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve probably become aware that you are influencing people. Even though they may say nothing to you about this, you are changing people’s thinking, and helping them adjust to a selfless way of living.

So no matter what you’re going through at the moment, take courage! If you are part of God’s faithful people, and you’re trying to live the way He wants you to live, you are bathed in His glory—that’s what Jesus said–and other people can see that.

Now let’s find some more encouragement here in Revelation 12. Let’s pick it up back at verse 1.

Verses 1 – 2: Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.

Here’s what I would consider a second encouragement in this chapter.

Take courage! Not only are God’s faithful people bathed in His glory, but God’s royal Son was born from among the faithful.

God’s royal Son was born from among the faithful. True, Jesus’ line of ancestry features some quite dramatic sinners. But as far as I can tell, these were people whose hearts were turned toward the Lord, or became turned that way eventually. And Jesus’ own mother Mary, and his stepfather Joseph were a humble and godly couple who really cared about God’s wishes. They were sensitive to His Word, and they were instantly ready to do what God said when they understood what it was.

So how can this be an encouragement to me?

Well, sometimes the most faithful Christians get the least amount of worldly publicity. True, these people are lights in the world when they don’t realize it, but they may not become viral YouTube sensations, or public speakers, or do a lot of other things that would get them widely noticed.

I mean, Joseph was not a wealthy landowner or one of those rich farmers Jesus told about in His parables. He didn’t own a chain of furniture stores, just one carpenter shop.
Mary wasn’t listed as having the high-powered executive abilities of the woman in Proverbs 31. In fact, the teenage Mary (Jesus’ mother) might even have been intimidated by the energetic Martha.

Yet God’s royal Son Jesus, the one who Revelation 12:5 says would eventually rule all nations with a rod of iron, was born among the humble and faithful.

So what do I do, now that I know this? I need to be content with where God has placed me. Every moment of my day, if it is spent with other people, is a royally important one. That’s because I am the representative of the King of the galaxies. Stop and think about that for a moment.

Last Sabbath afternoon, Kirkland Seventh-day Adventist School teacher d’Ann Jacaban gave a talk during which she projected a deep space photo from the Hubble telescope. I’ve seen that photo before, but this time I noticed something positively spine tingling about it. If you saw that photo, you’ll remember that it contained many, many colorful galaxies. Each of those little disk-like galaxies was like our Milky Way, and there were dozens of them, taken from just a small spot in the universe.

But what was so chilling to me was that those galaxies were not all spinning in the same direction. Some of those bright little discs were horizontal some were at an angle, some were at the opposite angle. And of course since this was a deep space photo, there would be millions of light years between one galaxy and the galaxy ‘way beyond it.

In other words, there are a lot of galaxies there, each formed from its own event, whatever that event was. And the little Boy lying in an animal’s feed box clamped by gravity to the crust of this particular planet in this particular solar system in this particular galaxy – that little Boy was the one who created our galaxy and all the ones in that photo, and all the millions more.

To me, that’s enough status or prominence to last me a lifetime. I am related to royalty. And so are you. And King Jesus wants nothing more than for us to have a weekly family reunion with Him like we’re doing here this morning. And He wants us to invite Him daily into our houses and our hearts.

Let’s keep reading for more “wilderness encouragement.” We’re going to skip over the verses about the dragon for a moment, so we can watch as the woman flees to the wilderness.

Verse 6: Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

The twelve hundred and sixty days are a time prophecy, which Adventist scholars generally agree concludes in the late 1700s A.D. But let’s take this verse from the top.

Verse 6: Then the woman fled into the wilderness . . . .

What she’s fleeing from, as we see from verse 13 and beyond, is the devil’s persecution. But watch what happens.

Verse 6: Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there . . . .

So this flight – and the Greek word is where we get the word “fugitive” — this flight is not a mad dash, with this woman totally on her own. Here comes the next bit of encouragement.

Take courage! Not only are God’s faithful people bathed in His glory, and not only was God’s royal Son born from among the faithful, but we can take courage because whatever our wilderness, God is there.

In other words, no matter what you’re going through, God has a purpose, and God is present, and God will provide for you.

This happened again and again during many Bible “wilderness stories.” Noah lived in a wilderness of wickedness, feeling outnumbered by the scoffers. Yet God provided for him.
Abraham was sent into a wilderness without even knowing his final destination. God didn’t give him GPS coordinates. But God went ahead of him, and accompanied him, and provided for him.

Jacob fled from his family. David fled from the murderous King Saul. Elijah fled from the murderous Queen Jezebel. And after His baptism, Jesus was drawn into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. God accompanied Him, just as He accompanied all those other fugitives.

So whatever wilderness you might be going through, there is strong Bible precedent that God is already there, and has already decided how He is going to provide for you. In the last couple of verses of Matthew, just before Jesus ascended to heaven, He told His followers, “I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”

There’s probably a lot more encouragement in Revelation 12 than we’ve been able to cover this morning, but I’m going to draw your attention to just one more.

A key thing to remember about this chapter is that not everything is strictly chronological. Starting with verse seven, we’re going to hear how there was war in heaven between Satan and his angels and God and His angels. This war almost certainly occurred long before this, because Revelation 13:8 talks about Jesus the Lamb of God as being “slain from the foundation of the world.” In other words, before this planet was created, it was planned that Jesus would die for our sins, which had become necessary because Satan had most likely rebelled at that point.

Anyway, let’s pick up the story at verse 7.

Verses 7 – 12: And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”

There’s a lot of action, and a lot of trauma, in those verses, right? So where’s the encouragement? See what you think of this:

Take courage! Not only are God’s faithful people bathed in His glory, and not only was God’s royal Son born from among the faithful, and not only is God present and providing in whatever wilderness we face; not only that, but we can take courage because the devil is defeated and doomed!

Several years ago I had the privilege of co-authoring the book A Thousand Shall Fall, Susi Hasel Mundy’s wonderful story of how her German family survived World War II while remaining faithful to God.

Toward the end of the book, her pastor father – who had been drafted into Hitler’s Army — was with his unit as the war came to an end. However, it was a while before they knew about the victory. Their commanders would be ordering them to move forward as though the war was still on, but some of the soldiers were listening to shortwave radio and learned from the BBC that Germany had surrendered. It was illegal for the German soldiers to listen to enemy broadcasts, so these soldiers were in limbo for a while. They knew the truth that Hitler had been defeated, but word hadn’t come down officially.

It’s an unpleasant fact of life that the devil is very angry. He knows he has just a short time, and he’s going to do whatever he can to disrupt God’s plans, and to win people away from God’s side to his.

So what do we do? We believe the messages we have heard from this chapter, which is sort of like God’s shortwave radio to us from heaven. And we not only believe God’s words, but we need to become and remain a part of the people who anger the devil.

And who is he angry at? Look at verse 17.

Verse 17: And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

You see, God’s commandments anger the devil. Why? Because those commandments – which God promises that His Holy Spirit will place within our hearts if we let Him – those commandments demonstrate unselfishness. Everyone of those commandments turns my attention from myself to God or to someone else. The devil, on the other hand, is ultimate selfishness. Selfishness is where sin begins.

And the devil is also angry with those who not only keep God’s commandments but have the testimony of Jesus, which Revelation 19:10 equates with the “spirit of prophecy.” In other words, these people are willing to listen to prophetic guidance from God, which will guide them back to His Word and away from the devil’s deceptions.

In a moment, we’re going to introduce a special program which will be held the last weekend of this month. It will give some intriguing historical background on some of these wilderness-dwellers during the Middle Ages, people who stayed true to God and base their lives on His Scriptures.

But right here, at this moment, I would like to ask you to join me in resolving to trust our Heavenly Father to go ahead of us and guide us and nourish us through whatever wilderness we are currently going through.

Would you like to raise your hand if that’s your resolution this morning?