As though dead
I imagine most of you are watching this video inside a room with a door, much like this one – though probably without a cassock hanging off the back.
Have a look at it – really look at it. Notice its colour, its design, its size. Now imagine Jesus walks right through it. Picture it – how would you feel? What would you do?
That actually happened to John. It was an ordinary Sunday. He was praying, singing, worshipping – when he heard a loud voice behind him (10).
He turned round, and saw Jesus – bright, brilliant white, eyes like blazing fire, face like the sun shining in all its brilliance (13-16). Light that bright is piercing, hot, blinding, almost sharp.
If Jesus walked through that door my first thought was that I would run and throw my arms around him, as Mary did in the garden (John 20) – but perhaps I would actually react as John did:
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.Revelation 1.17 (NIV)
This might seem a surprising reaction. But when Moses goes up Mount Sinai the people are warned not to touch the mountain, or even go near it, or they will die. When David brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, someone touches it and dies. When Isaiah sees his vision of God he cries out, ‘Woe to me! I am ruined!’ (Isaiah 6.5, NIV). Or if you prefer the AV, ‘I am undone!’
God is so holy, brilliant, pure, and perfect that sin simply cannot be in his presence. He is like a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4.24, Hebrews 12.29) – so perhaps falling down as though dead is the right reaction of reverence and awe – and perhaps fear?
Do not be afraid
One of the home groups had a chat about that this week. Fear in the sense of reverence: yes. Fear in the sense of awe: yes. Fear in the sense of being afraid: no!
(1) First, Jesus places his right hand on John (17). Under lockdown, perhaps more than ever before in our lives, we are learning how much we appreciate simple human contact. Video calling just isn’t the same!
But there is even more significance. In the Law, the Israelites were not to touch anything ‘unclean’ – especially dead bodies – because the ‘uncleanness’ would pass from that to them, and they would be ‘unclean’ – a lot like a virus, perhaps.
Here, Jesus – the holy, pure, bright shining one – touches John, the one who is unholy and unclean.
(2) And then, he says, ‘Do not be afraid’ (17). If only we could hear those words, hear them deeply, allow them to take root in our hearts. John had every right to be afraid: God’s power and majesty are terrifying in their perfection.
‘Do not be afraid.’ As I said earlier; reverence, that’s good; awe, that’s good too; but we do not need to be afraid of God.
(3) Hear Jesus’ reason why we don’t need to be afraid:
‘I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’Revelation 1.17b-18 (NIV)
To John, prostrate on the floor as though dead, Jesus says, ‘Do not be afraid: I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!’
Here I picture John looking up at Jesus, taking his hand, and then standing up. It’s barely a parable, the picture is so obvious: Jesus, holy and pure, takes a sinful and dead man, and makes him alive.
But remember who Jesus is: he is not only fully human, he is also fully God. In Jesus can not only come near to God – we can touch him as well. How? We’ll look at that more closely another time.
But for today it’s enough to say that when Jesus touches us, we don’t make him ‘unholy’, he makes us holy – and alive.
Prayer: what part of you is most dead, today? Where do you feel the trappings of sin and death most keenly in your life? We’re going to picture those, and ask Jesus to touch us and make us alive.