I have a guilty secret …come close, lean in and I’ll tell you what it is, so long as you promise not to look down on me. I am a bit of a fan of jigsaw puzzles!
Frequently in our house, Alison will be searching for her iPad only to find I’ve “borrowed” it to do a jigsaw. Of course, key to doing any jigsaw is that you know what image you are trying to piece together.
Churches as a jigsaw.
Iain kicked off our series in the book of Revelation by wonderfully helping us think about the vision of Jesus we have in Chapter 1. If you missed Iain’s sermon you can always catch up by listening to the Podcast.
In Chapter 2 and 3 this image of Jesus is scattered like jigsaw pieces. John is probably the pastor or pastor/apostle of these seven churches. He knows them well, he loves them. His message to these churches, with whom he has spent much time, starts with a fragment of the fuller image we have of Jesus in Chapter 1.
To the church in Ephesus are the words of him who holds the seven stars and walks among the seven lampstands. A reference back to 1:13; 16; 20.
To the church in Smyrna, the words are these, who is the first and the last, who was dead and came to life. A reference back to 1:8; 17 – 18.
To the church in Pergamum are the words of him who has the sharp two-edge sword, which, in Chapter 1, John sees not in Jesus’ hand (yes, this is significant, but we might not get to that for a few weeks yet), but in his mouth, 1:16.
The one who speaks to the church in Thyatira is the Son of God with eyes like a flame of fire and feet like burnished bronze. This striking image refers back to 1:14 – 15 and, as Iain noted on Sunday, draws upon imagery we find in the book of Daniel chapter 10.
To the church in Sardis, the vision is similar to Ephesus as it is the one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. Richard Bauckham who used to teach at St. Andrews and has written extensively on the book of Revelation notes: “Numerical patterns have theological significance in Revelation. Seven is the number of completeness”. The picture of God here is not communicating that God is made up of seven spirits, but that God is perfect, there is nothing lacking in God, rather God is the most complete being there is, or was, or will be.
To the church at Philadelphia, it is the Holy One who speaks, the true one who has the keys of David. This is not so much a looking back at the vision, in chapter 1, of Christ, but an expansion of it. Jesus is so wonderful, his character and love and grace so deep and rich, that not even the spectacular vision of Chapter 1 could capture all of who he is and what we may say about him! That it is the true one who has the keys of David who speaks to the church at Philadelphia is significant, for this is a church which is under attack by some who claim an authority, status, and greater revelation because of their Jewish heritage. Jesus trumps any claim they make because he is the true one, and in addressing the Church in such a way reassures them that through his death and resurrection they are now included – regardless of their religious and ethnic heritage – in the people of God.
Finally, Jesus speaks to the church at Laodicea where he reveals himself as the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation. Again, as with Sardis and Philadelphia, we have an expansion of the original vision given in chapter 1. While this clearly draws on the truth that Jesus is the Alpha and Omega (1: 8), the first and the last (1:17), it reveals more than this. It reminds me of the wonderful words written by Paul to the church in Colossae which is near Laodicea. Paul writes to this church:
“for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in[b] him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:16 – 20).
Image and Likeness
I suspect that among the best-known words of the Bible are that we are made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1: 26 – 27). While there is truth that every person is made in God’s image and likeness, it is notable that in Genesis the idea of being in God’s image and likeness is always in reference to more than one person. God makes “them” in his image and likeness, which suggests that on our own we are not capable of giving a full enough, complete enough, image/picture of who God is. On our own, we are like a jigsaw piece which has fallen out of the box. To display the picture, we were created to display, we need to be connected to the other jigsaw pieces.
Putting the Jigsaw Together
My conclusion from reading Revelation 1 – 3 is that this is also true of the church. God does not have a problem with there being multiple churches in ancient south-east Asia, indeed I think God celebrated their multiplicity and diversity.
Individually they don’t give the “full picture” of Jesus we see in Chapter 1. But together, the image they present is even fuller and more glorious than the one we see in Chapter 1.
All of this is to say, that just as God has a specific message / calling for each of the seven Churches in Revelation, so God has a specific message / calling for us at QPBC. There will be similarities between what God is saying to us, calling us to do, with other churches, but there will also be something which is identifiably for “us”.
We should therefore have humble confidence (if that is not an oxymoron) in God’s call on our church, in the vision we believe he has given us, the doors he has opened for us.
Yet, this confidence, the vision God has given us, does not mean we go-it-alone. We rejoice that God has many churches in Glasgow / Scotland and know that just as together the seven in Revelation give a fuller more glorious picture of who Jesus is, so in our diversity and multiplicity of churches we, when together, give a fuller, more glorious picture of who Jesus is and the kingdom he is establishing.
Rejoice, and again I say, rejoice
If I’m rejoicing that there are many churches in Glasgow, then I am also rejoicing that there is, both in Glasgow and indeed across Scotland, a new energy and momentum for churches celebrating who God has called each of us to be.
Currently, this looks like pastors and church leaders from across Glasgow regularly coming together to pray. It also looks like pastors and church leaders from across Scotland regularly joining on Zoom to pray for each other, for each other’s churches, for our nation.
I don’t know where all this coming together to pray will lead, but I know two things. Firstly, prayer is both the starting point and the fuel for everything good God does through His church. Secondly, this coming together which is starting to happen, aligned to faithfulness to the word Jesus brings to each individual church, means we, as his people, see and witness to a fuller, bigger, more wonderful and glorious vision of who Jesus is.