On the Plains of Moab Blog
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June 1, 2015, 10:52 AM

Sunday's Sermon

New Life Presbyterian Church
May 31, 2015.
Welcome to the Wilderness
Revelation 12:1-6
A Sermon for our Graduates
By Cameron Smith

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. 5 She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.  (ESV)

Did you take in those last few lines from Revelation 12 that I just read to you?  The woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. (12:6 ESV).  The wilderness as a nourishing place?  The Greek word for wilderness is erēmos.  That’s where we get our word English arid.  It means a place of emptiness.  Further: uninhabited; abandoned; lonely; desolate; forsaken.  A desert!

I do personally resonate with that definition.  When I was a graduate myself from college, it felt like being kicked out into the wilderness.  First job away from home: Abandoned, lonely and forsaken.  Every day I went my mailbox looking for letters from home and only finding bills.  My first phone call home, my father joyfully informed me how much he was saving on his grocery and energy bills now that I was on my own.  Welcome to the wilderness, son!

Most references in Scripture to the wilderness are not positive; but as we come to our text today, we see it in a more positive light.  Revelation 12:1-6 begins a series of seven vignettes (pictures, portrayals, representations, etc.) of the Church ending at Revelation 14:20.  These vignettes describe the time between the coming of Jesus and his return.  Revelation 12:1-6 describes the birth of Jesus.

The woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars is Israel.  Israel gives birth to the Messiah and the great red dragon, who is Satan, stands ready to devour him as soon as he is born, reminding us of what Herod did when he slaughtered the male children in Bethlehem.

But the child, the Messiah, escapes by God’s provision because he is destined, as Psalm 2 declares, to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.  His life, death, resurrection and ascension are condensed into a literary moment!

In the meantime, between his departure and second coming, God provides a place of refuge for the woman in the wilderness for 1,260 days – which is numerical shorthand for the time between the comings just like 42 months; 3½ years and “a time, and times, and half a time.”  Literarily, these all refer to the same time.  Revelation is a beautiful book!  The woman is Israel, but the New Testament knows that woman to be the Church (cf. Rom. 9:6ff. Gal 6:16; 1 Peter 2:9-10). 

The woman, Israel, the Church, has fled to the wilderness and she needs God’s protection because the devil is furious and looking to take out his wrath on her because the incarnation, obedience and exaltation of Jesus spelled the end for him and his purposes.  He’s not happy!

Here’s the upshot of the text:  Revelation 12:1-6 is literary picture of the Exodus from Egypt.  God delivered his people out of slavery and was with them through forty years in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.  The wilderness IS and CAN BE a bad place. And yet, throughout that time, God made it a place of provision.  He fed them.  He satisfied their thirst.  He gave them health.  He fought their battles.  He put his Name on them and dwelt among them.

And yet, the wilderness was also a place of great temptation for them.  1 Corinthians 10:1-13 describes the sad reality of Israel’s failings and consequences in the wilderness.  The point being made by Paul there is that Christians are in the same place as Israel as we too journey to the Promised Land.  Our Promised Land is the New Heavens and New Earth, when Jesus comes back again.  We are all currently wandering in the wilderness as we look for Christ’s return.

However, I want to turn now to our graduates and officially welcome them to the wilderness.  I say this for you have been shielded, like I was when I first left home, by mom and dad.  You have worn mom and dad’s faith for the most part.  You have lived by their rules.  Big decisions have been made for you in the past.  But, now, the turning point comes as you leave the comfortable nest and make your own mark in the wilderness.

The wilderness will be your place of nurture and it will also be the place of your testing.  The wilderness can be a place of broken-ness and sorrow.  There are many temptations out there encouraging you to sell out your inheritance for a mess of pottage.  The charms of the world seem irresistible.  Not in jest does Proverbs warn twice: There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way to death. (Prov. 14:12, 16:25 ESV).

I like this way of putting the wilderness into proper perspective:  God delivered Israel out of Egypt, then he used the wilderness to get Egypt out of Israel.  Likewise, you were delivered out of the world through Jesus, and now God is in the process of getting the world out of you!  This is sanctification.  This is life.

As I close, let me suggest to you graduates, and everyone else too, how the wilderness can become a nourishing place.  It can become just that if you will learn the lessons it teaches:

1.  As you learn to depend on God for all of your provision.  It is the Lord who makes you all that you can be and it is He who gives you everything you need.  The world says “I, I, I”  The pilgrim in the wilderness says “Thou, Thou, Thou.”

2.  As you recognize that you are not an independent agent alone in the world.  You are not the measure of all things.  Your God has spoken.  Listen to Him!

3.  As repentance grows into a way of life, failures of all sizes find the sweetness of forgiveness through God’s grace.  There is a reason that chapter 15 of the Westminster Confession is entitled “Repentance Leading to Life.”

4.  As you learn that humility is a prerequisite for honor and success.  I love how Jesus illustrates this in Luke 14:9-11!  (Cf. Proverbs 11:2; 15:33; 18:12; 22:4).

5.  As you learn to regard all circumstances, good and bad, as providential means ordained by God to shape you into the image of his only Son, Jesus.  We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.  What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:28-31 ESV).

My prayer is that the wilderness that lays before us and the Promised Land might be the place of nurture that it was intended by God to be.  May it be so for all of you.

Welcome to this wilderness!

You have heard the Word of God.  Please consider it well.   Amen.

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