What am I Looking at Right Now?
During our trip to Norway, my wife and I visited the National Art Museum, located in the capital city of Oslo. And while my creatively gifted wife was taking in the techniques and expressions of the various paintings for her own learning, I was off in some corner looking at an abstract painting and saying, “what am I looking at right now? I can’t for the life of me figure this out.” What ended up happening during this visit then was that I either would read the metal plaque under the painting to try and understand, I would ask my wife what she thought was going on in the painting, or we both accepted that we didn’t know what was going on and we would move on to the next painting. I needed the painting to be plainly explained to me, or else I just didn’t understand. I needed the answer to the question, “what am I looking at right now?” Later on, during the same trip, my wife and I then visited a different museum. This museum was Norway’s National Bible Museum. At this museum, located under glass, was Norway’s first Bible that was written in the Norwegian language. It was a gift given to King Christian III, who was man much supportive of Martin Luther and the cause of the Reformation. This was a blessing at its time, for it was the Message of God’s Word accessible to the people, no longer in indecipherable Latin. And when I looked at this historical development, I asked, “What am I looking at right now? Well, as one of our hymns puts it, I was looking at the golden case where gems of truth are stored.
Of course, to have the Bible in understandable language, the common language of the people, was gift given by God through His grace shown in the Reformation. And yet, have you ever had it happen to you where when you are reading your English Bibles you say, “What am I reading? What am I looking at right now? I don’t understand what is meant here.” When this happens with Scripture, I often think of an account that comes from the book of Acts involving an Evangelist named Philip and a rich man from Ethiopia. Philip was directed by the Holy Spirit to encounter the Ethiopian man to preach the Gospel to him. As Philip meets him, he notices that the man is reading from the book of Isaiah, and he asks, “"Do you understand what you are reading?” And the Ethiopian man responds, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth." So, the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.”
So, The Ethiopian essentially asked, “what am I looking at right now?” Philip answered plainly, “Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior.” What a blessing it was for the Ethiopian then to have that message plainly explained, and what a shame it would have been to have that blessing disappear. For when it comes to Scripture, one cannot simply walk away from it like a Picasso on a museum wall and say, “Guess I just won’t understand,” and be fine. For when it comes to the message of Scripture, if you don’t know what you’re looking at, that can leave you in a place of fear, misunderstanding, and vulnerability to wolves in sheep’s clothing. It can leave you without the message of Christ crucified for your salvation. Therefore, as our theme for this morning let, us answer the question, “What am I Looking at right now?” with the eternal and ever-moving Gospel that we may fear God in childlike faith, praise Him with His pure Word, and thank Him for preserving this Word through His servants of the Reformation.
Now if you want an example from Scripture of where many say when they read it, “what am I looking at right now?” Then perhaps the book where our sermon text comes from would suffice. St. John’s Revelation is chalked full of examples. In the immediate context of our sermon text, chapter 13, to be specific, one’s mind can certainly be filled with, “what does all this mean? What am I looking at right now?” Here’s a brief synopsis of it: The apostle John saw in his vision a dragon spewing a river to drown a woman fleeing for her life, a multiheaded bear-leopard thing coming out of the sea that everyone worships and loves, and a goat headed creature that sounds like a dragon that can perform signs, manipulate people, and bears the number 666…So, you might say, “what am I looking at right now?” This is the immediate context that happens before the angel appears in the midst of heaven.
So, what are we looking at right now? Well, as Philip did for the Ethiopian, so we do here today that we may understand what we are reading. Here’s what the Spirit teaches us in this vision: John spoke about a ferocious dragon and two terrifying beasts in league with this dragon’s diabolical ways. The message imparted to us in these visions is that Satan will rage against God’s Church with deep guile and great might. He will try his hardest to devour us! He sends one beast, the spirit of the world—the sinful status quo, to destroy us. He has also commissioned another beast, false teachers, to lead many astray through papal decree, work righteousness, and of all sorts of lies that manifest themselves in the name of Christianity. And so, with this evil anti-trinity of beasts if you will, the devil has a plan. He tried to pull this plan off more than five hundred years ago and he still tries to do it now. His plan is to try to answer the question for you, the question asked when looking at the Bible, “What am I looking at right now?” Don’t listen to his answer, for that will get you into nothing but serious, eternal trouble. Now, Satan and his two beasts, the prideful world and deceptive false teachers, want you to misinterpret the message of the Bible. And there are many ways in which Satan and his beastly cronies do this. But here’s one way: “An eternal Gospel given to all people…that’s too easy and rather it’s disrespectful to man’s ego—says the World. It’s too weak and people would allowed to do whatever they want. Put the church and clergy in charge —says the false teacher. And as for Satan, he would say what he said at the beginning with Eve, “would God really say something like that? This is the angry God that smites the Gentiles, brutally chastises the Jews, and is an angry judge only. You must make him happy yourself.” And have people really fallen into this trap before? It sounds so complicated and convoluted. Who would fall for that? Well, does it sound familiar: Man can save himself, the Church has all the say, and God is an angry judge that wants you to punish yourself to atone or else you’ll pay…What comes to my mind is perhaps a German township in the 1500’s, and when they were asked, “what am I looking at?” They saw the message of Salvation as making amends through works, mandatory confession, and indulgences lest you burn like that actor in the street who screamed at the top of his lungs, pretending to be in hell. What were they looking at when they saw the Bible? They saw perhaps a spell book that only the Church and its powerful priests could understand. What were they looking at when they saw Jesus? An angry judge that drove the likes of poor ex-law student and number one Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, to the point of passing out to make Jesus at least some what sparing.
Wow…what a terrifying message. That’s kind of hard to look at. But despite all this terror, you should know that John continues his vision. He goes on from the beasts to relay another vision: 144,000 people worshipping the Lamb. What are we looking at there? The outcome of God’s plan to save us all. What we are looking at here is that at the end of this world, all those who believe in Christ Jesus their Savior, will one day reign victorious with the Lamb who was slain. This Lamb, Jesus Christ, has offered up His life, like a lamb to the slaughter, to give you this splendid outcome. Just as it was when Philip told the Ethiopian, so it is with all of you. Jesus, the Lamb of God, takes away all your sins. It’s that simple, unlike Satan’s lies. This is how your sins are taken care of. It’s not through your works. It’s through God’s grace and only through His grace. This is what the Ethiopian stranger saw explained to him and it’s what you see every time you come to hear God’s pure Word and receive His pure grace in Word and Sacrament. You see God’s grace as your only way of salvation, that is what you are looking at when viewing God’s pure Word, and that only.
And so then, with this truth of salvation before us, let’s look at our Scripture text once more, and in keeping with what it plainly says, let’s answer again the question “what are we looking at right now?” And let’s answer it the right way. Plainly put, we are looking at the everlasting Gospel. And what is the everlasting Gospel? It is the good news that Christ Jesus has taken away all your sins, and we are told plainly here that this fact of comfort has never changed! The angel which John saw in the midst of heaven then is God’s reassurance for His Church throughout all times and in all places that the Gospel of Christ will remain until the end of days! God will not let this Gospel, this beautiful picture that we look at every time we come to it, fall into darkness! He will preserve it as He had it preserved throughout the reformation.
And so, as this is our Reformation Sunday, understand that God, in His promise here in Revelation, kept the eternal Gospel intact to be preached to all in any time and place. He’s done so throughout all of time, but we look especially to this reformation history as a painting which God displays to show that He has delivered on His promise to keep the eternal Gospel. And so, looking at the reformation, what are we looking at right now? Remember that poor ex law student and Augustinian monk, Martin Luther? Well, this is how the story goes. In the very midst of the kingdom of darkness which Satan and his cronies established, God sent his servant Luther and others to preach the eternal Gospel of Christ Jesus our Lord, and that also with such zeal and power that many thousands of people, captive to the lies of Satan, were filled with joy over the deliverance here proclaimed. God led these reformers to properly answer the people’s question, “what are we looking at right now? Thus Luther, called by God through His Word in a most singular manner, preached publicly, cheerfully, and loudly, in the midst of the dark kingdom of false teaching, the pure, unadulterated Gospel of the Lord. With great power he testified that the faith of the Christians could and should rest, not on the word of the Pope or of any man, not on the resolutions of church assemblies and councils, but solely and alone on the Word of Christ as it is written in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. With great power he testified that a man is justified and saved in no way and in no part by his own work and merit, but wholly and only through the work of Christ, which is imputed to the believer by faith. And with great power he testified that the works of the Christians that please the Lord are not such as they choose for themselves, but such as are performed by justified children of God, by faith, through the Holy Ghost, for love of God and their neighbor, and to the honor of the Lord. This Gospel, as preached by Luther, was propagated as though the angels themselves were carrying it forth from the little town of Wittenberg to all tongues and peoples; and the Church of the Reformation is still continuing its victorious course through the countries.
This eternal Gospel then, the promise of God, will last and will be preached to all people throughout the world just as it survived the Middle Ages and has continued to today! There are no limits of time or space that can suppress the Gospel Word. Satan can’t do anything against it. The spirit of the world will try to censor it only to be proven wrong. The antichrists in this world will twist it, add to it, and try to make inaccessible; but as God has shown through His servant Luther and other stalwart defenders of the pure, simple Gospel of Christ Jesus, this shall not be undone.
This simple and plain message of the Word of God, when we look at it and ask, “what are we looking at right now?” Well, you are looking at none other than the only source of truth and salvation. You are looking at the very message from God Himself on how one is to be saved. You are looking at the very message that tells us that though we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we are justified freely by God’s grace given in Christ. You are looking at the very way in which you can receive and strengthen saving faith in Christ Jesus your Savior. You are looking at a Book that is not inaccessible to you but has now been put within reach for every nation and tribe, including you that you may be saved. And when you look at this Word of God, you see Him. And what are you looking at there, an angry Judge that you must make happy yourself or a Merciful Father who dealt with your sins once and for all in Christ Jesus our Lord? Thank God that we know that we see the latter of those two, the picture of the everlasting Gospel given in Jesus Christ. May this eternal Gospel be your confidence, keeping you focused on the Lamb of God from now into eternity. Amen.