“Stars and Lampstands” (Revelation 1:12-20 sermon)

One thing you notice when you move from out of state, to Texas, is how popular the flag of the State of Texas is here. Texas flags are everywhere, flying from homes, schools, and businesses — and decorating ice chests and lawn chairs and all kinds of home decor in Walmart. You all may take that for granted here, but it is not like that elsewhere. I’ve lived in several other states, and I don’t think any other state has the kind of pride in the state flag as there is in Texas.

And of course the Texas Flag is very symbolic: the “Lone Star” flag. There is actually a law detailing the specifications of the Texas Flag, and it also interprets the meaning of its colors and symbols. The Texas Flag Code says: “blue stands for loyalty, white for purity, and red for bravery.” The code also states that the single (lone) star “represents ALL of Texas and stands for our unity as one for God, State, and Country”. Most interpreters also say that Lone Star represents the independent spirit of Texans, as well!  But the Texas Flag, like many flags, is very symbolic.

And the Book of Revelation is very symbolic as well. There are meaningful symbols all through this book. We see a couple of them in our passage for today. When God gave John the vision of Jesus in Revelation 1, John said in :12, “Having turned, I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a Son of Man.” Then in :16 he said, “In His right hand He held seven stars.”

The lampstands and the stars here are symbols, but what do they mean? Thankfully God gives us here in this passage the meaning of both of them. And both of them have something very important to tell us. 

I.  The Seven Lampstands

:13 “and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a Son of Man”

The good thing is, we don’t have to figure out what these lampstands symbolize. It’s nice when God gives us the meaning of symbols in scripture, and He does that here in :20, where it says: “the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” In :11 the Lord had told John to send this lettter to seven churches that are in the country we now call Turkey: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. So these are the seven churches that those lampstands represent. 

WHY do you think that God would choose a lampstand to be the symbol of His churches? Well that’s not too hard to figure out, is it? What does a lampstand do? It holds a lamp, a light. It shines light to those around it.

That’s what a CHURCH should do, isn’t it? A church should be like a lamp, a light, shining the light of the Gospel of Jesus and His word to those who are around it. A church is to shine the light of the gospel.

Now, the “gospel” is NOT that we church members are such exemplary citizens; or that we are friendly church family — though we hope these things are true. No, the Gospel is that God made us to love and enjoy Him forever, but that our sins cut us off from fellowship with Him — so God came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, and died on the cross to pay for our sins; something we could not have done on our own. Jesus rose from the dead to be the Savior of everyone who would repent of our sins and put our trust in Him. That’s the gospel. I hope you have received the Gospel and put your trust in Jesus as your own Lord & Savior — if you haven’t, I hope you will today! 

But Churches need to remember the symbolism of the lampstand, and not forget what we are here for.

Wiliam Manchester described how during the first days of World War II, before Germany invaded France, the French army languished without discipline or purpose. One of their generals later wrote: “‘Our units vegetated in an existence without purpose, settling down to guard duty and killing time until the next leave or relief.’ Longer leaves were granted more frequently, recreation centers established, theatrical troupes summoned from Paris to entertain the troops.” (The Last Lion, Volume II, p. 616)  The French Army seemed to forget what they were there for — and soon they were quickly routed by the Germans in one of the worst defeats in military history. 

As a church, we need to remember what God has placed us here for: He didn’t set us here without purpose, like the French army; He didn’t set us here to entertain ourselves; He placed us here to be a “lampstand.” And what a great spot He’s put us in, right?  Here on Anchor Road and 288, we have one of the best locations in this county. Thousands of cars pass here on Anchor Road and on the highway every day. This is a strategic spot. God in His sovereign plan has purposefully placed us here — and we need to remember that He has placed us here to be a light in our community; a light to this whole county — that’s why we were out prayer walking and inviting yesterday (Darla Wilcox got to share with a man out on the street, and share gospel tract with him); that’s why we’re working on VBS for July; that’s why you have an invitation in your seat — to share with someone this week. Reach out — be a light to someone this week. God has placed us here to be a “lampstand” — to shine the light of the Gospel of Jesus in our community, and through missions, all over the world. 

But listen: the most important thing about the vision John saw, was not the lampstands! 

II. Jesus in the Midst

Verse 13 says when John saw the lampstands, that “in the middle of the lamp stands I saw One like a Son of Man.” As we saw last week, that “Son of Man” is Jesus: His eyes a flame of fire; His face shining like the sun. And NOTICE specifically what it says about Him here: it says He was “in the middle of the lampstands.” JESUS is in the middle of the lampstands! This symbolizes that Jesus is present among His lampstands — His churches. This is just what Revelation 2:1 says: “the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand; who walks among the seven golden lamp stands.” Again it’s saying there that Jesus WALKS among the lampstands — Jesus walks in the midst of His churches!  In fact, notice that the churches are just the “lamp STANDS” — JESUS is the light; HE is the One who shines, not us! The most remarkable thing about these lampstands is that JESUS is among them! The most remarkable thing about the churches of Jesus is that JESUS is among them! 

This is exactly what He promised us, isn’t it? He told His disciples in Matthew 18:20 “For where 2 or 3 have gathered together in My name, I am there there in their midst.” “I AM THERE,” Jesus said. We must not forget this. This is THE single most important thing about the church of the Lord Jesus Christ: that HE promised to be there among His people. We must not forget this: it should challenge us; it should empower us; it should encourage us; it should make us HOLY; it should make us so worshipful. Jesus is here with us! Jesus is walking in the midst of His lampstands!

This is THE most important thing about a church:

–  As I said, we’re very grateful for this location the Lord has given us, but the most important thing about this gathering is NOT the location!

  • The most important thing about this gathering is NOT the building
  • The most important thing about this gathering is NOT what kind of chairs or decorations we have
  • The most important thing about this gathering is NOT who the pastor is
  • The most important thing about this gathering is NOT what kind of music we play
  • The most important thing about this gathering is NOT who all you know who’s here

THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT THIS GATHERING IS THAT JESUS IS IN THE MIDST OF US! NOTHING here is more important than that. This one fact should overshadow everything else that happens here.   JESUS IS HERE! And if Jesus is here, that should make all the difference when we get together. 

A few years ago when I was pastoring in Louisiana, Bobby Jindal was the state’s governor. I don’t know if you remember him, but he was a good man, and he had a powerful Christian testimony, so one Sunday we invited him to come to share his testimony in our church. We announced beforehand that he was coming, so the auditorium was packed. LONG before the service began, every seat was taken, and for some minutes beforehand, there was an excited “buzz” among the crowd, in anticipation of the Governor’s arrival. Then all of the sudden, police escorts pulled up, uniformed officers got out, the governor’s car pulled up to the door, and Governor Jindal walked into the house. Someone snapped a picture of that day that I’ll never forget, of the full house, of our Associate Pastor seriously looking around for anything that might distract. It was a “big day” when Bobby Jindal came to the First Baptist Church of Moss Bluff, Louisiana.

Now, I don’t mean to take anything away from Bobby Jindal, or anyone else. I was grateful to God for him, and for his sincere Christian testimony. But the truth is, EVERY SINGLE SUNDAY in our church, we have Someone infinitely more important here with us than just the governor of a state. EVERY SUNDAY, the Bible says, the risen Lord Jesus Christ walks among us. He walks in the middle of the lampstands. He walks in the midst of His churches. 

May we always remember that THE single most important thing about our worship services here at the First Baptist Church of Angleton, is that JESUS IS HERE! And HE is walking among us. That should make a difference, shouldn’t it?

– It should make a difference in the way we attend. We should BE HERE! JESUS is here!

– It should make a difference in the way we talk, before, during, and after the services: JESUS CHRIST IS HERE! 

– It should make a difference in the way we sing! Sing to HIM; He is HERE!

– It should make a difference in the way we pray! Let’s kneel down before Him; let’s call to Him — He’s HERE!

  • It should make a difference in how we listen to the word — it’s HIS word; He’s HERE; He will speak to YOU!
  • It should make a difference in the way you respond; what does He want you to do about His word today? He is HERE!

THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING about our worship each week, is that Jesus is here. We need to remember that, and it should make a big difference in the way we worship here.

And one of the most important prayer requests you can pray for our church is that those who are visiting, will sense His presence among us.

Paul writes about this in I Corinthians 14:24-25, “… if … an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that GOD IS CERTAINLY AMONG YOU.” THIS RIGHT HERE is the most important thing for our guests, for our members, reallly, for anyone to understand — that GOD is among us. And that should make all the difference — that Jesus is here.

Back when Cheryl & were in high school, we both attended the First Baptist Church of Harrah, Oklahoma — a town similar in many ways to Angleton. Several of our students were in the band, or in athletic events. One week, some of our friends were on the activity bus, coming back from a band competition or something like that, and one of our friends, Peter Brown, was a Christian, and a member of our youth group, but that night he was saying and doing some things in that bus that he knew he shouldn’t have. Another one of our friends from First Baptist Harrah, Sheri Thompson, was a cheerleader, and she was there in the bus too. And she confronted Pete about what he was doing. She said: “Peter, would you be doing that if Jesus were sitting right here?” He said: “No way!” And Sheri very boldly said; “Well my friend, HE IS!” Sheri’s rebuke of Peter Brown that night became famous in the history our youth group.

That’s a good word for ALL of us today, isn’t it? Would you talk like that if Jesus were here? Would you act like that if Jesus were here? Would you pray like that if Jesus were here? Would you give like that if Jesus were here? Would you listen like that if Jesus were here? “WELL MY FRIEND, HE IS!” 

JESUS is here! He walks among the lampstands! 

III. The Seven Stars

In :16 here John described Jesus saying, “In His right hand He held seven stars.” 

Again, we don’t have to “guess” what these stars might be. Verse 20 tells us: “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.” 

So what does this mean, “the angels” of the seven churches? We DO have to do a little bit of interpreting here. The word translated “angels” here is the Greek word “angeloi,” plural of “angelos,” which can mean either “messenger,” OR “angel.” It’s the same word. You have to decide from the context whether in a given place it means “angel” (a messenger from heaven) or some kind of earthly “messenger.” 

But there are some hints here to help us:

— for one, we see that each church here has an “angelos.” 

— And if you look ahead to Chapter 2, and the letters the Lord instructs John to write to the seven churches, each letter is addressed to “the angel/messenger” of the church. For example:
— 2:1 “To the angel of the church at Ephesus write …”

— 2:8 “And to the angel of the church at Smyrna write …”

— 2:12 “And to the angel of the church at Pergamum write …”

And so on for all of the seven churches. So each one of the seven churches has an “angel/messenger” to whom God is sending a message for the church. 

But here’s the thing: as Bob Lockhart points out in his commentary on Revelation, if this was talking about the “guardian angel” or something like that of each of these churches, God wouldn’t have needed for John to write them a letter. God would just tell him in heaven! No, it makes more sense that this is referring to the earthly “messenger” — what we would call today the “pastor” of the church, to whom these letters are written. And when you read the letters that follow, to these seven churches, it makes sense that they are written to the pastors. These letters contain messages from Jesus to the churches about different issues going on among them: how they’ve left their first love, or how they are facing tribulations, or how they are putting up with idolaters, or have an open door for ministry, and so on. These are the kind of things God would say to a church through the pastor, His “messenger” to the church. So it totally makes sense that the “stars” here are the “messengers” — the PASTORS of the churches, that God is giving His messages to. (And we are going to look at the messages Jesus gave to them, in the 7 weeks after Easter Sunday.)

So what does it show us here about these “messengers”? Verse 16 says “In His right hand He held seven stars.” It tells us that JESUS HOLDS THEM IN HIS HAND. Jesus holds the pastors in His hand. That’s a powerful and comforting word, isn’t it? Jesus hold the pastors in His hand. 

When you think about it, who is a pastor, anyway, in and of himself? He’s not anything. He’s just a man. If you don’t think a pastor is just a man like anyone else, just ask his wife! She’ll tell you. I forgot to put the muffins away the other night when I was through with them — ruined them all! Why did I do that? I don’t know! I’m just a man. Cheryl’s got TONS of stories like that! A pastor is just a flawed, ordinary man. 

And that has a lot of implications, doesn’t it? For one, it means I have NOTHING good to give you that Jesus doesn’t give me. I have no inherent wisdom or “great ideas” to share with you — every week I sit down with my Bible and look at a passage — especially here in Revelation, in these passages about the glory of Jesus and so on — and I’m like, “How do you express this? What do you say about it?!” It’s beyond human words. It’s beyond my ability. I don’t have anything to say unless the Holy Spirit of God gives it to me. 

But thank God He DOES! Jesus says here to the pastors: Don’t worry; I am holding you in MY HAND! I’ve got you! You are there by MY purpose and plan. And I am giving you what you need. As Bob says, He gives them His power and authority and protection. I especially like that picture of His protection: that He holds us in His hand.  

Some of the pastors in those early days experienced persecution, and even death.  In Revelation 2:13, writing to the church at Pergamum, Jesus refers to “the days of Antipas, My faithful witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you.” Antipas may very well have been the pastor of that church, put to death for his work and ministry for the kingdom. 

Pastors to this day suffer difficulty, persecution, and sometimes death:

I shared with you a few weeks ago how six of the mission pastors we help support in India were arrested on false charges of “forced proselytizing.” 

Just a couple of years ago, in late October, Wang Yi, the pastor of one of China’s best-known underground churches asked his congregation: “If tomorrow morning the Early Rain Covenant Church suddenly disappeared from the city of Chengdu, if each of us vanished into thin air, would this city be any different? Would anyone miss us?” He said, “I don’t know.”  But almost three months later, Wang’s hypothetical scenario was put to the test. The Chinese government church closed his church, and Wang and his wife remain in detention. (The Guardian 1/13/19) This is happening all over China these days. I’ve put the Chinese pastors in prison on my regular prayer list, and I hope you will too. 

But here’s the thing: Jesus says, I hold them in My hand. What a word of comfort. He holds the stars — He holds the pastors of the churches — in His hand. He gives them His authority; He gives them His power; He gives them His protection. Now, that does not mean that no earthly harm will ever come to them. Pastors do suffer and die. We see that in scripture:

– James the brother of John, put to death by the sword

– Stephen the deacon was stoned to death as Saul looked on.

– Peter, Paul, and numerous others were put to death by the Romans.

But Jesus holds them in His hand. When Stephen was stoned, Acts 7 says he looked up saw “saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” And the moment Stephen closed his eyes here on earth, he opened them in heaven.  Jesus held him in His hand — and He is still holding him now!  What a word of comfort for every pastor and Christian worker: Jesus holds us in His hand.

But this is not only a word for pastors. It’s for every Christian. We just studied in our Sunday School lesson a few weeks ago in John 10:27-28 where Jesus said “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and NO ONE WILL SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY HAND.”

So this is not only true for pastors; it’s true for EVERY Christian: if you are Jesus’ sheep; if you have given your life to Him, He holds you in His hand, and NOTHING can pluck you out of His hand. 

Now, just like for the pastors, that doesn’t mean that nothing bad will ever happen to you; it doesn’t mean that no one will hurt you, or kill you. But it means that Jesus holds you; that He will carry you through what you are facing – and one sweet day, He will take you to be with Him in His glory – and NOTHING can ever stop that from happening. They can take everything else away from you, but they can never pry you out from His hand! 

You just need to make absolutely sure that you really are His sheep, and that He is holding you in His hand. If you’ve never done that, why don’t you do it, right now?  

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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