So John, beautiful, sensitive evangelist, is exiled to Patmos, a Roman penal colony, by the Emperor Diocletian.
It’s all over for him. He who had been one of the three with Jesus at every climactic moment of his ministry; who had leaned on Jesus at the Last Supper feeling the physical and verbal beat of his heart; who stood by Jesus at the Cross, seeing the heart of the Gospel; who intuitively saw the connection between the Old and New Covenants, beginning his Gospel echoing Genesis, In the Beginning was the Word.
Oh, he’s done for.
Here he is on barren Patmos, the sun scorching him by day, and the moon by night, the few springs hard to find.
It’s all over, John. You had been commanded to go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to all creation.
But here you are, alone on Patmos.
You who once wrote with the pen of an angel—you have recorded your memories of Jesus.
Nothing new is happening. What are you to write?
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Meanwhile, the Roman Empire rushes on in its empirely way, and the Christian Church flourishes underground, getting stronger in its paradoxical way. And John: alone, forgotten.
He who has learned so much, and has so much to teach has no platform; no readers, no listeners, nothing…
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It’s apparently all over for you, John…
Except for that one thing that still can happen to the one exiled to Patmos, who feels that all his life has been a failure, and that life is almost over
One thing no one can rule out: not the exile, or the prisoner, or the solitary.
God spoke to you.
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The Word of God.
The Presence of God.
It changed everything for John.
He hears a loud voice like a trumpet, and turns around to see a man whose eyes were like blazing fire. His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. And from his mouth a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance (Revelation 1: 10-16).
And Jesus said
“Do not 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!”
Do not be afraid, oh hidden one, for you are hidden in me. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the A and the Z, and within this alphabet, all words are possible, all things are possible.
I was dead, dead as you fear your future is, dead as you fear your hopes, your work and your influence are. But now I am alive.
In me, your future is bright and full of possibility.
“Write, therefore, what you have seen, in a book.”
And at his word, John begun a new chapter of his life, writing… Words of comfort and revelation for seven churches and twenty one centuries.
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Diocletian exiled you to Patmos, John, but Diocletian was not writing the story of your life, though he may have thought he was. He was but a pawn in the Grandmaster’s good strategy for your life.
You were exiled to barren Patmos out of fear and malice and the desire to control and neutralize you.
But that was exactly the plot Jesus permitted, to get you out of the way of ministry; out of the way of teaching; out of the way of adulation and followers and rapt listeners; out of the way of Simon who would buy your power, and James and Peter who might wonder who was the greatest.
This barren island, where no one wants to hear from you, no one wants to speak to you, where is there nothing to do and no voice to listen to but Christ’s, this place which seems an insane location for the man who knew Jesus better than any man did, the beloved disciple, for heaven’s sake, who could tell all the world about him– why would Jesus permit you, John, to be in Patmos?
Because you did have more to write, as it happened, and he had to get you quiet to hear his words, away from teaching or ministry or church planting, or trouble with the Romans, or trouble with the Jews, away from it all, away from the important necessary work of building a church that would be the hope of the world, to do something even more important.
To choose the better path.
To hear what the man with eyes like fire and a voice like the sound of running waters said, and to write it down in book.
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Oh reader, does your life feel becalmed? As if all your bright dreams have come to nothing? Does the Empire run on without you, both the Kingdom of the World, and the Kingdom of Christ, while you are forgotten in Patmos.
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Oh you who feel the sting of failure, do you know that being beaten and coming to the end of yourself are powerful things? Closed doors force you to look for the door that Jesus will open and no one can shut.
Oh you who are well and truly defeated in what you set out to do, you who are well and truly out of energy, be of good cheer. You will now be forced to rely on a power beyond yourself for sustainable strategies…and this I know, his strategies will beat yours, any day, every way.
When everything seems to have ended, a new chapter can begin when you see the face of Jesus and hear the word of God to you. A new chapter will begin when you learn to work with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Be not afraid.
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So you who are on Patmos, what do you do?
First of all, surrender the rest of your life to Jesus. Open your hands, and pour all the dreams and ambitions in them into his hands. Pour your health and your talents, your money and your resources, or the lack of them, all the things you have going for you, all the things you do NOT have going for you, into his hands
Do not dream of beginning a new chapter, a new project, a new enterprise without his direction.
Are you unknown, and unrecognised; are your words dormant within you? Ask him to give your words wings, to bring them to all those who will be blessed by them. Hand your career over to him as clay, asking him to fashion something beautiful, something lasting with it.
When you think it’s all over, and you think you’ve failed, and are on a downward spiral, too old to do anything new, beautiful or important, get quiet on your Patmos, for as many days or weeks as it takes, until the noise of the outer world blows away.
Get quiet, Beloved Failure; listen hard for the one with blazing eyes, with a voice like a trumpet.
The answer may come immediately, or in the ten days it took the prophet Jeremiah to hear the word of the Lord. Or longer.
Then do what he tells you.
It may be that when everything is lost, he will speak, he will whisper, whisper softly in your ear. Stage directions that you really need to hear.
And all your past will be an insignificant chapter compared to the great chapters he is now going to write in your life, you and he together.
And all the words you have written will fade into insignificance compared to the words you will write, as he whispers softly in your ear.
He saves the best for last.
And if he says so, “write everything you have seen in a book.” (Revelation 1:11)
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