4th Sunday of Easter

May 8, 2022

Summary

9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:9-17 ESV)

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

We continue our journey through Revelation and hearing what John recorded what he saw and the scenes appear in our imagination. Last week up through the door in the heavenly realm John goes through and sees the reality that is beyond our senses now, the place where faith gives way to sight as if the walls and sky have faded away and we see beyond to the throne and the Lamb and the four living creatures, and the twenty-four elders, and the angelic beings, and we heard untold voices from everywhere praising God. Onto this stage, so to speak, the drama of our salvation is revealed – the Lamb taking the scroll – and the response to his doing that. Salvation is achieved and God has made a new people for himself who reign with him on Earth and whose lives are marked by praying and praising.

What we haven’t heard today is that John watched the Lamb open the seals one by one and another drama is played out before John’s eyes – there were four horses, one a time, bringing with them power, violence, greed, and death – the ways of our world. The fifth seal reveals an altar and those slain for the Word of God and their witness – martyr means ‘witness’ – and they are wanting things to end, calling for justice, and are told to rest a little longer and wait. The sixth seal is the great ending that Jesus spoke about – great earthquake, the sun is black, the moon is like blood, the stars fall, and people are in terror trying to hide from the coming God who is the real power. Who can stand in such times? And then we have a pause before the seventh seal is opened and our reading today answers that question.

John hears that the people of God have been sealed – protected by God – we know this as Baptism – and all of God’s people are there – there’s no little lame boy trying to catch up to the piper who will miss out – 144,000 the number of completeness. The child of God feeling alone, isolated, small, struggling can take comfort in this symbolic number and then John sees a great multitude which no one can number from all nations, tribes, people, languages and they are before the throne – standing! The imagery – clothed in white – Baptism again – palm branches – worshipping Jesus as King and remembering his donkey and cross and being liberated, rescued, saved. And the heavenly realm worships God and the Lamb! No matter what is happening on Earth this is the reality for those linked to this Lamb – whose sins have been taken away, who live in the forgiveness Jesus’ sacrifice has achieved.

And just to be clear an elder asks John who this crowd is and he needs to be told to be sure and then we hear about the coming out of the great tribulation, washed robes in the blood – again Baptism where we are linked to Jesus’ death and resurrection and then we hear what is happening …

15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This scene is powerful and comforting. We can imagine those first seven churches hearing the message and being helped in time of persecution. The world will not win. We are secure in Christ. Those who have died are not lost.

And the Church kept this letter – this revelation – and kept reading it because even if you were not one of those first seven churches, what John saw and heard in the heavenly realm brought hope and comfort and blessing to them. The letter was incorporated into the New Testament – not without some raised eyebrows – but after nearly 2,000 years it has remained a book returned to and read again and again when the world turns topsy turvy, when things are destabilised, when things are going to ‘hell in a handcart’ because it still offers blessing and comfort!

Centuries of Christians have turned to it – and this scene in particular – to imagine their loved ones there in the great crowd – to try and pick them out so to speak – and to long for the day when they can join them. The promise of no tears of pain, sadness, or grief and being in the presence of God who will shelter them with abundant life is wonderful. It simply is wonderful.

But what also has happened is that Christians have also discovered that this scene before the seventh seal is opened – this scene about living in the ‘last days’ waiting for Jesus to reappear which he said would happen ‘soon’ is also a truth about Christian living in this world now. This is a truth believed through faith. This is a truth trusted. This is a description of reality – the resurrection reality – hidden from our senses – which is why the world mocks us and we can struggle with it ourselves. But this is the truth of living here and now in a place that is not our home – which while loved by God is an enemy of God – and where Christians are always called to give a witness simply by how they live each day – following Jesus.

We are before the throne of God every Divine Service and whenever we go to God in prayer while we stay in our churches and suburbs here. We seek to serve God by offering ourselves as ‘living sacrifices’ which is our spiritual worship by not conforming to this world but by following God’s will through his Word. And God does shelter us through words, water, bread and wine and take us under his wings like a mother hen, wrap his arm around us as we face the world together so that when we turn – in our imagination – we can see Jesus smiling with us and helping us go forward.

We may hunger for all sorts of things in this world but learn more and more that Jesus is the bread of life that counts. We may thirst for many things or be deprived many things in this world but learn more and more that the Holy Spirit gives us living water as we come to Jesus who can quench every thirst. We may feel the sun, the heat, the blow torch of this world – tough times, ridicule, persecution, fear in so many forms – and yet we learn more and more that God shields us from the fiery furnace and we can have peace even as the world turns ‘up the heat’. We may feel lost and alone or have wandered away and may not know how to get back – we so quickly can get stuck in patterns of sin and shame can build but Jesus is our Good Shepherd who comes after us and there is always a moment when we can return to the fold, to God’s Word, to being obedient again – it is never too late – and the tears that flow are tears of joy and the sigh becomes, ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?!’.

This scene in Revelation 7 is about Christians both those who are beyond who see the reality – live the reality – experience the reality John saw – AND for Christians today in this world who live this reality through faith. No matter what happens in the world Jesus is my shepherd, Jesus is my food, Jesus is my living water, Jesus is my life – and I want to witness to this each day in this hostile world. Of course it is not easy – suffering is not what we want personally – the organisational Church wants to be part of the world rather than a witness to the world which is its greatest problem – but the scene before us today is Jesus’ message to his people that sin, death, the power of the world do not determine reality, truth, or the meaning of life. This message – this scene – is a comforting one about a secure future with God – and a strengthening one about a secure present with God in a hostile world.

No matter what is thrown at the disciples of Jesus – and even if they are killed – they are always still standing!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

Bible References

  • Revelation 7:9 - 17