Sermon on Revelation 7:9-17 for Saints Triumphant, November 16 & 19, 2017
On Saint’s Triumphant Sunday, our thoughts turn to heaven and to the people we love who are there, who see Jesus face to face. Usually at funerals, people say things that reveal their thoughts about heaven. People mean well. I know that. And on sad occasions, sometimes people feel like they have to say something. I’m not sure some of these comments are in line with the truth of Scripture. “Grandma’s looking down on you every day.” I think if my Grandmother was looking down on me, heaven would be much less blissful for her. She’d be thinking, “Why is he doing this? Why is he doing that? That yellow car is too flashy for a preacher to drive!” Or sometimes we imagine our departed loved ones or ourselves doing our favorite things, only bigger, better, without any hindrances. “Imagine the quilt Grandma is making in heaven!” There may be something to this—today’s lesson says “We will serve him day and night in his temple.” We will have something to do—whatever our Lord and Savior wants us to do. And that will be our delight.
I. Who is in the center?
- Revelation is a great mystery—mostly because of the fantastic word pictures that depict the dangers for God’s people in the end times and Christ’s triumph over all. This section from Revelation 7 gives us a peek at heaven. Parts of this are symbolic. “Clothed in white,” means we wear the righteousness of Jesus, since the garments are “washed in the blood of the Lamb.” Holding palm branches makes us think of Palm Sunday—a triumphal procession, a celebration of victory—here, the eternal victory we share with Christ. Parts of this description are more direct. “A multitude… from every nation, tribe, people and language.” That’s not a word-picture, is it? That is describing what will be. “Those who are coming out of the great tribulation…” Every saint who goes from earth to heaven goes from tribulation to bliss.
- And what this says about the center of our worship is no symbol. Everyone is shown standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb. They all fall down in worship. Jesus, the Lamb, is at the center of everything. Not Grandma and her heavenly quilt. Not you or me doing our favorite things without any setbacks. No. Jesus. Our Savior and Redeemer. The one who washed our robes and made us pure with his own blood.
- Our earthly worship, at its best, is a foreshadowing of the heavenly worship. On Christmas Eve, what is the center of our worship? Isn’t it the manger? On Easter Morning what is the center of our worship? The word about the empty tomb—in our church we display a cross with a white cloth draped around it—to say, “He is not here. He is risen.” And week to week, Jesus is the center, too. He’s at the center when we come to him on our knees, saying, “Forgive me, Lord,” and “Lord, have mercy.” He’s the center of our praise. “You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father.” His own words, the Gospel, are what set the topic for every worship service.
- What happens when we become the center of our worship? Nothing good. When we become the center of our worship, our likes and dislikes take the place of his law and gospel. We’re troubled by thoughts like these: Why isn’t it this way. I don’t like that song. Why does that person need to sit in my spot. Why is that person wearing that suit or dress or T-shirt and jeans. And that’s just the worship in this building—what about in our lives—who is the center? Who are you serving? If it is self—then prepare for even more disappointment—because not everything will go your way.
- In church or in the world, what happens with Christ at the center? Well then, your life gets a new meaning, doesn’t it. No matter who you are, what your job is, whatever your age, your life has this purpose: You are here to serve your Lord Jesus Christ, and also to serve him by serving your neighbor. And if hardships come and your life takes some difficult turns, even then, you know who is in charge—Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of his Father, ruling over all things. And you know his promise to be with you always. And you know that he has a good purpose in everything that happens, even though we may not understand how it can be good. So with him at the center, even in the hardest times, we say what he said, “Your will be done.”
II. What is the main activity?
- And what will we be doing in heaven? The cartoons I watched as a kid often depicted heaven with people sitting on clouds plucking harps. I even remember a margarine commercial that showed that. Forget all of that! Forget Grandma making a 300 foot heavenly quilt. Listen to what the Revelation tells us. The Lamb will be at the center of the throne, and we will worship him. We will praise him.
- During the Easter season we sing a song of praise, “This Is the Feast of Victory.” Its text is taken from this lesson in Revelation 7 and other parts of Revelation. “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen.” In those words, we praise our Savior simply because of who he is—worthy of our praise. “Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God” (See Revelation 5:12). There we praise him for what he has done. We praise him for his suffering and death, his victory over sin and death that he shares with us—that made us God’s own free people. Without him we would be lost. But he washed us with his own blood. “Those who believe in him will not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
- Words from Revelation 7 are also in our funeral service. “We will be before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple. Never again will we hunger; never again will we thirst. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be our shepherd; he will lead us to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, Christian Funeral, p. 145). Here we also praise him for what he will do. Those last words have to be the sweetest. “He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.” At a funeral, that’s what we need to hear. There are tears in our eyes now—even when we’re not at a funeral. There are plenty of things to cry about when we look at our world, when we see what people do to one another and when we see just how badly sin infects everything with death. “He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.” …not by handing us a Kleenex, but by taking away every reason there is to cry. Jesus himself gave this promise, “Let not your hearts be troubled. … In my Father’s house are many rooms. … I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14).
Conclusion: It’s all about Jesus. Heaven is about Jesus. Our Christian life on this earth is about Jesus. When we make something else our center—there will be many more tears—much more frustration—and no peace at all because no one else can give us peace. With him at the center of our life and worship, then we have peace. Then we remember who we are because of him. Then we have purpose. Then we have hope—even when every earthly reason for hope is gone—because we have his promise—“a place for you” “around his throne.”
After these things I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing in front of the throne and of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and with palm branches in their hands. 10 And they called out with a loud voice and said: Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. 11 All the angels stood around the throne, elders, and the four living creatures. They fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12 saying: “Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen. 13 One of the elders spoke to me and said, “These people dressed in white robes, who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 And I answered him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Because of this they are in front of the throne of God and they serve him day and night in his temple. He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. 16 They will never be hungry or thirsty ever again. The sun will never beat upon them, nor will any scorching heat, 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd. He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (EHV)