Living as saints now and forever
Revelation 7:9-17 9 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 They called out with a loud voice and said: Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb.
11 All the angels stood around the throne, the 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?”
And I answered him, “Sir, you know.”
14 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.
Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb. Amen.
Looking around at this world we see, hear and feel death everywhere. We see death in our movies. We hear death in our music. We feel death in our families.
There is war and violence.
There is frailty and disease.
There is weakness and walkers.
We endure death when we have snow in October. We feel death in our bones with arthritis and in our minds with Alzheimer’s. We feel it in our lives as we move our parents to condos and care centers or take away their driving privileges. We experience it when our children become ill or undergo surgeries.
I have confronted death with funerals at both ends of the age spectrum – a funeral for a week-old child and a funeral yesterday for a 102-year-old saint.
Looking around at this world, we see, hear and feel death everywhere.
God gives a very clear promise to sustain God’s people as they see, hear and feel death all around them. “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead” (Isaiah 26:19).
Isaiah adds a refreshing picture here. The morning dew does not stay on the ground but arises in response to the heat of the sun. So the dead do not remain in the dust of the ground but arise in response to the voice of the Son of God. The dead in Christ are alive, living with the Lord and shouting for joy.
The apostle John tells us of a vision he received from Jesus about heaven. “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. They called out with a loud voice and said: Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb.”
In the vision he sees God’s saints streaming into glory. Those who have fought the good fight of faith and prevailed are now alive with the Living One, their Lord Jesus Christ.
We see in heaven what we do not see, hear or feel on earth. We see life. We see vitality. We see vigor and strength and action. We see palms waving and we hear voices singing. We see saints wearing their white robes and golden crowns. We see unity of people from every nation, tribe, people, language, nationality and skin color. We see saints streaming past the River of Life, walking past the Tree of Life and entering Jerusalem the Golden. We witness them gathered around the throne of the Lamb.
In John’s vision, we see by faith what the world cannot see with their eyes. They refuse to see. The world has been blinded by the gravestone. The world cannot gaze beyond the grave. In blindness, they blankly stare at what once was, eyes fixed upon names and dates etched in stone. So in their despair, they turn to an existence unable to cope with life … because they are unable to comprehend death.
For the unbeliever, death is the end – a natural part of life, the next step in evolution. For some, it is to be avoided at all costs, ignored or even denied. For others, it is embraced, romanticized or rushed into as a quick end to suffering. The unbeliever is deceived. They accept death’s claim on the body without realizing death’s demand on the soul.
Death in the world is no longer the final enemy to be destroyed. Rather, it has become a nuisance to be held at bay so we can live life to the fullest.
We Christians have been infected with this worldview. We Christians have allowed our lives to be affected by this worldview.
When we do not understand death, we pursue the trivial.
When we have no focus on eternity, we live for the present.
When we do not cherish the white robes of perfection we get to wear in heaven, we dirty our white baptismal robes with all kinds of sins here on earth.
When we do not treasure the golden crowns we are given upon our entrance into paradise, we tarnish those crowns with all kinds of abuses in paradise lost.
When we do not live for the future blessings to come, we ignore the present blessings now. We do not find blessing in humility, mourning, gentleness, righteousness, mercy, purity, peace or persecution (Matthew 5:1-12). Rather, we live for ourselves and for those things that don’t last – those things that don’t really matter.
Failing to gaze beyond the grave not only leads to hell. It also leads to hell on earth.
Too many Christians have fallen victim to this worldview. The world says, “You only live once” and too many of us believe it. Believing the lie, many of us live like unbelievers.
Rather than acknowledging our poverty in spirt, we chase after any kind of physical prosperity.
Rather than pursuing righteousness, we pander to our sinful flesh.
Instead of making peace, we take vengeance.
Instead of striving to remain pure in our sexuality and sensuality, we shun purity as old-fashioned, so we dirty our body and soul.
Fellow Christian saints, this should not be. Scripture teaches us to glorify God in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20). We Christians are not to be conformed to the world’s view of life, death and morality. We must rather confront the world’s view with the divine view of life, resurrection and immortality. We are not to be influenced with various nations’ interpretations about death or the afterlife. We are to influence the various nations with the Bible’s singular viewpoint about death, heaven and hell. We are not to create our own interpretations of what is moral or what God allows or what people are doing after death to suit our own feelings. We are to subject our reason, feelings and morality to the clear teachings of Scripture.
We call unbelievers to repentance for their faulty worldview. We call the unbeliever in each of our hearts to repentance for being infected and affected by a faulty worldview instead of being influenced and impacted by our Christian worldview.
Repent of your sins. Repent of your unbelief. Repent of death’s power lurking within your human nature. Repent of the world’s view infecting your mind. Repent of your impurity of flesh and mind that has dirtied your white baptismal garment. Repent of your fear of death.
To combat our death, we need to look to another death.
In faith, look to the death of the Lamb.
Look to the Lamb who was sacrificed for sin upon the altar of the cross.
Look to the Holy One of God who took your sin upon himself so he might cover you with his righteousness.
Look to the One who was obedient in heart, mind, soul and body to make up for your disobedience of thoughts, words and actions.
Look to the Living One whose death defeats your death.
Whose nakedness on the cross is your white robe for eternity.
Whose blood washes away all the stains of your sins.
Whose wounds are your healing.
Whose pain is your comfort.
Whose voice is your absolution.
Whose condemnation is your liberty.
Whose defeat is your victory.
Whose grave opens your grave.
Whose death is your life.
Jesus’ death and resurrection give meaning to your death and eternal life. Therefore, your life has meaning for the here and now.
Jesus’ death has redeemed your whole person – body, mind and soul. Therefore, glorify God in your body. Your life has meaning – what you say, what you do, who and how you love. You are Christ’s chosen, redeemed and baptized saints. You bear the marks of Christ’s cross on your head and heart. Word and water have claimed you for Christ’s kingdom.
What you think and what you believe are reflected in what you do in your body. What you do in your body may not seem so great and mighty, but what you do in faith to the Lord and in service to your neighbor endures. And it matters to your neighbor who needs God’s love given to them, God’s grace showered upon them, and God’s mercy shown to them.
It matters as you live out your days as children of God, beloved by the Father, redeemed by the Son and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus taught in the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, because they will be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, because they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, because they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, because they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, because they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:1-10).
It matters when you are humble, for you are demonstrating Christ’s humility to a world filled with pride.
It matters when you mourn over your sins because you are showing that sin is not to be celebrated but repented of and forgiven.
It matters when you are gentle, because you are showing a characteristic that is uncommon in our current cancel culture.
It matters when you are merciful, for mercy is in short supply in our Twitter-mad world.
It matters when you suffer persecution, for that means people recognize you as a proud Christian saint.
All of this matters for we are not like the world. We have been given heaven. We are given a home where we will never be hungry or thirsty or hot or cold or hurting or persecuted again.
“They will never be hungry or thirsty ever again. The sun will never beat upon them, nor will any scorching heat, 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.”
We will be with our Lamb, who is our Shepherd.
We will be with our fellow saints who are alive and celebrating around the throne of the Lamb.
Because we will be in heaven one day, let us live like we are strangers here and heaven is our home.
Because we will be with our Lamb for eternity, let us live like we are a part of the Lamb’s flock here on earth.
Because we will be made saints in white robes and golden crowns forever, let us live like we are those saints cherishing our white robes and treasuring our golden crowns right now. Amen.
Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen.