The 25th Sunday After Pentecost November 18, 2007
344, 610, 656, 613(1,4)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 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 dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ, who with His blood has washed us clean from all sin:
Looking in a photo album with your children can be a very eye-opening experience. You have to explain such terms as “leisure suit” and “polyester.” I just read the other day that leg-warmers, which were popular in the 1980’s, are making a comeback. We do have changing opinions about what looks fashionable and what does not. What does not change is the idea that we should be dressed properly for the occasion. You will dress differently based on whether you’re going to work on your car or if you’re going to a wedding.
How would you dress for heaven? We have the answer before us in the book of Revelation. Revelation is a picture book about our future. There are many images in Revelation that are designed to give us comfort about the way things will end for the believer. The snapshot that we want to take home today is that God dresses us for heaven. He gives us the proper attire which allows us to be with Him forever by His throne. May the Holy Spirit open our hearts to receive this message of comfort today.
In one of Jesus’ parables He described a wedding feast at which many who were invited did not show up (cf. Matthew 22:1-14). The master instructed his servant to invite even more. One man, however, showed up without a wedding garment. He was not properly dressed for the occasion. He was thrown out to where there was “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13). The lesson driven home to us is that you cannot enter Heaven without the proper clothing.
The book of Isaiah illustrates quite clearly that we don’t own the right clothing. We are told that “all of our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Our appearance isn’t even close to what it needs to be. We are disgusting! To approach God with our own goodness would be like going to a wedding in clothes covered in manure. Yet we often fool ourselves into thinking that we have what it takes in the goodness department to be with God.
To get into Heaven is not like trying to get past the velvet rope of an exclusive club. The Devil has propagated the lie that there are many ways to get into Heaven. You’ll find people who dabble in all sorts of religions in hope that they’ve hit on the right one. Consider the desperation of a suicide bomber who is willing to give up his own life in order to get to his idea of paradise. In reality it is impossible to get into heaven unless you have what Isaiah terms the robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). You need to have your sins covered. You need to have your own robes washed and cleansed until they are white and holy. There cannot be one trace of sin remaining.
It takes the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood to do such a thing. There’s no other detergent that can remove your wrongdoing than the blood of Christ. If it were possible to get rid of sin in another way, then surely God would not have put His Son through such agony. The blood of Jesus is holy and innocent. His is the only blood that can be holy and innocent because He came into the world without inheriting sin and left it without committing any. When that blood is applied to you and I then every trace of our sin is gone. God looks at us and sees white robes—the holiness and purity of Christ.
Jesus’ blood is so powerful that before the throne of Jesus we are given the picture of people from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.” [v.9] The common denominator of people in heaven is not race or ancestry. Your faith is not inherited from your parents. The common denominator is the white robe. Don’t doubt the power of Jesus’ blood. There are no limitations. The true children of Abraham may not share the same genetic background or the same language, but we share in the faith of Jesus Christ.
There is no doubt that the blood of Christ can get out the stain of even the most reprehensible of sins. Right before the election of 2006, the head of a large church organization, Dan Haggard, was caught in the very sin that he had forcefully preached and campaigned against. That’s not the first time that happened or the last. But just consider if your struggle with a secret sin was laid out in the open. We all have such struggles. Just when we’ve seemingly got one area in our lives cleaned up, another struggle pops up. Even if someone appears to be clean from the outside there is filth on the inside. The Ten Commandments reveal this in everybody. Yet you are clean in Christ’s blood. In that white robe not only is your sin washed away, but the love that you lack has also been added unto you.
The result is that large numbers of people are coming out of the tribulation. [cf. v.14] This verse has been made to seem much more complicated than it actually is. God is not talking about a rapture or some sort of millenialistic idea here. Better translated it would read that they “are coming out” of the tribulation. If you are alive here on this earth then you’re in the tribulation. You are enduring the assaults of Satan and the negative impact of sin. You are afflicted with guilt and sadness and exposed to violence and destruction and hatred.
One of the oldest tricks in the Devil’s playbook is to convince people that paradise is here on this earth. We then either settle or become completely depressed about that prospect. Someone commented to me the other day that it’s no fun getting old. But then again, it’s not meant to be. God has better things waiting for us and we are not to consider this earth as the best that it’s going to get. You are dressed for far better things.
When we look at how we’re clothed by God, we also want to consider the occasion that we’re dressed for. We are dressed to be with God forever. We read in verse 15 that God “will dwell among them.” In the Old Testament the Lord instructed His people to construct the tabernacle, literally a tent, and promised that He would live among them. Jesus came to this earth in order to be among people. We’re here this morning asking God to dwell among us in His house, and then also to bless us and be with us as we return to our own homes.
Yet none of those occasions give us the full scope of being with God in heaven. We won’t have to deal with the barrier of sin in Heaven. It will be more like Adam and Eve being with God in the garden of Eden, uninhibited, walking and talking with Him. We will be as we were meant to be. Our bodies won’t be infected and affected by sin. This will change our entire outlook, even the way in which we praise Him.
Currently we have many distractions when we attempt to praise God. Not only do we have a short attention span, but there are a lot of things on our mind. Think of how much care goes into making sure that your body is fed. You go to work to earn money. You spend time thinking about what meals to prepare. You drive to the store. You prepare the meal and clean-up afterwards and that cycle continues day after day. We can do all those things to the glory of God, but they do occupy a tremendous amount of time and sap us of our energy when it comes to communicating with Him and receiving communication from Him.
In Heaven you’ll be unencumbered. “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” [vv.16-17] All those distractions of this earth will be gone. Heaven will be pure enjoyment. Does that make heaven boring? Not at all. Not only will the negatives be gone from our lives, but we will be able to function as God has intended.
As we gear up for Christmas we rack our brains for the perfect gift for our loved ones. Many times we disappoint. We read somebody the wrong way or can’t afford what we really want to give. Trying to please our God is like that every day. Even in coming to church to praise Him we can’t always do what our heart desires. The hymn we’ll sing after the sermon is maybe my favorite hymn, but I can’t sing it like I want to. In heaven though, we can do everything for God that we’d want to do. There will be no guilt about wondering if we’ve done something well enough. We’ll be able to show perfect love for each other. No more fights or arguments. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for that. I’m ready for guilt-free living!
Get ready for it because this is what God has dressed you for. Through the work of Christ He has prepared you to be with Him in paradise forever. Forever is a word that we can’t get our minds around because of the constant change and endings here in time. One day you’re the child and it doesn’t take long before you’re the parent, or grand-parent—the patriarch or matriarch of your family. Everything has a conclusion. That’s because we’re only in a temporary situation here on this earth. But look at how you’re dressed. You’re dressed to be with God forever!
Don’t be concerned about what you’re going to wear on this earth or how to be fashionable. When Jesus returns the only fashion that people will be concerned with is the white robe. The clothing washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. You can ask yourself not only how would I live if this were the last day of my life, you can ask yourself how would I live if my next day is in heaven? Remember that you are dressed for success.
The words that we will voice in heaven as found in verse 12 are just as appropriate today, and sum up the life of praise that we live even now dedicated to our God: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our forever and ever. Amen!”
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.