The Sixth Sunday After Easter
(The Sunday after the Ascension) June 5, 2011
212, 213, 56, 448
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Editor’s Note: Ministry by Mail sermons are typically from Sunday worship. However, this week we take a midweek sermon. This week’s meditation is from an Ascension Day worship service.
Jesus’ Ascension took place 40 days after Easter (June 2, 2011) and ten days before Pentecost (June 12, 2011).
All praise to our ascended Lord!
The Word of God for our meditation this evening is recorded in Revelation 7:9-17. The vision of John that we are about to read is a prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled. It is a vision of Heaven. The words of the text describe a new part of John’s continuing vision. In your mind picture what John had already seen in his vision. Picture…
…a throne. Someone is sitting on the throne who has the appearance of jasper and sardius—crystal green and red rocks. There is a rainbow resembling an emerald that encircles the throne. There are 24 other thrones surrounding the main throne and 24 elders clothed in white wearing gold crowns are sitting on them. Lightening, rumbling, and thunder come from the center throne. There are seven blazing lamps in front of the throne and everything is so clear and radiant around the throne that it looks like a crystal-clear sea of glass.
Picture four living creatures around the throne. Each of these creatures has six wings and is covered with eyes all around even under the wings. One creature is like a lion, one like an ox, one like a man, and the fourth flies like an eagle. These creatures keep on singing praises to the Lord God Almighty and each time that they do, the elders on the thrones fall down in worship before the center throne and lay their crowns before the throne and say, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power…” (4:11). Also standing in the center of the throne is a Lamb looking as if it has been killed.
Keep this picture in your minds and now add the new events recorded in our text:
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.”
In Christ Jesus, our ascended Savior, dear fellow citizens of Heaven:
Can there be a more cherished heirloom than a family photo album? Through the pages of photographic history we are able to see the faces of ancestors whom we have never known. With just one snapshot in a photo album we can call to mind and relive all the pleasant memories of a great event on a great day. With pictures we can remember how a baby grew into a child into a teenager into an adult into a father of his own children. Out of all the pictures and memories that are gathered together into a photo album the one that is often treasured the most is the last one that we have with someone who has left this life.
The Bible is a photo album filled with snapshots of our salvation and of fellow members of God’s family. Through the pictures that the Bible records we of the present generation can see our ancestors in the family of God. We can know Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Esther, Peter, Paul, and all the rest even though we have never seen them. Even more importantly we can see and learn to know our Savior Himself. Through the pages of both Old and New Testament we have snapshots of events that show God’s great and undeserved love for sinners. By looking at the pictures of Jesus’ death we see the climax of God’s love for us followed by the triumph of His resurrection.
Among all the other pictures in our Bible “photo album” there is also the last picture that we have of Jesus on the earth. The last picture is one that shows Jesus’ hands outstretched in blessing over His disciples on earth. It is a most fitting last picture. In it we see the nail prints in Jesus’ hands to remind us that He gave his life to save us from our sins. There we see His hands outstretched in blessing and know that He is in Heaven watching over us, ruling over all things, and continuing to bless us. There we see Him ascending into Heaven from where He will one day return and also take us home.
Through His Word, our ascended Jesus has also left pictures of our final destination. Though Heaven itself and our eternal life are not things we can fully comprehend, we are able to have an idea of what it will be like because Jesus has left us PICTURES OF HOME.
Some of the pictures in a family photo album involve family get-togethers. It is not uncommon when looking at the picture of family reunions to say, “Oh, look! there we all are except for uncle John and cousin Mary because they couldn’t make it.” When we look at the pictures of our heavenly home we see that the whole family will be there. “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…” [v.9]
In a picture of such a huge number of people from so many backgrounds and places, it is quite obvious that we are not talking about a small family nor is it a family of physical ancestry. It is, however, a family related by blood—the blood of Christ. “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.” [v.13-14]
People clothed in white is one of the recurring images in the visions of Revelation. The opposite of being clothed in white is either being clothed in torn, tattered, dirty clothes or else being totally naked. Both of these are shameful and unacceptable when standing before a glorious magnificent throne and the One who sits on it. The white garments are symbolic of the righteousness of Christ and the dirty clothes and nakedness represent our sin.
The elder who spoke to the apostle John told him that all of the people clothed in white came out of the great tribulation. All of us who will be in Heaven will have come through this sinful life. This life is described by God as great tribulation—like a big vise putting constant pressure on those stuck between its jaws. The pressure and the struggles in the grip of this life’s vise are a result of sin.
Generally speaking, people who struggle through a great tribulation are not going to come out looking relaxed and clean. Imagine the appearance of someone struggling through a hot steamy jungle fighting for his life every step of the way. We struggle through this life of tribulations. It is a jungle of sin with danger lurking everywhere. The effects of sin and the claw marks of our spiritual enemies would leave us tattered, torn, beaten, bruised, and our own long list of sins would be clothes of shame on our backs. Yet, those whom John saw came out of this tribulation clothed in radiant white because their clothes had been washed in the blood of the Lamb of God—the blood of Christ.
All of the guilty shame of our sins is black mud smeared across our clothes. We are sinners totally unfit to come before the throne of God. Christ has taken our filthy clothes and given us His righteousness by shedding His blood on the cross and bringing us to faith. “The blood of Jesus Christ [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Jesus’ blood is the miracle cleanser which makes us sinners holy and pure in the eyes of God. The blood of Christ is the only reason we will be able to go from this great tribulation to the joys of Heaven.
When we look at the pictures of home and say that the whole family will be there, we mean the whole family of God’s children and that, sadly, does not include every one on the earth and may, even more sadly, exclude some whom we hold dear on this earth. If we were to try to wash filthy clothes in muddy water with no detergent they wouldn’t get clean. Anyone who tries to wash his guilt away on his own or doesn’t even care about the dirtiness of sins is only washing his sin with more sin and will remain just as filthy and guilty on Judgment Day as every day before.
Paul wrote, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you….” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
All who continue to live their lives in sin, no matter what family they belong to on this earth, will find themselves excluded from the family of God. It is not just the open fornicators, idolaters, adulterers… etc. who are not part of the family of God. Even the nice people, the just and honest, those who help one another on the earth are sinners still; and unless those sins are washed in the blood of Christ they will not be part of the pictures of our heavenly home. Yet, even some of those whom we would outwardly classify as wicked sinners will be in that family picture because they repent of their sins, put their trust in the blood of the Lamb, and turn from their wicked ways. Some of the Corinthian Christians had lived openly sinful lives but what does Paul say? After giving the list of open sins he goes on, “…and such were some of you but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
Whether our sins are the kind that are blatant and open for the world to see or more toward the hidden yet hideous sins of the heart, they all equally damn us before God. No sinner condemned by God will be in the pictures of home. That is why the whole family of God has one thing in common even though there may be thousands of other differences. The whole family has been adopted by God the Father for the sake of His Son Jesus who lived a holy life and died on the cross so that through His blood we might be declared righteous and thereby become children of God. “But as many as received [Christ] to them He gave the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name; who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).
As you look at the pictures of home that show all of the children of God who have been adopted through Christ Jesus, you quickly see that when Jesus said “In my Father’s house are many mansions…” (John 14:2) He wasn’t kidding. When Jesus promised that He was going to prepare a place among those mansions, He didn’t make the promise to a limited few. The promise of a heavenly home is there for every sinner. God makes this part of the picture of Heaven very clear. No matter what classification of people we could make—ethnic groups, cultural tribes, geographical nations of people, different speaking people—there is a place in Heaven for all of them when they are washed in the blood of Christ.
Every believer can find joy in this picture and also reassurance, for if the there are many mansions for the family of God and the whole family will be there, when the Devil comes and wants to make you wonder whether there will be a place for you, you can tell him, “There room in the Father’s house for every sinner. Jesus my Savior has washed me clean and made me a child of God, therefore, I belong with the family of God. Be gone Satan!”
Jesus gives confidence to the believers when He says, “They walk with Me in white…I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but will confess his name before my Father and before His angels” (Revelation 3:4-5).
When we see this picture of the whole family at home, it very rightly fills us with joy to realize the tremendous love of our Father and the magnitude of what has been accomplished by Christ because He has provided salvation for ALL people. When He lived His perfect life in our place it was for ALL people. When He died on the cross in punishment for sins, it was for ALL people. You don’t find any kind of racism or favoritism in the work of Christ. In the eyes of God we are all one race of people—sinners! But through the work of Jesus God declares us holy and through faith we are made His beloved children. Out of those children, not one will be missing from home—the whole family will be there.
The pictures of home also give a taste of what life in Heaven will be like. It will be a life before the throne of God living in His presence with every effect and consequence of sin removed. The people in John’s vision stood before God and the Lamb, who is Christ. Even now, we know that our Lord is always with us, but we don’t have that personal experience of living in God’s presence and seeing Him. We will have that experience eternally in Heaven. Home will be perfect. “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.” [v.15-17]
The perfection and living in God’s presence is part of the blessing of Heaven that we cannot comprehend nor fully understand. It is guaranteed to be better than anything we could possibly imagine.
The sheer beauty of living in God’s glory is represented by many descriptions in Revelation, but no earthly description can do true justice to the reality. Just think of what a joy and help it is to know right now that Jesus is with you, watching over you, and controlling all things. Now imagine how much better to be living face-to-face with the loving and merciful God who has cared for you! John wrote in one of His letters, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). To this the apostle Paul adds “so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
What an amazing photo album we have from God! There we see pictures of our Savior and all that He has done for our redemption; and there we see pictures of Home and amazing as they are, Home will be even better. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15). 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.