Saints Triumphant Sunday November 6, 2022
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
656, 463, 467, 660
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, because of Your tender love toward us sinners You have given us Your Son that, believing in Him, we might have everlasting life. Continue to grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may remain steadfast in this faith to the end and finally come to life everlasting; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.” And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. (NKJV)
Scientist Lee de Forest, inventor of the cathode ray tube, said in 1926, “Theoretically, television may be feasible, but I consider it an impossibility—a development which we should waste little time dreaming about.” Thomas J. Watson, chairman of IBM, said in 1943, “I think there is a world market for about five computers.” An unnamed recording company expert said back in 1962, “We don’t think the Beatles will do anything in the music industry. Guitar groups are on their way out.”
Man likes to predict the future, but he’s usually not very good at it. The future? We all would like to know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Will life get better? Will it get worse? How many tomorrows do I have left? But the book of James teaches us that speculating about the future is an effort in futility: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4:13-14)
We don’t know what might happen on any given day, let alone next month or next year. At the beginning of this past week your dad did not plan on having an operation by the end of the week. You don’t plan on having a car accident. You don’t write on your calendar what day you’re going to have a heart attack. And, what we do plan, often never comes to fruition. I’m sure many people planned to have retired by now, but the recent plunge in the stock market quickly changed their plans.
So what happens as a result? We worry about tomorrow. We feel anxious about the future.
This is exactly the concern the Book of Revelation is addressing. The words of our text were originally written for people who were worried about the future. It was nearing the end of the first century, and the big question was: Would the Church of Jesus Christ survive? Or would Jesus become just a footnote on the bottom of some page in some dusty history book. You see, Revelation was written at a time of intense persecution against the Church. The Roman Emperor, a real piece of work named Domitian, had declared himself a god, and anyone who refused to acknowledge him as such suffered the consequences. The fear was that Christianity would be persecuted out of existence. When John witnessed and wrote down the visions he saw, he was a prisoner on an island called Patmos, targeted by the government as being a ringleader of that group which refused to acknowledge Domitian as a god. In the first chapter of Revelation he writes: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (Revelation 1:9)
Did the future belong to Jesus? Or did it belong to Domitian and the Romans? Did the church have a future? Or was its proclamation of a Crucified and Risen Savior for all people soon to be silenced by the prevailing philosophies and attitudes of the day?
Today we might wonder the same. To whom does the future belong? Does it belong to the Muslim religion, which continues to gain more converts and more influence with each passing year? Does it belong to atheists and humanists who deny the existence of God, and believe that man is in control of his own destiny? Or does it belong to science, as more and more believe that technology will eventually solve all of our problems.
We might feel like John, who wept because it appeared to him that the future was completely out of anybody’s control, and therefore the church was likely on its last legs. We look and see a society in which fewer and fewer are even interested in God or the Bible. Recent statistics show that only about 28% of Americans attend church regularly. We look and see preachers in the modern church brazenly endorsing things like gay marriage, evolution, or the idea that faith in Jesus is only one of many ways to get right with God and gain eternal life. Studies show that 52% of professing Christians now reject the claim that faith in Jesus is the only way to be saved. We look and see fewer and fewer under our own spiritual care who seem genuinely interested in hearing the Word, studying the Word, living by the Word. It’s enough to make one wonder and worry about the future. It’s enough to join John in his tears.
But here is where our text helps us in a powerful way. We see God the Father holding in his right hand a scroll written on both sides, sealed with seven seals. We hear an angel proclaiming: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” (v.2) Then nothing. Dead silence. You could have heard a pin drop. No one is able to open the book, to unloose the seals from the scroll, which reveals the future. No angel or saint in heaven above. No person or power on earth. Nobody under the earth, which I take to mean Satan and his demons. Not even the devil knows what will happen tomorrow. The only thing he knows for certain about the future is his own damnation.
But in the midst of John’s depression, an elder, a representative of the Church Triumphant in heaven, tells him not to weep because “ … the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.” (v.5) The Lion of the tribe of Judah? The Root of David? These are Old Testaments names for the Coming Savior. Jesus is the Lion from Judah’s tribe, as well as the root or descendent of King David. He alone has prevailed to open the seals. He alone has power and authority to know the future, to take charge of it, to control, guide, and direct it according to His purpose. The future does belong to Jesus Christ. The future rests securely in His almighty and loving hand.
But Christ’s control of the future is not only the result of His being God, the all-powerful Lion from the Tribe of Judah, but also because He is the “Lamb…Who had been slain.” (v. 6)
The Lion and the Lamb are one and the same. The Lamb was slain. His work to redeem and save lost sinners has been completed. The Lamb was slain, but here John sees Him alive. He is risen. He has triumphed. His blood, death, and resurrection have taken control of the future. All sin has been atoned for by the Lamb. No longer must man’s future end with the grave and hell. No longer must man’s future be a shallow and selfish pursuit of sin’s passing pleasures. No longer need we look at the things that happen to us and that take place in the world as random occurrences that have no rhyme or reason. Even though to our eyes it may not look like it, the future belongs to Jesus, and to those who hold to Him in faith as their personal Lion and Lamb. Those who believe in Him can look forward to a meaningful, secure and blessed future both here in time, and hereafter in eternity.
Now you might be wondering, what was revealed when Christ opened the seals? Well, that’s the rest of the book. Through fantastic visions the future is revealed, not in its minute details, but in a way that brings us real comfort and amazing hope. Yes, the visions show an embattled church, a church often attacked from without by the powers of secular authority, and, worse, a church attacked from within by false teachers. The visions show that the closer to the end, the more intense and more vicious will become the attacks. Those who cling to Jesus, trust in Him alone for salvation, and who live by His Word, will never have an easy time of it in this world. Let’s not look ahead with rose colored glasses. But again and again the visions circle back to two main truths. (1) Christ will protect and prosper His Church through time. (2) Christ will one day return to destroy His enemies and do away with all evil forever. On that day He will bring His people home in everlasting joy and triumph.
The future belongs to Jesus Christ. Politicians like to talk about being on the winning side of history. There is only one winning side. That’s the side of the Lion, Who is also the Lamb, Who shed His blood for all. Hang in there. Jesus will stand by you forever, so keep standing by Him. Don’t quit on Him just because so many others are walking away from Him. Don’t quit pressing forward in confident faith just because many claim that Christianity has no future in the 21st century. Wait for Him, the One Who says “Behold, I am coming quickly.” (Revelation 22:12) Wait for Him, and think about your future as He describes it to you in the 21st chapter of Revelation: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Well, now that sounds like a pretty decent future to me. Thanks be to God Who gives us this future as a free gift through Jesus Christ our Lord! 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.