O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
The Book of Revelation: Worshipping with All of Heaven Part III - White Blood
The Book of Revelation: Worshipping with All of Heaven Part III - White Blood
Based on Rev. 7:9-17
Preached on April 21, 2013
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Fellow baptized saints, the past week has been difficult, hasn`t it? The television screens have been filled with pictures of violence and bloodshed, explosions and chaos. Whether it was the attacks of the Boston Marathon, or the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas, we have been surrounded by images of people dying, families being devastated and nations left mourning. Many tears have been shed this week, and there will be many more to follow them. And it is hard to make sense of it all. It is so easy to despair, to hide away in fear. It is so easy to become angry, and look around for someone to blame. Is this the final picture we will see? Is this all life has to offer?
When we started our Revelation sermon series, we talked about how this was the exact reason that our Lord gave John the vision. God's people were under attack. They were being killed for their Christian faith by the droves. The tiny, early Church was surrounded by pictures of violence and bloodshed, of their leaders and fellow Christians being hauled off to execution. And with such pictures all around them, they were beginning to lose focus. Beginning to lose sight of the kingdom prepared for them. So Christ gave them a vivid reminder of what awaits them beyond pain and death. A fresh picture of where He is leading them. For it is so easy to lose track of this eternal picture. It is so easy to get caught up in the images of the world and forget the only picture that actually matters.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come? These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Those who enjoy God's eternal victory have all been through great tribulation. Yes, the final picture is victory, but the ride to get there is bumpy. As Jesus said, "In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart, I have overcome the world." But you know this well, don't you? You have undergone hardship and you know you will face more. And that is why you follow this Good Shepherd because He leads you in the midst of suffering. He protects you from the shadow of death. He leads you out of the great tribulation, that is this life, that He may wipe away every tear from your eyes. He will get you out when the time is right. That is His promise. That is the picture.
And just in case you think this heavenly vision is to lofty for you, something that you cannot reach or understand, God has already shown you the same picture in His Old Testament in a way you can understand. His people were slaves in a foreign land, and He intervened and sent a prophet to bring them up out of slavery. But even after their proverbial "baptism" in the Red Sea, they endured great tribulation on their way to the Promised Land, forty years of wandering around the wilderness with little food or drink. But God was with them, leading them and He kept His promise.
This same picture, this same story, either from the Exodus of the Old Testament, or the Revelation of heaven, is also your story. It is a picture of you, dear Christian. For you have been baptized out of the slavery of sin and the devil, yet you face great tribulation on your way to God's heavenly kingdom, "forty years" of wandering around in this spiritual wilderness where you hunger and thirst to see goodness and righteousness in a world full of violence and evil. "Forty years" of living one place when you really want to be in another.
So meditate on this beautiful picture. Visualize what awaits you, what can never be taken from you no matter how dark this world gets, and no matter how lonely you feel in it. For behold there is a multitude that no one can number, countless believers like you struggling through this tribulation, holding their breath for the life to come, as their Shepherd gently leads them home. And this multitude is not limited to Canada. It isn't restricted to the increasingly godless landscape that we inhabit, but is made up of believers from every nation, all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before God's throne and before the Lamb.
And this mighty throng belong there with Him because of what they wear. White robes. Baptismal robes. Robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb. Now, blood may not normally make things white. But we are dealing with pictures here. White is a picture of purity. The blood of this Lamb is so pure, so righteous, it washes robes white. It washes away your sin. As we say in our baptismal rite, "Receive this white garment to show that you have been clothed with the robe of Christ's righteousness that covers all your sin. So shall you stand without fear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the inheritance prepared for you from the foundation of the world." This mighty throng belong there with Christ because His own righteousness covers them from head to toe.
And what is that in their hands? Palm branches? Palm branches are a symbol of victory. These ones coming out of the great tribulation have victory in their hands. It is theirs. Forever. And nothing can end their joy. Nothing can end their singing, their thanksgiving, their celebration. For Salvation belongs to their God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. It is accomplished. Amen!
Are you baptized? Have you got wet in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit? Then it doesn't matter what kind of defeat you face in this world, this is a picture of you. This is a picture for you. Christ's righteousness covers you from head to toe. The hardships will come. The explosions will come. But they will only ever be a blip compared to the endless bliss Christ has in store. For He spilled His own blood. He gave it all, and not just for you and me, but for every single person who has ever faced hardship and tribulation, for every single person who has ever cried, for every single person who has had a hard time making sense of the pictures of violence and bloodshed before their eyes. This Lamb was slain to make a new picture, one He calls everyone to join. This Lamb was slain to shepherd us through violence and injustice and death. To guide us through it to the victory He has waiting for us. To this picture of eternal peace that John beheld.
He writes, "Therefore they are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple;" they serve Him, that is, they litreuo Him - they liturgy before Him. The Greek word litreuo, or serve, used here is root of the word liturgy - the reason we call worship the Divine Service. Because what are these white robes liturgists doing? They are being sheltered by His presence. They are basking in all that He graciously provides them. Resting in His peace. Enjoying His freedom. Lying down in His protection. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore. The Exodus is over. The spiritual wilderness is gone. No more violence and bloodshed. No more explosions and chaos. Only righteousness and goodness and love and caring and compassion. That is all that can abide in His presence. And that is what He gives His people even here in the Divine Service while they wait for its fulfillment. You stand here in the white robe of your baptism being sheltered by the divine liturgy of your Good Shepherd. A foretaste of the feast to come.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd. This Jesus, who is like you, a man, flesh and blood, who knows what you feel and knows how hard this wilderness is, He will always lead you, even as He leads you out of the tribulation now. He will guide them to springs of living water - to the very source of all life and righteousness - an eternal source that will make you continue to run over with goodness and love and caring and compassion. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Whatever you face, whatever makes you weak, whatever makes you hollow - Christ has overcome it. It is not the final picture. And He promises to dry your eyes once and for all. He is like the father who sits down beside His crying child on their bed, and says, "Everything is going to be ok. I promise. You'll feel better soon enough."
Listen to this promise. Trust your heavenly Father. For there will be moments when you feel sad and weak, when you experience despair and anger. But they are not the final picture. His Word paints another picture, a picture He has painted just for you. One where you stand safe and secure before God's throne sheltered by His holy presence. Look! Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr