4 Easter Proper 4C
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Revelation 7:9-17 Sermon
April 17, 2016
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 431 "The King Of Love My Shepherd Is"
TLH 426 "The Lord My Shepherd Is"
TLH 436 "The Lord's My Shepherd, I'll Not Want"
WOV 721 "Go My Children With My Blessing"
WE CAN BE JUBILANT!
TEXT (vs. 13-17): “Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are they, and where did they come from?" I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have 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 spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor 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."
Today is a special day. Do you have any idea what that might be? Okay, looking at your bulletin you'll see that it's the fourth Sunday of Easter; Easter Sunday was three weeks ago. The historical Latin name for this Sunday is Jubilate, which means to be joyful or to celebrate. It's where we get the English words "Jubilee" or "Jubilation." Maybe that's getting us a bit closer, as we shall see later.
If it's not those things, it must be something to do with April 17th then. And that day is special to a select few of us. You see, today is my mother's 87th birthday; and if she was still amongst us here on earth, we would be celebrating the day; we would be jubilant. But is there anything that we should be celebrating today? Do we have any reason for jubilation, three weeks past Easter?
These past months, my thoughts have been in other areas. I've mentioned to some of you that in less than 10 years' time, we've gone from a family of four to a family of one, namely me. It began with my dad, who passed away in May 31, 2006 from pancreatic cancer. Then on April 9, 2013 my mother passed away from complications from pneumonia, just eight days shy of her 84th birthday. And just last year, on December 22nd, my brother's life on this earth came to an end when he suffered a massive sudden heart attack. And on days like today, all of these memories keep coming back in a variety of different ways.
I'm not telling you this looking for sympathy, even though I know I have it. You all have been most supportive, as you've been by my side through all of this. And I certainly appreciate it.
I know that death has touched each of your lives as well in one way or another. You've lost spouses, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, family, friends, and even children; and each one has meant something to you. But can your feelings be described as being in any way jubilant? Is there any sort of celebration you could concoct to make these events joyful?
I've been on police chaplain duty Thursday and Friday this past week; and I can honestly say that in my 17 years as a chaplain, I've never had a tour of duty either like or as busy this one. I dealt with two spousal abuse cases. Then there was a suicide death of a woman who walked out in front of a semi on Highway 6. Then there was a death due to an industrial accident. Then there was the murder/suicide of an elderly couple. Then I responded to the death of a 21 year-old man due to asthma complications. And finally I responded to the early morning death of a 74 year-old man with multiple health issues. Even though my involvement varied, it was still, as Captain Jeri Roeder described it, a "whack-a-doodle" day. And I didn't detect a whole lot of jubilation in any of this, save one instance that I'll talk about later.
Our text for this morning is one that gives us a picture of heaven, and more specifically it talks about those who are there now and that have inherited their eternal reward. Regardless of the emotions or feelings we might have surrounding the death of someone in our lives, the picture John paints in Revelation is one of jubilation, of rejoicing.
Any talk about death or dying automatically turns our attention to heaven. What's the place like anyway? What can we expect?
Speaking for myself, I probably have about as many questions as anybody when it comes to heaven. Of course I know that I will experience complete and total happiness and contentment. I know that there will be no more sickness or pain or misery. I know that when I get there, I definitely will not want to be anyplace else.
But to give you an actual description is impossible. The reason is simply because I've never been there. No camera has been able to capture it on film. And apart from some of the near-death experiences people have had, nobody has been there and come back to give us an eye-witness account.
When it comes to describing heaven, all God can do in the Bible is give us various metaphors that make sense to us. He does this because our minds just cannot fathom the beauty and greatness of heaven. In 1 Corinthians chapter 2 verse 9 Paul writes: "But as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."
And so, considering the limitations of our human minds, here are some of the descriptions God gives us. God will wipe away every tear. There will be no more death, therefore no mourning; no more pain, no sorrow, no crying. There won’t be any night, because God's crystal-clear light will fill heaven. It will be called the New Jerusalem, a city made of pure gold, like clear glass. It will have a great and high wall, the foundations of which will be adorned with all kinds of precious stones. Each of the twelve gates of the city will be made of pearl. The streets will be paved with gold. There will be a pure river of the water of life proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb, who is Jesus.
But these are just pictures to give us an idea. These are just concepts, or metaphors that help us understand the remarkable beauty and grandeur and happiness of it all.
One of the shortest, but most concise answers I've given people about heaven, is that whatever is crucial to a person's eternal happiness will be a reality in heaven. God will see to it that we will have whatever we need to make us eternally happy and joyful. That's a guarantee that should make anybody look forward to what God has in store for us and for all believers in Christ.
Our text for today, which is the Epistle reading appointed for this Sunday is from the book of Revelation. I've said many times that Revelation serves two purposes: It is a tremendous source of comfort for the believer, and it also gives an equally strong warning to the unbeliever.
In verse 14 we read: "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” And continuing on in verse 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."
That verse is talking about believers like you and me who lived on this earth. We are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation, out of the pain and suffering and cruelty of this earthly existence. We are the ones Christ died to redeem, the ones that have heard the voice of the Good Shepherd as our Gospel lesson describes, the ones who have been found faithful.
As we look at our text from Revelation 7 today, I'd like you to keep a picture in your mind about the sometimes ugly and brutal condition where we see humanity. If we start at the very beginning, God created human beings as the very crown of his creation. The world started out as a perfect utopian place. It was God's plan that we should live with him in harmony and safety under his wing of loving care.
But then something dreadful happened. Sin entered into the world. Satan attempted to carry us away from God and use us for his own evil purposes. God stood there, heart-broken while Satan unleashed all hell on the likes of you and me.
And what happens when Satan gets tired of us and has no more use for us? After he has completely abused us, he then discards us like so much trash. He is quite satisfied to take us, beaten and bloody, and toss us out into the worst garbage dump where he deserts us as we flounder and wallow in the muck and mire of our sins.
But do you know who else is here for us? Yes, it's none other than our Good Shepherd. He lovingly and patiently goes through all of the filth of this sinful earthly dump in search of his sheep. And it's there where he finds the likes of you and me. We hear the tender words he speaks to us as he picks us up and takes us home.
Our sinful lives have separated us from God; and sad to say, we wind up stuck in the mire of sin as the result of our own doing. And if it weren't for Jesus coming along to rescue us, that's where it would all end for us.
Thankfully, that's not the end. The Holy Spirit breathes into us the gift of faith that accepts Jesus Christ as our Saviour. Through faith, the forgiveness Christ won for us on the cross becomes ours. Through faith, the blood of the Lamb has washed away every sin that has polluted our lives, so we can stand righteous before God in heaven.
Our text for today gives us a striking and jubilant picture of what we will be like in the hereafter, when we are in heaven. It will be like, “Wow! Look at all these people in white robes! Who are they?” We kind of recognize them, but yet they can't be the same people we saw wallowing around in that sinful dump, can they? No, these people can't be the rotten sinners we knew on the earth.
And then the answer comes, “Yes, you know who they are. They are these same people, except they have washed their filthy dirty robes, and they have made them white in the blood of the Lamb. These are the people who have been picked up by their loving Shepherd, cleansed of their dirt, and completely restored." It's like Jesus says in Revelation chapter 21 verse 5: “Behold! I am making all things new!” That includes you, and me, and all true believers in Jesus Christ.
Going back to my duty days this past week, one of my bright spots came when I met with the family of the 74 year-old man who had died at home in the middle of the night. When I came to the door, I was immediately met by his daughter-in-law, who immediately thanked me for coming. Then she told me, "We really need a pastor now."
That became more and more evident as the conversation with the family progressed. We talked about the decedent. They shared some memories and sentimental moments. And then we talked about death, and what Jesus meant for them. I read Psalm 103 and we had a prayer. And when I left, they were comforted and consoled in a way that only God himself could do. Perhaps I was tired and running on fumes when I arrived. But God saw to it that my jaded deportment was changed to jubilance as I had the opportunity to share the promises and hope of God.
Jesus takes our feelings of sorrow and grief into feelings of jubilance and elation. That's what happens when we are washed and made pure in the Blood of the Lamb, the Good Shepherd, Jesus himself. All heaven rejoices when we are restored and made new again.
As I think about the successive death of my family members, of course I have my emotional moments. But the jubilant nature of what God has promised is what exists beyond that. So I am jubilant; I am thankful that my dad is no longer suffering from the ravages of pancreatic cancer. I am thankful that my mother doesn't have to battle recurring bouts of pneumonia. And I am thankful that by brother is receiving care far better than I could ever have provided him. And that is real cause for jubilation.
It doesn't matter how young or old we are, it is important to think about what will happen. I know I am continually reminded of that. God gives us a fabulous picture of heaven in the Bible. As true believers in Christ, we will hear Christ's words in Matthew chapter 25 verse 34: “...Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world....” And in John chapter 14 verses 2 and 27 Jesus says: “In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you....Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
And so as we await the coming of that great day, may we always hear the voice of our Good Shepherd as he faithfully leads us through the here and now of this world into the jubilance of the world to come.