Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
Washed in the Blood of the Lamb - November 6, 2016 - All Saints’ Day (Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost) - Text: Revelation 7:(2-8) 9-17
Although today is the twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, because All Saints Day was actually last Tuesday, this morning we take the time to celebrate All Saints Day. Please understand that when we celebrate all saints day, we are not worshiping, nor praising all the saints who have gone on before us, instead we are placing their lives before us as examples of how we are to live our lives, that is that we are to live lives of faith so that others see our faith and give praise to God for our faith as well. Remember, as Lutherans we understand that we are at the same time sinners and saints. By faith in Jesus Christ, faith given to us at our Baptism or faith given to us through the Word of God, we are redeemed, we have been purchased, we are saved, yes, we are saints. At the same time, while we remain on this earth we continue to sin and so we are sinners in need of forgiveness. Thus we understand, we believe, teach and confess that we are at the same time sinner saints.
As we celebrate All Saints day, this morning we continue from last week, our look into heaven, that is we continue in the book of Revelation. Revelation is a look into heaven and a look into what our last days on earth and our first days in heaven will be like. As we look into heaven we see, again, the enumerable number of people in heaven. We see them wearing white robes and holding palm branches. We hear them sing. We see how, even John, is unable to answer the question from God concerning what he is seeing, so he refers the question back to God answering, “Sir, you know.” John’s answer reminds us that we do not need to know all the answers to all the questions about the Bible, rather we need to realize that God is so much bigger than we are and He does know all the answers. Which in turn encourages us to continue steadfast in the Apostles’ Doctrine to learn more about Him and be strengthened in our faith.
Our text begins with John telling us that he sees “a great multitude that no one could number.” These words remind us that the reference to 144,000 which is the number Revelation speaks about being the number in heaven, this number is not a counting figure, not an actual number one can count, but it is a symbolic figure. In this reference we have 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, meaning this is in reference to the complete number of Old Testament believers. In another reference, the 144,000 means the Old Testament believers from the twelve tribes of Israel times (X) the New Testament believers from the twelve apostles times (X) the number of completion, ten, cubed (v.9-10). In other words, 12 x 12 x 1000, the number 144,000 is what John is seeing, that is a great multitude, all believers who ever lived, from Old and New Testament times. Everyone who believes in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is included in the great multitude, and in the 144,000. We, you and I, are included in that 144,000.
Their song, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (v. 10b) reminds us that salvation is given by God to those who believe. Notice who is doing what? Salvation is not something we get, in other words we do not “get saved”. Salvation is not something we earn, there is no price we could pay to earn it. And salvation is not something we claim for ourselves, as if our making such a claim would actually make it ours. Salvation belongs to God. Our salvation was earned by Him and it is given out by Him to us. It is given by His grace through faith in Jesus. God is the one doing the doing and we are the ones being done to. God is the one giving the faith and we are the ones being given to.
The song of the great multitude is followed by a song by the angels, elders and four living creatures, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (v. 12). We are told that “they fell down on their faces before the throne.” They fell down in fear, in awe and in respect. They fell down in worship. In the Old Testament we are often told of people falling prostrate before the Lord, or a king or whoever. To fall prostrate means to fall on your face, completely flat, face down on the ground. This is a posture of complete submission. Thus, even the angels, elders and four living creatures recognize Jesus as Lord and fall down in complete submission to Him.
They worshiped and said “Amen!” They spoke the word which reminds us that God is faithful. In His faithfulness He remembered His promise to send a Savior, Christ the Lord. In His faithfulness Jesus was born as a baby, a human being, as one of us. In His faithfulness Jesus lived a perfect life. He obeyed all God’s laws perfectly. He fulfilled all God’s commands, perfectly. In His faithfulness He lived His life for us, as our substitute. In His faithfulness Jesus took all our sins upon Himself. In His faithfulness Jesus gave His life for ours on the cross, suffering the price for our sins. In His faithfulness Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith, to give us faith, and to keep us in faith until He comes again.
They sing a sevenfold song of praise. This sevenfold song is very similar to their previous sevenfold chorus of praise and it is a song of complete praise.
John is then questioned by one of the elders. The elder asks, “These in the white robes—who are they, and where did they come from”(v. 12-17)? John rightly answers, “Sir, you know.” John does not know and so he turns the question back to the man who asked so that he might get an answer. The answer is that they are those who have suffered for their faith. The word that is used for tribulation is the same word that Jesus used when He said that we would have trouble in this world, but we are to take heart, because He has overcome the world. This trouble, this tribulation that we suffer is not some new thousand year rain of trouble as some would suppose. No, this tribulation is what we have suffered since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. To be a Christian means that you inevitably suffer trials and tribulations.
You might think of it this way, the devil does not spend time working on those he already has. He spends his time working on those he does not have. Which means that if you are not having troubles in this world, if you are not having tribulation, if you are not suffering from the trials and tribulations of the devil you might want to take a hard look at yourself to make sure that he does not have you already [smile :)]. And this does not mean the troubles, the trials and tribulations we bring on ourselves, which we do because of our sinful nature.
The elder continues by saying that these are they who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” It is faith in Jesus’ death on the cross, the shedding of His blood that brings the white robes of righteousness. By faith in Jesus, we stand before God in His perfection, washed in His blood, robed in His white robes of righteousness.
“Therefore,” the elder says, meaning, as a result of Jesus’ redeeming work, because Jesus shed His blood on the cross, by faith in Him, faith given by God, therefore, salvation comes to those who believe. The perfect bliss of the redeemed people of God is described in the next series of ten statements. Remember too, that the number ten is the number of completeness and so we are reminded by these ten statements that there is complete release from all evil and complete fullness of joy which is ours, given to us by God.
The first three lines describe the blessedness of the redeemed who stand in the presence of God spending their days and nights in service to Him. Their service is a worship service, a time spent in praise and adoration to Jesus. While we are on earth it is most important and necessary that we come to the Lord’s House, to divine service first and foremost to be given to by God. It is only as we are given to by God that we can respond with lives of faith. In heaven we will be perfected and so we will be able to offer a service of worship, worthy of our Creator God.
The next four lines speak about the freedom we Christians will have in heaven from the effects of sin. The curse which was placed on all creation in the Garden of Eden is now broken. In heaven there is no hunger, no thirst, no being beaten down by the sun. In heaven there is no sorrow or sadness, only joy and rejoicing. In heaven we will eat eternal manna and drink of the river of pleasure forever.
The final three lines describe heaven in positive terms. We are reminded first that Jesus is the Good Shepherd as John reminds us in His Gospel. Jesus compares us to His sheep and He is our Shepherd. He leads us beside the quiet waters as we read in the Psalms. Jesus is the living water. We are Baptized into faith through water. We need water to live. Jesus is that living water for us. And with God there will be no suffering, no more tears. Heaven is a place of complete and unending joy.
This morning we get another glimpse of heaven. We are reminded that heaven is a gift, given by God, earned by Jesus’ death on the cross and the shedding of His blood. We are reminded that heaven is a place of forever joy. And we are reminded that heaven is a place of forever worship.
The question we might ask ourselves this week is “are we ready?” If you ask young people “are you ready to go to heaven?” Many times you will get the answer, “Yes, I am ready, but I would rather grow up before I go.” How often do we find ourselves answering in like manner. “I think I am ready for Jesus to come again, but I would rather get done doing the things I think I need to do here on earth.” I think that begs the question even more. Are we ready? Are we ready if we believe that there is more for us to do on this earth than to get ourselves ready for Jesus’ to come? Or to get ourselves ready for our going to Him, which might be sooner than His coming to us. And maybe we need to spend time getting others ready as well. I wonder if we are ready as we continue to keep our focus on the things of this world instead of on things heavenward.
How do we get ourselves ready? We get ourselves ready by making regular and diligent use of those means through which our Lord gives to us and uses to get us ready, His means of grace. In other words, it is not so much we who get ourselves ready, but it is the Lord who gets us ready. He gets us ready by our remembering our Baptism. He gets us ready by our confessing our sins and hearing His most beautify words of forgiveness. He gets us ready by our reading His Word, by our having personal and family devotions, by our being in divine service and Bible Class. He gets us ready as we come to His table, where He is the host and the meal, where He offers and gives to us His true body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins and for strengthening of faith.
When I was attending the Seminary, one of my classes followed chapel. Every morning we had chapel at 9 a.m. It was a short service in which we heard the Word of God and sang some hymns. Our professor noticed that some of the men from our class were not making it to chapel, but were missing for some reason. He chastened us one morning by using the following words, “Gentlemen, receive the gifts.” So, too, I come to you and as I come to you I ask you to share these words with those who are not here. Ladies and gentlemen, receive the gifts. Because it is only through the gifts God gives, the gifts of His Word and Sacraments that He gives us forgiveness and that He can prepare us for Jesus’ coming and/or our going to Him. And now more than ever is the time to be prepared. To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.