Monday, November 02, 2009

Sermon on Revelation 7:9-17, for All Saints' Day. "Who are the Saints?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. A blessed All Saints’ Day to you, dear saints and children of God! Yes, you also are saints! Not because any of us “have what it takes” to be considered “saints,” but because Christ Jesus has washed and cleansed us by His blood, and we’re “holy ones” or saints in His eyes. Today we remember the saints that have gone before us in Jesus’ name, and we look at the passage from Revelation to see a heavenly vision, and answer the question, “Who are the Saints?” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The first answer our reading gives to the question of “who are the saints?” is that the saints are believers from every nation, tribe, people and language. The beauty of a diverse and colorful heaven is portrayed, with believers from every nation represented. Considering this was written almost 2,000 years ago, it’s a pretty remarkable statement against racial prejudice, hatred, or bigotry. The apostle John, who wrote this book, couldn’t have been any clearer that heaven would include people of every people group. Nations, tribes, peoples, and languages. It covers us all. The Bible presents a sharp contrast to racism or exclusion of people of a different color, which was prevalent both in the ancient world and today. A passage like this teaches us that we ought to treat all people with love and respect.

Today we’ve grown accustomed to speaking of fellow human beings using the language of “races” in the plural. Even the word itself has a divisive tone to it. But in reality are we so different? Although we can look quite different on a surface level, there’s actually a remarkably small percentage of our DNA that makes up the differences that we call racial characteristics. For example, any two random people from around the world, even if they were from the same people group, would only have .2% genetic difference. But the actual amount of genetic difference that accounts for the so-called “racial characteristics” only makes up only 1/100th of 1%! Modern genetics have established that there really is only one race—the human race.

This is what the Bible has taught all along! All the nations, tribes, peoples and languages share one blood, and are the descendants of the one man Adam (Acts 17:26). This wonderful and delightful truth should help us realize that the so-called racial characteristics that people draw so much attention to, and often become a source of hatred, prejudice, or stereotyping, have nothing to do with our entrance into heaven. Believers in Christ from every people group on earth will join in worship around the heavenly throne of God. We’d do well to abandon the term “races” altogether, as both the Bible and science agree it’s meaningless, and instead acknowledge our commonality as creatures of God and members of one human family.

This vision of John’s reflects back to our life on earth, and transforms how we look at people of every nation, tribe, people and language. We must put away all prejudice, bigotry, and racism, and call on others to do the same. We must repeatedly bear witness to the truth that all people are created in the image of God and deserving of respect and dignity and justice. We see that the saints of heaven will come from all these nations, and that we will be—indeed already are—brothers and sisters in Christ with all who believe! Christ alone unites us across national, cultural, social, and lingual differences. Joins us together in one vast multitude that will throng around the throne of God and the Lamb in heaven—a thundering choir of singers belting out in glorious voices a heavenly anthem: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” The angels, the elders, and the four living creatures who ever-attend the throne of God will reply with the refrain, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!” Your voices will join in that choir—our ears will ring with the glad praises of our God and King, and this multi-colored sea of redeemed and joyful faces will fall down in worship to the Almighty God and Redeemer.

This is the second truth our reading teaches about who the saints are: they’re the gathered believers from every nation that join in the eternal worship of God and the Lamb around the heavenly throne. Worship is central in heaven, just as worship is at the center of the Christians’ life on earth. Often we can become so focused on our numbers in worship—forgetting the biblical truth that whether we’re only two or three in number, or 100 or 1,000—we’re worshipping with a multitude of saints and angels in heaven. We stand in an invisible assembly of worshippers, uniting heaven and earth in the Divine Service.

What else do we learn from the eternal worship of the saints in heaven? Remember their heavenly anthem? Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. Salvation isn’t our work or making—it’s God’s work, together with Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It’s the presence of God and the marvelous truth of His unmerited love that affects their posture of worship—they fall on their face before the throne of God. We’re just as much gathered in God’s presence, although invisibly, when we worship and when He is bodily present among us in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The reverence with which the holy saints, elders, living creatures, and angels bow before the throne shows the holiness of God and how supreme His glory is. He’s unapproachable in His radiance (1 Tim 6:16). This is the same posture of reverence that many took before Christ Jesus when He dwelt on earth, falling on their face in worship. Remember that God alone can be worshipped, and this reminds us that Jesus is true God. Later in the book of Revelation, John fell on his face to worship an angel, but the angel quickly corrected him and reminded him that he was just a fellow servant like John, and that God alone was to be worshipped (Rev. 19:10).

The anthem of the saints, “Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb” also informs us of the central truth about who the saints are, and how they became saints. While John is viewing all this magnificent scene of heaven, one of the elders asks if he knows who these people are, clothed in white. John replies, “Sir, you know.” And the glad answer is “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They’ve washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” If you know nothing else or remember nothing else about what it means to be a saint—remember this. We’re made saints because we’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb. We aren’t saints because we’ve earned it or led such virtuous lives that God awarded us. The white robe that dresses the saints is the purity, the holiness, the innocence that God dresses believers with. Not because of their own deeds, but because their robes are washed white in the blood of the Lamb. Jesus’ blood is a cleansing, forgiving stream that purifies us from all sin. He poured out His blood on the cross, becoming the sacrificial lamb who takes away the sin of the world. It’s on His account, and nothing else, that we can be called saints! Yes! You are saints!

And at last, to undeserving saints on earth and in heaven, to you and me and all believers from a multitude of nations, is given eternal comfort and rest. John’s vision of heaven’s peace and comfort is a sharp contrast to the world of suffering, violence, prejudice, and strife that we live in. There are times of tribulation and suffering in Christian’s life where we’ll wonder if it’s all worth it. Or if we have the strength to go on in life. The elder told John that these saints he sees passed through the “great tribulation.” Tribulation is an intense trial or hardship that brings our faith to a great test. It can take all kinds of forms. Times when we’re weighed down with sorrow, crushed with grief, or our body physically is beset with pain or illness. A time when there seems no justice or explanation for the evil that afflicts you. We sometimes need this heavenly vision to be reminded that there is a place of rest and healing for all the evils that surround us in life.

But in that multitude from every nation stand the faithful believers through all the ages. People who have endured every hardship and pain imaginable, who’ve died of martyrdom, disease, accidents, died in infancy or old age, abortion, murder, suicide. All the various causes of death. There wasn’t always an explanation for why it happened, many times death was just senseless. Sometimes it was a specific persecution for faith in Christ. But all those saints stand as witnesses to the fact that they’ve made it through the great tribulation and arrived safely in heaven. By faith in God they arrived on the other side. Saints who knew their Savior, who were washed clean by His blood, and saw beyond their earthly circumstances to the heavenly promise. They have arrived to serve God day and night, and to be sheltered, to be protected by His presence. “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This speaks to our most basic human needs—hunger, thirst, shelter and health. At
last we’ll be beyond the reach of death and it’s grasping claws. No remnant of the sinful world, no lingering evil will assault us, but we’ll be hidden in the perfect shade of our heavenly Father, and guarded by Christ, the Good Shepherd, who will refresh us with His living water. Perhaps one of the most beautiful verses in all of Scripture—God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Tear by tear, God will erase all the sorrow of this life, and bring us His merciful healing and love, to assure us that our warfare is ended, and the victory is His and it is ours. And so we’ll stand with the saints, waving palm branches in victory. In the multi-colored throng of believers who’ve been marked as saints by the blood of Christ and delivered to heaven by the victory of our Triumphant God and King to whom belongs all the glory and all the credit. The saints stand as the prize of His victory, and the recipients of His eternal peace and comfort. Rejoice today with the saints who have gone before, and stand firm in the faith until we cross that heavenly portal through the blood of Jesus Christ the Lamb. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. Why is racism not in line with the truth of the Gospel? What does the Bible teach about humanity that combats the idea of racism? Acts 17:26; Genesis 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 15:45; Col. 3:11 See also

2. What racial prejudices or stereotypes have you been guilty of holding? How does John’s vision of heaven transform how we must look at our fellow human beings? What does it teach us about who the saints are?

3. What does John’s vision teach us about the importance of worship? What does the posture of a worshipper convey about themselves and about God? Rev. 7:11; 1 Tim. 6:16; Heb. 12:28-29; Matt. 2:11; 14:33; John 4:20ff

4. What is the central truth about who the saints are, and how we become saints? Reread Rev. 7:14. Heb. 12:22-24; Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; Col. 1:11-14.

5. Describe the heavenly comfort that awaits the saints. How does this vision help us in this life? What will be gone, and what will be our heavenly provision? Isaiah 25:6-9; John 4:10; 6:37-39. What does the presence of all the saints in heaven remind us of? (Think of Rev. 7:14 again).

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