9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; 10 and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, "Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen."
13 And one of the elders answered, saying to me, "These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where have they come?" 14 And I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 "For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them. 16 "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb in the center of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes."
Sermon for All Saints Day 2020 11/01/20
No More Tears
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Revelation is an apocalyptic book, a prophetic book about the end times. It purports to tell us about the history of the world from the time of the Apostles to the end of the world. Last week I talked about the two verse image that has been interpreted as referring to Martin Luther, Revelation 14:6-7. Because of the nature of prophetic literature, the order of the prophecies and images are not constrained by time - they are not necessarily sequential. Our text this morning is an example of that, showing us a vision of the saints in heaven long before many other prophetic images of world and church history.
Because this is a prophetic and apocalyptic vision and not a scene like a photograph of a place being described, we have to tread carefully when we make statements about the vision and about the images in the vision. In art, some people do impressionistic pictures, like Duchamp's cubist Nude Descending a Staircase, or Picasso's Guernica which look nothing like the things pictured, and some do figurative art, like photo-realism, like Andy Warhol's Soup Can, which capture precisely what is being pictured looks like, like a portrait. In apocalyptic Scriptures, some parts are very literal, but most of the images are impressionistic seeming, communicating some truth other than merely the picture it seems to convey.
In this vision, John describes is a scene in heaven. It appears to be heaven at the end of time, but that could be because heaven is in eternity, and in eternity, everything in time is done. This is not a picture we normally think of when we think of heaven. Typically, I think we imagine heaven as similar to earth – the Bible calls it "a new earth," in one place or another – and in this vision, the whole host of heaven, "a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues," were gathered together with palm branches in their hands shouting praises to God.
Now, this may be exactly what heaven looks like, but I think it is an image intended to say something about heaven and those in it. We have other pictures of heaven from the Bible; a wedding feast, a pastoral image of the lion lying down with a lamb, and so forth, so I suspect this image is communicating something about the nature of heaven and the activities of those who are in heaven.
Everybody seems to be there: all nations and tribes and peoples and languages are there. It is like Palm Sunday, people are waving their palms and welcoming, recognizing, and praising their King. All the angels and those four living creatures were there, worshiping, too. The praise is fitting praise giving God the glory He is due for the salvation which He has won and pours out.
Again, everyone is there – all of God's people; all who have ever lived and trusted in God. Your parents and your grandparents. Your brothers and sisters. You. All who have reached the goal of a life lived in faith in Jesus Christ.
How do I know? The Elder in heaven says so, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Unlike the fantasies of the millennialistic crowd, the great tribulation is not some future event to which the world still looks. It is now, the troubles and persecution of the Christian Church on earth – the Church Militant. We are in the midst of the great tribulation, and those who endure by the grace of God will be numbered among that great crowd, we who have washed our robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. That is an image of forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Throughout eternity, John says, we will be singing, speaking, shouting out, and praying thanks to God for our salvation. We will serve God day and night, as we should be doing here and now, but fail due to the weakness and corruption of our sinful flesh. The picture is constant, endless praise and prayer. Now, Heaven may look just like this, but I suspect that this is an image representing the perfection, praise, and love of our lives in eternity.
Heaven is the temple of God in which we shall serve Him. We will be under God's blessings and protection forever. The signs and symptoms and effects of sin will be no more – no hunger, no thirst, no unbearable heat of the sun beating down on us. Instead, Jesus will lead us and guide us as our Shepherd, leading us to and through everlasting life – and that life is without sorrow of any kind. There will be no more tears.
Every Biblical picture of Heaven is really nothing more than a teaching tool, aiming to reveal something about a place and an existence in the presence of God that defies human comprehension. This one tells us about our thanksgiving and praise, and the security and peace of our lives in eternity. It reminds us that it is all-encompassing – everyone who has placed their trust in God, that is in forgiveness and life on account of Jesus and what He has accomplished for us and given to us, shall be there from all times and all places.
The Church on earth celebrates All Saints Day to mark that specific hope. You know it was called All Hallows in the old days, leading to All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween, and the silly superstition that since the day was all hallows it must be the holiest day of the year. It figured in their superstition that the night before must be the night of the greatest sway of evil - so we ended up with super-spooky Halloween on the night before.
The church has often had the custom of reading the names of all those members of the congregation who have gone to their heavenly reward in the past year on All Saints Day. Our list this year would include Celesta Kyar and Marvin Runyan, Betty Wiese, who passed away since our last All Saints Day, and perhaps Rosalie Standing. We count them among the host of heaven, pictured for us in this text. Your parents and grandparents that believed are among that throng in heaven, as you each will one day be if you hold fast the faith and trust in the Lord. Among that crowd, there will be no sin, no death, no sorrow, no sickness, only joy and thanksgiving, and a reunion before God which will never end.
The final detail to note is that the Lamb – Jesus – will be in our midst. He will be our Shepherd, guiding us and leading us, and He will be among us, just as He is now, "wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in their midst." The difference, I suspect, is that we will see Him there and hear Him directly, with no more hiding from our senses because, in this world, we walk by faith and not by sight – but in the world to come, we will walk in glory and see the truth, and have opportunity, which we will never fail to use, of worshiping our Lord directly and immediately, and not just through symbols and liturgy.
On that day we will sing our thanksgiving along with all those we have loved who have gone before us. It is that coming day that we confess by celebrating All Saints Day, a day (the eternal day) in which there will be no more tears because God Himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost
(Let the people say "Amen").
Sunday, November 01, 2020
No More Tears