4th Sunday of Easter proper 4C
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Revelation 7:9-17 Sermon
April 25, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
204 "Father We Praise Thee, Now The Night Is Over"
522 "The Lord's My Shepherd I'll Not Want"
530 "The King Of Love My Shepherd Is"
524 "Saviour Like A Shepherd Lead Us"
THINKING ABOUT THE HEREAFTER
TEXT (vs. 13-17): "13 Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are they, and where did they come from?" 14 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. 15 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. 16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 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."
There's an old joke that's been re-told many times. If you've heard it before, I guess that you'll just have to suffer through it again. So here goes:
A pastor was visiting an older widow in her home one day; and in the course of the conversation, the Pastor made the remark, "You know, at your age, you should probably be thinking about the hereafter."
The woman replied, "Oh pastor, I think about the hereafter all the time. Whenever I walk into a room, I look around a bit, scratch my head, and then I ask myself, 'Okay, now what am I here after?'" I know exactly what this woman is talking about. This happens to me more often than I'd like to admit.
All kidding aside however, the question is a very legitimate one. When was the last time you thought about the hereafter? When was the last time you gave consideration to what is going to happen when your life on earth has come to an end? When was the last time you seriously reckoned what is in store for you after you breathe your last?
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, the ones who have been found faithful.
I would imagine that most, if not all of you know about the television series some years ago, called "Little House on the Prairie" starring Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert. It's still being aired in syndication on various television stations.
Laura Ingalls Wilder was a real person, and she wrote a whole series of "Little House" books that documented her life growing up as a pioneer child in the mid to late 19th Century. The television series was a take-off on those books.
Laura tells the story about the time she was a little girl in Wisconsin. She had a doll named Susan, who she had fashioned out of a corn cob, corn husks, and corn silk that she would play with all the time.
Then one Christmas, her mother made her a rag doll of her very own. She had button eyes, black yarn hair, and a red and blue gingham dress. Laura named her Charlotte. She loved this doll very much, as it was about the only toy she owned.
As the family went across the country in a covered wagon, Charlotte was Laura's companion and it kept her occupied during those long hot days. And at night, Charlotte would be in Laura's arms as she went to sleep.
As the years passed and Laura entered into her teen years, she still cherished Charlotte and kept her safely put away.
Then one day, Mrs. Nelson came to visit with her daughter Anna who was a toddler. Laura's mother told Laura to let Anna play with Charlotte so she would have something to occupy herself. All was well, until it was time for the Nelsons to leave. Laura tries to get Charlotte back from Anna, but Anna screams and cries and won't let go of the doll. When Laura protests, her mother says, "For shame Laura...Anna's little and she's company. You are too big to play with dolls." And so Laura watches in horror as Anna walks away, carelessly swinging Charlotte by the arm.
Laura was heart-sick, and time wasn't helping her get over it. Then one day as she was walking home in early winter, she goes past the Nelsons' barnyard. And there, to her horror, she sees Charlotte, minus her dress, her eyes, and most of her hair, half frozen in a mud puddle. Laura rescues her, and brings her home.
Back at home, Laura's mother realizes what she had done. She apologizes to Laura and says, "I wouldn't have given away your doll if I'd have known you care so much." They decided that it wasn't wrong for Laura to have taken Charlotte back. It had been a terrible experience for Charlotte, but Laura had rescued her, and Ma had promised to make her good as new.
And so, they thawed Charlotte and wrung her out, and Ma washed her thoroughly clean and starched and ironed her, while Laura chose from the scrap-bag material for a new pale pink face, a new dress, and new button eyes. That was Charlotte's rescue, and this story can be found in Laura's "Little House" book entitled, "On the Banks of Plum Creek."
As we look at our text from Revelation 7 today, I'd like you to keep a picture of this rag doll named Charlotte in your mind. However when you do this, don't think of the doll; instead think of yourself in that doll's place.
If we go back to the very beginning, God created human beings as the very crown of his creation. 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 used the likes of you and me for his own amusement.
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 freezing cold barnyard where he deserts us as we flounder and wallow in the mud and manure of our sins.
But do you know who else is in that barnyard? Yes, it's none other than our Good Shepherd. He lovingly and patiently goes through all of the filth of this sinful earthly barnyard 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 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 the barnyard, 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.
Laura Ingalls Wilder did a good job of describing what she felt when she saw her favorite doll Charlotte being hauled away against her will. I can only imagine how sick she must have felt when she saw what was left of her doll abandoned in that cold and muddy barnyard. But when she rescued her doll and took it home to her mother, those sick feelings turned into joy and elation as her doll was restored and made completely new again.
That's what Jesus has done for us. 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.
It doesn't matter how young or old we are, it is important to think about the hereafter. God gives us a fabulous picture of the hereafter in 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 hereafter of world to come.