Sunday, November 09, 2014
Remembrance Day Sermon: Revelation 7: 9-17 Out of the Great Tribulation
One of the overwhelming facts that confront us each year around Remembrance Day is the sheer scale of loss. In this centenary year, the Tower of London is hosting a visual representation of the losses in World War One. Have you seen the sea of red, each ceramic poppy representing one of the 888,246 British soldiers who lost their life in the Great War. Each one an individual, a father or brother or son; daughter, sister, mother.
While the First World War might seem remote and distant Remembrance Day also comes closer to home. We remember those whom many of us knew and loved and lost. The pain remains, the loss still real. Does the Bible have anything to say to us about those we have lost? Is there any hope or encouragement for us?
This morning, we turn to the book of Revelation, that strange and not always easy book at the very end of the Bible. This is a revelation of Jesus Christ, given to the apostle John, who was exiled on the island of Patmos. Jesus tells him to write what he sees to the seven churches of Asia Minor, churches facing trouble and persecution. Throughout the book, we’re given an overview of history, as God’s people and God’s enemies are lined up against each other.
One of the most amazing photos I’ve ever seen was taken during President Obama’s Inauguration in January 2013. Using 305 high resolution photographs, a very detailed picture of the huge crowd present on the day is available on the Washington Post website. You can zoom in to see who was there, who was yawning, who was sleeping. [You can see it here]
In chapter 7, John is shown a great multitude. This is a huge crowd of people - so many that no one could number them. John takes in all the details, but he doesn’t understand them. There’s people from every tribe and people and language. Every nationality is represented. They’re standing before the throne and before the Lamb. That is, they’re in the heart of heaven. They’re all wearing the same thing- white robes; and they’re all holding the same thing- palm branches. They’re all crying the same thing- ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
They’re joined by the angels and the elders and the four living creatures. John had already seen all the rest earlier in chapter 4 and 5, but the crowd is new. They weren’t there earlier, but now they are. It’s a bit of a mystery. is it like a flashmob, where people are going about their business in a shopping centre and then suddenly someone starts singing, and a choir appears out of nowhere, and then disappears again afterwards? Who are these people? Where did they come from? They’re all dressed the same, shouting the same. If they had red scarves and T-shirts on, we might recognise them as Liverpool supporters. But white robes and palm branches?
Have you ever known someone who asks you a question because they know the answer? Perhaps that’s something that happens in school. The teacher asks something you haven’t done before. They know the answer, and they know you don’t know the answer. They ask the question so that you have to say, I don’t know! That’s what’s going on in verse 13. John is watching all this happen before him. He doesn’t know who the crowd are. Then one of the elders asks him: ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?’ Sir, you know - because I don’t!
Here’s what the elder says: ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.’ The great tribulation is the war between God and his enemies. This crowd from every nation has died serving God. They have washed their robes and made them white... but not in Daz or Bold. Look at what has made the white robes white - the blood of the Lamb. It doesn’t seem possible, does it? One red sock in the wash turns your whites pink. But the dirty robe washed in the blood of the Lamb comes out spotless and white. The elder is showing that this crowd has trusted in the Lord Jesus; they depend on his blood shed for them at the cross; this is their hope, their means of pardon and peace.
The blood of Jesus is our only means of hope. Do you see the connection between verses 14 and 15? It is only those who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb who ‘therefore...’
This is the present reality for those who have died trusting in Christ. They are with God. ‘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 shelter them with his presence.’ It’s what the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians - ‘for me to live is Christ, to die is gain.’ Even though they may have been taunted in life - where is your God? In death, they are with him, as near as could be, seeing him face to face.
As well as being with God, there is also nothing they lack. ‘They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.’ In life, they may have suffered hunger or thirst; gathered before the throne there is no lack. All this is possible because ‘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.’
Have you ever seen some of those award shows? Up front are the celebrities with their meal and wine, waiting to hear if their name will be called out. And back, very far back, out of camera view, are the ordinary people, desperate to get a glimpse of their favourite actor or musician. Sometimes we might think that heaven is like that - all the famous and important Christians have a ringside seat, while we might just get into the very back row, just in through the door, not getting near the action.
But verse 17 shows us the personal nature of heaven. The Lamb is the one who shepherds, guiding to springs of living water. Jesus himself is the shepherd, not just in this life, but even in glory. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. It’s as if God has the Kleenex tissues out, wiping away every tear. It’s God who removes suffering and ushers us into his presence.
What an encouragement this would have been for John’s first readers. People from their church, people they knew well, had been killed as martyrs. It’s as if John scans the crowd like that picture of Obama’s inauguration and shows them where they are: safe, secure, God’s gathered people, shepherded by Christ, in white robes of purity and joy.
There is comfort here for us. Our loved ones, found in Christ, are also found in this picture. They too are safe and secure with Christ. We may experience loss, but they are at home with the Lord. Perhaps when grief overwhelms us, it would be good to read this passage again and read about where our loved ones are... They are before the throne of God...
And what about us. What of you? In the great tribulation there are only two sides. The side of God or his enemies. To come over to the side of God is to repent, be washed in the blood of Jesus, to trust in his sacrifice. It’s only in Jesus that our robes can be white, and our future bright. As the crowd cries out with a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ Amen.
This sermon was preached at the Remembrance Day Service in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 9th November 2014.