Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Text: Revelation 7:16,17
Never again will they hunger or thirst; neither sun nor any scorching heat will burn them, because the Lamb, who is in the centre of the throne, will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of life-giving water.

The new dawn

A man and a woman were sitting next to each other on a plane.  It was obvious that the man was keen to talk and was soon telling the woman how he had recently lost his little son through death.  He said, “My son had come home from school with a fever and we thought it was just one of those childhood things, but it was a very virulent form of meningitis. The doctor said there was little that could be done to save his life”.

The man went on to tell how he and his wife took up a bedside vigil next to their dying boy.    
The boy said, “Daddy, I’m getting tired. I guess it's time for me to go to sleep”.

Even though it was the middle of the day, his father helped him to get his pillow just right and then both parents kissed their son like they did every night.  Sleepily the boy said, “Good night.  I’ll see you in the morning.”  He then closed his eyes and stepped over into heaven.

The man silently looked out the window of the plane for a long time. Then he turned back to the woman with tears running down his face, he said, “I can hardly wait till the morning.”

“I can hardly wait for the morning”.  That expresses the hope of the Christian.  There awaits us a bright new day in the presence of the Lord.  

Listen to the stunning vision that the apostle John gives us in Revelation.  John is transported to heaven and sees something that human words can hardly describe. 
I looked, and there was an enormous crowd—no one could count all the people!  They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language, and they stood in front of the throne and of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.  They called out in a loud voice: “Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb!”  (Rev 7: 9-10)

The Lamb, who knows what suffering is all about,
the Lamb, the Son of God, who was rejected and condemned to death,
who was humiliated and crucified,
now sits on the throne. 
The Lamb who was once pushed aside by a cruel world, now rules in heaven.
And all those who are gathered around the throne and standing in the light of God’s new dawn, worship God saying, “
Praise, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour, power, and might belong to our God forever and ever!  Amen!”

In this glimpse into heaven we see that those around the throne of the Lamb are unusually free of any of the trouble and suffering that we experience here in this life.
There are those who have suffered terrible persecution for Jesus’ sake – and today there are still people enduring the worst cruelty for their faith in Jesus.  It is estimated that 100,000 Christians die every year because of their faith in Jesus and many languish in jails.  Over 130 countries discriminate against Christians in some way – that’s three-quarters of the world’s nations.  This doesn’t rate a mention in newspapers or TV news – in many places, it’s not safe to be a follower of Christ.

But here before the Lamb they are safe.
Here in this heavenly place, the Lamb protects them; he is their shepherd and nothing can harm them any longer.  All their fears are behind them and their tears have been wiped away.  A new reality has come, a new life has come, a glorious life, a new dawn.  It is a life in which there is peace, and joy and praise.  As the text says, “Their shepherd will guide them to springs of life-giving water”. This is the life that Jesus had promised when he said, “
I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness” (John 10;10).

This is the good news!  We can say to those who suffer that
there is something better beyond their pain. 
There is something peaceful beyond their inevitable departure from family and friends. 
There is something wonderful to come as they face the end of their life here. 
After the darkness of death there is a new dawn when they will awaken and find themselves in that crowd in heaven.

No one – not even John can really tell us just how wonderful heaven is, and certainly no one can tell us just where it is, and exactly what it feels like and looks like.  There are some people who try to tell us that heaven doesn’t exist, that it’s just a nice thought to chase away our fear of dying.  The Bible leaves no room to doubt that heaven is real.

A study has been done of what people say in the last 72 hours before their death and it’s been found that often people talk about going on some kind of a journey. A 96-year-old man who suddenly woke up in his hospice bed, told his daughter, “Gail, it's time to go. Let's make a run for it. Is the car ready?”  When she assured him that it was right outside, he said, “Good. I'm ready.”

She asked him where they were going, and he said he wasn't sure. “I only know that I’m going on a trip, and the time has come.”  He died shortly afterwards. 

Another patient called his doctor over to him and said, “I’m going”.  The doctor turned away because the man appeared to be quite all right.  Within minutes he was gone. The soul singer James Brown had a mild case of pneumonia.  He said to his manager, “I’m going away tonight”.  Later that night he died.

I’ve been blessed to sit with people in those last moments who have said similar words to their family.  They were going on a journey and they knew exactly where they were going.  One faithful Christian man softly said as if he was answering someone calling to him, “I’m coming!” 

The text from Revelation gives us a very clear picture where that journey will take us.  This is the hope that we have because of Jesus’ resurrection. This is the hope that death is not the end of us but a journey from this life to our eternal home in heaven. 

Even though we have these wonderful descriptions of heaven in the Bible we still have a lot of questions like “Where is heaven?”, “What will we do in heaven?” What will be our relationship with our family? And so on.

I’m afraid those question will have to wait but we can be assured that heaven is beyond our wildest imagination.  Someone once said, “For Christians heaven is where Christ is … being in heaven is being in the presence of Christ”.  Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. …   I am going to prepare a place for you ...that you also may be where I am”.  Did you hear that?  “That you also may be where I am”.  And that’s precisely what John saw in his vision of heaven.  There was the Lamb, Jesus, in the middle of that vast crowd of people from every nation around the world.  He gets out his celestial hanky and wipes away every tear that has filled our eyes because of the hurt and suffering we have received in this life.  With love he gently wipes away every trace of human sorrow that has dogged us from the moment of our birth. 

What love, what intimacy, what closeness, what joy is being expressed here!  We are with the Lord!

As we think about this reading today we can’t help but recall all those who have died with faith in their Lord,
those members of this congregation who are no longer with us,
the family members,
the friends whose funerals we have attended. 
Some of them suffered a great deal in their last days,
some slipped quietly from this life,
others were taken suddenly.
Their departure has brought sadness into our lives. 

We miss them terribly but at the same time we know where they are now.  They lived and died with faith in Jesus and are now enjoying unending joy in the presence of their Lord in heaven.  They are celebrating with all the faithful gathered around the throne of God. 

How can we be so sure that when we leave the shadows and sadness of this life we will experience the new dawn of heaven?   

In John’s vision of heaven, he noticed that those who were standing around the throne of the Lamb had “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”.  The idea that blood can make something white is quite strange and normally not possible – except when it comes to the blood of the Lamb. 

John is telling us that those before the throne of God are clean, perfect, forgiven – in other words saints.  They have been made holy by Jesus’ death for them on the cross.  Their sins have been blotted out, wiped away; they have made clean, white, and perfect.  It is because of the suffering and dying of the Lamb that they are now experiencing the new dawn of eternal life. 

That is why those around the throne of the Lamb are so excited and shout, “Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb!”

We don't know what our future earthly life holds for us, what troubles, what joys, or even how long we will be here, but there is one thing we are certain about – we have a Saviour who loves us and who holds our life in his hands and deals with us with love and care.  And in this love we trust. 

At the moment of our last breath, you and I can be certain that on the other side of the dark valley of death, there is a new dawn, a new life beyond description.  We can be certain that because of Christ, we too will stand around the throne of the Lamb who has opened the way to heaven, saying, “Praise, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour and might belong to our God forever and ever.  Amen!”

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
17th April 2016
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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