Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost
All Saints

Text: Revelation 7:9-17
(Note: The text is read as part of the sermon as below.)

 

Through a window

Have you ever wondered what heaven is really like? 
We know about life on this planet – how often unhappiness can overtake the pleasure that this life offers.  It only takes the news of someone close to us who has succumbed to a serious illness or even died, or overwhelming trouble and sadness take control of our lives and suddenly happiness suddenly seems a distant memory.
But what is it like in heaven?
We are told it is the perfect place where there are none of the troubles, problems, sicknesses and sadness that we experience now – that almost seems too unreal to be true. 

I remember going to an underwater observatory somewhere out on Great Barrier Reef.  We went down under the surface of the sea into a room with windows.  Through these windows we could observe a completely different world – different kinds and colours of coral, brightly coloured tropical fish, star fish, crabs – a world of colour and beauty that you couldn’t even begin to imagine from the surface.  All that separated us from the beautiful world out there was the glass in the windows.  It was an amazing sight but soon we had to leave and go back to our familiar world above the sea.

Or if you’ve not had an experience like that perhaps you’ve looked in the window of a travel agent and seen an advertisement for a holiday.  The pictures of people relaxing in some far away idyllic destination without a care in the world is just what you need.  But you’re quickly brought back to reality when you remember everything that you are dealing with in your life – family, work, health issues, and a shortage of that essential substance you need for a holiday – money.

The text for today is like pressing our noses up against a window and looking with a great deal of awe and longing at what we are seeing on the other side of the glass knowing that we still have to deal with life in this world.  Let me read from Revelation chapter 7.

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!” All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures. Then they threw themselves face downward in front of the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Praise, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour, power, and might belong to our God forever and ever! Amen!”
One of the elders asked me, “Who are these people dressed in white robes, and where do they come from?”
“I don't know, sir. You do,” I answered. 
He said to me, “These are the people who have come safely through the terrible persecution. They have washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb. That is why they stand before God's throne and serve him day and night in his temple. He who sits on the throne will protect them with his presence. 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. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” 

We are standing at the window of inspired Scripture looking into heaven.  As we look through this window at what is happening in heaven, we see a very impressive sight – and I’m not sure it fits my idea of what heaven is like. 

We read, I looked, and there was an enormous crowd – no one could count all the people!  They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language” (Rev 7:9).  This is the biggest crowd ever.  It includes people from all over the world – every race, tribe, nation and language.  There are people gathered here as far as the eye can see.  Generally, I don’t like crowds – people are too close, there’s too much jostling as people try to get the best positions or seats – you know what it’s like.

But this crowd is different.  This is happy crowd.  There are none of the old divisions that we experience here in this life.  There before the throne of the Lamb there is no racism, sexism, nationalism, unionism, egotism, Lutheranism, Catholicism or whatever other “ism” you can think of.  Unique indeed!  There are no cliques and clusters. They’re all friends.  No one is excluded because he/she is different or strange or politically or religiously diverse or behaves strangely.  They are totally one.

Maybe we can allow ourselves a bit of creative latitude here.  As we gaze through the window into heaven, we feel some excitement as we spot people we have known in this life.  “Hey look, there’s my mum, my dad – they really had it tough in this life but look how happy they are now!  There’s my friend who suffered terribly from cancer. And look the kid from my school whose death caused so much sadness. They all look so happy.” 

And it’s just at this moment that you realise that the people that make up this enormous crowd are all dressed in white and there are splashes of green in amongst all this brilliant whiteness.

As Revelation says, “There was an enormous crowd dressed in robes of white and holding palm branches in their hands” (Rev 7:9).  The Lamb, Jesus Christ, died to make them clean and holy.  As Isaiah says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).  

Every person in that crowd is there because Jesus Christ is indeed the totally successful Saviour of all people regardless of race, nation or language.  These people are there before the throne of God because they trusted the promise that those who live and believe in Jesus will be saved and never die.  This is a victorious crowd.  They wave palm branches as banners of victory.  They have come through the trials, troubles, persecutions and death and now stand as champions before the throne of the Lamb.

As we look through the window into heaven, there is still more that is impressive.  We know the victory that Christ has won for us, and yet the lines of worry and stress still crease our faces.  But as we look into the faces of this vast crowd, all we see is total calm and peace. There aren't any signs of anxiety or concern.  There isn’t any sadness.  There aren’t any expressions of agony and pain on their faces. 

They are joyful and happily engaged in worship.  They call out, “Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb!”  And then everyone, including the angels, all join together in one thunderous chorus of praise saying, “Amen! Praise, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour, power and might belong to our God forever and ever!  Amen!”  

What a magnificent scene!  But it is even more so when we hear these people haven’t drifted through the years in spiritual ease, untouched by pain and sorrow and death.  They have gone through tension, affliction, stress, trouble and the testing that comes because they trusted and had complete faith in the Lamb. In the conflict they didn't buckle; they didn't compromise their faith.  In the heat of their troubles they withstood the attempts of Satan to undermine their trust in God. 

That's not to say they were perfect in their faith and trust.  But it is Jesus their Saviour and Shepherd who made them victorious.  They have been made clean and white through the blood of the Lamb.  He has brought them through all their trials to this magnificent place we call heaven. 

Now they no longer live in fear or want.  God is there!  He is their good Shepherd who will guard and protect them from all danger.  Revelation says, “He who sits on the throne will protect them with his presence.  Never again will they hunger or thirst; neither sun nor any scorching heat will burn them ….  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:15-17). 

As we gaze through this window at the view of heaven, this is just a small window with a limited view of what can be seen and what heaven is like.  But one thing is clear that being in the presence of the Lamb is joyous place to be.  The Book of Revelation was written to encourage and comfort people who were facing terrible persecution and it certainly provides us with hope and joy when we face our dying day. 

This look through the window into heaven is a fine thing but how does this vision help us right now when we’re in the middle of something really awful?

There’s no getting away from the fact that while we are here on this earth, we will always face pain and one crisis after another.  Our faith will be put to the ultimate test and at times we will even question whether God cares what we are going through, and wonder if he has fallen asleep on the job.  It might be a relationship breakdown with our husband, wife, a child, parents, or friends.  We might discover that we have a life-threatening illness, or lose someone close to us.  Whatever it is, this will distress us – there’s no getting away from it.  We may shout at God and ask in no uncertain terms why doesn’t he do something to help us out.

Then there is the sin within us that we have deal with. Jesus says to love our enemies, forgive those who hate us, but somehow anger, vengefulness, hatred, evil and pride get the better of us and we cannot draw ourselves to forgive, to reconcile ourselves with those who hurt us.  It’s too hard and the pain too deep.  It’s easier to follow our own way than God’s way.

Let’s go back to the window and take another look at the crowd gathered in heaven.  They are not there because they were good, perfect, had lived a holy life or because they had somehow earned their way into heaven.  They were not people untouched by pain and sorrow, tension and afflictions, stresses and troubles.  At times the ordeal became too much for them, the enemy was too strong, their afflictions too overpowering. 

It was only with Jesus their Saviour and Shepherd that they have been victorious.  Their robes have been made white in the blood of the Lamb.  The stain of their failures was washed away and the strength of the Lord enabled them to get through their trials.  Only because of the grace of God are they able to stand before the throne of heaven and enjoy eternal joy. 

As you look through the window of today’s reading from the Book of Revelation can you see yourself as one of those dressed in white, no longer suffering the ailments and troubles of this life, boldly standing in the presence of the Lamb, experiencing joy like you’ve never experienced before?

While we don’t the details about our future in this life – what troubles and joys lie ahead – there is one thing we can be certain about – on the other side of death there is a life beyond description.  This Jesus has promised.

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
5th November 2017
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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