Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Text: Revelation 7:13-17
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."

A glimpse of heaven

There are lots of humorous stories about heaven.

This 85-year-old couple died in a car crash after having been married almost 60 years. They had been in good health the last ten years mainly due to her interest in health food and exercise. When they reached the pearly gates, St. Peter took them to their mansion which was decked out with a beautiful kitchen, a bathroom and spa. As they "oohed and aahed" the old man asked Peter how much all this was going to cost. "It's free," Peter replied, "this is heaven."

Next they went out back to survey the championship golf course at the back of the home. They could play golf everyday, and each week the course changed to a new one representing the great golf courses on earth.
The old man asked: "What are the green fees?"
Peter's reply: "This is heaven. You play for free."

Next they went to the club house and saw the lavish buffet lunch with the cuisines of the world laid out.
"How much to eat?" asked the old man.
"Don't you understand yet? This is heaven, it is free!" Peter replied with some exasperation.
"Well, where are the low fat and low cholesterol tables?" the old man asked timidly. Peter lectured: "That's the best part. You can eat as much as you like of whatever you like and you never put on weight and you never get sick. This is heaven."

With that the old man went into a fit of anger, throwing down his hat and stomping on it, and shrieking wildly. Peter tried to calm him down, asking him what was wrong. The old man looked at his wife and said, "This is all your fault. If it weren't for your blasted bran muffins and low fat yoghurt, I could have been here ten years ago!"

Todayís text from revelation leads us to talk about heaven. I guess there are people here who like shopping and those who donít. Some people like to window shop Ė they like it because itís cheap and they can dream a little about the things they see in the shop windows. You might stop and gaze at the displays of clothing and jewellery thinking that you would really like to have that but you know full well that it's more than you can afford. Or perhaps you have looked in the window of a travel agent and seen an advertisement for a holiday you have always wanted. As you look you realise that this will never happen. You move on putting the idea right out of your head.

As we read this text from the Book of Revelation it's as if we are window shopping and pressing our noses up against the window looking at the wonderful scene in front of us. What we see in a jewellerís shop window, for instance, is only a small glimpse of the beautiful necklaces, watches, broaches, and rings inside the shop. What we see as we look through the window of the Book of Revelation is just a small sample, a very tiny peek at what heaven is really like.

As you look through the window in the book of Revelation what is it that impresses you the most?

Is it the enormous crowd? 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 Ö"(Rev 7:9). That is an impressive scene. Here in this world there are divisions between black and white, the rich and the poor, one nation against another, between aboriginal and non-aboriginal, between unions and management.

Here before the throne of the Lamb we a see a mass of people, untouched by racism, sexism, nationalism, unionism or whatever other "ism" you can think of. Unique indeed! A crowd whose numbers defy calculation. This isnít one of those uncomfortable crowds; people pushing and shoving, people jammed in together, some being rude, and some stepping on your toes. Those gathered at the throne of God donít mind the crowd at all. In fact, they are happy to be part of so many people enjoying the presence of God.

In this crowd are people from every nation, from all tribes and language groups. They understand one another perfectly. They are not divided into cliques, clusters and special interest groups. They are all friends. They don't exclude someone because he/she is different or strange or appears to behave strangely. They are totally one.

In the fight against apartheid in South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu often referred to this vision of God's victorious liberated people being one people free of everything that separates one person from another.

Wouldn't it be great if this could be a reality right now in our world? Just think of the changes that would happen if everyone could experience this oneness in the everyday dealing of one person toward another, one nation toward the next.

Or as you look through this window into heaven perhaps you are impressed by the setting of this magnificent scene. Here is this huge crowd of people standing before the throne of God in the presence of the Almighty. But not only are there people there but also angels and other heavenly creatures.

Imagine yourself and those whom you love in that crowd, face to face with Christ, the risen, triumphant, living Lamb who has taken away the sin of the world. Every person in that crowd is evidence that Jesus Christ is indeed the totally successful Saviour of all people regardless of race, nation or language. He promised that those who live and believe in him will be saved and never die. This scene before the throne of God is proof that he has kept his promise. The blood of the Lamb who was sacrificed for all people has cleansed this vast crowd.

A part of this magnificent scene is the sea of white and green before the throne of the Lamb. As far as you can see there are people dressed in robes of white. And interspersed with the white there are splashes of green. 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). It is only because the Lamb gave his life for those in that crowd that they are able to stand in the presence of the Almighty.

Or as you look through this window into heaven perhaps you are impressed by what is happening in this heavenly scene? Those before the throne aren't rushing about. They are in the presence of the Almighty but they arenít interested in making a good impression nor are they one bit nervous. They aren't concerned about the future.

They are happily engaged in worship. They call out; "Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb!" And then "the (thousands upon thousands of) angels and archangels and all the company of heaven" 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!" This sevenfold hymn of praise and joy indicates that there is nothing and no one in all creation that can match God. All things belong to God and God has accomplished all things for the salvation of all people. As Paul says, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom 11:36). The crowd around the throne can do nothing else but join together in a chorus of praise for everything that the Lamb has done for them.

What a magnificent scene! But it is even more so when we ask the question as the Apostle John did, "Who are these robed in white, and where have they come from?" They are not people who have drifted through the years in spiritual ease, untouched by pain and sorrow. They are people who have gone through a great ordeal that included tension, afflictions, stresses, troubles and the testing which Christians experience because they are followers of the Lamb.

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. Only because of the grace that God has shown through the Lamb that they are now able to stand before the throne of God.

They no longer live in fear or want. No hunger, thirst, no want or poverty, no hurt or sorrow will bother them again. 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, 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" (Rev 7:15-17).

When we think of those we love who are no longer with us, we miss them, but when we think that they are part of that enormous crowd, then that comforts us. It's hard to be sad for them; they are enjoying the place where there is no more tears, and pain, suffering and dying. The only sadness really is for us who aren't yet there. And for us in our own lives, it makes a difference to know that this is waiting for us some time in the future. This is what our faith looks forward to, it is the ultimate for us.

To be certain this doesn't take away the hurt and frustration of the here and now. These visions of heaven donít remove the many, many experiences we have as we go through life, or the times when it's hard going and we don't seem to be making any headway and it's just a hard slog. But this vision of heaven gives us something to look forward to - a time when the presence of God will be something we will experience like never before, a time when we will feel a completeness that we've only ever caught glimpses of before. These glimpses of heaven colour everything that happens in our lives in this world.

In our time of trouble and affliction, when we go through our own personal times of ordeal, we have the assurance that the loving Shepherd will walk with us as we cross the peaks and go down into the valleys during our journey through life. "The Lamb Öwill be our shepherd, and he will guide us to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes" (Rev 7:17).

A Christian is a person who values what they have and experience now;
a Christian is a person who is unafraid of what lies ahead, because in both of those, God is there!

I donít know about you but this little glimpse into heaven is amazing. This isn't a psychological escape, a hallucinatory lift for troubled minds. This is a God-given insight into a glorious new reality - planned, prepared, reserved and guaranteed for us by a merciful Father, a risen, victorious Saviour, and the all accomplishing Spirit. What a wonderful, glorious tomorrow for all those who put their faith in Christ as their Saviour!

It comes down to this Ė either we believe that with our last breath comes the end of us Ė the big full stop which shuts the door to anything beyond this life Ė or that death is a going back to the one who created us. Jesus promised that death doesn't have to have the last laugh. We believe him when he said, "I am going to prepare a place for you".

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
2nd May, 2004

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