Sermon for the Twenty second Sunday after Pentecost/
All Saints

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. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." 

A 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. The woman listened intently as he told his story: 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 bed side vigil next to their dying boy. It was the middle of the day and the little boy whose strength was going from him said, "Daddy, it's getting dark isn't it?"
"Yes son", his father said even though the sun was shining brightly outside.
The boy said, "Daddy, I guess it's time for me to go to sleep isn't it?"

He said, "Yes, son, it's time for you to go to sleep."

The man described how his son had a special way of putting his head on his hands when he slept. His father helped him to get his pillow just right and then laid his head on his hands. "Good night Daddy. I will see you in the morning." He then closed his eyes and stepped over into heaven.

As the woman in the plane was drying her eyes the man silently looked out the window for a long time. Then he turned back to the woman with tears running down his face and he said, "I can hardly wait till the morning."

"I can hardly wait for the morning". That about expresses the hope of the Christian. There awaits us a bright new day in the presence of the Lord. Jesus uses the picture of a mansion with many rooms Ė he has gone ahead to get a room ready for all those whose trust is in the One who is the way, the truth and the life.

For the child dying of cancer in the hospital,
the family standing at the grave of a parent or child killed in a car accident;
those who have lost loved ones through war, terrorism, or the ravages of disease;
the family gathered around a hospital bed to say their goodbyes,
or when we must face our own mortality;
what better image can we have than that of the new morning Ė a new life, in a new world, with a new body.

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 crowdóno 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!" (Rev 7: 9-12)

The Lamb, who knows what suffering is all about,
the Lamb, the Son of God, who was rejected and condemned to death,
the Lamb 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 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 standing around the throne of the Lamb are unusually free of any of the hassles and suffering that we experience here in this life.
We see that there, in the presence of God, there is neither hunger, nor thirst, nor heat, nor pain any more. There is no more suffering death or grief. All that has passed away, a new reality has come, a new life has come, a glorious life. It is a life in which there is peace, and joy and praise.

This is the good news! We can say to those who suffer that
there is something beyond their pain.
There is something 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.

There is no doubt that death is an enemy. It is something we wish had never come into our world. The days, hours and minutes leading up to our death can be terrifying and fill us with dread. But at the same time the power of death has been defeated. It cannot obliterate us. On the other side of death there is the most glorious life that we could ever imagine. That is what John is trying to describe for us today.

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 doesnít exist, that it is just a nice thought to chase away our fear of dying. The Bible leaves no room to doubt that heaven is real.

A dying man asked his doctor, whom he knew to be a Christian, to tell him something about the place to which he was going. As the doctor fumbled for a reply, he heard a scratching at the door, and he had his answer. "Do you hear that?" he asked his patient. "It's my dog. I left him downstairs, but he has grown impatient. He can hear my voice, and has come up and is waiting at the door. He has no idea what is happening in here, but he knows that I am here. Isn't it the same with you? You don't know what lies beyond the door, but you know that your Master is there."

Thatís how it will be for us as we approach our dying. And thatís how it has been for those who have gone before us and are now standing in the presence of God. Their days of suffering and pain are over. They are no longer troubled with the fear, the worry, the uncertainty and hurt that has been so much part of the life in this world. The death that they had spent their whole lives dreading has now become the light of heaven. They are with their Lord.

The text from Revelation gives us a very intimate picture of the relationship between Jesus and those in heaven to the point of telling us that God will get out his celestial hanky and wipe 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!

The drawcard of our heavenly home is not so much the place itself. The Bible, in fact, doesn't even describe heaven in any detail for us except to tell us that itís a wonderful place, a place that is beyond our wildest imagination. The best description that we have is this - we shall be with Jesus. Someone once said, "For Christians heaven is where Christ is Ö being in heaven is being in the presence of Christ". Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Ö 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 thatís 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. They are ever so happy because they are with their God and Saviour in heaven forever.

As we think about all the saints gathered around the throne of God, we 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 we will end up in heaven? Most people when asked whether they think they will go to heaven say, "I hope so". "I think so". "Iím not sure".

But the fact is this. We can be absolutely sure we will go to heaven. There is no doubt about it. In Johnís 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". That sentence about robes washed in blood and they come out white is a bit ridiculous really. As we know blood does anything but make things white. But John is trying to tell us that those before the throne of God are clean, perfect, forgiven Ė in other words saints. They have been made holy by Jesusí death for them on the cross. Their sins have been blotted out, wiped away, they have made clean, white, and perfect and they are now able to stand before the throne of the God.

Sin separates us from God. Sin creates a huge chasm between God and us. It is sin that makes it impossible for us to enter heaven. But we have a Saviour who has destroyed the power of sin to keep us out of heaven. Our sin has been forgiven. The blood of Jesus shed on the cross has wiped away every sin and given us 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, 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 lovingly and in the most caring way possible. 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 death is a life beyond description. We can be certain that because of Christ, we too will stand around the throne of the Lamb saying, "Praise, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen!"

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
31st October, 2004

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