This Sunday’s Sermon

November 1, 2020 – “REMEMBERING” – All Saints Day –
Pastor Donna Doutt – Revelation 7:9-17 (NIV)

The Great Multitude in White Robes

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’[a]
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’’

A few years back, a Bible study group I was leading decided to tackle Revelations. There was a lot of deep conversation prior to that selection. We chose that book because it was one that we all agreed we didn’t understand, and more than that, we found the prophetic imagery confusing and somewhat frightening.

But we tackled it anyway. And even with that detailed study, I’m not sure I understand it to this day. But I’m not alone in this. Revelations baffles even the brightest biblical scholars. But here’s what I do know about Revelations:

The end isn’t near. It’s here – in a vision of the future.

The physical dimension is gone. It’s replaced by something that sounds a bit like a super-physical dimension, blending the best of both worlds – physical and spiritual.

But here’s the main point of the Book of Revelation: God defeats Satan and all the forces of evil. People who love God live with Him forever.

A mysterious man named John sees these cosmic changes unfold in a series of visions, which he carefully records as instructed in the prologue of Revelation 1:1-“The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,”

John who? This John the writer only describes himself as a servant of Jesus. Don’t assume it’s the Apostle John. It could also be a little-known John known as John the Elder. What makes scholars think so? Because even though the writer, John, mentions “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” in Revelations 21:14, he doesn’t identify HIMSELF as one of them.

Scholars agree that this John is writing from exile on the tiny “island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and his testimony about Jesus”. So he’s imprisoned at the time of the writing in Patmos, which we know was a penal colony.

The visions for this writing begin while he’s worshipping on a Sunday, “the Lord’s Day.” Behind him a booming voices tells him to write down everything he’s about to see and to send it to seven churches in what is now western Turkey.

Like so many others that we know that heard the word of God, John turns to see who’s talking. It’s someone “like the Son of Man.” That was Jesus’ favorite way of describing himself. And so begin the visions.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”

My favorite part of this scripture for this all-saints day occurs beginning with verse 14, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation…” these are those who are still arriving”.

And then the verse goes on to say, “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” 

I think this is a vivid way of saying that their present blessedness and their fitness to appear in the presence of God has been won for them by the sacrifice of Christ. 

And then the scripture goes on with “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.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’[
a]
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb (the LAMB! OUR JESUS CHRIST), at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’[
b]
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’[

God will wipe away every tear from their eyes: IT’S A PROMISE!

These are our loved ones. Those who have gone before. On this All Saints Day, when remember those who have gone before, we can read this scripture and take comfort for the fate of them.

And indeed, today, we will remember and recognize those saints from this church.

But here’s what I think about each time I do a funeral service. It is those who are left behind that bear the grief. We should be joyful for their entrance into heaven, but we sometimes can’t get over our own sorrow.

My niece was tragically killed by terrorists some years ago, and my sister-in-law turned her back on God. The typical response is one she verbalized, “Why would God let this happen?” “There is no God.” It causes double grief, because her husband, Gene, is a man of faith, and struggles forward dragging the resistance and resentment she manifests.

But God sees them, our God knows the grief that weighs down their hearts. He knows all. I recently read this quote about grief. It says, “Grief never ends, but it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith. It is the price of love.”

God sees the depression that oppresses us, that blankets our days and nights, the challenges we face and uphill struggles with which we contend, big and small. We need to assure those that are grieving that God sees them, honors them, blesses them, and accompanies them too, just as He has honored, blessed and accompanied the loved one.

Even more, we need to remind those who are grieving that when they struggle they are not being faithless. This is a concern I’ve heard countless times: that when we struggle or doubt or fear we are letting God down. But that’s just not true.

Martin Luther, like our John Wesley, in the middle of his reforms, once took up the matter of the “marks of the church” – preaching, sacraments, and all that. He left it pretty much unchanged, but added one “mark” – he added struggle. He figured that where there is faith there is also always struggle.

And that’s helped me remind people that struggle, doubt, feeling overwhelmed, wondering if God is out there – these aren’t signs of failure or lack of faith, but are actually a testament to profound faith as we wrestle with such deep questions and then take God seriously.

(If this weren’t true, we wouldn’t have so many lament Psalms in the Bible!) And so when we feel at our most low, and wonder if we have lost our faith, God names US among the most faithful.

As Jesus provided in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I would like to add this idea to those Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who struggle, for their burdens are carried by the Son of Man.”

So know this, ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Yes, he will. One day He will, and in the meantime, Jesus sees our struggles and knows our grief. Indeed, he has borne them in his cross and bears them with us even today. We need never struggle alone. Amen.