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The Church Triumphant November 1, 2015

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Revelation 7:9-17

All Saints’ Day

November 1, 2015

 

Focus:  God saves His people.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice with the church triumphant.

Structure:  .

 

The Church Triumphant

 

Today I want to look at the book we talk so little about.  The book we want to talk about the most.  Revelation.  For a letter that can be summed up in the two simple words “God wins,” it definitely has its twists and turns.  It’s darkness and light.  Pain and glory.  Suffering and joy.

And there would be no one who knows that better than John.  Revelation is just that: a revelation.  God revealed this vision of the end of the world to His child, to our brother John.  And John recorded it for us.

We often avoid talking about Revelation for a number a reasons.  It’s hard to talk about because it’s unfulfilled prophecy.  The prophecies of Isaiah and Micah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, those are easy, we saw them fulfilled in Christ.  We can use them to talk about our Savior.  But what do we do with these prophecies that haven’t been fulfilled?  That we’re still waiting for?  In fact, that have caused so much confusion, many Christians don’t even agree on what they’re talking about.

We avoid Revelation because in some ways, the early church did.  That’s not to say they didn’t like it or that they buried it away.  Quite the contrary, but it wasn’t used as often the gospels or Paul’s letters.

And then sometimes we avoid it because it’s just plain dark.  Apocalypse?  Death?  A great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns?  The two beasts?  Seals and trumpets and the very battles of war.

It’s not the easiest stuff to talk about.  But it’s in this context that we find our text for today.  John has a vision of the seven-sealed scroll.  As the seals were broken one by one, John saw a rider on a white horse with a bow and a crown riding forth to conquer.  A red horse whose rider would take peace from the earth, leaving many to be slaughtered with the sword.  A third, a black horse, with a weighing scale in hand.  The fourth a ghostly green horse with death as its rider, bringing the graves of famine and sword and wild beasts.  The four horsemen of the apocalypse.

The fifth seal brought about the cries of those who have been martyred, killed for their faith.  The sixth saw an earthquake, a blood moon, a sun doused in blackness, the stars falling to the earth, the mountains and islands moving as the heavens are ripped open.

But then there’s a pause.  There’s an interlude, a break from these seals. A break from all this darkness.  And John is shown two more things, two very beautiful things.  Two things that bring comfort, comfort to him, comfort to us.  The first comes before our text, at the start of chapter 7.

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.

 

These are the people of God.  Marked by God.  Sealed by God.  It’s not the first time the tribes of Israel were sealed.  There’s a connection here to the Passover, where the angel of God waited for the Israelites to be sealed, a mark of blood on their doorposts.  And when the angel saw that mark, he spared them, he moved on.  Saved by the blood of the lamb.  By the mark of God.

But it’s not past tense.  These 144,000 are the people of God.  Israel is no longer a physical nation.  It’s a people, it’s the church.  That’s an entirely different sermon.  But we are the 144,000.  It’s a number of numbers.  A number of completion.  Twelve squared, the number of tribes, the number of the disciples of Christ.  Twelve squared times ten cubed.  Ten, roundness, perfection, three times the number of the Trinity.  Revelation does a lot with numbers.  Again, a different sermon.

It is enough today simply to know that you are the people of Revelation chapter 7.  You are the church militant as it is often called.  The military, the army of God.  His people, created for a purpose, with things to do, with a war to be fought.  For as long as we live, we are a part of the church militant, the church here on earth.

And then there’s our text for the day.  Part two of this interlude.  Part two of this vision of comfort.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

 

John is given a vision of a people too numerous to count gathered around the throne of God, rejoicing, celebrating, worshipping the Lord.  They’re clothed in white, like the martyrs, like the angels.  They’re holding palm branches in their hands just like the men and women who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem.  And they’re shouting out and they’re proclaiming: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  And as they did, the angels shout amen, in loud agreement.

As John talks to one of the elders of heaven, he learns who these people are.  “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  They are the church triumphant.  They are the men and women who have gone before us.  The saints who have passed on the faith to us.  These are the people of God who were once part of the church militant, part of His kingdom on this earth.

That time has come and gone.  They’ve fought the good fight as Paul likes to say.  They’ve won the race.   They’ve lived, they’ve loved, but most of all, God has loved them.  Henry, Phyllis, Marilyn, Betty, Doris, Clarissa, Jeanette, Clarence, Harley, Arlyss, and the rest of the multitudes of heaven.  Loved by God.

Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 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.”

 

Peace.  Beauty.  Tranquility.  A wonderful picture of rest, of joy, and of love.

We’ve already mentioned the Passover, the mark, the seal that was the blood of the Lamb.  It is that same mark that is upon us.  The blood of the Lamb, the blood of Christ, who in the midst of a Passover celebration, willingly sacrificed Himself, poured out His blood to mark us, to seal us with the very salvation of God.

God saved us.  God saved the church triumphant.  God will save the church militant.  Life with Him in Paradise is the great reward.  It is the hope that we look forward to, the joy of our homes.  But yet the work is not done, not for the church militant.  We are not yet the church triumphant.  We will someday join them in their rest.  But in the meantime we fight.  Not literally with sword and bullets, but with the sword of the Spirit, the very Word of God.

For as long as we remain on this earth, we preach the good news of a Lamb whose blood can wash away even the worst of stains.  We take up our medic bags, the very forgiveness and comfort given to us by God Himself, and we bandage and stitch up those whom the dragon has torn and battered and bruised.  He devours his own.  But the God of Israel is even willing to die in the place of His enemy.

It is really a beautiful letter with glimpses of judgment and wrath, but also of joy and salvation.  Revelation is packed with some pretty powerful stuff.  We’ll talk about it again someday, but for today, it is enough to know that we are the church militant, that we join together with the church triumphant, with the saints who have gone before, we join with them in rejoicing, in praising the Lord and the Lamb for their good gifts to us.  And while we wait in the certain hope of joining them in Paradise, we live on, we fight on, we march on.

 

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