GUEST PREACHER: Vicar Timothy Martinal, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, New Hartford, CT
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen!
Our text for our message this All Saints’ Day Sunday is from the Revelation to St. John 7:9-17, but in particular verse 17: “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Most of us like being part of a crowd. In fact, we often distinguish between types of crowds. There is the right crowd to hang out with. But there is also the wrong crowd. As parents and grandparents, we warn our children not to go along with the crowd, especially if they are the wrong crowd. The crowds we are a part of, whether they are the right or wrong one, come in different sizes. Some are small. Some are large. Sometimes a large crowd is a joyous event like a parade or a sporting event. We like to be a part of these large crowds. However, large crowds are often associated with mobs and riots. I would gather most of us want nothing to do with these types of large crowds.
The world around us is constantly telling us to be a part of a crowd, her crowd. A crowd that is sinful and riotous and mob-like. We must resist this crowd. The world’s crowd is what St. John writes about when he records those “living in the tribulation”. But the challenge is internal as well. We constantly fight our sinful nature and our sinful desire to be a part of the world’s crowd. We feel left out, maybe even shunned, when we see the world’s crowd passing us by, leaving us behind. Maybe the worldly crowd turns on us her venomous wrath and we become the object of her riotous and mob-like behavior.
St. John lived in a time when this was the case. Perhaps we are heading that way again. I am sure there were days when St. John wondered if things would get better for those who believed in Jesus Christ. John himself at the time of his revelation was most likely a prisoner on the island of Patmos. His crime? Simply believing in Jesus Christ and preaching the Gospel. His earthly reward? Prison. This was better than many others who were simply executed for their faith.
Yet in the midst of this persecution of His Church on earth, God gives John a revelation, a pealing back of the curtain so to speak. This revelation shows John many things, including many frightening and terrifying things, especially for those who do not believe. But this revelation also gives John, and us, a picture of how things are today and will be in the future when Christ returns. John sees and records for us that through everything God is in control and cares for those who bear His mark; that God will one day usher in a new heaven and a new earth. Where “the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes”.
St. John, in 7:9-17, was given a glimpse of a large crowd, a triumphant crowd. A crowd at rest and peace and awaiting the final act of God’s judgment and resurrection on the Last Day. The Day when they will never again experience tribulation and persecution on earth. This crowd of people standing before the throne of God is countless. It includes people from every ethnic group on earth, from every time and place. They are decked out in white robes which symbolize the purity and righteousness of Christ. A purity and righteousness given to His people because of His blood as John records in 7:14. This crowd is also carrying palm branches which alludes to victory and celebration and to the triumph of Christ.
However, this countless crowd is not without its scars and battle wounds. In Revelation 2:9-10, Christ acknowledged that His people on earth were and would continue to experience suffering and tribulation. Christians of all times are always suffering tribulations of one kind or another, including persecutions. Paul once stated in Acts 14:22 that “through many tribulations it is necessary for us to enter the Kingdom of God”. Jesus, in Matthew 24:15-31 describes the terrifying days before the end of the present world and before His second coming. He says that there would be a “great tribulation” as had never been experienced since the world began in Matthew 24:21. This “great tribulation” seems to be the same one mentioned in Revelation 7:14. However, the elder’s words to John in 7:14 also suggest that the picture here is of a condition out of which all saints are being delivered. Not only from the “great tribulation”, but also through tribulations throughout the whole time period from the time of Christ’s ascension until His return.
This picture of the Church Triumphant has a message of comfort for all Christians. Since every Christian experiences testings of faith and witness, every such trial points to the future “great tribulation” on the Last Day. We, as Christians, at that moment in time when we face a testing of our faith, become connected to the “great tribulation”, and it becomes a “great tribulation” for us, the believer. The picture of eternal glory in 7:14 is for the comfort of all Christians of all times as they experience whatever tribulations sorely test their faith and patience. Some of the tribulations and sufferings will be so piercing and poignant that the very faith and foundation of our hope will be severely tested, almost to the point of despair and defeat. For that Christian at that moment, their sufferings and trials are their “great tribulation”. And every Christian will experience this. Whether it be an illness like cancer or Alzheimer’s, or a disaster like a house fire or a hurricane, or even persecution by friend or family for living a Godly life and having faith in Jesus Christ, we will all face tribulations.
In our text for today, John is looking at the whole people of God entering and becoming the Church Triumphant. The crowd that John sees represents the whole church as if it were already triumphant, as if it were already complete, as it will be at the resurrection on the Last Day. Because of the redeeming death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and because He now as the victorious Lamb presents them to the Heavenly Father, the crowd of people stands pure and holy in the presence of God. This is the fulfillment of what St. Paul wrote to the Romans 3:21-26 that we read last Sunday. With our sins forgiven by the blood of Christ and covered now with the righteousness of the Lamb (Romans 3:22), we share in the victory of the Lamb before the Heavenly Father. The crowd of saints shares in the heavenly celebration of the victorious Lamb. As they stand before the throne of God, they “serve (worship) him day and night” (7:15).
God’s people will live intimately in the flesh with God in the new heaven and new earth (21:3). He will dwell with us in a way that can be experienced with human senses. It will be an intimate and familial relationship between us, His people, and God. Because God will dwell (literally tent) among His saints, “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore” (7:16). This state of existence will reach its final and full meaning at the resurrection of the body at the Last Day. Again, while all this is understood as true now for the souls of God’s people with Him in His heavenly presence, it finds its final and complete meaning after the resurrection of the body in the eternal life with God in the new heaven and new earth.
God always keeps His promises. He called you into His crowd through baptism and keeps you in His crowd through the hearing of His Word. We join in a mysterious way with all the saints when we come to God’s altar and partake in Holy Communion, which is but a foretaste of the feast to come. In our text for today, John now sees and hears the final end of God’s promise concerning His people. In his vision of the future fulfillment after the resurrection of the body, John sees God’s people at rest. Never again to be scarred by the harshness of life as they formerly experienced it while on earth. In their new life with God, the Lamb “will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water” (7:17, cf 21:6). In Revelation 7:17, John sees and hears the final outcome of the Old Testament and of the Lord Christ Himself. A Shepherd has now been provided. By His death and resurrection, Jesus has rescued God’s people. As their Good Shepherd, He tends the flock, caring for them and leading them through the “great tribulation” to the quiet waters of eternal life. He does this already now on earth for His sheep, but then at death in heaven with God, and finally forever after the bodily resurrection in the new heaven and new earth.
The phrase, “springs of living water”, is an expression for the source of life. God Himself is that source of life (Rev. 21:5-6). Jesus Christ leads the flock to God for the gift of life. As God the Father has life in Himself, He has also given to His Son to have life in Himself. In order to give the gift of life to God’s people, the Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep. In His resurrection, He received His life back so as to lead His followers to God, the ultimate source of life.
A final truth describes the rest and peace of the crowd of saints before God’s throne: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (7:17). Tears and laments are part of the experience and character of the faithful people of God while on this earth. Tears are shed over a number of things: Tears are shed over one’s sins and the sins of others; they are shed over ruin and sufferings; they are shed over one’s own afflictions; they are shed when confronted with God’s anger; they are shed when alone and in sorrow; they are shed at death and at other times of sadness. Jesus warned His disciples and followers that they would weep and mourn while the world would rejoice. I am sure each of us can think of a time when we have wept while the world rejoiced.
In this world, the shedding of tears is as much – and at times even more – the experience of Christians, rather than joy and laughter. While it is of the nature of the people of God to weep and lament, it is the gift of God’s grace to turn our weeping and sorrow into joy! John now sees in 7:17 the complete and final fulfillment of this promise of God. The final word describing the peace and joy of the saints before God says it all: “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes”.
Brothers and Sisters, this is your future, don’t let the present reality of tribulation get in the way of that fact! The purpose of Revelation 7 is to encourage John and his hearers despite the fears and horrors of all of the tribulations we have faced and have yet to face. You are part of God’s crowd, and have been since you were baptized. The Christian life begins and ends personally and individually with God’s call. And it is you, the individual Christian, that God comes to wipe from your eye the last tear; the final remnant of life in the tribulation. Yet, you never live in isolation. By God’s work, you are part of the grand crowd that can’t be numbered. God will protect His people, His crowd, as we carry out the mission of our Lord here on earth. He will not forsake us. He will not permit us to lose our faith and hope. He promises soon to bring us to the glorious crowd of the Church Triumphant. That is to be our end. Not the suffering here on earth. But, instead, the Glory of God and of the Lamb! Our tribulations, whatever they may be, are only for a while. Life with the Lamb is forever! “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be [your] shepherd, and he will guide [you] to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes.” Amen!
Now may the peace that passes all human understanding, keep your hearts in minds in Christ Jesus, Amen!