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Tuesday, April 23, 2013
The Shepherding Lamb (A sermon based on Revelation 7:9-17)
Ever notice how Jesus is described in so many paradoxes? After all, who would try to get clothes clean by using blood? How would a lamb become a shepherd? But in John's vision he sees the Risen Redeemer as a Shepherding Lamb who cleans his people's robes with his blood. Read or listen to (download or stream) this sermon based on Revelation 7:9-17 and rejoice in our Good Shepherd...
The Risen Redeemer Revealed The Shepherding Lamb A sermon based on Revelation 7:9-17 Sunday, April 21, 2013 – Easter 4C
Have you ever noticed how the Bible often describes Jesus with a few paradoxes? He's 100% God and 100% man, called the Son of God and the Son of Man. He came to keep and fulfill the old and to make all things new. By his death, he brings life. By his life, he destroys death. He's the King of kings and the suffering servant. He's both a powerful Lion and a gentle Lamb.
This morning, on Good Shepherd Sunday, we hear another of these apparent contradiction of terms. This morning we hear how Jesus is both the Lamb and the Shepherd. And what comfort we find in this beautiful paradox. Because of the Lamb who is our Shepherd and because of his resurrection at Easter we know without a doubt that heaven is ours.
Easter means that heaven is ours because of these two great paradoxes: we are bleached in his blood and we are led by the Lamb. Listen now to the glimpse of heaven God gave the apostle John and the comfort we find in our Shepherding Lamb as he's revealed in Revelation 7:9-17…
9 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 in front of 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, "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. 16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, 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."
As John writes the visions revealed to him by God, the overall theme of the book of remains: in spite of all the problems and suffering we may face, in spite of the best efforts of satan and those in league with him, our victory in Jesus is certain. Luther put it this way: "We can rest assured that neither force nor lies, neither wisdom nor holiness, neither tribulation nor suffering shall suppress Christendom, but it will gain the victory and conquer at last."
In the verses of our text this morning then God reveals to the apostle exactly how that victory is gained—bleached by his blood—and what it will be like—being led by the Lamb. Let's take a look…
I.Bleached by His Blood
First John writes, "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 in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands."
God's giving John a glimpse of heaven. He's showing him the saints standing around the very throne of God, before Jesus himself—the same image we saw last week. This time we get more: they're dressed in white (a symbol of purity) and holding palm branches (a symbol of victory).
But pure, victorious saints? How can this be said of sinners? How can those who once sinned dare to stand before a Holy God? And make no mistake, these saints had sinned. Paul makes in clear in Romans 3(:10-12, 22b-23) "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one… There is no difference,for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…" So how could they possibly be pictured as pure and holy?
The Greek of the verse explains it. Where the NIV translates "They were wearing white robes," the Greek literally says "They had been clothed in white robes." You see, the action is passive. They didn't put on these clothes themselves. Someone put these robes on them. Someone made them pure and holy. And obviously, you know who that someone is. It's God through Jesus. "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb," they proclaim. It's not something they did. It's not something they earned.
In God, in Christ, the saints in heaven have their victory. That's why they wave their palm branches. The victory is theirs. They have peace. That's why they sing their praises to God and to the Lamb! For their salvation!
So what does this have to do with us? So what if they are victorious. We're still struggling down here on earth, right? Wrong! You and I are victorious too. We're victorious right now! We are included in this number of saints "from every nation, tribe, people and language." No one in the world is excluded… except those who choose to be. We are victorious—right now. We too, like the saints in heaven, are perfect and holy.
But how? Certainly not on our own. On our own we're all covered in the filth of our sin. Isaiah wrote, "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…" and Moses wrote, "Every inclination of [man's] heart is evil from childhood." (Genesis 8:21) So how can we dare to call ourselves holy? How can we have any hope to stand before God's throne?
Not because of anything we've done or because of how holy we might become. Not because of anything we might do! We can never remove the stain of our sin! Like Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare's play, we can wash our hands again and again wringing them together to try to remove the bloody stains of our guilt. But we can never be rid of our guilt. We can never cover it up or hide it. We must confess our gnawing guilt with the Lady Macbeth, "Here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand."
And while we can never remove our sin or our guilt, God can. That's why "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." Jesus has the best stain remover there is—his own blood. The elder told John, "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." John earlier wrote to those who weren't yet in glory, to you and to me, "The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin… He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:7-9) Peter wrote, "You were redeemed… with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Cleansed by blood? Can you think of a worse detergent? Blood stains, not cleans!
But you and I are pure, holy and victorious because of the blood of the Lamb; because of what Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, has done for us. He has washed our robes and made them clean and white. He has bleached them by his blood. He has dressed us in the white robes of his righteousness. And he has given us the victory—the victory over sin by his sacrifice and victory over death by his resurrection! Now heaven itself is ours!
Even though right now we must go through many hardships, or "tribulations" as Luke literally calls them in Acts 14(:22), you can be absolutely certain that one day soon you will leave this world of tribulation—of suffering and trouble, of problems and pain. One day soon you too will stand "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 [you]." And this confidence that heaven is ours moves us to follow our Shepherd while we're led by the Lamb, even now here on earth…
II.Led by the Lamb
Those saints who had been made clean by the blood of the Lamb enjoyed heaven. The elder described that heavenly joy to the apostle with these words…
15 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. 16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, 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."
Those who think of heaven as a boring place where all we do is sing and play our harps while we float on our clouds couldn't be more wrong! While the description we have of heaven is limited, you can be sure that it won't be boring. For starters, we'll have work to do. Did you catch that? John wrote, "They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple."
But the work of heaven won't be like the work we do on this earth because there will be no sin. We might have to have a career change there since there will be no need for doctors (with no sickness), or lawyers or law enforcement (with no crime), no need for pastors or counselors! But "no sin" also means there will be no trouble in our work, no frustrations, no sweat or pain, no hunger or thirst. We will never grow tired or be too hot. We will never be sad. There will only be pure joy in all we do. And honestly, I don't think we can even begin to imagine how great it will really be!
But even better than an exciting job where nothing ever goes wrong and you never get tired, far more exciting than what we'll do, is who we'll be with. "He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them… The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water." There's that paradox. After he made his sacrifice on the cross that's made us holy, Jesus didn't stay dead. He rose! He lives! And that Lamb of God will shepherd us forever in glory.
And dear friends we don't have to wait until then. He shepherds us now. He gives us living water right now! In John 4:14 Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, "whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
We have that living water—the gospel, the message of the Lamb who's made us clean by his blood. The shepherd has led us to that living water. He's caused us to believe the gospel. And so we have eternal life… right now! Eternal life is not something reserved just for heaven. It's yours. You're life is not just 80 or 90 or 100 years. It's millions and trillions and zillions of years! It's eternal. Heaven is yours.
So live your life in view of that eternity! Ask yourself, "Does what happens today or tomorrow really matter? Will it matter 100 years from now?" If not, let it go. "Heaven and earth will pass away." (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31 or Luke 21:33). But you won't. You will stand "before the throne and in front of the Lamb" for all eternity. "Never again will [you] hunger; never again will [you] thirst… For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be [your] shepherd… And God will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes."
So instead of focusing on what won't really matter, focus on what will matter 100 years from now. Serve God faithfully in thanks to him for the heaven he's given you in all that you do. Follow him in the living water of his Word where he guides you today. And share with others what will matter to them: the Lamb of God who's bleached them in his blood, the Good Shepherd who leads them to living water. That they too might sing to the Lamb:
Who so happy as I am, Even now the shepherd's lamb?And when my short life is ended, By his angel hosts attended,He shall fold me to his breast, There within his arms to rest.
In the name of Jesus, our risen Redeemer revealed as the shepherding Lamb, amen.