Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
November 2, 2014, Pentecost XXI – All Saints Day – Memorial Sunday
The Sacrament of Holy Communion
Revelation 7:9-17, Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12
From the Book of Revelations:
“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.”
From the First Letter of St. John:
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God;
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation!
Today is All Saints’ Sunday, and as we remember those who have died in the faith, and especially those who have died during the past year, we turn to John’s vision of the Kingdom.
As we open the book of Revelation, we ought to understand a few things: John wrote this book under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the seven churches of Turkey: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. They were experiencing the wrath of Nero, and John wrote this letter to them to be an encouragement to them – and all Christians. The book of Revelation is not a horror story – it is not meant to scare us – the point of the book is to comfort. John wanted to assure the churches that no matter how horrible the persecution was or could become, there was no reason to fear Nero and his troops – or any evil – because Jesus is our Victorious Savior.
If you believe that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, died for your sins, physically rose from the dead, and ascended back to the Throne of the Son, the worst possible thing that you can imagine ever happening to you, will be nothing compared to the hope and the joy that we can confidently believe is coming.
Jesus said, “So have no fear of them [the devil and his demons], for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:26-33).
And Paul wrote, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
This hope – that John shows in the book of Revelation – is the hope we have for all those who have died believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Death is not the end, and those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation will be raised to life imperishable – life in Glory.
God tells us about our rewards in heaven frequently as a reminder to fix our hope on the life to come. In this life, we will not experience the fullest of blessings and rewards of sacrifices made for His Kingdom, but Jesus knows every gift of love and will reward you. God’s rewards for you are a hundredfold larger than anything you can imagine in this life, not temporal things of this age that will pass away (Isa. 65:17).
One more thing we need to recognize as we look at the book of Revelation – it is written in code. John did not want the Romans to get and understand the book, so he wrote it in code using first century Jewish symbolism. The symbols of Revelation must be interpreted in light of first century Jewish symbolism or we will come up with something other than what God is revealing.
What is the revelation in the book of Revelation? Jesus has already won. And no matter how many battles seem to be lost in this life, we are eternally safe in Jesus. He is completely victorious and will not lose even one of His people.
John sees a great multitude from every nation and tribe and people and language – and these people are standing before the Throne and the Lamb – these people have also believed in the saving grace of Jesus. These are the non-Jews – the Gentiles – you and me – all those who have no biological heritage in Israel, yet claim Jesus as their Savior.
The promise that God made to our father Abraham was that “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give to your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves” (Gen. 26:4). From the beginning, salvation was not just for the Jews – it was first to the Jews – but also to all people – anyone of any nation or tribe or people or language who believed in Jesus as Savior. We read in the Holy Scriptures that from Creation, until Jesus, almost all of those who profess faith in the Savior were Israelites – only a few were non-Jews.
But after Jesus came, most of those who believed in Him are non-Jews, though Jews still come to faith.
As we come into the sanctuary, we join together as the Church to worship God – we stand before His Face right now – but in the Kingdom, we will see Jesus face-to-face, and the right response in seeing Him will be for us to fall on our faces – in wonder and awe and thanksgiving and praise. If worship is truly “accomplished” in our sanctuaries, we will “see” God and cry out in praise and thanksgiving for Who He is. Worship is not first and foremost about us becoming better people or feeling better about ourselves or life or whatever or “getting something” – the purpose of worship is for us – like the beings of Heaven – we fall before God – at least in our hearts – and say, “You’re amazing – thank you for being God.”
The good news John had for the churches in Asia was if they were put to death – or in any way persecuted for Christ – “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14b).
Because Jesus was put to death in the flesh, all those who believe in Him for Salvation have been cleansed of their sin – they have been forgiven for all of their sin. If you have believed in Jesus Alone for salvation, you have been washed in the Blood of Jesus; you are wearing white robes which have been washed in the Blood of Jesus. All of your sins, past, present, and future, including your sin nature, is forgiven and purified in Jesus.
For the Christian, ultimately, death is not a problem. Most of us don’t desire to be sick or to go through the process of death, but in a very real sense, we look forward to death, because death is all good. The late Larry Norman was a pioneer of Christian rock music. He was asked if he had any goals and he said, “Yes, I want to die.” The reason he could say that is because he was a Christian and knew that his dying would bring him into the presence of Jesus, our God and Savior.
Because of the suffering that Jesus endured on the cross for our sins, we Christians have a sure hope, that death is deliverance from everything broken and marred and evil and sinful.
Although we mourn those who have died in the faith, because we are separated from them for a time, we have the blessed assurance and hope. Paul wrote, “But we have this treasure [the Gospel] in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but in you gives us life.
“Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:7-18).
Still God graciously gave John a glimpse of the eternal to give peace and hope to the churches of Asia and all those who see Christians die in the faith and for the faith: those who have died are safe, well, pure, and holy. They are in the presence of their God and Savior. And they are worshiping: “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple” (Rev. 7:15a).
And this is the condition they are in: “and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat” (Rev. 7:15b-16). Those who have died in faith and for the faith are protected by God and all suffering and pain has been removed from them. This is not the end of the story – there is still the resurrection to come when Jesus returns. But all those who have died believing that Jesus Alone is the Savior that God sent are with Him, healthy and at peace, waiting for the Day of Resurrection.
“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” (Rev. 7:17).
Jesus, the Lamb, is the Shepherd, Who cares for His Sheep – and has died for them: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters” (Psalm 23:1-2).
Jesus guides each one of His sheep to the Living Water who is Himself: “Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).
And God makes crying a thing of the past. “Thou dost show to me the path of life; in thy presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11).
The first century churches in Asia were suffering persecution, and they were being put to death by the armies of Caesar Nero. John sent the letter of Revelation to the churches to put them at peace and reinforce and encourage their hope. Yes, they were suffering the worst persecution ever known to the people of God, and it will continue until Jesus returns. However, all those who have died in the faith, and all those who will die in the faith, are received into Paradise. They are free of sin – forgiven. They are joyfully worshiping God. And they are whole, healthy, at peace, waiting for Jesus’ return, when we all who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation will be raised from our graves and reunited with one another to live eternally in the Kingdom of our God and Savior.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, who is sovereign over life and death, we thank you for the love of life and the Creation that you have given to us. Thank you for giving us, not only this life, but the life to come, with Jesus, perfected and made holy like Him. We ask that you would minister to us and give us your grace as we receive the bread and the cup. Help us to hold fast to that hope that we can mourn the death of our loved ones and yet hold on with unshakable confidence to your promise that they are well, they shall be raised, and we will all be together in your Kingdom. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray.