O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Out of the Great Tribulation
Out of the Great Tribulation
Based on Rev. 7:9-17
Preached on November 4, 2012
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Beloved baptized holy ones of God, you who have washed your robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, is it easy being a Christian in this world? Is God's message of hope that you carry joyfully received by everyone you tell, or does the world attack you for offering hope? Is the world accepting of who you are as a Christian, or does it despise you and want you to change? Are you free to think, speak and live the way God desires, or will that get you bullied, belittled and abused?
No, it is not easy being a Christian in this world. It is a battle, a long and tiring battle, and the world you live in is your enemy. Your enemy wants you to keep your faith to yourself. Your enemy wants you to be afraid of being a Christian. Your enemy wants to spit in your heavenly Father's face and force you to watch in silence. No, it is not easy being a Christian in this world.
Sometimes it even feels like you might be defeated. Like you are being worn down. Saddened by the hordes of people stumbling towards eternal destruction in their unbelief. Fatigued by the constant pressure that pushes you to change. Will this battle ever end? Oh, how I long for it to be over!
Thankfully, you are not the first of God's people to endure this battle. God knew His people would be persecuted, so as a last message of comfort to His Church, He gave a revelation to St. John. He did something that all movie producers hate. He spoiled the ending. He showed St. John the ending of the battle. And told St. John to record it for you. Yes, the world is your enemy and the battle is long, but you need not fear, for God is pleased to show you a picture of your victory in Christ.
St. John writes, "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, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!""
What a picture!?! What an ending!?! All of God's holy people standing safely in His holy presence, and you are there, you belong there, dressed in the white robe of your baptism, waving a palm branch towards Your triumphant king who sits on the throne. This image must be absolutely terrifying to the world and all those who would bully you. You are not alone. You are part of an army that no one can number. You have nothing to fear, instead you cry out in a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to my God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" You are at home in God's presence, overcome with thankfulness and praise for all that He has done for you. "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."
To be sure, this is a picture of Christ and His holy ones in His heavenly kingdom. But it is also a picture of what is happening here in the Divine Service on Sunday mornings. God interrupts your week on Sunday by opening His heavenly kingdom to you in His Divine Liturgy. He creates this picture of victory here on earth every week in order to strengthen you for the battle you face each day. This picture of your victory in Christ is not only yours for all eternity, it is yours now. Smell the palm branches! Cry out with a loud voice!
Look at how God creates this same picture amongst us in His Divine Liturgy. Behold, we are from different tribes and peoples and languages. Some of us speak German, Ukrainian, Portuguese or French. Yet on Sunday morning we all stand here before our God who sits on the throne and before the Lamb at His altar. We belong here in God's home, in the safety of His presence. Why? Because, as the first words of the service remind us, we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We are clothed in the white robe of Christ's righteousness ready to stand before His throne.
Minutes later, we break out into song. "This is the Feast." (sing) Power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and blessing and glory are His. This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia! (sing) What are we singing? Except the exact same words found in this glorious picture. It's all coming together.
Later, we join the angels, and archangels and all the company of heaven, a great multitude that no one can number, with our palm branches, saying, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of His glory. Hosanna in the highest!" That means "Salvation belongs to our God!" We are saying the same words here on earth, that are being said in heaven, and we are saying them together at the same time, for it is all the same picture. We are not alone here. We are worshipping with an army that no one can number. As the words declare "heaven and earth are full of His glory!" In the Divine Service, God opens His heaven to us in a very special way.
Finally, after the Words of our Lord are spoken over the bread and wine and His body and blood are present, we ask this Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world to have mercy on us. To strengthen us for the battle we will face when we leave these walls. To nourish our faith with His body and blood so that we may have His strength to love and serve our neighbour. That it might be His strength that fights for us and for the hopeless people around us. God does not gather us around His throne to thank Him for being our king, but to equip us with His love and forgiveness that we may carry it into the fray of battle.
Divine Service is the picture St. John saw. It is like the last big rally of the Allies before they storm the beach on D-day. Yes, we know many of us are going to die in battle. We know there will be sacrifice involved. But we also know this is an eternal picture! We have the victory and it cannot be taken away from us. Not by bullies, not by governments, not by death. "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." "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.""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." This is a picture of the Divine Service, but it is also a picture of heaven, where we see we will be living Gangnam style for all time.
Let us not come into God's presence to hide, but to be strengthened, equipped and prepared for the battle that lies ahead. Let us no longer be afraid of this world, for it is defeated. Being filled with God's love, let us love our enemies, and do good to those who persecute us. Let us take our stand for the truth and speak boldly in the face of evil, no matter what that means for our lives here. Let us be silent no more. For if we Christians do not step forward and cry out "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne," then this hurting, dying world will be lost forever. You are a baptized holy one of God, rejoice and be glad for all the struggles you face in this world, for great is your reward in heaven. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr