Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | April 25, 2010

Sermon on Revelation 7:9-17

Downloadable Version

Jesus Shows Us What We Can’t Yet See

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

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. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

 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,  saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”  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.  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.”

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Church tradition tells us that our namesake, Mark, met a violent death in the north African city of Alexandria.  We’re told that Mark, after assisting Barnabas, Paul, and Peter, ended up being one of the first Christian missionaries in north Africa, and the first bishop of Alexandria.  All in all, Mark had quite the career.  He went on some of the first mission journeys.  After a disappointing start, he became helpful to Paul.  At some point he became such a close companion of Peter, that Peter called him his son, and, if church history is accurate, it was Peter’s preaching that Mark wrote down in the Gospel carrying his name.

Because Mark met the end he did – martyrdom on account of Christ – Revelation 6 applies to him.  When [the Lamb] opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”  Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. Revelation 7 also applies.  Mark was among John’s multitude, those wearing white robes, those who came out of the great tribulation. And now, Mark sees the results of his labor in the Lord.  He sees what Paul knew, his labor in the Lord was not in vain.  He sees what he couldn’t on earth – success!

On this day in our congregation’s history, as we remember him for whom our congregation is named and why this name was chosen, we note that in His mercy our Savior Jesus shows us what we can’t yet see.  He shows us the results of our Mark-like ministry.  He shows us the results of our faith in Christ.

You’ve got to think that Mark wondered if it was all worth it.  As he traveled with Barnabas, Paul, and Peter and saw so little acceptance of the Gospel and so much rejection, he had to wonder, “What’s the point?”  As he saw friends murdered for the Gospel, he had to wonder, “What did we do this for?”  As he saw copies of his own Gospel confiscated, and people arrested for owning it, he had to wonder, “What’s happening?”  Was Mark tempted to throw in the towel, as he did years ago with Paul and Barnabas?  Did he consider shifting strategies or compromising doctrine so that he might produce better results, or save his own skin?  Did he get impatient waiting for what was coming and focus only on the immediate needs he saw all around him?

We don’t know.  But because we’re tempted to do so, we know Mark could have been.  We want to see results.  We want butts in seats and dollars in plates.  Anything that doesn’t do that must go.  Anything that does must be good.  We’re tempted to take shortcuts.  It’s why churches jettison certain teachings, “They’re too hard!  They’re controversial!”  It’s why churches focus on having the right programs, instead of in-depth instruction in the Word – “Hey, you can join our church after a quick, week-end instruction class!”  We’ve gotten to a point where we’re embarrassed to tell people what our church teaches because people won’t come.  The good intention is trying to win souls.  The result is watered down doctrine that imperils souls.

Or, we look around and see how small we are – and we are – and how are church is shrinking – and St. Mark has shrunk since the 80s and 90s, so has the WELS, and so has the Church in many parts of the world – and we cry out in despair!  Nothing’s working!  No one’s coming!  The Church is falling apart!  Why bother to stay faithful to the Word!  Why bother to continue doing what Christ has called us to do?  It’s clear that our message isn’t beautiful anymore!  It’s clear that God isn’t baring His arm among us!

Or, we look around and see how many glaring and immediate needs there are.  People hunger and thirst.  People are sick.  People are in need.  Justice is sorely lacking in so many areas.  We can do something.  We must!  Let us use our power to do that!  And we forget that while such things go along with the work of the Church, they are not the Church’s work.  Not one soul is saved when I feed them.  Nor when I deliver medicine.  Nor when I help pass legislation.  We mix up causes and the effects.  Feeding the hungry, healing the sick, righting the wrongs, are effects caused by the Gospel of Jesus Christ that changed my heart.  They are not that which changes hearts.  So many churches have confused these things and we’re tempted, because it seems so right.  So much more right than arrogantly talking about truths when there are deeds to be done!

See what Jesus showed us that we can’t yet see.  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….  “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. How many are there because of Mark’s words?  How many are there because of words heard at St. Mark?  Who knows!  But we know that some are there because of the Gospel proclaimed and distributed here!  Jesus offers us a glimpse of the effects of our Mark-like ministry.

It’s multitudes!  From every nation, tribe, people, and language!  As Paul says, How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And someone’s been preaching to them for fifty years here.  And there have been results.  Tens of thousands have heard the good news about Jesus, the Lamb looking as if He were slain.  Hundreds have been baptized.  Thousands have received the life-giving body and blood of Christ.  Some were never members, but they were here as family and guests, or came for weeks, and months, and years without joining, yet the Word did its job – the Holy Spirit called some by the Gospel.  He used the seeds sown here to grow faith!  And it continues!  The Gospel is taught here today, and the Sacraments distributed – which means the Holy Spirit does His job, adding to this multitude which we can’t yet see, but which for just a moment we see.  He does it as we preach sermons, celebrate the liturgy, administer the Sacraments, teach our Bible classes, talk to visitors, hand out invitations, make materials available.  He does it through a website that’s been read in over 100 countries!  People who’ve walked through these doors are singing, Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! People who’ve walked through these doors no longer suffer.  They’ve left the tribulation that is life on earth!  People who’ve walked through these doors are wearing white robes, washed in the blood of Jesus Christ!

And that’s so because we didn’t give in to temptation.  We won’t take shortcuts.  We won’t change what we teach or soft-pedal it.  We won’t stop requiring our children to spend years in instruction classes, or adults to take a many month pre-membership course.  We won’t despair if our best efforts lead to little growth, or even shrinking.  We won’t let fixing the world trump the fixing of souls!  Because what I can’t see – faith – is more important!  And only the Holy Spirit creates this faith.  Only God’s Gospel in Word and Sacrament gets used as the Spirit’s tool.  And Jesus has given us confidence today in them, by showing us this multitude in heaven!

But that’s not all.  Jesus also shows us something else we can’t see that’s vitally important.  He doesn’t just give us confidence as a congregation to continue doing what we’re doing.  He gives us confidence personally, as individuals.  He shows us the results of our faith in Christ.

It’s easy to cling to earthly relationships and earthly things, forgetting that those who die in the Lord are escaping the tribulation.  It’s easy to forget that this life – every part of it – is really tribulation, and that to die is gain.  It’s easy to forget that the only escape is Christ, not drugs, not alcohol, not sex, not money, not food, not family, not sports, not a good book, not a great career.  It’s easy to lose the forest for the trees.  Solomon says in Ecclesiastes that we should enjoy the things we’ve been given in this life, yet at the same time they’re meaningless next to Christ.  But the devil doesn’t want me to see that.  Nor does the world or my flesh.  They want to focus on the short term.  They want to revel in success and wallow in failure.  But today Christ allows me to look long term.  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.  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.”

Jesus shows me what I can’t yet see – my escape from the great tribulation; my white robe; my eternity in heaven!  He shows me what’s at the end of the Gospel promises.  He shows me God reigning!  He shows me Jerusalem redeemed!  He shows me the Lord’s arm!  He shows me salvation!  He shows me that what I have now in part – through faith granted by the Spirit in the means of grace – I will have in all its wholeness and fullness and consummation then – a white robe of righteousness, completely cleansed in the blood of the Lamb!  He shows me the final removal of my sinful nature, the eradication of all pain, the elimination of all anguish, the disappearance of all suffering.  He shows me how the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us will bring us to dwell among Him in our own flesh.  He shows us our crown of righteousness!  He shows us that the Lord has already and will in eternity rescue us from every evil attack.  He shows us the Kingdom of God that’s near to you – already in your heart; coming soon on the clouds with Christ!  Because Christ has died!  Christ has risen!  Christ will come again!  Every tear will be gone!  Not yet, but soon!  Amen!

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