Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | November 14, 2010

Sermon on Revelation 7:13-15

Downloadable version

The Dead Who Die in Christ Are…

Lessons:  Isaiah 65:17-25, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5, Luke 20:27-38

Hymns (from Christian Worship: Supplement): 730, 754, 753, 771

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

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.”

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Not long ago I flew to Michigan to attend the funeral of my grandfather, Roger Premo.  Just after I returned, I received a phone call informing me that one of our members, Richard Detjen, had died.  Almost every week you and I do or hear the same.  Death surrounds us.  It comes expectedly and unexpectedly.  It doesn’t seem to stop.  And that’s not just a feeling.  That’s the truth.  God told Adam that he would work the ground until you return to the ground. The Spirit calls death man’s destiny.  Paul says because of Adam, death spreads like a deadly plague from one person to the next, infecting and killing us all.  And it’s not cruel and unfair, it’s the fair day’s pay for a fair lifetime’s work of sinning.  As I’ve said at almost every funeral I’ve preached, the coffin is all the law we need.  Death isn’t supposed to happen.  And death is supposed to be terrifying, because death here is but the prelude to eternal death in hell.

Yet Christian funerals aren’t terror-filled.  And you know why.  At a Christian funeral, we’re talking about the dead who die in Christ.  We talk about saints triumphant.  Who are these saints, these dead who die in Christ?  They’re pictured for us in our lesson from Revelation 7, an expansion upon the appointed verse of the day.  In Revelation 7, the dead who die in Christ are described as these in white robes. The NIV muddles the translation here.  John wrote, These, the ones having been clothed in white robes. This tells us everything we need to know about saints.  They have been given white robes, the righteousness of Christ that has been given to them as a gift.  They didn’t take these upon themselves.  They didn’t make them themselves.  They received them from the Father, on account of Christ.  Scripture is clear:  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. And they’re white because they’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb, which got there by no effort of ours, but only because Christ came, Christ shed it, and Christ gave it.  One could paraphrase 1 Corinthians 12, “No one can wash their robes and make them white except by the Holy Spirit.”

This is the good news that turns funerals into celebrations.  Dying in Christ means heaven.  And Saints Triumphant is about helping us understand that.  It means, first, that the dead who die in Christ are leaving the great tribulation.  These are they who have come out of the great tribulation, the NIV says.  Again, we’d like it to be a little closer to the Greek.  The Spirit inspired John to write:  These are the ones coming from the great tribulation. John doesn’t just see the ones who came out in the past, but he sees saints coming out of tribulation now.  He saw the saints and martyrs of his day, perhaps people he knew personally.  Put yourself in John’s shoes and what do you see?  You see Richard Detjen, you see Roger Premo, you see your aunts or uncles, neighbors, cousins, or children who have died in Christ.  For them, death is escaping tribulation.

Note that carefully.  Our only Biblical reference to the great tribulation teaches us not about a terrible seven-year period of chaos and destruction ushered in by some fantastic Antichrist imagined by those who write the Left Behind books.  It teaches us about here and now.  This is the great tribulation.  Sin binds and chains creation.  Sin makes humanity hostile to God and to each other.  Nothing works.  Nothing’s right.  Death is everywhere.  And it’s only getting worse.  Revelation 6 tells us that those killed for Christ huddle underneath God’s altar, pleading, How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood? They see how terrible things are.  But now they know peace.  They have come out of the tribulation.  And for the dead who die in Christ, it’s not jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.  The dead who die in Christ are before the throne of God day and night.

And it’s because of Jesus.  Because of the blood of Christ that is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, that is our redemption, that justifies us through faith in it, that has made peace between us and God because it reconciled the world to God, that purifies us and cleanses our consciences, that frees us from our sins, because of that blood, the dead who die in Christ 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. Note that incredible present tense describing the saints.  They’re not in limbo until judgment day.  They’re not suspended in soul sleep.  They’re not in purgatory awaiting the right number of masses, the right number of prayers, or the right number of indulgences.  They are in heaven, now and forever.

Doing what?  Standing before the throne of God.  This spot is not reserved for Mary and the super saints, but for all the dead who die in Christ.  There is room at God’s throne for your aunts, uncles, moms, and dads, and YOU!  And, there the saints render God the service and worship owed Him, because without God, it’s hell, with the devil, locked up, cast into the lake of burning sulfur, the second and final death.

But then the action turns away from the saints coming out of tribulation, washing their robes, standing before the throne and serving God.  It turns to God: He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. There’s our God, right now, ruling and reigning.  And it’s Jesus too, because He is God.  Here’s the mystery of faith.  He’s seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty, He’s with us always to the very end of the age, but He is also the Lamb, looking as if He were slain, standing in the middle of the throne.

And what does He do?  Does He sort of pull himself away from us, as the Apostles would have had Jesus do to the mothers and their children?  No.  He pitches his tent right here among this multitude.  He is not a king who seeks peace and quiet, He lives among His people.  He dwells with them.  That’s the point of sending His Son and giving up His atoning blood for our sins.  He comes among the dead who die in Christ so that 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.

Here’s where my sinful nature kicks in.  We hear this about the dead who have died in Christ, and we say, “Sounds great for them, but what about me?  God, you left me behind with all this tribulation and pain and suffering.  Now you’re just rubbing it in my face.”  Quite the contrary, Saints Triumphant is intended to ease the pain you feel regarding the dead who have died in Christ, but it also whets your appetite for glory.  Has it?  We should long for heaven as much, if not more, than any other thing for which we long here on earth, for which we say, “I can’t wait…”  Do we?  Think of the pathetic nature of the things for which we cannot wait:  hunting season, thanksgiving dinner, Christmas or birthday presents, a new TV show, the release of a book or a movie, a sporting event, a trip or family event.  All of which when done or achieved or come are often unsatisfying, or ruined by something.  And we’ll gripe and whine and moan about that too.  But heaven…

No, Saints Triumphant Sunday isn’t irrelevant.  Today is the day that you are reminded about the heavenly mansions prepared for you by your Father and won for you by His Son.  Today God reminds you that what He’s doing now for the dead who died in Christ, He’s done for you here.  John wrote that God will spread his tent over them. That same verb is used in John 1:14, The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. The Incarnation of Christ, God’s biggest intrusion into history, is described as God setting up His tents among us.  Immanuel, God with us, came to us on earth, in order to bring us to Himself in heaven.  And what we said about heaven applies here.  Your God is not stand-offish or cliquish.  He comes to dwell among us.  He rubs shoulders with us.  He shared our death.  By His death, He vanquished our death, He took away the sting of death – which is hell – and made our earthly death a sleep.  It’s always Him doing it all.  We didn’t come up to heaven, we can’t, there is the vast gulf.  So, He built the stairs.  He set up the tents.  He gives us the robes.  He makes the perishable imperishable, He cleanses the dirty.  The dead who die in Christ have left the great tribulation and stand before the throne of God.  The promise of Jesus to you today is that those who are living in Christ, have the same future.  Richard and Roger and those among us who have died in Christ recently aren’t the only ones triumphant.  Amen.

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