Watch the livestream beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.
Gospel: Matthew 15:1-12 (NIV)
- Choir: “Well Done”
- Hymn: CW 889 “Jerusalem the Golden”
- Hymn of the Day: CW 880 “For All the Saints”
- Hymn: CW 837 “When Will I Walk”
- Choir “Lord, When Your Glory”
All Saints Day November 5, 2023
Revelation 7:9-17 Pastor Wolfe
“A picture of heaven – A picture of home”
- The Lamb is our Shepherd
- Heaven is our Home
There’s no place like home. That famous movie line remains famous because we all recognize how much truth is in it. After a long day of work, a long day on the road, even after a relaxing vacation – there is indeed no place like home. Which is why it’s so comforting to have days of worship like we do today. This world is a hard place to live in sometimes, for a hundred different reasons. But no matter what it is that made your life difficult last week, it’s only a part of your temporary time here on earth. Our home is in heaven. And it is the future glory that awaits us there that makes this time in between more bearable.
Our text today delivers one of the best pictures of heaven in all of Scripture. We see Jesus, the slain Passover lamb, sitting on the throne in all his glory. Crowds of angels and believers stand before the throne giving him praise and honor. The crowds sing out “Amen!” This picture of heaven is not some abstract thing though. That Lamb is our Shepherd and that Heaven is our Home.
People tend to think the book of Revelation is difficult and mysterious. I’ll put in a little plug here that our Tuesday Bible group just decided to study Revelation as our next topic. We’ll start it in December. It’s true that defining the details might be tricky, but the point of the book is easy. Revelation is a series of seven visions that repeat the same easy-to-understand message. In Revelation God tells us believers will face hard times, but that in the end Jesus wins the victory. Revelation assures us that God will overpower his enemies and bring his people, his Church (us!), home to heaven.
Some of the pictures remain constant throughout the different visions. One of those constant pictures is that of Jesus described as a Lamb. In fact, John pictures Jesus as a lamb 29 times in Revelation, with a word used only once in all the rest of the New Testament. This lamb, looking as though it had been slain, is the only one who has the power and authority to bring victory to his people. Today we’re looking at a part of Revelation that pictures Jesus, the Lamb, opening a scroll sealed with seven seals. It’s part of a picture of life in the last days of the world. The first four seals reminded us of the influence of conquest, war, famine, and death on our world. The fifth seal showed us the believers who died for their faith crying out to God, “How long will this suffering world continue?”
In Revelation 6:12 the Lamb opens the 6th seal on the scroll and the action moves a little closer to Judgment Day. We see unbelievers cower in fear at the wrath of God. We see God count his believers and mark them for salvation. After that reassurance that God knows those who are his, John looks around and sees the vision in our text. No longer suffering in the world, now we see believers in the glory of heaven. And all those believers are gathered together in one place, around one thing. The Lamb on the throne.
When we think of lambs and Jesus, maybe the picture in your mind is more of him as shepherd and us as lambs. Think of the 23rd psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” A shepherd provides for his flock. He protects it from enemies and guides them in the wild. And we know that Jesus does all those things for us. Whether keeping evil from us or helping us endure through it, Jesus is the perfect shepherd. But here, we see Jesus, our shepherd, is also our Lamb.
By the birth of Jesus the Jews had been celebrating the Passover Festival for over a thousand years. With every annual observance, they were reminded how God used the blood of the unblemished Passover lamb to save their families from death in the Exodus from Egypt. Do you remember, the perfect lamb without blemish? The blood on the doorposts that set aside God’s people from judgment? A sacrifice that saved others from death! Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
All those lambs were pictures of the important sacrifice God promised was coming. Jesus came into the world not to judge it or show us an example of how to save ourselves. He came to be the atoning sacrifice that would save us. Jesus offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to cause God’s wrath to “pass over” us. He was without blemish or defect – unlike us he never sinned. And he took that perfect obedience all the way to the cross, where he exchanged his righteousness for our sin. One of the consistent picture in Revelation is the white robe that covers all the believers. Verse 14 here explains the meaning of those robes. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” At the beginning of this vision in chapter 5, John described the Lamb on the throne looking as if it had been slain. Did you ever wonder why Jesus could show his nail marks and wounded side to Thomas after his resurrection? The Bible tells us our resurrected bodies will be glorious, without defect. So why would Jesus still have wounds? I think it’s the same reason the lamb looks slain here. Those wounds aren’t marks of weakness or failure. Those are scars of victory and glory. Those are the marks of our salvation in Christ.
We don’t think of blood as a cleaning agent, but spiritually it’s better than any bleach could be. Every sin, every shortcoming, is forgiven by the blood of the Lamb. And when God brings us to faith and connects us to Jesus’ work, he forgives our every sin. It is a great and comforting thing to know that Jesus is our shepherd in this life, always watching and guiding. It is even better to know that he is our Lamb. The perfect sacrificial Lamb that died to earn forgiveness for us.
Because of that sacrifice we know that this picture of heaven is a picture for us. And for all those believers we love that have been gathered out of this life already. Heaven is our Home. Our future is not here, but there. One of things that makes this particular picture of heaven so beautiful is the crowd standing around the throne. From every nation, tribe, people, and language. A four-word description telling us that believers will come from all over the earth. Salvation isn’t limited only to the Jews, or the white, or the American. It belongs to the faithful everywhere. Just in our own little corner of Christianity our offerings support missionaries to Russia and Thailand, Malawi and Nepal. Mexico and Canada and all over. I set out copies of the WELS mission book in the back of church. Grab a copy for yourself and see how God is working just in our Synod!
In heaven, all these believers from all these places gather together in our final home for the greatest victory celebration the world has ever seen. They cry out in joy, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” You have to say it fast and get breathless to do it justice. They wear their robes of white, showing that their sins are washed away forever. They wave palm branches of victory. I learned a few years ago of ancient custom at funerals. In days gone by, Christians would be laid to rest with a palm branch in their hands. Some day I’d like that for myself. What a witness to the confidence we have in Jesus’ promises right here. You could say it’s our final “Amen! Surely it is so.”
While he’s seeing this vision John wants to be sure he understands who these people in the robes are. So he asks one of the elders and he says, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation.” Some make more of this great tribulation than Scripture does. It’s not connected with a specific number of years. It’s not referring to a future time of difficult suffering. In fact, the faulty translation here probably is a big part of the confusion. The Greek verb here is present tense, not perfect. This isn’t a future thing. The multitude in white robes are “coming out” of the great tribulation already. At the time of John, and now. This is where the dead in faith already are. They’re not in the cemetery or waiting for glory. They have it now. The saints triumphant.
This is the comfort we celebrate today. “Great tribulation” is sadly a perfect way to describe this world. Every one of us walked through the doors this morning with something weighing on our hearts. A broken relationship maybe. Doubts about the future as we look at nations at war. Political failures. Money problems. Drugs or alcohol. Loneliness, sadness, despair. You don’t even have to turn the news on to see the tribulations of this life – just look around.
But this is why we come here on Saturdays and Sunday. Here we are reminded that trials are not everlasting and this troubled earth is not our home. Look around you. See the cross crown in front and remember the sacrifice of Jesus, our Lamb. Look around. See the font where so many of us and our children were first connected to that cross in faith. Look around. See your fellow believers here, from different tribes and nations and peoples. I know online worship is convenient and necessary at times. It’s a blessing. But online worshipers do miss this: The communion of saints, together in one place now knowing that we will be together in heaven too. Worshiping together here because it reminds us that one day we will worship together there. In front of our Shepherd-Lamb. In heaven our home. Where we will never again hunger. Never again thirst. Where God himself will wipe away our tears forever. Where the saints triumphant, believers called out of this world, are already singing in glory.
Heaven is our home, and what a home it is. Now that’s a message worthy of an Amen. So, God’s people, let’s say it together. Amen!