Sermon Transcript November 1, 2020
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Revelation 7:9-17 ~ Sunday, Nov 1, 2020
Isn’t it going to be great once this election is over? All the contentiousness and vying for power will be put to rest. Isn’t that going to be great?
Isn’t it going to be great once COVID is done? All the safety precautions and restrictions can end and we can get back to living our lives! Isn’t that going to be great?
Isn’t it going to great once 2021 gets here? To leave 2020 behind us and let this crazy year fade away into nothing more than a distant memory!
When life is hard, we think in these ways, don’t we? We feel a longing for something better, a yearning for something more! The presidential candidates for the two major political parties in America have picked up on that. And they’re promising to do something about it if elected. One promises to build back better and the other is promising to keep America great. In these trying times both candidates are trying to tap into the deep longing of the hearts of Americans in an effort to secure your vote.
But in our longing for something as simple as the change of the calendar year, or something as global as the ending of a pandemic, or the resolution of something as significant as the election of someone to the most powerful position on the planet, are we really longing for the right things? There is an old legend of a swan and a crane. A beautiful swan alighted by the banks of the water in which a crane was wading about seeking snails. For a few moments the crane viewed the swan in stupefied wonder and finally inquired:
"Where do you come from?"
"I come from heaven!" replied the swan.
"And where is heaven?" asked the crane.
"Heaven!" said the swan, "Heaven! have you never heard of heaven?" And the beautiful bird went on to describe the grandeur of the Eternal City. She told of streets of gold, and the gates and walls made of precious stones; of the river of life, pure as crystal, upon whose banks is the tree whose leaves shall be for the healing of the nations. In eloquent terms the swan sought to describe the hosts who live in the other world, but despite these efforts, it didn’t arouse the slightest interest on the part of the crane.
Finally the crane asked: "Are there any snails there?"
"Snails!" repeated the swan; "No! Of course there are not."
"Then," said the crane, as it continued its search along the slimy banks of the pool, "you can have your heaven. I want snails!" (Moody's Anecdotes, pp. 125-126.)
Atheist turned Christian advocate, C.S. Lewis makes this personal to our own lives and hearts when he says: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday [vacation] at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Are you too easily pleased? Have you been too easily contented by what this world has to offer, when the longing God is awakening, a yearning he would have you embrace is for a world beyond the present that only he can provide? Could the deepest problem with the human heart be not that we want too much from God but that we actually hesitate to fully embrace the deepest yearning he’s awakening in our souls?
One time a gospel preacher was talking about this vision of heaven with a group of people, and he asked all who wanted to go to heaven to raise their hands. Everyone in the audience did so, except one elderly man sitting near the front of the auditorium. The preacher pointed his finger at him and said, 'Sir, do you mean to tell us that you don't want to go to heaven?' 'Sure I want to go, but the way you put the question, I figured you were getting up a busload for tonight!' Be honest with yourself: do you ever feel like that about heaven? It’s where you want to end up… eventually. It’s where you want to go because the alternative isn’t all that attractive. But if the choice were up to you, to go to heaven right now or remain on earth awhile longer, what would you choose? Would you be ready to go or would you hesitate because there are still some things you want to do, some things you need to accomplish, some things you want to experience here on earth that you wouldn’t want to miss? Is this revealing a problem in our own hearts? The problem is not that we desire too much of God but that we fail to embrace the deepest desire that God arouses in our souls!
Over the last 7 months that we’ve been facing the coronavirus pandemic I’ve had Christians express concerns that the worship themes, service promos, and sermon messages are scaring people. That people don’t want their pastor to remind them of what’s happening in the world, they just want reassurance that everything is ok. I understand the sentiment. But what if through the things that are going on in the world God’s goal isn’t to leave us comfortably numb to the realities of this life, but to actually deepen within us the desire for something greater than this world can offer? What if the disappointment, and danger, and division of this world is something God is using to get us yearning even more for what God has in store for us, not here, but hereafter?
The Apostle John personally felt the intensity of living in the end times. When Emperor Domitian took power in the Roman Empire in 81AD, he began persecuting Christians in horrible ways. Domitian heard of John who was teaching in Ephesus at that time. He sent for him and made him drink poison, which reportedly did not hurt him. (But when they tried it on a common criminal, that man died - only to be revived by John, so the story goes.) Domitian was impressed, but he banished John to an isolated existence on the island of Patmos. Banned from community life by the emperor, living as a societal outcast because he faithfully preached the good news of Jesus Christ as Savior from sin, John’s longings grew for a better a life.
Instead of satisfying those desires here in this life, God intensified John’s desires, giving him a vision of heaven, a foretaste of the life to come after this one. John wrote down what he saw so we could read about it, not just to inform us about heaven but to intensify our longing for it. To help you experience that impact more fully, I want you to close your eyes right now. Not to fall asleep. You got an extra hour of sleep last night, so you should be wide awake! I want you to close your eyes so you can focus your thoughts on what John records in Revelation 7. And let your mind start imagining what John sees, to what awaits you through the preview that John provides you. Alright close your eyes. Open your ears. Focus your thoughts on the vision God granted John of heaven:
Revelation 7: 9 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 before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
11 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, 12 saying:
“Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14 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. 15 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 shelter them with his presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat. 17 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.’”
Okay, you can open your eyes. What did you see? You walk through the gates of heaven and its like walking into a sold-out stadium. The place is packed. But this is bigger than any stadium you’ve ever been to before. There are people from all over the world, too many to even try to count – thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people, packed into this place! Why? Your goes to center stage! There he is, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, your Savior King, robed and glorious as he truly is: the great King of the entire universe! The moment he appears the whole place erupts. More thunderous than the home team scoring the winning touchdown in the final seconds. The adrenaline rush, greater than graduation, or your big promotion, or the closing on your new home; more extraordinary than your wedding day, or the birth of your child or grandchild. The atmosphere more electric than headquarters of the victorious presidential candidate on election night.
And every voice explodes with praise. You, too, are caught up in the cheers, the shouts, the song of praise: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever.” Can you picture it? Can you hear it? Do you feel your sense of interest and excitement rising? Good! God is working that deep desire, that heart-level yearning in you.
And there is something else God wants you to feel deeply, personally: Verse 9 – a great multitude, wearing white robes and holding palm branches, praising God in heaven with all the angels. Verse 13 – someone asks: “These in white robes – who are they and where did they come from?” And then verse 14 opens our eyes to see the truth that is truly eternity-changing: “These are they who are coming out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Who are these people? There are believers in Jesus whom you and I have known and loved who are no longer with us on this earth. Dear Christian family and friends who who’ve suffered and succumbed to disease. Loved ones who met their demise through tragic accidents or catastrophic incidents. Faithful Christians who served their country or their community faithfully and paid the ultimate price in the process. Family members who won’t be at the Thanksgiving table this year or opening presents at Christmas. When you think of departed Christian friends, relatives, acquaintances and neighbors and long to see them again, and hear their voices again, to be near them again … God wants you to embrace that longing. For they may have died, but they live on. Though they have gone from earth, they are not gone forever. They have gone to their true home and they long for your arrival.
As you experience that deep, deep longing to be with them again, God wants you to know that longing will be satisfied when He calls you from your journey through this world of tribulation to your true home in heaven’s glory! What’s more, your loving Lord is telling you how to truly prepare for that day when you too will stand before the throne of God. Verse 14 spells it out for you: “These are they who are coming out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” A really
important reason to grow in your longing for heaven is to grow in your motivation to fight against sin in your life right now! As our longing for that future grows so does our desire to be the kind of people who will actually enjoy being there. C. S. Lewis is famous for saying, “only the pure in heart will see God because only the pure in heart want to.”
In the Bible, “your robe” is your heart and your life. How do you wash your robe and make it white? How do you get rid of that sin that wants to stick around in your heart? How do you grow in your desire for something more than anything this world can satisfy? It’s not something you can do for yourself. It’s something only Jesus can do! And the way to get it and keep it is by wanting what Jesus has to offer you! That means repenting of being too easily satisfied by the things of this world. It means seeing clearly where you’ve been distracted from what matters most, drawn instead to the passions, pursuits, and pleasures of this life, and crying from the depths of your soul: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It means longing for the ways in which Jesus washes your robes in his blood: hearing and studying his Word, reliving the promise of your baptism where he clothed you in his robe and confessing anew what’s wrong within and living in the reassurance of his forgiving love, feasting on his body and blood in his soul-cleansing supper! This is how Jesus covers you with his righteousness. He’s doing that for you right now as a matter of fact and that increases your longing, not only to be with him in heaven, but also to live for him here on earth.
And that means our longing for heaven doesn’t give us an excuse to be lazy on earth. Actually it gives us all the more reason to give our lives in service, even in the face of suffering, even if by doing so we face suffering as a result. It is like the famous story of the man who discovered that he had inherited a huge estate. Instantly he became the owner of a mansion, horse drawn carriages, land and a large sum of money.
On the journey to receive his inheritance he was robbed. The thieves took everything he had on him, even his shoes. So he walked the considerable remainder of his journey barefoot. He had to pick through dumpsters in order to eat. That night he slept under a bridge in the cold. But none of these troubles bothered him. This wasn’t because they were not harsh and uncomfortable. It was because he knew what lay ahead. His inheritance enabled him to joyfully endure the trouble.
In Christ, God has made us heirs of heaven, it’s more than just a great estate, it’s an eternal existence of uninterrupted blessings, where there is no hunger, thirst, or pain! That doesn’t mean our earthly suffering is less painful. Nor does it mean we get some sort of pleasure from the pain we face. Nor does it turn our hearts callous toward pain, whether we’re the ones feeling it or its others who are facing it. What it does is give us perspective on our troubles and problems and pains. While we may suffer and suffer greatly in this life, yet the glory that awaits us is far greater still. In fact, the goodness of heaven that awaits us is so great that the Apostle Paul was moved to write: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” Oh the goodness of our God and the good that he has in store for us! This is what we long for! And this is what keeps us going even if politics continues to be polarizing, and COVID-19 doesn’t go away, yes even if 2021 is no better than 2020, or even worse. God has made us for more. He is who we yearn for, the One who alone can satisfy our deepest yearnings. Something he promises to do for us and all the saints triumphant, forever. Amen.