Revelation 7:(2-8) 9-17
Seeing with Ears of Faith
v.4 & 9 And I heard the number of the sealed, 144 000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel…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…
Dear friends in Christ, what a glorious text we have before us today from the revelation to St. John. In this vision, a picture of the church triumphant--those faithful who have remained true to Jesus--who have finished the race--are sealed before the Lord God--given His mark upon their foreheads--in contrast to the enemies of Christ who bear the mark of the Beast. John looks and sees an angel speaking to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, directing them not to harm anything until all the servants of God have been sealed upon their foreheads. It is then that John hears the number of the sealed…144 000 from the 12 tribes of Israel.
Beloved, much has been made by various groups about this number. The Jehovah's Witnesses, in particular, believe this number to be the literal count of those faithful who will enter into the highest heaven. And yet they overlook the very words of John himself. John says he heard the number of the sealed. I don't know about you, but I doubt that any of us could differentiate between 100 000 or a 138 000 or 75000, through hearing them alone. We can certainly tell in crowded stadiums that there are a lot of people, but in no way can we tell with such specificity the particular amount of people gathered together.
Furthermore, after John recounts hearing 12 000 from each tribe, he goes on to say precisely what he saw. "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 Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands." Beloved, this is the very same multitude that John just heard--this is the 144 000. Now he sees and they are without number. For they are the faithful of Christ, from every nation, every ethnic group, every tribe, every language, from the four corners of the earth, through all space and time. These are the believers in Jesus who have received the reward for their faith and now reside in the presence of the Lamb of God Himself. From Adam to Abraham to Elijah to Paul to me and you. What joy! What comfort! What peace!
These saints of God--these holy ones of the Lord--dressed in purest white, standing before the throne of Almighty God, shout to the Lord in a great voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" A clear reference to the Holy God who has rescued His people through the shed blood of His only beloved Son, who acted as the sacrificial Lamb in order to save His people from their sins. It is this God and no other--the only true God--who has deigned to take on human flesh and suffer and die upon the cross, who has the keys to salvation! At this proclamation all the heavenly host fall down in holy adoration, prostrate before the throne, worshiping God, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen!"
Beloved, what an incredible picture of heaven given to us here. The entire congregation of heaven--saints and angels--in humble worship of the living God who has earned salvation for His people by shedding His blood for them on the cross. When asked who these white-robed ones may be, John defers to the one who asked him the question, and is instructed, "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." For you see, sinful people cannot get clean and pure from the deadly contamination of their sin in no other way than through the cleansing tide of Christ's own blood. Now these pure and holy ones of God "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. 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."
What a picture! What a blessed comfort to God's people in the here and now--the church militant--who hope and pray for the day when we, too, will be ushered into glory and join the throng of the church triumphant, about which we sing so forcefully today.
This is our future hope, beloved. This is our future reward. And though there are many obstacles--though there be many hardships that we endure this side of heaven--yet the picture that St. John lays before us this day--IS our future reality--already guaranteed and assured--by the blood of Jesus outpoured on the cross.
Do you long for the comforting presence of your Saviour? He shelters you with His peace. Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness, while facing the difficulties of life in this broken world? Do you suffer grief and sorrow, pain and despair, the fear of death itself? No longer. For the Lamb is your Good Shepherd who ushers you to the springs of living water that flow from his spear-pierced side. And by His grace and mercy--even the pain of death is removed--no more shall tears of sorrow cross your eyes and trickle down for your face--for you will be caught up in the perpetual joy and gladness of the God-made-flesh who has redeemed you and made you His own and brought you into His presence with life everlasting, your enemies completely defeated and crushed before you. Death will be no more. Neither will there be sin. For all have been soundly conquered by the Lamb who died and rose again.
Dear friends, this Lamb is the Lord Jesus--the crucified and risen One. Though you begin life filthy and corrupted with sin--dying and faced with suffering and pain and sorrow. Yet, you are herein urged to see with ears of faith. To trust not in your eyes and senses that show you the horrible evil of the world around you, but rather to hearken to the Word of God that declares the triumphant victory that is yours through faith in Jesus Christ!
Despair not at the news stories that portray more and more acts of evil and violence with terrorist bombings, or children stolen from their parents, or any number of evils in the world. Do not be confounded by your own sinful flesh and the devil who points you to the darkness within your own heart and declares to you, "If this is who you are--you have no part in Christ or His heaven!" This is not your end! For you stand as one who has been bought with the precious blood of Jesus. His atonement is yours. His forgiveness is yours. By faith, you belong to Him. And this is not your own doing--it is the work of God--the work of your salvation.
As one of our current Lutheran hymn writers, Chad Bird, once wrote in a brief poem on Facebook, "Behold, you host arrayed in black, with rags of filth draped cross your backs. Come stand beneath Christ's wounded side, Be bathed within the crimson tide. For bleached with blood from veins divine Your robes, as snow, will brightly shine."
Indeed, see with ears of faith, listening to the Word of God, that you have received the mark of God in your Baptism, and are assured a place by His side in everlasting glory. Thanks be to God in Chr