A sermon given on Revelation 7:9-17 by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on November 1st, the Feast of All Saints.
I. Y’all Don’t Have Any Saints, Right?
I’ll never forgot the conversation I had with my neighbor some years ago. We were discussing the Faith and New Creation. I invited her to “come and see” what we’re all about. She was a lapsed Seventh Day Adventist. She mulled over the invitation to “come and see” and then remarked, “But you don’t have any saints or anything like that?” The implication seemed to be that she couldn’t take part in something like that.
Brother and sisters, we had better “have saints,” or else we’re not a part of the family of God! For, as our bulletin today reminds us, “At every moment we are united by Christ in communion with forgiven sinners with whom we share a common hope” in Christ. Are you a believer? Then you have a family in Jesus.
Revelation 7 breaks open this reality for us, taking us up on a vista looking out onto a yawning vision of the Church in triumph. It’s a wide-angle lens, if you will, looking onto a crowd too large to count, a people too vast to number. In all of our puzzling over the book of Revelation, perhaps we often forget that this prophetic letter is meant to encourage Christians. It was written to seven churches (which represent all churches), and written to give them heaven’s perspective on the state of the world. And let’s just note – you don’t have perspective unless you have heaven’s perspective. Onto the church in the world – the Church Militant – the beleaguered, the embattled, the marginalized, the diminished church, drops the vision of the Church Victorious. This vision, in Revelation 7, has every ounce of power and encouragement as it did the day John received it from the Lord. So, let us receive it and rejoice in it today.
As we celebrate All Saints’, I want to help us rejoice in three things: 1) in the extent of the Church (vs. 9-12), 2) the identity of the Church (vs. 13-14), and 3) the destiny of the Church (vs. 15-17).
II. The Extent of the Church & the Victory of Christ (vs. 9-12)
The church is wider than any other human organization on earth because God is at work in the world, calling all people, at all times, into his mercy and grace. The Church in Glory will be bigger than we probably dare imagine. Roman Catholics will be there, Lutherans will be there, non-denominational Christians will be there. Heck, I hear even Baptists will be there (kidding!). All those who simply and truly trust in Christ and cling to his word will be there.
King David will be there, Solomon will be there, too. Old and New Testament saints, people from every nation, all tribes, people sand languages will be there, around God’s throne in the New Heavens and New Earth.
Our black brothers and sisters will be there. Our Asian brothers and sisters will be there. Our Latino brothers and sisters will be there, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.
So, when our culture tries to shove the church into the back alley and tells us to sit down and shut up, you must remember who you belong to! You belong to the most inclusive, largest (no one can number it), and farthest-reaching society that has ever been created.
Victory & Salvation (v. 9-12)
Why does the church have such reach? Look at what’s in the hands of the saints (v.9). It’s the palm branches of sure victory won by Christ. It’s the surety of the salvation of God, won for us by Christ. It’s the rock of our redemption. The reason why this group of people exists is because Jesus’ victory can never be taken away from him or them.
Now watch this: in verses 11 and 12, the angels of God fall on their faces and join in the song, ascribing seven things to God: blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and strength. Again, we see that number seven, as if to say, God alone is worthy of everything we can possibly lavish on him in praise.
As the angels join in the chorus of salvation, they reflect that the most significant event in human history is the redemption won for the saints by Christ Jesus. Do you believe that this morning? Let us be encouraged by the saints and the angels on high, and let us live like people who believe that is true.
III. The Identity of the Church (vs. 13-14)
In verses 13-14, we are given the identity of this great crowd.
First, they are all a washed people. The entrance exam to be part of this people is simply this: they have washed robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. The Church is who she is because of the atoning work of Jesus Christ on her behalf.
Do you want to continue to grow in your love for God’s people? Do you want to love the ones whom Jesus loves? Then continue to remember and claim that church is, in the words of Bonhoeffer, “community only in and through Jesus Christ.”
Second, they are all a tested people. They are identified with tribulation. Indeed, they are those being brought into glory “out of the great tribulation.”
Here’s the enduring encouragement of Revelation: the saints, with whom we are united in Christ, know all about persevering in tribulation. In every time, in every place this has been true. God their Father had to wipe away their tears, too.
Many Christians in the West are fearful right now. What if God calls the church in the West into further exile? What if our influence continues to wane? My answer is, What of it? (Not that I want or pray for that). The saints remind us that God is faithful in that place, too.
Louis Brighton writes, “The picture of eternal glory of Rev 7:14 is for the comfort of all Christians of all times as they experience whatever tribulations sorely test their faith and patience. Some tribulations and sufferings will be so piercing and poignant that the very faith and foundation of the believer’s hope will be severely tried, almost to the point of despair and defeat. For that Christian at that moment, his sufferings and trials are his great tribulation. And every Christian will experience tribulation.” (Revelation, pg. 199)
But, the glories of the church on high also remind us that tribulation will end, and that by God’s grace we can come through it stronger in Christ. As Psalm 23 reminds us, we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we don’t make our home in it.
IV. Destiny of the Church (vs. 15-17)
And that leads us to the destiny of the Church. This passage ends with a glimpse of the church at ease. Completely and utterly safe. Now able to know and love and worship and adore the God who made them to do just that!
There’s a wonderful parallel here in verse 15 with John’s Gospel. You’ll remember that in his Gospel, John wrote that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) Literally, he tented or tabernacled among us. He moved into our neighborhood.
Now here, in verse 15, we dwell with him. “He will shelter them with his presence.” Same word used as John 1. Here, in Revelation 7, God spreads the safety of his presence over his sons and daughters in a way that is total and complete. The wilderness of the present world and the desert of sin have come to and end.
It’s interesting, we hear again and again the longing for “safe spaces,” don’t we? Well, here is the ultimate safety – safety is found in God, not in ourselves or in this present life. The saints know where to find true safety.
Let me end here today: in verse 17, it’s the Lamb who is the Shepherd of the sheep. God the Son, who became the Lamb, is the one who, for all time, will lead us, and all the people of God, to springs of living water, never to thirst again.
So, it’s the saints who, with poet Rupert Brooke, can say:
“Safe shall be my going,
Secretly armed against all death’s endeavor;
Safe where all safety’s lost; safe where men fall;
And if these poor limbs die, safest of all.”
And so, glory be to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!