End Times 3: Saints Triumphant
Preached: November 21, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to our heavenly inheritance is Revelation 22.
And he showed me the river of the water of life, brilliant as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In between with [the city's] street on one side and the river on the other was the tree of life, bearing twelve [kinds of] fruit, giving its fruit according to each month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there was no longer any curse at all.
The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in [the city] and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no night any longer, and they will not need lamplight or sunlight. For the Lord God will shine upon them, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
We've had some cold, cloudy November days. Last Tuesday icy snow blanketed the ground and encased the bare limbs of the trees. Darkness lingers longer in the morning and creeps up earlier each afternoon. Winter cometh.
Yet these winter days, at least for me, bring some of the warmest, brightest scenes: Children ice-skating on the frozen pond bundled up and bubbling with energy. Light streaming from the windows of a snow-covered cottage, glistening off the falling flakes. Fire crackling, candles burning, cookies baking, children laughing. A cup of cheer. A winter wonderland. Sort of a Norman Rockwell, Thomas Kinkade, Capraesque mix. Maybe such scenes of life and light help us make it through these cold months.
And maybe, dear friends, that's why we have scene of heaven shown us in the Scriptures -- not simply to help us through a few months but to help us through the winter of this world. Let's take time today to cherish this scene shown to the Apostle John in Revelation. Let it warm your heart and cheer your soul as you face the coldness of this sin-darkened world. See! Life flows from the throne of the Lamb. Take that theme to heart. Life flows from the throne of the Lamb. A life of radiant pureness. A life of resplendent purpose.
In the previous chapter, Revelation 21, John began describing what he saw of the church triumphant in its heavenly glory: The new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. The Holy City with each gate a single pearl and its street pure gold as clear as glass, where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain. The old order has passed away. God himself wipes every tear from our eyes.
In that city, John see the river of the water of life as clear as crystal, no impurity, no pollution, no dirty muck, no cloudy sediment -- clear as crystal. Such radiant pureness! It flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
Yes! The Lamb. The Lamb, who was slain, but now he reigns forever and ever. The Lamb without blemish or defect. The Lamb whose holy, precious blood purifies us from all sin. For he takes away the sin of the world. He was slaughtered for you, and now he reigns for you. Without the Lamb there is no water of life, no river, no pureness. How precious the Lamb!
Ponder that picture. For how often, as we slosh through the filth of this dark world, don't we grow weary? Like pigs we settle down in the muck and even begin to enjoy it. We imagine that this life is our real home, and we devote our time and energy and money to making our earth existence as pleasant as possible.
But no, dear Christian! Your home, your true home is heaven. Picture the river of the water of life as clear as crystal flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Why wallow in the mud? Why focus on making this dirt look pretty?
Ah, but the more I struggle against my sin the more aware of my filth I become. Haven't you felt that, too? The more we grow as Christians the more we see what great sinners we really are. It's not just my actions, but the very core of my being. The more I clean up the outside, the more I see how deep the stain goes. How could we ever become pure?
See the Lamb, dear friend. See the Lamb. The pure water of life as clear as crystal flows from the throne of the Lamb. He washes you clean, inside and out. His blood removes even the deepest stain of sin. Yes, his blood can make the foulest clean. That's the promise he made to you in the water and word of Baptism. Believe his promise. For the water that washes you clean is the water that brings you life. Life flows from the throne of the Lamb.
See the tree of life growing in the heavenly city along that river and the golden street. Life in all its fullness is pictured with the twelve-fold fruit the tree produces each and every month the year around. Even it's leaves are filled with healing. “No longer will there be any curse” (Revelation 22:3 NIV), the text declares.
Doesn't this take us back to the radiant pureness of the Garden of Eden, the first Paradise? Genesis 2 describes the river that watered it. And in its midst was the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Through Satan's deception and Adam and Eve's sin, the curse of death came into the world. They rebelled against God's love and ate from the forbidden tree. Death reigned. What a cursed passed down to us all! For everyone who does not continually do everything written in the law is cursed.
But on another tree many centuries later, the Son of God hung nailed to the cross. He became the curse in our place. And by his death, he undid the curse. The Scripture declares in Galatians 3, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13 NIV.)
“No longer will there be any curse” (Revelation 22:3 NIV), Revelation declares. For the blood of the Lamb that stained the wood of the cross on that tree long ago removes sin's curse. You have been washed clean and made ready to eat the fruit of the tree of life in paradise restored. Death is undone. Life flows from the throne of the Lamb.
What hope and courage this gives in the darkness of this world! As you struggle through the pains and failures of this life, as life itself ebbs out and death's grip tightens, keep this vision of heaven before your eyes. Anticipate tasting the fruit from the tree of life and drinking from the river of the water of life. How refreshing to our weary souls!
And this is not just thoughts for your deathbed, dear friends. How fragile life is even in the healthiest of us! How quickly it can all come to an end! Think about heaven each and every day and the tree of life waiting for you, a life of radiant pureness flowing from the throne of the Lamb. How that changes the way we face each day!
Now as John continues to gaze at this paradise restored, he sees the servants of God. “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him” (Revelation 22:3 NIV). That's you and me, isn't it? Do you see the resplendent purpose we have in heaven? To serve and worship our God and the Lamb. The original word in the text has both of those ideas: service and worship.
Maybe you're thinking, “Isn't that our purpose here on earth as well to serve and worship our God and the Lamb?” And you're right. The Bible makes it clear that we are to honor our God in all that we do: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV). “I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1 NIV). What a description of our purpose to worship and serve him in this life! As we, in faith to God's glory, carry out our roles as husband and wife, parent or child, pastor and parishoner, citizen and worker, as we show God's kindness to others, as we speak the Good News of God's love in Christ Jesus, we carry out our purpose on earth of serving and worshiping our God and the Lamb.
But how often don't we struggle to carry out that purpose right now? Sometimes we follow Satan's purpose instead of God's. Sometimes we give a half-hearted effort. Sometimes we do our best but fall short. Sometimes we think we've done well but in hindsight wonder how we could have done even better. Like trudging through deep snow, it's hard work. Like finding our way in a blizzard, we easily lose sight of God's goal. As noble as our God-given purpose on earth is, our performance is anything but resplendent.
But don't lose heart, dear Christian. Rather through the blinding darkness of this life, keep your eyes focused on the heavenly light shining in the distance. Keep this heavenly scene before your eyes. For life flows from the throne of the Lamb, a life of resplendent purpose.
Look what awaits you who believe! “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Revelation 2:4 NIV). Yes, seeing God's face is a terror for those who do not trust Jesus. But for you who believe, what joy to see the face of him who has loved you so dearly that he gave you his Son for you. What joy to see the Lamb and count the wounds in his hands and feet and side. What joy for you who believe! For you belong to him. His name in on your forehead. You are his purchased people, bought with his blood.
As we carry out your purpose in heaven, what joy! For nothing will get in your way there. The glory of God himself will surround you. No sin to hinder. No weakness that falls short. “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light” (Revelation 22:5 NIV). The power and majesty of the Lord God himself will surround you make your performance resplendent as you carry out your purpose in heaven.
And what will we do as we serve and worship our God and the Lamb? What will our purpose be? “And they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5 NIV). And can't imagine what that will be -- reigning with Christ who is seated “at [God's] right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:20, 21 NIV). All things are under his feet. He is the King of kings. And we will reign with him. Wow!
What a resplendent purpose!
If wintry scenes of laughing children, crackling fires, and lamp-lit cottages help you pass the winter months, keep them in mind. But all the more, dear friends, always hold this scene of heaven before your hearts. Don't just file it away for your deathbed or especially dark days. Rather view it daily. See the life flowing from the throne of the Lamb. How that strengthens us to fight against the filth within us, purified by his blood! How that encourages us in our purpose to serve and worship our God in all we do. How eagerly we await that time when we will experience it all for ourselves in all its joy, eating from the tree of life in the glorious light of our God. What a life that will be! A life of radiant pureness. A life of resplendent purpose. A life flowing from the throne of the Lamb. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.