August 30, 2015 | David Crosby
Scripture Text: Revelation 7:9-17
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 robesand 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.’”
“Katrina and its aftermath swept us out of our church building and into our community. Ten years later this is now our congregational DNA—caring for neighbors beyond our own walls.”
This new orientation resulted in the emergence of five core competencies that we began to pursue: We worship with our lives, We gather to go the need, We teach to transform, We disciple in motion, and We embrace the future.
That first one, We worship with our lives, was an effort to bring the sense of the sacred and holy to every part of who we are and what we do. It spoke to the sacredness of deeds as well as words.
How does one worship with all of life? This chapter may contain some clues. The activity of God in heaven is to 1) spread his tent over them, 2) Never again let them hunger or thirst, 3) Keep them from the scorching sun, 4) Lead them to springs of living water, and 5) Wipe away every tear from their eyes.
These acts describe how we are to love our neighbors. What is happening with the Father in heaven is what he wants to happen on earth. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” These should also be the activities of the followers of Jesus in the world today.
Our church ministry is configured to emphasize the importance of loving neighbors. We felt after our relocation what we judged to be a deficiency in this key teaching of Jesus. We decided that we would try to integrate into the DNA of our church deeds of kindness and love, making these works easily accessible to all our worshipers. It is not enough for our individual members to practice love of neighbor. Our church must practice it as well.
So you will find at FBNO a spectrum of ministries involving more than 100 volunteers weekly in a dozen different venues. Teams of our members are organized to reach out to neighbors who may have been left behind, neglected, or marginalized.
Loving neighbors is essential to the proclamation of the gospel. Communicating the truth about Christ and his love takes more than words—it takes actions. Words alone cannot carry all the freight.
Chapter 7 is an interlude between the opening of the first six seals on the scroll and the opening of the seventh. In this interlude John assures his readers that the judgments of the seven seals do not fall upon the people of God. God sends four mighty angels who correspond to the four horsemen of chapter 6. While the unbelieving world suffers the judgment of God to their own undoing, the people of God are protected from the blast of the four winds. They are sealed by the Holy Spirit.
We have the church in the wilderness in the first vision of chapter 7, the 144,000. They are counted by tribe just as they were counted in the wilderness in the book of Numbers in your OT. We have already seen how the four living creatures may express a parallel to that encampment in the wilderness around the House of Worship, the Tabernacle. This is the church fighting snakes and scorpions, hunger and thirst, before they reach the Promised Land.
So John sees the church in the wilderness first, sealed by the Holy Spirit as a sign of divine ownership and divine protection even though they are still in the hostile environment of tribulation. They know “Salvation belongs to our God.” As a consequence, “all things work together for good,” and they look forward to the Kingdom of Heaven which awaits them.
The second vision skips forward from the church in the wilderness, to the church in the culmination of the kingdom of God. Here we have that great throng from “every nation, tribe, people, and language.” This throng has already been mentioned in chapter 5 as saved and sealed through the blood of the Lamb. The seven-fold praise of God echoes a similar seven-fold praise in chapter 5 of the Lamb. The palm branches are emblems of joy and peace and recall the joyous Feast of Tabernacles and the palm branches used to build the booths that reminded the people of their wilderness journey.
Heaven is a perfect place where people who have trusted in the Lamb of God find their eternal residence. In that place prepared for us, some wonderful things are waiting.
God Spreads His Tent Over Us:
“and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence” (v15)
We used to build forts with furniture and blankets in the middle of the living room. We would crawl into those dark tunnels and gather around a flashlight, and the world outside faded away.
- This spreading of a tent pictures the glory of God displayed above the tabernacle in the wilderness but now revealed in our permanent residence in heaven.
- God gave them shelter in their wilderness wandering, and he will complete that protective care in heaven.
- We are pleased to spread our tent over the homeless in our city. Ten years ago, in the wake of Katrina’s wrath, we helped a thousand homeowners in the work of home recovery. Simultaneously, we partnered with others to build 91 new homes for hard-working families our community. A clean and safe place to live makes a huge difference for anyone, especially a child. The children need to know that they are covered, protected, and loved. The spreading of the tent says this to them.
- We are thrilled to continue our spreading of the tent by working with foster families our community. We have a hundred families in the Crossroads pipeline. Some have already been certified for foster care by DCFS. Others are completing the required training and nearing certification. Still others are awaiting training. Our nonprofit ministers to these families and in doing so helps provide the shelter needed by our most vulnerable children.
- We also continue to help people who need shelter in other ways. Through your generosity, the homeless often find a place to stay and people in hard times find a hand up to roof and a bed.
- “The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat.” (v16).
The Lamb Is Our Shepherd:
“the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd” (v17)
Herds of cows and flocks of sheep have leaders among them. Sometimes we know which cow is in charge, and we hang a cowbell around her neck. When we hear that cowbell ringing we know not only where that particular cow is, but where the entire herd is located. When the cows come in to be milked, that cow with the cowbell is leading them in single file to the barn.
- Jesus is the good shepherd. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). So the Lamb is also the shepherd. He leads the sheep. David said, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:1-2).
- A frequent question for me, “What shall I call you? David? Doctor? Pastor?” My preferred title is “Pastor” which means “shepherd.” I am an undershepherd who serves the great shepherd of the sheep, as Peter observed (1 Peter 5:2-4).
- The Shepherd leads and feeds. The promise here is this: “Never again will they hunger” (v16).
- Some of those in the great throng died of starvation. They simply could not find food to eat. Now they are in heaven, and they are assured, as are we, that our needs will all be met.
- We are pleased to help those who are hungry just as our Lord did when he was on this earth. His great miracle of feeding the 5,000 instructs us. We know him to be the “bread of life.”
- We are completing today six years of Care Effect ministries. During these years we have provided no less than 60,000 hot meals for hungry people in our city. You may ask any team member from the OZ or Elysian Fields Ministry, and they will tell you how our neighbors devour the delicious food that Ms. Virginia prepares for them each week.
- We have also provided no less than 35,000 backpacks for school children at risk of hunger in our city. In Orleans Parish 40 percent of our children live below the federal poverty level. Their teachers know when they arrive hungry on Mondays. They cannot pay attention. They have trouble learning. They need food. That should not happen, I agree. But it does. And we are doing what we can to get food to those children who are most at risk.
- He leads them to springs of living water. I cannot read this without thinking about the Woman at the Well. She needed physical water. Jesus promised her spiritual water that would be like an artesian well in her, springing up to everlasting life. She really wanted that water, and she found it.
- ESL is ministry of teaching that helps new immigrants among us learn the English language. But we always integrate ways of teaching the Good News about Jesus. We are starting a new semester of ESL this week.
- Rivarde is the juvenile detention center in Jefferson Parish. We go there with 8-12 volunteers every week to let those young people know that somebody loves them. We teach them God’s word and urge them to trust Christ as Savior.
- We bring the living water to two nursing homes each week. You are invited to help us sustain and expand these ministries of proclamation and practical love.
God Wipes Away Every Tear:
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (v17)
- God is in the Tear-Wiping business.
- I threw away an empty tissue box in my office. It was simply exhausted and spent with the tears of God’s people. I will have to find another box.
- These tears—they are so terribly human. Dr. Spock does not get them. Our dogs and cats must be mystified by them, for tears as drops coming from the eyes and coursing down the cheeks are unique to humans, according to Scientific American.
- Every tear is a sign of the fall of humans, the intrusion and incursion of sin into our lives. We weep from the time we are born because we fear the loneliness, pain, and abandonment that is the companion of our rebellion against God.
- God intends to wipe away these tears that are evidence of our sin, our fears, our anger, our sorrow.
- His church is also in the tear-whiping business. Just as Jesus was sent by the Father to bind up the broken-hearted, so we are on a mission to do the same.
- Each tear that courses down the cheek has its own source and explanation, and it is just as complex as the human psyche.
- We endeavor to bring healing to the brokenness. How? By demonstrating and displaying and proclaiming the love of God even for broken, sinful humans like us.
- We wipe away tears when we visit the prisoners at OPP or Rivarde, when we go to the nursing homes and hug those residents who long for visits that never come. They feel abandoned by family and friends, but we do not abandon them.
- There is no purer religion on this earth than the religion that cares for orphans and widows, as James reminds us. Why? Because this is what the Father in heaven longs to do through his Church and will surely do in Heaven one day.
- This tear-whiping and hunger-addressing and shelter-providing and stranger-loving ministry is our badge of authenticity as followers of Jesus. All of this good news proclaimed in deeds of kindness and love authenticate the spoken proclamation of the Gospel which we must also faithfully accomplish from this platform and in every small group.
Conclusion: Our mission is to exemplify the Heavenly Community here on earth as we worship the God who saves both in the throng of our weekly gathering and in the daily mission of compassion that seeks to wipe away every tear.