************ Sermon on Revelation 7:9 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 30, 2001
"From Every Nation ..."
I A Universal Church
A In Revelation 7 the Apostle John tells us about a vision he has of the church in heaven. On this "All Nations Heritage Sunday" we notice different elements in what he sees. First,
(Rev 7:9) After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count ..."A great multitude that no one could count." This, of course, is the fulfillment of God's promise to His servant Abraham:
(Gen 22:17) I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore ...Centuries after God said this the promise is fulfilled and the church, Abraham's descendants, is before the throne of God and she is a great multitude, more than anyone can count.
I want to ask you this evening: are you going to be part of that multitude, that crowd beyond number standing before the throne of God?
I tried to imagine this past week what it would be like to be part of that kind of crowd. How exciting, how wonderful that will be. This past Monday night I watched the Packers football game on TV. The Green Bay stadium was full of 100,000+ screaming, cheering football fans as the Packers slaughtered the Washington Redskins. In heaven, we will be part of a bigger crowd, a crowd beyond number, a crowd that is even more excited and screaming and enthusiastic. Can you imagine the excitement, the enthusiasm, the joy of being part of such a large crowd?
Just before our text, in verses 4-8, the Apostle John numbers off that crowd. He mentions each of the 12 tribes of Israel and from each of those 12 tribes there are 12,000: 12 X 12,000 for a total of 144,000. Is there a contradiction here? On the one hand we are told about "a great multitude that no one could count" and, on the other hand, we are told about "144,000." Some of you, perhaps, are aware that the Jehovah's Witnesses make much out of the number "144,000"; that, they say, is the number of the elect who dwell in heaven with God. But the number 12 in the Hebrew language is a symbolic number. The number 12 is the number of wholeness and completeness. John repeats it twice. In heaven there will be 12 X 12,000 people; in other words, the number will be whole, the number will be complete. Not one person will be missing. John is telling us that before the throne of God not a single true member of the church will be missing, all will be there, none will be left out.
How comforting. As you know, we all are sinners in need of grace. Every single one of us is lost. However, John is telling us that every lost one of us, none excepted – if we believe – will be part of that crowd beyond number. None of us will be missing; the number is whole, the number is complete. And that means all of us, if we believe, no matter how terrible we may think we are, no matter how much we may doubt our salvation, every single lost and last one of us will be saved, will be found before the throne of God. There is a place, says John, for every single true believer.
I ask you again, are you going to be part of that crowd beyond number? You will be, you can be, if only you believe.
B In our text for this evening John tells us another thing about the church in heaven:
(Rev 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 ...That crowd beyond number, that crowd that no one could count, that crowd with none missing, comes from all over the earth.
These words remind me of the children's song I sang in Sunday School:
Jesus loves the little children,This children's song reminds us of an important Biblical truth: the church of Jesus Christ is more, far more, than white, Dutch, American, or Christian Reformed. She is from every tribe, and nation, and people, and language.
all the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
All around us we see walls, barriers, and labels separating people from people. Race, skin-color, language, nationality, political persuasion, income, class level, sex, geography, profession, education – all of these can be barriers which separate people from people.
In the church there is no room for such barriers. In the community of the church we don't separate people according to skin-color, nationality, sex, profession, or anything else. And in heaven, before the throne of God, none of those barriers exist anymore.
(Rev 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 ...
Some people don't like to hear that. In South Africa, for instance, there are churches which did not consider blacks to be brothers in Christ; now that apartheid has been struck down no one dares to say this publicly anymore. Before we condemn too loudly, we should remember this happens in our country too. This is clearly wrong. In the community of the church is to be found red and yellow, black and white, rich and poor, teachers and farmers, Dutch and Chinese. We come, says Scripture, from "every nation, tribe, people and language" (vs 9).
God's will for the church is that she is to be full of variety. God, you see, is a God Who loves variety. When my sons were in grade school they had a couple of science projects which became family affairs: a leaf collection, a seed collection, and a bug collection. What variety in color, shape, and size. From science we know that God has established an incredible amount of variety in His creation: 685,000+ kinds of insects; 250,000+ species of plants. Our God loves variety; why else would He have made so much of it? Even in the animal world we see a wild variety – from the majesty of a 10-point buck to the silliness of the duckbilled platypus. Our God is a God of variety. And God has done the same with His church. Within His church and before His throne God has placed variety – a variety of nationalities, tongues, sizes, colors, shapes, incomes, professions, gifts.
This variety is becoming increasingly evident within the Christian Reformed Church. Today we celebrate All Nations Heritage Sunday and are reminded that the Christian Reformed Church is not all Dutch and White anymore. You may know that we are part of Classis Central California of the Christian Reformed Church. Let me tell you about the variety of churches we have in our Classis: Hispanic in Fresno, Hmong in Fresno, Korean in El Cerrito and Sacramento, Chinese in San Francisco, Vietnamese in San Jose, Cambodian in Stockton, Filipino in Union City. We praise God for all of this variety. And, we praise God that Trinity is changing in this area too.
Again I ask: are you a part?; are you a part of that great multitude that John saw before the throne, a multitude that no one could count, a multitude of endless variety?
C As we look at the words of our text we notice something else about the church in heaven:
(Rev 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 ...
Notice, the saved in heaven are part of a multitude. John doesn't see separate individuals. He sees a community – a community of the redeemed.
In the Bible election and salvation are always communal. We are never chosen, we are never saved, as individuals in isolation. We are chosen and saved only as part of a community. When God calls and saves us, His will for us is to be part of a believing community. It is only in that community that we can grow and increase in grace, in knowledge, in faith.
This has implications for two things in our culture today. First, this has implications for the many today who think they can be Christians without the church. Being a Christian without the church is like being married without a wife; it can't be done; it is a basic contradiction. Second, this also has implications for those who content themselves with being a member of the electronic church; they turn to their favorite TV or radio preacher and listen to a service and sermon; this too is being a Christian by yourself because there is no participation and no fellowship.
A recent study indicates that within a year many new believers fall away. Why? What happens? In almost every case, those who fall away do not actively join in the life of a church: they do not attend Bible Studies or society meetings, they do not join with other Christians in fellowship. When new converts are left to be Christians alone, or try to be Christians alone, they almost always fall away. God's will in heaven and on earth is for His children to be part of a caring, fellowshipping community of believers.
Subtopic: Officers of
Title: GETTING ATTENTION
Just before the beginning of the Sunday service at Saint Bartholomew's on Fifth Avenue, New York City, a man wearing a large hat was discovered sitting in the front row. An usher moved to his pew, leaned in, and discreetly asked him to remove his hat. The man replied that he would not. The head usher was then summoned, made the same request, and received the same answer. About that time the president of the women of the parish arrived and was asked to assist. She had the same dismal result. Finally, with only two minutes remaining before the opening hymn, the senior warden of the parish was summoned. He tiptoed up beside the man and tried to seize the hat, but the man nimbly dodged and there was no time for further attempts.
As the opening hymn began and the procession entered the church the man stood, removed his hat and did not put it on again.
At the conclusion of the service, the four frustrated people waited for the man at the rear of the church. The senior warden approached him and said, "Sir, about the hat: perhaps you don't understand, but in our church men do not wear hats at worship." The man replied, "Oh but I do understand. I've been part of this denomination all my life. As a matter of fact, I've been coming to this church regularly for two years and I've never met a soul. But this morning I've met an usher, the head usher, the president of the church women, and the senior warden."
I hope I am correct in saying that such a thing would never happen in Trinity United Reformed Church. We have many new members. We also have many visitors who worship with us. They all tell me that they find Trinity to be a very friendly, loving community. I hope, congregation, that we will always remain this way. For, don't forget, the church in heaven and on earth is meant by God to be a community: a community beyond number; a community from every nation, tribe, people and language.
II Washed and Victorious
A Listen again to the words of our text for this "All Nations Heritage Sunday:"
(Rev 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 in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
Who are all these people and why are they all there? John evidently wondered this too. But before he could ask one of the elders answered him in the form of a question:
(Rev 7:13-14) 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.
All those people are sinners. Heaven is not a place for people who have been perfect on earth. It is for people whose robes have been washed. The robes, of course, are the garments of sin and evil that we by nature cloak ourselves in. In other words, heaven is a place only for those who have been cleansed.
Let me tell you right now, if you don't know and admit that you are a sinner, then heaven is not for you. Heaven is for sinners.
Notice, the robes have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. In other words, the sinners in heaven are there because they have been cleansed and purified by the blood of Christ. It is Jesus, His blood, His sacrifice, which called the church into being. And, it is only because of Christ that the church is redeemed and can stand before the throne of God.
This is true for all, for everyone in that multitude, whether they are red or yellow or black or white, they all need to be cleansed by the blood of Christ.
Topic: ChristThe reality of grace is that the garbage of our lives has been covered by a blanket of forgiveness, by robes of white. Because Jesus gave His blood and His life you and I can someday stand before the throne of God – wearing robes of white; part of a crowd beyond number from every nation, tribe, people and language.
Subtopic: Blood of
Title: Grace Covers Our Garbage
Nome, Alaska, on the edge of the Bering Sea, is like many villages of the Arctic. The ground on which the community sits is frozen, sponge-like tundra. Burying the dead is a real challange. Sanitation landfills are unheard of. Garbage trucks do not haul off the kind of refuse we leave curbside in the "lower 48." Instead a typical front yard displays broken washing machines, junked cars, old toilets, scrap wood, and piles of nondegradable refuse.
Tourists who visit Nome in the summer are amazed at the debris and shake their heads. How could anyone live like that, they wonder. What those visitors do not realize is that for nine months of the year Nome sits under a blanket of snow that covers the garbage. During those months, the town is a quaint winter wonderland of pure white landscapes.
The church's basis in heaven is also, of course, her basis on earth. Again, she is not a place of the perfect. She is a gathering of sinners, of people who know they aren't perfect, of people who have turned to Christ for cleansing. Too often people forget that. Too often people expect the church to be perfect. But within the church you can find every sin that is outside of the church – with one difference: the sin inside the church is forgiven because of the blood of the Lamb.
Every member of the church – in heaven and on earth – is the same. None can join because they are rich or because of power or because of who their parents are. None can join because of human accomplishment. All join only through the power of the blood.
So I ask you again, are you part of that crowd that John sees before the throne, a crowd beyond number, a crowd of endless variety, a crowd washed in the blood of the Lamb?
B Who are all these people that John saw before the throne of God? They are not only dressed in robes of white but they are also holding palm branches. Palm branches symbolize victory. Those who are before the throne have won the fight against sin, Satan, and death. In Christ, and only in Christ, they are victorious. Again, there is no difference: all win, all are victorious, the same way – in and by and through and because of Christ.
So I ask you again, are you part of that crowd that John sees before the throne, a crowd beyond number, a crowd of endless variety, a crowd washed in the blood of the Lamb, a crowd that is victorious in Christ?
Let me tell you, you are either part of the crowd before the throne of God or you are part of an even bigger crowd in the other place. There may be a crowd but there is no Lamb, no victory, no forgiveness, and no God. There may be a crowd but they are a crowd of losers – they have gained the world but have lost their soul. There may be a crowd but there is no community as everyone is alone and suffers alone.
Which crowd will you be a part of?
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