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:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
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 robes and 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.’”
Last week was a great reminder of the power God has. God can use the foolish things of this world. God can use the weak things of this world. God can use the lowly things of this world. He can use humans to accomplish the most death-defying feat. What I mean by that is God can use the mouths and the works of sinful humans beings to get the gospel message out into the world to save people from death and hell.
Remember how he did that with a simple German theology professor? That kind of person should not be such a big deal, and yet some authors and historians rank Martin Luther in the top 10 (some as high as 3) of the most influential people in the entire world. But it’s not like there was something so special about a law student turned monk. There was nothing that significant about his upbringing or devotion to religion that would make the rest of the world take note. There was nothing amazing about how he became a professor of little Wittenberg University and then a Doctor of Theology. There have been tons of professors and doctorates through the centuries that have had very little impact on the world. There wasn’t much about this man, Martin Luther, that made him special.
The single thing that made Martin Luther so influential in world history is the gospel of Jesus Christ. See the gospel made him ask questions of the deceptive church leaders, write little pamphlets and papers about the problems he noticed, stand up to the authorities, live as an outlaw, translate the Bible into German, use the new technology of the printing press, advocate for the peasants and children, write hymns and catechisms, and leave a legacy that the world simply cannot ignore. The gospel did it all. The gospel has that kind of power.
Do you know why the gospel can have such an impact? Do you know why the gospel can turn lowly good-for-nothings, fishermen, tax collectors, farmers, monks, professors into names that are known throughout the world? It’s because the gospel saves people.
That’s not a cheap advertisement. Without the gospel the only reality in the world is death and hell. Without the gospel every single person is doomed to be destroyed by the devil and his evil for eternity. Without the gospel the only thing you would know is sin. Without the gospel everyone is dark, lost, and alone forever. Without the gospel this world is all you have – this world with its polarizing politics, its destruction and devastation, its rape and murder, its greed and lust, its selfishness and pride, its racism and hatred, the list goes on. That’s all you have. Sure, there are some sunny days and happy times, but it would all be for nothing. You live. You die. It means nothing. Your existence really has no value to anyone. You are pointless. That’s life without the gospel. There is no reason for anything and there is no love for anything, except yourself.
Think of it. You might say, “I could still have my spouse, my kids, my parents, my friends.” Without the gospel those relationships would only mean something because of what they do for you. You would enjoy having parents who didn’t leave you at the hospital. That’s nice for you. You would enjoy having siblings because then you’re not bored at home with mom and dad, then you can have someone to play pranks on and blame when stuff gets broken, you would have people who could help you as a kid. It’s good for you. You would have friends who can do things for you like help on homework, be the other kids on your team, all that kind of stuff. And that is nice for you to have. You would maybe have your own spouse of maybe just a live in, because who wants that kind of commitment anymore. You could have a person satisfy your desires and appetite for a while hopefully. They could help you with a lot of things around the house and for life. They could even help you with kids. And you would want kids to increase your happiness and give you someone to have control over and mold. Oh! It’s so sad to look at life without the gospel of Jesus. So often that is exactly what we are guilty of because we are only looking at ourselves. Our vision is so narrow and it’s so utterly pointless.
But in the gospel, you have life. You have meaning. You have a purpose. You have a family. You have a home. You have it forever. Because in the gospel you have a God who is not an overlord who rules you like measly subjects or a company owner who wants you to work for him. The second reading says you have a God who wants to love you like children. He wants to be your Father.
God did everything to make that real for you. The gospel says that he planned a way to make sinners into his children. Jesus came to take your sins from you. You didn’t give them up, he took them from you and removed them from your life when he died in your place. Jesus exchanged his perfection for our sinfulness, his righteousness for our guilt. He took the punishment that we deserve and gives us a life that is worth more than anything this world could give. He came back from the dead so that this life you have as a child of God would not just be for years on earth, but for eons upon eons for eternity in heaven. That is how much God loves you. That is how much the gospel accomplishes for you.
It turns you from sinners into saints. Yes, that is what you are. Like I said at the introduction to this festival day, a saint is not someone who lived a special life or made a specific sacrifice or something that we should remember. A saint is not someone who went to heaven with the job that they would someone stand in for God every once in a while. Why would you want a dead person to help you, when you can have the Lord of heaven, the Creator of all things, the Rock of our salvation, the Spirit who set you apart and called you by name help you and care for you? Can a dead person even do anything after they are dead? No, not at all. But God lives. Jesus lives. And because he does when God looks at his children he does not see the sin. He sees the holiness of his Son. He sees his perfect, pure child. He sees a saint.
When he looks at all of us together he sees the communion of saints. Yeah, when we say those words in the creeds we aren’t just talking about believers who have died already. We’re proclaiming that we believe God can turn us sinners into his holy people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and faith in him alone.
That is the gospel. And we want the gospel to do that for more people. We want more and more people to know that life is not what I make of it. Life is what Jesus has made it for me. That gospel mission is what changed the world after Jesus ascended into heaven. Christianity spread all over the world. That gospel mission is what changed the world again when the pure light of the gospel was hidden by an oppressive church. The voice of the midair angel has never stopped, and it won’t now. That’s God’s promise.
And you would think that life for people with this gospel mission, for people who believe in Jesus, for the saints of God, you would think that life would be easier for us. That’s just not a promise God has ever made, that your life on earth is going to be the best. The Gospel reading is where Jesus says the opposite. Your life on earth won’t be the best, but it will be blessed when you are poor in spirit, when you mourn, when you are meek, when you are merciful, when you are pure, and when you are persecuted for your faith in him. All of those things are a part of life now, to point the saints of God to the home that really matters.
To so many this doesn’t seem worth it. To so many fixing the brokenness of this life and trying to get my life on earth better is all that matters. Is that you? Do you yearn for better days on earth? Then your vision is too narrow. The devil is setting you up for failure, for eternal failure. See, in the gospel, God promises something much better than earthly fixes and pleasures. The gospel mission gives a vision like the one John sees.
To people who have been changed by the gospel, to saints who are looking for something better than this world, God gives us a glorious vision of what victory really looks like. There is a time and a place God has set for all his saints to enjoy this glory, peace, joy, and victory. We don’t know when our names are going to be called, but when they are we will be taken out of this world.
I just love hearing the verse where God says the ones in white, his saints, are all those who have come out of the great tribulation. That’s as good as this world gets for believers. It’s a tribulation. It’s a place where too often we complain about our homes or hungers, about the weather, about work, about failed relationships. It’s a place where we cry and weep. It’s a place that is broken and dark with sin.
But we have the gospel of Jesus. We have the blood of the Lamb who makes us clean in God’s eyes. We have the new eyes of saints who look at this world, not as home but as the journey there. And along the way, God gives us the good news of Jesus so that can help others from every nation, tribe, people and language with their broken lives as well.
And here’s his promise for you: the gospel that we have as his saints now on earth will always lead to this glorious vision of heaven and saints who are with the Lord forever. Amen.