Monday, November 5, 2012

One of the Crowd

In Nomine Iesu
Rev. 7:9-17
November 4, 2012
All Saints’ Sunday

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

It is All Saints’ Sunday—a day which I look forward to every year—and especially this year. As the rest of the world around us plunges into darkness and petty partisanship this week, we are privileged (we are blessed) to set our minds on things above. All Saints’ Sunday is the church’s Memorial Day—the day on which we remember with deep thanksgiving all the saints who from their labors rest—all who by faith before the world confessed—including those dear saints from our fellowship who, during the year past, have departed this life to be with Christ. "We feebly struggle; they in glory shine."

I read recently about the final words spoken by one of the great theological minds of the last century. Laying on his deathbed, he reached an astoundingly simple conclusion: “If Christ is risen, then nothing else matters. If Christ is not risen, then nothing else matters.” In other words, everything hinges on Jesus’ resurrection. And that resurrection puts everything else in proper perspective. The results of this week’s elections, the tribulations and persecutions you face, the burdens you bear—All Saints’ Day leads us to say together with Saint Paul, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

In today’s reading from Revelation, we are given a glimpse of that glory. The curtain that separates the church on earth from the church in heaven is lifted, and we are given a sneak peek at what is transpiring around the throne of God. St. John is our tour guide. And the first thing he points out is a crowd—a crowd of unimaginable size and scope: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” On the one hand, to think about such a crowd is awe-inspiring—a reminder that no Christian is ever alone—that we are constantly surrounded by what the writer of Hebrews calls “so great a cloud of witnesses” (12:1). The martyr burned at the stake, the prophet sawn in two, the confessing Christian on the receiving end of a firing squad—they were never alone, for we are one with them in the body of Jesus Christ. This crowd can be a comfort.

But on the other hand, I’ve always been a little leery of big crowds. Where I grew up in Kansas there weren’t all that many big crowds. Crowds—especially big ones—were not to be trusted. “Going along with the crowd” was always a risky road to travel. My parents (and, I think, almost all parents) were quick to point out the perils of adopting an “everybody else is doing it” mentality. For whenever I would argue that all of my friends were getting to do it, or that everybody else had some particular item I coveting, my parents would just say, “Well, if everybody else was jumping off of a cliff, would you be jumping too?” And while that pearl of parental wisdom can sometimes be overused, it’s hard to deny the truth it teaches: What everybody else is doing—what the crowd is doing—is often the wrong thing, the dangerous thing, the thing that leads you away from Jesus.

That white-robed crowd in heaven is a crowd that we can’t yet see—very different from the crowd we do see each day. I’m here to tell you that going along with the crowd here on earth is risky business, and you shouldn’t be doing it. The crowd on earth is a deadening crowd that wants to swallow you up. We often warn our teenagers about the perils of peer pressure; but peer pressure isn’t just a teenage problem. The push to follow the crowd is powerful; and you must resist it. For that crowd will suck the life right out of you. The crowds that swarm around you welcome sexual immorality in all its deadening manifestations. That crowd wants you to view your body as a mere instrument for the pursuit of personal pleasure, rather than as a temple of the Holy Spirit which is destined for resurrection glory. The crowd wants you to live as if this life is all that matters—to live a life of pride and selfishness—rather than to walk the way of humility, service, and self-sacrifice. The crowd wants you to view your suffering as a sign that God doesn’t exist (or if He does exist, that He is unfair, unjust, uncaring), rather than to see your suffering as a place where the power of God and the grace of God will prove all-sufficient.

Beloved in the Lord, we’ve all followed the wrong crowd often enough to know that it has the power to draw us into a lifeless existence—to transform us into spiritual zombies—without purpose, without hope, without joy.

But rejoice and be glad, for Jesus Christ has called you from this world’s crowd of walking dead and has made you a member of that great heavenly multitude. That’s who you are in Christ already today! All Saints’ Day calls us to live today in light of the glorious future that awaits us. I compare the Christian life to the last day of elementary school. For me, it was always near the end of May. I went to school on the last day, but it was different than any other day. Why? Because I was thinking about summer vacation. In my mind, I was already there—thinking about swimming and baseball and sleeping late and ice cream sundaes at Dairy Queen. It was still technically a school day and I was present for it; but I was living that day in the future—full of plans and hope and joy.

All Saints’ Day is given to re-orient us to live today in the promise of the future—to live today with purpose and hope and joy because we belong to the right crowd—the crowd created in Jesus Christ. This crowd is different from every other crowd. Notice how, on one hand, this crowd is uncountable and endless. But notice also how every single member of this crowd receives gentle, tender, individual attention: "The Lamb,” it says, “will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Think about that. Whatever tears of tribulation still stain your face, Jesus will wipe them away. And the only way to wipe another’s tears is to be right there, up close and personal—face to face. With a touch of His nail-scarred hand, Jesus will wipe away your tears and you will never weep again. “We shall see Him as He is.”

And those nail-scarred hands will remind us of why we poor sinners are there in the Savior’s presence—because our tattered and sin-stained robes have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. All of our sin—all that should rightly keep us out of heaven—has been answered for in the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross, as our sacred substitute. But again, that washing and that blood were applied to you individually and personally. You became a part of that heavenly multitude in the washing of Holy Baptism. You didn’t join this crowd; you were born again into this crowd belonging to Christ. And the blood He shed on the cross He here and now offers to you: “Drink of it all of you, this is my blood of the new testament, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”

The church of Jesus Christ—the body of Christ—this crowd of those redeemed by Christ the crucified—it is so big and so vast that no one can even count that high. But God can and does. He knows you by name—you individually—you in particular—you matter to Him. Your life has eternal significance. In a few minutes the chimes will toll for four sisters in Christ who are today with Christ. Let each chime remind you of how precious each one is to Jesus. Your life, also, is precious to Jesus. And one day a chime will toll for you, too. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116).

Right now your life has its fair share of trouble and turmoil and tribulation—and sin that so easily entangles. But don’t get too accustomed to that tribulation. For you are on your way out—out of the great tribulation. Tribulation is just for a little while; life with the Lamb is forever. He has called you to be a member of His crowd. On the day of resurrection He will call you from your grave. Your white robe will be waiting. And your voice will be strong to join in that delightfully deafening chorus: Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.

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