FACING UTOPIAN ORDINANCES WITHOUT FEAR
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, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."
THIS Revelation text is an interlude in the cosmic battle that rages all around this joyous scene. Today, as always, the Church of Christ rejoices in the midst of chaos. In an earlier time and in another place Martin Luther is reported to have made critical comments about the useless witness of the "paper saints" of his day against the doctrinal chaos of the church. More importantly, St. John's text warns us: BEWARE OF FALSE SAVIORS! The red dragon and his beasties (one from the earth and the other from the sea) are frauds. They act like little messiahs, little saviors, little gods.
In the days of St. John, the emperor claimed to be god. One's entire existence depended on the whim and fancy of the Roman Emperor. If you would not offer sacrifices and promise total loyalty to the deified emperor, you could lose your job, your family -- and maybe even your life.
Have you ever heard of Polycarp (69-155 AD)? He was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. He was arrested while serving as bishop of Smyrna (Turkey). The local governor offered to set him free if he would curse Christ. Bishop Polycarp would not. Instead he witnessed: "Eighty and six years have I served Christ and He has done nothing but good. How then could I curse Him, my Lord and Savior?" So he was burned alive.
A contemporary of Polycarp was Ignatius (35-107 AD) -- another disciple of St. John the Evangelist. He served as bishop of Antioch and is listed as one of the five Apostolic Fathers of the Christian Church. For his teaching and witness to Christ, he was arrested by the emperor Trajan who sentenced Ignatius to death -- throwing him to the wild beasts at Rome. (cf. Eusebious, Church History.)
I mention Polycarp and Ignatius because we can learn from their history to interpret today's history. This conflict between the True Savior and the false saviors of the world has gone on and continues today until the very end as is revealed to us in St. John's Revelation. Economic, political and religious Utopians are totalitarians that tolerate no opposition, especially from the church, especially from Christians who bear the mark of God's holy name on their foreheads. Hence the lesson: BEWARE OF FALSE SAVIORS!
False saviors ask you: Do you want to succeed in the world? Do you want to enjoy life? Then deny Christ. Curse Christ. Live as if Christ is a nothing. Live outside your baptism. Perhaps then, the Utopian totalitarians won't harass you or kill you. And why is that? It's because they have taken from you all that is genuine, all that matters, all that's real, and permanent. The red dragon and his beasties (the political and religious totalitarian powers in every age) form an unholy and evil alliance to deceive and defraud. They promise everything -- world transformations -- hope and change -- and yet they deliver nothing. They promise life -- life without end -- but they only deliver death. They promise heaven but their ways of idolatry and immorality lead the inhabitants of the earth (i.e., unbelievers) to a hellish end.
God's Holy Law has shined its piercing light on all that is false and damnable in our world, and in you. You are judged and have been found without a holiness of your own in this life. You have tried your denials, made your excuses; become angry and defiant before the Lord. You have tried to resist the false saviors by your own might. This is all to no avail. God's Law grinds slowly and with irresistible pressure on sin and sinner alike. REPENT. CONFESS YOUR SIN. BELIEVE HIS GRACIOUS FREE FORGIVENESS. Do not compromise. Do not give in. Follow the Lamb -- the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is the Savior. Polycarp and Ignatius followed Good Shepherd Lamb Jesus even when death stared them in the face -- even when the temptations of Satan and his little beasties were so enticing and alluring.
The story of Polycarp and Ignatius is not unique. Millions more have been sustained by their Lord Savior and not compromised the faith. Those who follow the Lamb who died for them are an immense crowd, a mega church of enormous proportions. Here the Book of Revelation reveals what is genuine, what matters, what is real, what is permanent.
Here is what is true, genuine and real: "A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language" is white-robed because they are covered with the Blood of the Lamb. Sing ALLELUIAS to the truth-filled Word that sets you free from all that is false and contrived. God's Holy paradoxical revelation continues. These rejoice with palm branches in their hands because they have died and yet they live, having come out of the great tribulation of this life in which the red dragon Satan and his little beasts rage against Christ and His church on the earth. These believers have followed the Lamb to the bloody end; to the empty tomb and the glorious Resurrection. Even if their confession of Jesus cost them their life, and now they rest. ALLELUIA!
In heaven, "Standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb," they are eternally safe. The victory has been won! Good Friday's Lamb is the Savior. "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb." All the angels in heaven join in the praise. A sevenfold praise of: "Amen!" [i.e., It is TRUE, eternally CERTAIN!] To our God be the praise and the glory and the wisdom and the thanks and the honor and the power and the strength forever and ever. Amen!" In other words, if there is any glory it belongs to God. If there is any wisdom it comes from God alone. Salvation comes from God and the Lamb Jesus who gave His life into death as the only atoning sacrifice for the salvation of sinners! This is true. This is genuine. The sevenfold doxology of praise means completeness! I.E. All there is belongs to God and to the Lamb. Alleluia!
The economic, political and religious Utopians are frauds, fakes, Antichrists! Satan and his beasties will oppress and persecute the church and those who follow the Lamb. Such tribulation comes through oppression and injustice of all kinds: political, social, economic and religious; all to tempt you to forsake Jesus, to compromise, to call it quits, to stop following the Lamb. Again, I say, REPENT!
Hear the true Gospel announced to you. Lamb Jesus has won the victory! Salvation belongs to Him. He won it! That's Calvary. That's His empty tomb. It's Resurrection and Ascension, and it's all for you, and for all those loved ones who believed in the Lamb and followed Him -- faithful until the end. ALLELUIA!
Now those who have gone before us rest in the safe-keeping of their Shepherd's arms. It is God's own mystery, yet to be revealed, of how we too are gathered together with them in this worship that is described here in the Book of Revelation with all the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. Yet let not your heart be troubled neither be dismayed. You have heard His promised forgiveness that is all-sufficient for today and all days until the last day when He comes for you and all His saints. Then, all the sin and all the consequences of sin in this world are no more in heaven: no more hunger, no more thirst, no more sickness, sorrow, want or care, no more tears, no more death -- only life. "For the Lamb at the center of the throne is [your] shepherd." He is the living water that grants eternal life to those that believe in Him. ALLELUIA!
Jesus is the real Savior. He wins and delivers salvation. He uses the troubles and the heartaches of this world to strengthen your faith in Him. Do not despair. Heaven is yours. Death is changed. Death is now the doorway to heaven. ALLELUIA!
Today in the Lord's Supper the Lamb gives you a foretaste of that heavenly feast to come. He spreads His protecting shielding tent over you right now. At the Sacrament, you are before His throne. He reigns right here and now -- for you, with His Body, with His Blood. The Lamb promises that all your sin is forgiven and that eternal life is yours. What is there left to say? How about this?
ALLELUIA! "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" ... To our God be the praise and the glory and the wisdom and the thanks and the honor and the power and the strength forever and ever. Amen!"
Rev. George Fyler