SCRIPTURES: Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27; John 16:23-33
All of my life I’ve loved heights. When I was a kid, I loved to climb way up in trees. When I painted to put myself through school I enjoyed climbing ladders and looking out from the tops of houses. On a backpacking trip to Yellowstone in my early 20’s my buddies and I climbed to the top of Mt. Sheridan, a 10,298’ peak. 19 years ago my daughter Beth and I enjoyed the view of NYC from the top of the Twin Towers. Two years ago I climbed – twice! (I forgot my camera the first time) – the 414 steps to the top of the 278’ high bell tower that stands next to the Duomo, the main church in Florence, Italy. And, sometime in the next few days, I plan to climb to the top of Diamond Head, the 762’ high volcanic crater that looms over Waikiki. I hope to have a window seat on the planes on the way to L.A. and Hawaii. You can see so much from way up high!
God gives us a view from way up high this morning. “He carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” (Rev. 21) What is this holy city that He is showing us? It is Christ’s Church, His believers. The angel makes this clear when, before he takes us to the mountain for this view, he says, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” The Lamb is Christ, of course. His bride is His Church.
There’s an old saying, “Seeing is believing.” By giving us this unusual view of Christ’s Church – of His believers; of you – what does God want us to see, and know about ourselves, and believe, and rejoice in?
First, God wants you to see, and know, and believe, and rejoice in the fact that your salvation, your being a believer in Jesus and a member of His Church, is by grace alone. It is not your own doing but God’s, His work and gift to you.
What city builds itself? What bride chooses her husband? In the 1st century, none did, for parents chose spouses for their children and marriages were arranged. God is here showing us what His Word teaches throughout the 66 books of the Bible. The great blessing of your being a Christian is not a result of your wisdom in choosing Christ, as if you are smarter in your religious choices than others. Beware: God cannot be comprehended by our minds, and His ways often do not make sense to us. If you subject Him to your small intellect you will lose Him! Nor is your salvation the result of your good life, as if God owes you for it. God freely chose you to be His own and wrote your name in the Lamb’s book of life. Your salvation is His work alone, His gift to you!
This is part of the reason why we confess our sins week after week at the beginning of the Service. We are reminding ourselves, and not God – He knows us within and without and needs no reminder – that we are undeserving of God and the blessings He so richly bestows on us here. This is His house, His Church, not ours. We come at His invitation, and above all to listen and receive and not to demand that our desires be met. We also confess our sins because “nothing unclean will enter [the holy city], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false.” We must, therefore, be cleansed of our sins and leave them as we enter here into the presence of the holy God.
It is so very important to do this, for if we do not know our need we will not feel the need to come. Confessing our sins also helps us to clearly see our Savior. We come here to the One who saves by grace alone, and so receives anyone! We come here to the One who cleanses; and completely! Come back up on the mountain top and see what God is showing us: “He carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel... the twelve gates [of the city] were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.” Such beauty! Such incredible preciousness and value! The Lamb’s Bride, the Church – us! – shines with the glory of God, of Christ, for He gives His glory of His forgiveness and His precious life to us! “The glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” You will only see this from the height of God’s mountain. When we look at the Church from here below, well, it’s kind of like what we see in the city of Philippi. Paul goes into that city, a leading city of its day, and finds only one person who will listen to him. Lydia listens and believes because “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” Just one person! And then, a family. And it grows from there. Never belittle or look down upon Christ’s Church – upon any of its people, including yourself – because it is small or uninfluential in this world which prizes size and wealth and influence. Instead, like Lydia, rejoice that God has called you in Christ and offer yourself for the support of His work. He will greatly use it.
That’s the second thing God wants you to see, and know, and accept in faith, and rejoice in this morning when it comes to yourself and your church, Christ’s Church. No matter who you are, you have much to offer for your Lord’s use.
After Lydia listened to Paul and came to faith in Jesus, she brought Paul and his preaching to her family; and they were all baptized into Christ. She then opened her home to Paul and those with him, and they stayed there while they spoke to people in Philippi.
Do you do the same? Do you bring His preaching into your home, read His Word and maybe discuss what you heard in church? Do you discuss with your children or grandchildren what they learned in church and Sunday School? During the week do you pray for others? This is bringing Christ into your home, and when He enters in He makes it a blessed place.
Of course, we see from the mountain top that it is you, His believers in Christ, who are His home. Yes, we call the church God’s house, and rightly so. You can, and should, make your own home God’s dwelling place, also. But, ultimately, you are His home. In your baptism your God put His name upon you and brought you into His family. He also came to dwell in you and be with you always. Remember Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always”? He gave that promise right after He gave the command to baptize in the name of the Triune God. Baptism makes you God’s dwelling place, His home; the Bride of the Lamb.
And so, wherever you are, Christ is there; not only with you, but with you for the blessing of others. Offer Him to others! It may be through your words, as you talk about religion and then especially about the blessings you have in Jesus.
- In this time of Muslim extremism and the secular press’s lumping it together at times with any religious devotion, we have a great opportunity to speak about how very different is Jesus, and of the love and peace we receive from Him and have in Him.
You can offer Christ to others through things you do, such as doing your job honestly and well or going out of your way to help someone, and not for your own praise but because Christ has served you and wants you to do the same. You also offer yourself to your Lord for His use here, by serving where needed and also by your offerings.
- This is why, by the way, we have an offering in church. It’s not just because we need money to run the church. By presenting our offerings to the Lord we are acknowledging that all that we have comes from Him and giving back a generous portion for His use. With this He is pleased! And He, in return, “loves a cheerful giver,” as 2 Cor. 9:7 says. In such simple ways the beauty of Christ’s Church, the holy city Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb, shines forth.
Ah, but we often don’t see this from down below. So, climb up that mountaintop to listen to your Lord and see the beauty of Christ that He shows you in His Word. Let it shine into your heart, that Christ might shine forth in your life; until that glorious Day when He shines forth for all to see, and we, His Bride, are taken to our home with Him! Amen.