SCRIPTURES – Exod. 3:1-15; 2 Thess. 2:1-17; Luke 20:27-40; Rev. 7
"Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?" I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 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.” Rev. 7:13-15
Tuesday is a big day; but not for me! I voted already. You see, I have a Pastor’s conference tomorrow and Tuesday, and by the time I get home I will have limited time to get to the polls. So, I went to city hall last Thursday and voted on an absentee ballot.
Now, why did the District schedule a conference for election day? Did District leaders anticipate the wonderful choices that we would have for President and so provide an excuse for us pastors to not vote and so spare our consciences? Oh, not at all, for our consciences are not at stake in this election! You see, this world is not the kingdom of God. Today’s Scriptures make that very clear. God’s kingdom is His visible, eternal and unopposed rule in His Son in heaven. We focus upon that kingdom with joyous anticipation in our All Saints celebration. On this earth, things are quite different. Oh, God is present and working; but in far more hidden and subtle ways. He works through His Church – we call that the kingdom of His right hand – and He works through governments – the kingdom of His left hand. Both ways of His ruling here on earth are imperfect, for in both God uses sinful people. When their sins are quite obvious – as with Hillary and Donald – this can be very troubling.
Jesus lived out His life under the authority of two Caesars, two Roman rulers. When He was born, the Caesar was Augustus. God used his decree to enroll the people of the Roman Empire for a tax to cause Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, thereby fulfilling the prophecy of the prophet Micah. Now, Augustus ruled well; but not in everything. Around the time of Jesus’ birth he ordered one of the best Generals of his army, Tiberias, to divorce the wife he loved and marry Julia, Augustus’ daughter. This made him one of the family and Augustus’ successor. Well, Tiberias and Julia had no love for one another – in fact, she frequently and openly cheated on him – and as a result Tiberias became dark, somber, and reclusive. The first century historian Pliny the Elder called him "the gloomiest of men." When he became Caesar he took little interest in governing. The last decade of his rule, during which Jesus conducted His ministry, was marked by corruption, as he left the empire in the care of dishonest and uncaring subordinates while he lived in luxury in Capri. And yet, it was of Tiberias that Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Jesus accepted and obeyed his rule, and called others to do the same.
And so: you can vote for the candidate you think is best (even if you’re holding your nose while doing so!) and not worry that you’re defying God. His kingdom is not an earthly one! And, no earthly kingdom or ruler can oppose His heavenly kingdom. Fix your eyes and set your hopes on God’s kingdom in heaven, and live your life in anticipation of it! This is where God in His Word directs our attention today.
Who are the members of God’s heavenly kingdom in Christ? “The ones coming out of the great tribulation.” (Rev. 7) We certainly know tribulation in this world, don’t we? There is the tribulation of grief and uncertainty that follows the death of a loved one. There is the tribulation of oppression and persecution because of one’s ethnicity. The Jews experienced this in Egypt, and Moses would come to know it well. But, such oppressions afflict both those who believe in God and those who do not. There are great tribulations that we believers experience, attacks upon our faith, such as:
Ø False doctrine. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers because someone had told them that Jesus had returned, and they had missed it. They were very alarmed and shaken!
Ø Division within the Church. Jesus experienced this when the Sadducees confronted Him with their ridiculous question. They were not only fellow Jews; from them came the priests who served God’s people in the temple.
False teachings and divisions have exploded in our day, and they can make you wonder: is it even possible to know God’s truth? Is there any good and true church? Can anyone be saved? Well, when such worries trouble you – each of us is weak and sinful, after all! – remember: your worthiness is not in yourself, in the good things that you do and in the strength of your faith. Those who will be before God’s throne in heaven are those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev. 7) Christ’s blood, His sacrifice for you upon the cross, forgives all your sins and makes you worthy to stand before God in heaven! His blood washes and cleanses you!
Ø And, what do you need to wash robes? You need to know they are dirty and need to be cleaned; and, you need to know that washing will clean them. If you know and are troubled by your sins and your weakness: good for you! This will lead you away from yourself and to Christ. Rejoice that His blood washed you in your Baptism! Come continually to receive His blood in Holy Communion for your forgiveness!
To the Thessalonians who were being troubled by false teaching, Paul said, “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” Take this to heart! God sealed you with His Holy Spirit in your Baptism and in His true Word is with you to shelter you with His presence. God knows you and will never forget you. By His holy Word He will comfort and establish you!
You, sinner though you are, can look forward to standing before God’s throne and living under His rule in heaven forever! John the apostle is shown this in a vision, and this is what he wrote down for us in the last book of the Bible, Revelation. “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.” This is what lies before us, what God has prepared for us through His Son!
One final point: there’s much that we in this earthly life cannot know or understand about heaven. But, God does show us that it is not a place of autonomy, a place where you can do whatever you want and be with whomever you want. It is not a place where you will be under the rule of others; not even of a spouse.
Ø We all know that spouses have requirements and expectations of one another. We would not call it rule, but there are rules! Jesus tells us that those in heaven “neither marry nor are given in marriage. They are as angels and are sons of God.”
As the holy angels live in the blessedness of God’s presence and rejoice to do His will, so will those who died in Christ and are raised to eternal life in Him. We will live forever under the rule and direction, and the care, of an almighty God who is good and loving, who loves us forever in His Son. “The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be [our] shepherd, and he will guide [us] to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes." This is what lies before us in Christ. Look forward to it with eager anticipation! In the blessed name of Jesus. Amen.