Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

Monthly Archives: November 2015

Feasting with God #42 – The Lamb Will Be the Shepherd

Feasting with God #42

The Lamb Will Be the Shepherd

Text: Revelation 7:14-17

14I 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.

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.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

“What will heaven be like?”  This question has occurred to the minds of probably every Christian at some point in his life.  Children are fascinated by the question.  The illustrations from children’s Bible Story Books usually picture a fluffy-white cloudy Middle-Eastern city with tones of gold and sunlight.  I’ve also heard heaven described as eternal happiness, where there’s no pain or sadness or sorrow, ultimately making it sound something like the Nirvana of Buddhism.  I’ve also heard that there’s no possible way we on this earth can conceive what that heaven will be like.

No doubt there’s truth to all of these things.  But rather than speculate, what does Scripture say?  The Apostle, St. John, in the vision he received in his old age on the isle of Patmos, describes in this enigmatic way what the “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!’” experienced in their heavenly joy (Rev. 7:9-10).

First the elder to whom John spoke explained how this multitude was able to come into this joy: they “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  These are the saints, so called because they are sanctified—made holy—on account of the blood shed by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.  This teaches us what forgiveness ultimately means: although these people had grubby, mud-spattered robes, the Lamb’s blood is given to them freely, the only substance which can wash the grime of sin away.  Therefore even though they are sinful themselves, they are given the free white robes that allow them to take their place before the throne of God.  Here is the first comfort of this picture: we have a free pass into heaven, because of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

And the second comfort comes afterward: this is the comfort of what heaven will be like.  We who have these white robes are in God’s presence continually, able to stand in the glorious warm light of the Lord almighty, and there he shelters us—he is himself our home.  We will not hunger; we will not thirst; we will not be pained by the elements.  God is our shelter, our home, and he is our nourishment, our feast.

And this fascinating irony: “the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd.”  When Jesus appeared for the beginning of his public ministry on earth, John the Baptist pointed to him and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).  Jesus the Messiah was the sacrifice for sin, so that his blood could be shed in order to wash us clean.  But that same Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).  We are the sheep, and he is our Lord, our leader, our guide, our master.  In this vision from Revelation, St. John hears explained how this one Messiah can be both Lamb and shepherd.  Having been sacrificed for sin, he rises victorious to be our master forever: so the Lamb who was slain has become King over all us saints.

The elder who speaks with St. John then seems to paraphrase a portion of Psalm 23, saying: “he will guide them to springs of living water,” as that psalm says: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. / He makes me lie down in green pastures. / He leads me beside still waters” (Ps. 23:1-2).  This Shepherd who was our sacrificial Lamb is now intimately and only concerned with our never-ending joy and comfort, and for this reason the elder concludes: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  This Shepherd who was a Lamb, who is God, is at our side, our companion, our friend, our comfort who holds us and walks with us.  This is what heaven is like.

Lord Jesus, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10).  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #41 – Feed Not the Earthly Belly

Feasting with God #41

Feed Not the Earthly Belly

Philippians 3:17-21

17Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.  18For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.  19Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.  20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21Who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

There are two types of people in the world: those who are spiritual and religious, and those whose “god is their belly.”  The last might often repeat: “Out of sight, out of mind.”  Is that how you treat spiritual things?  In fact, only 2.5% of the world claimed to be atheist, completely disregarding spiritual things, in 2011.  The other 97.5% claimed to have some acknowledgment of spiritual things—but what do they really mean?

Paul in fact draws the line into much narrower focus when he says to the Philippians, “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”  It’s not just the lack of spiritual things which constitutes the idolatry of the belly.  It’s the ignorance of this very objective—in fact, very material—thing: the cross of Christ.

That same survey revealed that 33% of the world claimed to be Christian in 2011.  Another study, a year later, in 2012, estimated that 31.5% of the world claimed to be Christian.  Yes, the numbers seem to be decreasing, but do those who claim Christianity as their religious affiliation really cling to the cross of Christ, or is it a meaningless label?  Are they Christian because they might upset their family if they left?  Are they Christian so they can get their kids into a good school?  Are they Christian out of convenience?

Thoughts like these are what led Paul to tears.  Many, even though they may not look it, are “enemies of the cross of Christ,” and for such as these, “Their end is destruction.”  A pitiful, sad end, and Paul weeps for them.  All such, whether they claim to be Christian or not, if they are Christian not in faith but in name only, worship their bellies—that is, their own earthly wants and needs.  The spiritual, even that cross of Christ, is out of sight and out of mind.  They are concerned with the here and now, with paychecks and food on the table and clothing and housing and luxuries and toys.  Some of these things are in fact necessary for this earthly life, but rather than see that the eyes of all look to God, and he alone gives food in due season, opening his hand to satisfy the desires of every living thing (Ps. 145:15-16), they focus on these things as an end in themselves.  The belly-worshipers may think of the spiritual as something to be concerned with years down the road, or when trouble strikes, but not right now.  Right now, I need to get that meal.  Right now, I need to work this job.  Necessary, but God also says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

Here’s the comfort that the Gospel brings: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  That objective man who lived perfectly, yet died the death of sinners, is our Savior: he paid for our sin and gave us the prize he earned.  Because of him, we have our free ticket to get to heaven, and as the hymn says, “I’m but a stranger here; / Heav’n is my home” (ELH 474).

But he has already come.  Why does Paul say “we await” this Savior?  It’s because we await him to “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.”  We await his return.  When we die, our material bodies will lay in the ground, “for you are dust, / and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19), “and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecc. 12:7).  If this material body dies and rots, then our hope must be in what lasts: the spiritual.  But even after this, there is hope for the material!  For when Jesus Christ returns in glory, “the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16).  We will rise, our spirits will rejoin our bodies, and our bodies will be glorified.

This is ours because we are not belly-worshipers, we are not enemies of the cross of Christ, but by faith we cling to that cross, and that Christ raises us out of the dust of our sin and makes us able to live our lives in him.

Dear Christ, we were born in sin, but you were born immaculate and pure.  We live our lives in constant sin, but you have kept every law in perfect obedience.  For our wickedness we deserve to suffer the pains of hell separated from our God, but you took that suffering on your own head on the cross.  We would be lost in our graves, but you rose and shattered the power of death, so that we are enabled to share our heavenly citizenship with you.  For this we thank you, and we look forward eagerly to your return when we are delivered from this wicked earth and brought into glory.  In your name, we ask that you come, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.