Thursday, August 1, 2013

Revelation 15, Song of the Lamb (Sermon)

Dear Friends, beloved of the Lord,

  “And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire and them that gotten victory over the beast and over his image and over his mark... standing by the sea of glass...singing”.  I want to pause a moment because you see, this is the Exodus.  The Israelites were led out of Egypt, through the sea and they stood on the far side of the Red Sea and they sang. So it is with the people of God here in Revelation 15.  Only we will have an even greater Exodus.  Our triumph will be even greater.  How so?  Because even in our suffering, even in our deaths, we will win the battle.
What do I mean by this? Do you remember Corrie Ten Boom?  I have spoken of her before.  She and her family loved the Jewish people, and during WWII hid them and helped them. The Ten Boom family was put into prison and then into the camps.  Corrie survived and went throughout the world preaching the good news and teaching wise things to the churches.  Once she told the following story: "When I was a little girl, "I went to my father and said, 
"Daddy, I am afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ." 
"Tell me," said Father, “When you take a train trip to Amsterdam, 
when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?"
"No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train."
"That is right," my father said, "and so it is with God's strength. 
Our Father in Heaven knows when you will need the strength to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.  He will supply all you need – just in time…"

They say, when it comes to suffering, “every man has his breaking point.”  I have a friend from Iran.  He is a convert to Jesus and by law if he were to go back to Iran he could be imprisoned. He cannot help but wonder from time to time how he would do.  Would he give in to the pressure?  Would he be able to withstand torture without denying Jesus?   I am sure we have all had thoughts like these.  But the Bible gives us a new thought.  “Yes,” it says, “every man has his breaking point, but you are not everybody.”   The same strength that Jesus was given in the Garden and on the cross, the same strength and power that raised him from the dead (faith, Acts 13) will be given to you and you will have the victory.  You are not everybody. Jesus says, “Fear not little flock,” fear not even through the valley of the shadow of death,” for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Now let’s go on in  the chapter:  The saints are singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb, “Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God the Almighty, just and true are your ways, king of the nations...”  Let’s just pause here and consider that phrase, the song of the Lamb.
It’s seems like a small detail but it turns out to be very important.   So often we have something like the following picture in our minds of how it went in heaven before Jesus came to earth, “O Father,” the Son says, “please let me go down to earth and save these totally non-deserving people, let me die on a cross for them, and soak up all your wrath on them...take it to myself that they might saved!”  And the Father’s grumbling and reluctant reply, “Well...if you really want to...sigh”
 But this is a false picture.  The Father is not reluctant about saving us.   It was his great work to save the world.  The Father sings with delight over what he has done in Jesus.   The Lamb has a song to praise the work of the Father.
Sometimes we think of our Father in heaven and we identify our fathers with him. Some fathers were grumpy and cruel and so we think the Father is grumpy and cruel too.  But this is wrong.  The Father is not who we think he is.  His thoughts are as high above our thoughts as the heavens are above the earth.  Why because his thoughts are so filled with mercy and faith. (Isaiah 55:3)

Now let’s go on and see one more beautiful thing here.  “Great and wonderful are thy deeds O Lord God the Almighty just and true are thy ways.  Who shall not fear and glorify thy name, O Lord?  For thou alone art holy, all nations shall come and worship thee because thy righteous acts will be revealed.”
 I want to hight light this last sentence: All the nations will come and worship you because thy righteous acts will be revealed

This is very surprising.  When John writes of the nations, he is talking about the “ethnicities.”  He is talking about the various ethnicities of the Roman empire who were hounding the Christians. He is talking about the persecutors.  And yet, “all...will come and worship you.”  How do we understand this?

 Think of it this way: God is unchanging.  It is a great heresy to think that God somehow changes from the Old Testament to the New.
In Luke’s gospel, Zechariah says,”Blessed b the Lord God of Israel for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.”
 God saves us from our enemies, not just in the Old Testament but in the New as well.
Jesus isn’t a “kinder gentler” God who avoids warfare; this too is nothing but dimwittedness.   Jesus very well could have overthrown Rome, he is the Messiah, the warrior king. 
But here’s the rub: Rome was not the problem. Ask yourself, would overthrowing Rome have helped the Pharisees?  Would it have saved them?  No.  How much less than would it have saved anybody else, “all sought after their own way.”  Jesus made war on something much more powerful than Rome.  Jesus made war on the real enemy.  Our enemies of sin, death and the devil.
Throughout Revelation thus far,  God HAS saved his people from the various ethnicities of the Roman Empire.  We see God pouring out his wrath on them, on the mobs and local officials and groups who come round beating, imprisoning, killing the church people.  We have seen God rain down destruction on them.
God is good at vengeance.  God is good all the time, all the time God is good.  I have actually seen God’s vengeance on the persecutors and it is terrifying beyond belief.
God saves us from our enemies, just as in the Old Testament, so it is in the New.  But in this chapter we see something different, though it is just a glimpse.    God is angry at the nations but he also loves them, and when they see how good he is.  How beautiful all his deeds are, how right he is in the defense of his people.  When they see the victory of the people of God, their hearts will be turned to the good.  They will see God and love him back.
“So, Pastor Amy,” you are probably asking yourselves,” who will be save and who will be damned to eternal fire?”  My answer?  I DON’T KNOW.  And that’s exactly the way God means it to be when it comes to this question.
Don’t get me wrong:  “Those who conquer will inherit all things, but as for the cowards, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, the second death.”  This is clear there will be no cowards in the New Jerusalem, no faithless ones, no murderers, no immoral people.  “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”  We will be free from destroyers like these.  But the question is “Will there be in any cowards, will there be any murderers, will there be any immoral?” (Markus Barth)  In the light of the face of Jesus, in view of the justice of his decisions will not hearts be revived and the coldest heart of stone because one that loves and is true and brave and honest?

We don’t know the answer to this question. Hell certainly won’t be empty but how big will salvation be?  We don’t know.  And I think this is a good thing.  A very good thing indeed. Because look here, if we knew all about how it was going to end, if we knew every move God was going to make and how it would all work out, we would get to thinking that we could control things.  Always, always, from Eve to Babel, to Absolom, to Jezebel, to Peter, we try to control things, do things our own way.  Eve wanted to get all knowledge, all at once, all by herself by her own hand, under her own steam, by her own power.  And Adam went right along with it, without even a second thought.  In the New Testament,  Peter rebukes Jesus.  He doesn’t want Jesus to suffer on a cross, to be “hanged on tree.”  Peter wanted the restoration of the kingdom to Israel allright but in his own way, not Jesus’ way.  Thank God we don’t know everything.  Thank God we can’t control things.  God has something much bigger and much better for us than we could ever imagine, “what eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has in store for those who love him.”