Sermon for 4th Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday), May 12, 2019 on Revelation 7:9-17
Dear fellow sheep in the Good Shepherd’s flock,
Many of us enjoy “rags to riches” stories, don’t we? We like the Cinderella story, from peasant to princess. We enjoy a good movie story line in which the guy working in the mail room of a big company rises up through the ranks to become the CEO of that company. Rags to riches stories are inspiring and uplifting.
Today from the book of Revelation we are treated to somewhat of a rags to riches story. In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, Jesus was giving His apostle John a glimpse into activities happening and soon to happen on earth and in heaven using some pretty odd pictures. In this particular vision John is permitted to see what was going on in heaven and what would continue to be happening there. What he saw was the ultimate rags to riches story. He saw the Lamb of God, Jesus, who had humbled Himself to be the Sacrificial Lamb who had taken on Himself the sins of the world. The Son of God had so humbled Himself to take on the human experience, even to the point of dying, dying the cruelest of deaths on a cross, even enduring the agony of hell as the consequence of sin. But John saw that Lamb of God who had taken the sin and punishment for sin of the whole world, in heaven, at the throne of Almighty God, and he was told that this Lamb was also the Shepherd of God’s flock, leading and protecting them. He had gone from the judged and punished to the judge Himself. This is the uplifting and inspiring truth for us on this Good Shepherd Sunday,
The Lamb of God Shepherds God’s Flock
- He washes them.
- He tends them forever!
At the beginning of our reading John’s attention was caught by the huge multitude in
heaven, around God’s throne dressed in white robes and holding palm branches. He tells us that a person there, one of the “elders”, someone in the know and with some authority spoke to him, asking if he knew who these white robed people were. John apparently wasn’t too sure, but he recognized his questioner as someone who would know. So he said, “Sir, you know”, expecting him to explain; which he did. “These are they,” he said, “who are coming out of the great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” As they stand before God they are pure and innocent. They’ve been washed clean of sin and guilt so that they can be in the presence of God.
But they needed to be washed in order to be pure. How had they gotten dirty? The elder told John that they were coming out of “the great tribulation”. Let’s go back to the sheep and shepherd picture to understand the great tribulation and its effects. A sheep’s life has its trials and TRIBULATIONS. The hymn “I Walk In Danger All the Way” certainly applies. Sheep who are untended, either because they have no shepherd or have wandered away from the shepherd get filthy, and worse. When off the path a sheep gets into low, wet, muddy ground, perhaps getting stuck, injuring itself, falling into the mud and muck. The sheep may find stagnant water to drink that makes it sick. The vegetation on which it grazes may be poor, leaving the sheep malnourished. And most dangerous of all, there are predators always looking for a meal. The predators attack, killing and devouring the sheep or maybe leaving it fatally wounded and bloodied.
Dear fellow sheep, that’s you and me. We’ve certainly taken into ourselves attitudes and behaviors that leave us spiritually sick and malnourished, dying in our relationship with our God. Many times the predator, that devil who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” has set his claws and jaws into you and me. We’ve been dragged into the spiritual mud and muck. From these lips have slipped lies and vicious, hurtful words. And though these lips have regularly made statements that say I believe God’s commands to be good and right for my life, my mind, hands, feet and other body parts have proceeded to follow a path totally in the other direction from God’s commandments. With such ungodly behaviors you and I have stained the fabric of our souls and lives so that we are not pure and innocent before God and not fit for a life in his eternal presence.
And even when you and I have faithfully followed our Shepherd, attacks come in the form of ridicule or being left out. This is all part of this great tribulation in which we live. Based on the words John recorded here, the great tribulation is not some short period of time before or after which Jesus comes to suck his believers out of this world in some sort of rapture. It is the entire time Jesus’ believers are in this mucky, sinful world in which life as a sheep of the Good Shepherd is difficult and “dirty” every day. But the Lamb of God has poured His innocent life-blood over the sheep to wash them of all their sin and guilt. The Lamb, Jesus the Son of God, humbled Himself to take on life in this sinful, mucky world. He lived that life without sin, pure. Then He laid down that life before God, carrying the stains of the world’s sin as He faced God in judgment. His innocent life covers us sheep so that we are pure in God’s sight. And now, day after day, one by one the pure sheep come out of the great tribulation pure and innocent to be around the throne of God and the Lamb, singing their praises!
This vision of John brought joy and comfort to his readers 1910 years ago. In the late first century A.D. the young Christian Church was under persecution not only from the Jews who opposed Jesus and His messengers like Paul, but now from the Roman Empire itself! The apostle John was even writing the Revelation from exile. Many believers had died in and for the name of Jesus the Lamb of God who took away their sins. Those who had watched them die were scared and worried. But Jesus was letting them know through John that those martyrs were just fine. They were part of the multitude around the throne dressed in white. And they had palm branches in hand. That was the sign of victory. We might compare it to the Olympic athlete who won the race and takes the victory lap waving the flag of his or her nation. Those “sheep” who had lost their lives for the name of the Lamb were safe around God’s throne and with the Lamb. That’s comforting and inspiring for us as well. In this vision we are assured that those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb will be eternally victorious and safe. For the Lamb of God Shepherds God’s flock, washing them and also tending them forever.
The elder talking to John used some very common pictures to talk about the harmful circumstances encountered by God’s sheep living in the great tribulation. There are enemy attacks, circumstances in which we “get burned”, and in which we spiritually starve and dehydrate. All of this produces tears of sorrow and sadness. We put ourselves in such circumstances when we wander from the lead of the Good Shepherd. We also find ourselves in these circumstances as we live day by day in a culture or society that is certainly a spiritual valley of the shadow of death. How frightening!
But the Lamb of God is shepherding God’s flock. He met the circumstances of temptation. He walked through the valley of the shadow of death. He overcame it all, living innocently and dying sacrificially for you and me. To all of this there is a tremendously happy result. Because Jesus the Lamb of God poured out His innocent life blood for us that we might be clean and pure before God, good things result. Because that crowd around the throne had their robes or lives washed in the blood of the Lamb, perfect life followed. “Therefore”, the elder said. Because of the washing, these white robed victors enjoy the never-ending and perfect tending of the Good Shepherd, the Lamb Himself. Listen to the “nevers” in this section. “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.” “Day and night” they are in God’s temple. God will wipe away “every” tear from their eyes. The “tending” or protection and providing given by the Lamb is perfect and complete. If we were to read verses 15, 16, and 17 slower we would notice ten aspects of the Good Shepherd’s tending of the sheep listed there. The number ten is an important number throughout the Revelation. It denotes perfection and completeness. So with a series of ten blessings associated with God’s flock being tended by Jesus the Lamb, we are told that the blessings of heaven with the Lamb as our Shepherd are never ending and complete. Those of the flock who have gone on before us enjoy that never ending tending of the Good Shepherd. This is the care given by Jesus the Good Shepherd who is also the Lamb of God!
This has great meaning for us, then. As for those sheep of the flock some 1900 years ago this was a comforting vision regarding those who had lived and died in and for the name of the Lamb, so for us there is the wonderful comfort of being assured that our loved ones who lived and died in the name of the Lamb are robed in white with palm branches in hand around the throne of the Lamb! They are being tended by the Lamb Himself! This vision also has great meaning for you and me now, regarding our own situations. That Lamb of God who shepherds God’s flock is even now tending you. His innocent blood has washed you so that in God’s sight you, too, are robed in white. That Lamb of God is even now shepherding you through this great tribulation, this valley of the shadow of death. The “Lion” may roar and attack, but your Shepherd is near with His promises of forgiveness and life that cause you to recognize the “lion’s” temptations for the junk food and stagnant drink that they are. Your shepherd is near with these visions from His word of the eternal pasture He has for you, that you might continue to follow His guidance. With these pictures in the Revelation your Shepherd is strengthening you and me for our days that remain in this great tribulation, so that we continue to listen to Him and follow Him as His sheep.
On this “Mother’s Day”, it’s worth noting that our Good Shepherd “employs” his sheep to do some shepherding. Christian mothers (and dads) who lead their children to that Good Shepherd Jesus are shepherding. As they teach Bible truths at home and partner with fellow believers in a congregation to provide education in the Shepherd’s saving word are involved in the shepherding of God’s flock.
Yes, John’s vision is truly a great rags to riches story; the Lamb becomes the Shepherd. But the beauty of it for each sheep in the Good Shepherd’s flock is that this vision from the Revelation pictures for us the fantastic life the Lamb has won for you and me. With it He encourages us to listen to the Shepherd’s voice and to follow Him on the path laid out in His word. Amen.