The Lamb Is Our Shepherd!

Pr. Dale Krueger

“After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. {10} They cried out in a loud voice, saying,  “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

{11} And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, {12} singing,  “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

{13} Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” {14} I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. {15} For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. {16} They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; {17} for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”   Revelation 7:9-17

The Book of Revelation appears to many to be a strange document full of bizarre pictures.  What it is, however, is a letter from a pastor written in code language to the congregations where he had been pastor.  These churches were in the Roman province of Asia Minor, which is in the country of Turkey today.  It is late in the first century and the persecution of Christians and churches for their faith in and allegiance to Christ is beginning to escalate.  Many Christians were refusing to acknowledge the emperor as divine, and consequently are beginning to suffer persecution in the form of arrest, loss of possessions, economic boycott, and in some cases, death.  Their pastor,  John, has been exiled to a penal camp on the Island of Patmos for his Christian faith.  He sees only more and more suffering and persecution for the Christians in the future.  He writes to encourage them not to compromise their faith and to strengthen them in their allegiance to God.  And he does this as a faithful under shepherd by pointing them to Jesus, the Lamb  of God, who was slain for them and who rose again in victory.

John uses code language in his letter that Christians in his churches would understand, but his Roman guards would not know what he was talking about.  He uses many illusions and references from the Old Testament with which the congregations would have been familiar, because that was their Bible. Three out of every four verses in this letter contain either a direct quote or an illusion to the Old Testament.  Many Christians today have trouble understanding the Book of Revelation because of a limited understanding of the Old Testament.  Some symbols in Revelation are certainly clear.  Most of us know “the tree of life”, or “the rainbow”, “the blood of the lamb”, and “the lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd”.  As we understand that the Book of Revelation was written by a pastor to people and congregations that he has served with the Word of God, to exhort them in difficult times, then we can begin to grasp how this Word of God is speaking to us also. It is also written to encourage us to be steadfast and faithful in the midst of an evil world.

This “letter” to the seven congregations is meant to be read aloud in worship, and it is very carefully composed in seven visions.  Our text this morning, the first lesson for today, contains the conclusion of the second vision.  John is given a vision of the heavenly court, and he hears the songs of the heavenly choir.  They worship God who sits on his throne and the lamb who was slain.  Day and night without ceasing they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”

(4:8)   “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (5:12)  Every creature in heaven and on earth sings out, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (5:13)

And then John saw the vision of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse”, who bring disaster upon disaster upon the earth. The first horseman on the white horse represents military power and conquest, and he rides out to subdue other nations. The second horseman on the red horse, the color of blood, uses the sword not in open warfare, but in terrorist attacks, and internal disorders… assassinations, violence, the horror of human beings killing human beings.  The third horseman on the black horse brings famine to the lands of the earth. The fourth horseman on the pale horse has a name…Death.  And he is accompanied by Hades, the ancient god of the underworld.    These four horsemen of the apocalypse represent the full scale of personal and corporate disasters experienced in every period of human history, all of which we are experiencing today.

In our own immediate history, we have only to think of 9/11, the ISIS terrorists in Iraq, the current global economic depression,  children missing, snipers shooting, politicians sniping,  famines and floods, the Ebola virus; and we know that the four horsemen of the apocalypse have been bringing disaster upon disaster upon the earth. That is why there so much suffering, so much evil, so much oppression in this world.  And we are continually and subtly tempted by the lies of the world to compromise our allegiance to Christ.  But John’s vision reveals that these destructive powers are limited, and that the history of this world which began according to the will and power of the creator will also end according to his will.

And then John of Patmos sees the vision of the victorious heavenly court, and he writes,  “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.  They cried out in a loud voice, saying,  “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.”(7:9-11)

John is granted a vision of the new world, the heavenly court, and he shares that with us who are yet in the midst of troubles and problems and disasters and a world full of evil.  He sees a large crowd of people in the heavenly court from all over the world.. from every tribe, nation, people, language.   God’s true people will come from every place in this world.   He sees them gathered before the throne of God, and before the Lamb of God.  They are wearing white robes, and they are carrying the signs of the victory.. palm branches. They proclaim, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (7:10)  The heavenly host sing AMEN to the proclamation of the people of God, and they respond with their doxology to God and to the Lamb, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”  (7:12)

John then writes,  Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?”  I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.  They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  (7:13-17)

Who are these people dressed in white robes?  They are the people who have come through the great ordeal, tribulation, suffering brought about by the four horseman.  John sees us…having overcome all these disasters..  and worshiping the Lamb …wearing white robes.  The idea of making robes white by washing them in blood is a striking paradox.  It is the sacrifice of the Lamb upon the cross that supplies white garments for the saints of God.  In our baptism we have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, and given the white robes.   In the midst of all the troubles and evil in this world, this vision is set before us.  We shall stand before the throne of God and in front of the Lamb wearing white robes and holding palm branches in our hands.  The blood of the Lamb has conquered all evil.  The Lamb of God has given us the victory.  He has been raised from the dead and is conqueror of death, and of all that the four horsemen represent.

The Lamb of God who was slain has become our Good Shepherd, and we will, therefore, serve God day and night.  There will be no hunger or thirst,  no more disasters, no more 9/11s, no more federal government bailouts, no more depressions,  no more evil of any kind.  Our Shepherd will wipe away all tears from our eyes, and there shall be no sorrow ever again.

As we go back into a world so filled with temptations and sorrow, evil and death, may we keep this vision before our hearts and minds.  Let us worship only him who is our God and the Lamb who was slain for us.  Let us receive him now in this blessed meal and affirm our baptism.  We have been forgiven.  We have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.  Let us wear our white robes now in the midst of a world so filled with evil. Let us hold fast to our faith in Jesus, the Lamb of God who was slain.  Let us sing and shout, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  Amen! Christ is Arisen!  He is Risen Indeed. Hallelujah!

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