Signed, Sealed and Delivered: A Multitude Rejoicing in Heaven, Part 1 (Revelation Sermon 13 of 49)
June 11, 2017 | Andy Davis
End Times, Judgment
Please turn in your Bibles this morning to Revelation 7. This will be the first of two sermons I will preach on this magnificent chapter.
On October 2, 2016, Hurricane Matthew slammed into the little island of Haiti, devastating towns and villages with 100-mile-an-hour winds and torrential rainfall. Entire communities were completely wiped from the map, devastated by this terrible storm. Yet, in the midst of that nightmare came a story of surprising refuge. Some residents of a town called Lacadonie had the presence of mind to scale a mountainside nearby their town and find a small cave system in that mountain where they rode out the storm. When aid workers came several days later and saw what the hurricane had done to that town, they assumed that there had been no survivors. But that cave system had been salvation for 550 blessed survivors who had hunkered down there for four days and four nights.
That true story provides an image of Revelation 7. Think about what we have just seen in Revelation 6 — the terrible, devastating storm of judgment and wrath that is about to come in creation, in the universe. The devastation that the sixth seal will unleash on the earth is so overwhelming that everyone will be crying for refuge, for a place of salvation where they can survive that storm. Look again at Revelation 6:15-17. It says, “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’”
That image of a refuge in a terrible storm is on my mind as we come to Revelation 7. There is a storm of wrath coming. No cave system on Earth will be able to protect anyone from it, but there is, in fact, a refuge, a shelter from the coming storm, and His name is Jesus Christ. That is the joy that we have in Christ, in the Gospel: we have found a refuge. We have the responsibility of letting other people know about it, and that is ultimately what this chapter, Revelation 7, is all about.
Who Shall Be Able to Stand?
There is a haunting question that echoes down through history, but it has not been uttered yet; it is for the future. Every generation that has read the book of Revelation has heard it at the end of chapter 6. A storm of the wrath of God is coming, and people will universally seek refuge; and this question will ring out: “The great day of the wrath of God and of the Lamb is come, and who shall be able to stand?” Revelation 7 is an interlude that answers everything, so we must understand the flow of this amazing vision.
An Interlude that Explains Everything
The Apostle John, as we have noted, is in exile on the island of Patmos for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. He has been exiled there, rather than executed. God, in His sovereignty, arranged that this apostle should be there, because He knew that He would give him this book of Revelation on that little rocky island. John has a vision of a doorway standing open in Heaven. The voice of Christ speaks powerfully, commanding him, “‘Come up here and I will show you what must take place after this.’” As I have noted before, it is a command that is impossible to obey, apart from the sovereign intervention of the power of God, but that is exactly what the Apostle John gets. At once he is in the Spirit, and by the Spirit he can obey the command to travel through the heavenly realms, through that doorway into the very presence of God. The first thing he sees when he goes through that doorway into Heaven is the most important reality there is in the universe: Almighty God seated on His throne, a radiant, glorious throne of power and of glory. Almighty God is the central reality of the universe.
In Revelation 4, we have a heavenly scene of worship. There are 24 other thrones with 24 elders seated on them, surrounding the throne of God. Day and night, they worship God the Creator, praising Him for His creation. Revelation 4:11 says, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” This is a picture of the throne of God and worship of God the Creator.
In Revelation 5, the scene shifts dramatically. In the right hand of the one seated on the throne, there is a scroll sealed with seven seals with writing on both sides. A mighty angel cries out in a loud voice, “‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’” But no one is found in Heaven or on earth or under the earth who is worthy to take this scroll from the right hand of Almighty God and break open the seals. John weeps and weeps because no one is found. There is a yearning inside John that someone would be able to do this. John is told, “‘Do not weep! Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne.” This is an incredible picture of the deity of Christ and a reference to the atoning sacrifice of Christ. He is the lamb who gave up His life for the sins of the world.
Then worship flows for Christ the Redeemer — from the four living creatures, to the 24 elders, to the 100 million angels and every creature in Heaven and earth and under the earth — cascading, ever-expanding worship for Christ, the Redeemer. Revelation 5:9-10 says, “And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’”
In Revelation 6, Jesus commences to break open these seven seals. As He breaks open each one of the seals in progression, events unfold on earth. Christ initiates, and then things happen on earth. In the first four seals we saw the famous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse unleashed, bringing a series of escalating trials on the earth — a white rider with a bow but no arrows, interpreted as a deceptive peace that is the precursor to bloody warfare, then famine and death.
The breaking open of the fifth seal shows a heavenly scene of martyrs who had given their lives for Christ. They are crying out for vengeance, and they are told to wait a little longer, until the full number of martyrs comes in. Then, as we have mentioned, the sixth seal brings a cataclysm of justice, of the wrath of God, that is hard to put into words.
Look at Revelations 6:12-17: “I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” This final haunting question — who will be able to stand when the wrath of God is unleashed? — is what Revelation 7 seeks to answer. It is absolutely vital for us to understand the answer to that question. How are we to stand in the day of judgment? How are we to stand when the court is seated and the books are opened? How are we to survive the wrath of God?
Revelation 7 is somewhat of an interlude here, in between the sixth and the seventh seals. The sixth seal has been opened; the seventh seal unleashes the seven trumpets, which, in turn, opens the seven bowls. Therein, we see the cascading, unfolding plan of God. But before the seventh seal is opened, we have this interlude in chapter 7 to answer the question of who will be able to stand in the day of judgment. The answer is that 144,000, sealed from the tribes of Israel, and that multitude greater than anyone could count, from every tribe, language, people, and nation will be able to stand.
The first vision, the 144,000, is one of protection on earth, and the second is one of final reward and protection and provision in eternity in Heaven. These two groups fit together beautifully to comprise the ones who will be able to survive the terrifying day of the wrath of God and of the Lamb that is coming on all the earth. There is only one refuge, and that refuge is faith in Christ. Thus, Revelation 7 is about how God creates a refuge from His own wrath for the elect, the signed, the sealed, the delivered chosen people of God, both from Israel and from every nation on Earth.
Four Angels Holding Back the Four Winds
Look at Revelation 7:1, “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.” The vision begins with supernatural restraint by these angels, who are depicted as standing on the four corners of the earth. The image is one of the entire surface of the earth — the four points of the compass, north, south, east, and west, are in view. These angels have the power to hold back or restrain the four winds of the Earth. The purpose of their restraining these winds is so that they cannot damage the surface of the Earth — the land, the sea, and the trees.
What does it mean? The big picture, the main themes, which we see repeatedly throughout the book, are clear and vital. The details such as this one are sometimes difficult to understand. What are the four winds of the Earth? Clearly they have, in some way, power to bring destruction on the face of the Earth. Thus, they are restrained in order to prevent the destruction that they would bring if they were not held back.
We should note that the control of winds is quite beyond human power. As Jesus said in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” Not only can we not tell where it comes from or where it is going, is quite beyond human capability to cause it to blow or stop blowing. I Googled “wind control” and found nothing real, no scientific answer to controlling the wind. Harnessing wind power, yes, but not controlling it.
Commentator Henry Morris said, “The circulation of the atmosphere is a mighty engine, driven by energy from the sun and from the earth’s rotation. The tremendous powers involved in this operation become especially obvious when they are displayed in the form of great hurricanes and blizzards and tornadoes. These winds of the earth make life possible on earth throughout the hydrological cycle, transporting waters inland from the ocean with which to water the earth.” So these winds are essential to life, but they are unpredictable, incomprehensible, invisible and powerful. Satan is called “the prince of the power of the air.” There is, in Revelation 7, a sense of the wind being powerful forces on earth that move.
Daniel and Revelation are strongly connected in many ways. In Daniel 7, Daniel has a vision of the four winds moving over the surface of the sea, churning up the sea and leading to four great empires. These empires arise out of the churning sea like four beasts, one after the other, depicting terrible, wicked empires that dominate the inhabitants of the earth. In Daniel 7:2-3, Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.” That sounds very much like our image in Revelation 7. The sea represents the churning mass of humanity and its random, chaotic, demonic rebellion against God. The four beasts that come up represent evil empires that slaughter and crush and tyrannize.
The number four frequently connects to earth and nations and empires and people: four words in the phrase “every tribe, language, people, and nation,” four winds, four compass points. The image here is of powerful wind, like a hurricane or tornado, that first ravages the earth and the sea, and then produces empires. That should be on our mind from Daniel 7.
The four winds might also in some way refer to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse we just studied. Look at the similarity of the language in Zechariah 6. The image of various colored horsemen riding over the surface of the Earth, bringing judgments of God, was first seen by the prophet Zechariah. He says in Zechariah 6:1-7, “I looked up again — and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains — mountains of bronze! The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled — all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel answered me, ‘These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.’ When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, ‘Go throughout the earth!’ So they went throughout the earth.”
There is a sense of an unleashing of straining forces on the peoples on the nations of the earth that will bring terrible judgments. That is the image in Daniel 7 and Zechariah 6. Perhaps the four angels represent the four winds of Heaven, held back by either good angels or demons, until God gives them the permission to unleash the wickedness that they want to unleash. Either way, ultimately, these are devastating forces that will come on the Earth.
The Proclamation of Protection
For now, these forces are held back. Held back until what? Look at verses 2-3: “Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: ‘Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.’” This is a proclamation of sovereign secret protection of the servants of God before the devastation is unleashed.
It is vital to understand what this sealing is, to understand how anyone can stand in the presence of the impending winds? The answer is that if you are sealed, and only if you are sealed, you will be protected. And the only ones who are sealed are the servants of the living God.
The Servants of God Sealed
The seal on the foreheads of the servants of the living God is a powerful display of both protection and ownership. It reminds us of an earlier moment in prophetic history in the Book of Ezekiel. (By the way, as I preach through the book of Revelation, we will refer repeatedly back to the Old Testament. There is no other New Testament book, besides Romans, that so clearly connects back to and depends on Old Testament Scripture.)
The idea of moving through and sealing certain ones in the society comes right from Ezekiel. At that point in redemptive history, the prophet Ezekiel was ministering to the Jews right before they went into exile to Babylon. Judgment was about to fall on the nation of Judah for their wickedness and their sin, so God gave Ezekiel a vision of a very important moment in the heavenly realms: the sealing of a chosen remnant before the judgment falls. In Ezekiel 9, these warrior angels came with weapons at their side, ready to kill people. But they were told to wait. He called on them to stand by while He summoned another angel, clothed in white, with a writing kit. Ezekiel 9:4 says, “‘Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.’” In other words, mark the broken-hearted, repentant, righteous seekers of God, the true ones, with a mark. The angel with the writing kit went throughout the city of Jerusalem to put a mark on the foreheads of all those who were deeply grieved over the wickedness of the city. Interestingly, the mark that he put on the heads of those people was, in the Ezekiel text, the Hebrew letter taw, the last letter in the alphabet. Back in those days, it would have been written like a cross.
After marking the remnant, the Lord commanded the six angels with swords, “‘Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.’ [This is a backdrop for Peter saying, “For it is time for judgment to begin with God's household…” 1 Peter 4:17.] So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple.”
Thus, the mark on the foreheads is a mark of sovereign election by God for protection. God has elected and chosen a godly remnant in the wicked city whom He will spare from the destruction to come. It can also be likened to the blood of the Passover lamb: earlier in Israel's history, when they were being rescued from slavery to Egypt, as the tenth plague in Egypt was about to unfold, the Passover lamb was sacrificed and the blood applied to the doorposts of the Israelites’ houses. The angel of the Lord saw the blood and passed over; He did not bring judgment on that house.
The Sealing Represents the Election of God and Salvation Through Christ
Ultimately, it represents the election of God and salvation through faith in Christ. Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory.” Every genuine believer in Christ is sealed, marked with the Holy Spirit. The sealing is a mark of authenticity and implies ownership. You belong to God. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” Revelation 22:3-4 says, “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” This is a beautiful picture of ownership: “You are mine; you were bought with a price, and you belong to me.”
Direct Contrast with the Mark of the Beast
God’s seal is in direct contrast with the mark of the beast, which we will see in Revelation 13. When the beast, the Antichrist, comes up out of the churning sea — again, that strong connection to Daniel 7 — and takes over the whole world; he has a mark to distribute as well. In Revelation 13:16-18, “He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.”
As those marked with the seal of God are delivered, rescued from the wrath of God, those who receive the mark of the beast are directly under the wrath of God, and they will suffer wrath for all eternity. Revelation 14:9-11 says, “A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.’” This is no light thing, this sealing, or marking. It is light and darkness, wheat and weeds, good fish and bad fish, the separation of the sheep and the goats. It is the essential issue at that time.
People will face their own martyrdom during the reign of the Antichrist when they refuse to receive the mark of the beast. Revelation 14:12 says, “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.”
144,000 Sealed from the Sons of Israel
We know who is sealed — they are called “the servants of God”. But verses 4-8 goes a little deeper. Here we come to 144,000 sealed from the sons of Israel.
The Number and Identity of those Sealed: “144,000 from all the tribes of Israel”
Verses 4-8 say, “Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.” A total of 144,000 were sealed from all the tribes of the sons of Israel.
Who Are these People?
Who are these people? Right away, we can reject the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ interpretation of this passage. For decades, they have taught that these are the selected, anointed holy ones throughout 2,000 years of history, who alone are spiritually qualified to spend eternity in Heaven with God. The rest of the faithful witnesses who are not among the 144,000 godly and faithful ones, according to their theology, will spend eternity in a restored paradise on the new earth.
Eliminating that interpretation, there is still an array of possible interpretations for the 144,000 from all the tribes. As with so many passages in Revelation, we would like to have a higher level of certainty on the details, but God in His wisdom allows us to have more certainty on some issues and less on others. There is no less sense of truth; but interpretation of Scripture is challenging. Some things are crystal clear, like the brightness of the Son, the deity of Christ, the unity of God, the Trinity, salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. But other things are not so clear.
One wing of evangelical thought adopts a consistently futurist interpretation, asserting that the events in Revelation from chapter 4 on will happen in the final tribulation, the final seven years of human history. Dispensational, pre-millennialist interpreters tend to see John's ascent from earth to Heaven through the doorway as a picture of the rapture of the church, such that the church is removed at that point from history. According to this interpretation pattern, the narrative moves forward from Revelation 4 following the moment of the rapture of the church, signaling the beginning of the final seven-year tribulation. Thus, it is future not only to John, but also future to us as the readers of the text. Evangelicals seek, as best we can, to follow the grammatical historical or literal approach. It is challenging to do this in the Book of Revelation, given the saturation of symbolism. But literal and futurist interpretations identify the 144,000 as Jews who will be converted at that final phase of human history (not all the Jews will be saved), sealed for a mission, specifically, to be missionaries or evangelists.
John MacArthur said this, “These Jewish believers and evangelists are the firstfruits of Israel, which as a nation will be redeemed before Christ returns. The 144,000 are not all the Jewish believers at that time, but a unique group selected to proclaim the gospel in that day.” This futurist interpretation pattern further holds that the multitude, greater than anyone could count from every tribe, language, people, and nation are as yet unconverted from the Gentiles, what they would call tribulation saints. That is actually a faithful interpretation of the text, but not the only one.
One point on which all evangelical interpreters seem to agree is the weight of the definite possibility of a future great in-gathering of Jews at the end of the world. Zechariah predicts in Zechariah 12:10, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” This is a prediction of an outpouring of the Spirit on the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah to the end that they look on Christ, the one they pierced. It is a beautiful prediction. John quotes it in his gospel about the piercing of Jesus.
Even more poignantly, in Romans 9, 10, and 11, Paul asks why the overwhelming majority of Jews are rejecting the Gospel. He provides an elaborate three-chapter answer, as a Jew converted to Christ, concerning God’s purpose. It has to do with God’s sovereign election, with Jacob and Esau, with the simplicity of hearing the Gospel. He asserts that they have heard and it is not difficult; it does not require a trek to Heaven to obtain it. The word is near, in their mouths and in their hearts; the preaching is going out, they can hear. Further, he says, there is a chosen remnant in existence as he is writing — Jewish Christians. Paul says he is one of many making up the remnant that God has reserved. At the end of that section, he says in Romans 11:25-27, “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, [powerful statement] as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
Many conservative interpreters of take that to mean there will be a mass revival among the Jews. Friends, if that happens, do you not see how glorious that will be? I was in an airport in Milan on my way to Romania to do some ministry there and saw a group of men and boys of various ages belonging to a particular sect of Jews — with wide-brimmed black hats and certain beards and hair. As they walked past me, the first thing I did was to pray for them. “All Israel will be saved” does not mean every Jew; it does not mean that no Jews will be in Hell (remember Judas, who was a Jew). It does mean that the final generation will be transformed, the veil over their hearts will be removed, and they will turn — what a glorious thing that will be. Is that who the 144,000 are? Perhaps.
Others believe that these represent the totality of all the saved of God, Jew and Gentile alike, in Jewish language. This is the church, Jew plus Gentile, portrayed, as the text is literally interpreted, as sons and daughters of Abraham. This would be a standard non-dispensational or literalist, futurist interpretation, that the 144,000 from every tribe and the multitude greater than anyone can number are the same group of people described differently.
John MacArthur might say, “How do you divide the Gentile Church into tribes?” I am from Irish background so what tribe am I in? Issachar? Levi? It seems odd; it doesn't fit. We, through faith in Christ, are all sons and daughters of Abraham, grafted into the Jewish tree. Galatians 6:26-29 says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” That is powerful. What I do know is that God will save the Jews in amazing ways at the end of redemptive history, and there will be a multitude from every tribe, language, people, and nation that will be in-gathered — how beautiful that will be.
A few more things about the 144,000: The number looks symbolic to many evangelical interpreters. By this, I mean that the number 144 is 12 squared, 12 times 12. The number 1,000 is 10 cubed. It imparts a sense of the perfection or completion of the elect of God — no one will be missing. Other interesting features of the list of tribes are cited by these interpreters. First, the tribe of Judah is listed first, which is not common. Judah was the fourth of Jacob’s sons. The commentators believe it is listed first because Jesus came from the tribe of Judah. The second interesting feature to note is that the tribe of Dan is not mentioned is omitted. Many commentators say this is because of gross immorality, but if you read anything about the history of Israel, you will see that all the tribes had aspects of gross immorality, so it is hard to zero in on that. Also, notice the half-tribe of Manasseh is mentioned, but his brother tribe, Ephraim, is not. Even stranger, their father Joseph is mentioned — a father and son in the listing — each given a tribe. What is the tribe of Joseph that is not the same as the tribe of Manasseh? I do not know. Things like these present some of the challenges in interpretation, especially when the text says that some are sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.
This branch of interpreters also assert that the Jewish imagery as a whole is fulfilled in the church. There is validity in that as well. Revelation 1:5-6 says, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father-- to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” That language comes straight from Mount Sinai, from what God said to Israel. Exodus 19:5-6 says, “‘Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” We may never fully settle these debates, but we know the people who are sealed by the sovereign grace of God will survive the wrath of God.
A Multitude from Every Nation Redeemed and Rejoicing
The Goal of All Redemptive History
That is who will be able to stand. There will most certainly be an in-gathering from every tribe, language, people, and nation. Verses 9-10 say, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” Next time I preach on Revelation, we will pick up right here and talk about this great, glorious in-gathering.
Come to Christ... there is NO OTHER REFUGE!!
Let us move on to some applications. First, I must plead with all of you who are outside of the grace of God to come to Christ. There is one, and only one, refuge. You may ask, “Refuge from what?” When we go out from here into the bright, beautiful sunshine and normal life, it will be hard to believe, but you must believe based on the Scripture that judgment is coming. You cannot see it by any scientific means nor by reading current events. You just have to believe it is coming.
If you do not believe it is coming, you will not seek a refuge. Believe the wrath of God is coming — not just generally but coming specifically for you. You will be required to give an account of your life. If you believe that it is appointed for you to die and after that, to face judgment, and see that you are not ready to give account, you will see your need for a refuge from the wrath of God, from His justice regarding all the works you have ever done in violation of His laws. Friends, there is a refuge. There is a Savior and His name is Jesus! I urge you while there is time — this is the day of salvation! Flee, hide yourselves in Christ. You do not need to do any good works for the forgiveness of sins. As a matter of fact, you must do no good works for the forgiveness of sins. We are justified, forgiven, made righteous in the sight of God by faith in Christ. So trust in Him.
Christians: Delight in that Refuge!
Second, Christians, delight in that refuge. Thank God for it every day. Thank God that you have found safety and security here; not in a cave somewhere, but in the beautiful, glorious Son of God. In Christ, you are safe. The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and they are safe. Thank God for that.
Be Humbled by the God-Centered Worship of Heaven
Third, be humbled by the sovereign grace of God, who alone can save us and rescue us. Be humbled that you have no way to rescue yourself. Look how humble they are in Heaven, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” — not to us. I saw a picture of Mohammed Ali’s headstone. It reads something like, “Service to others is the rent we pay on earth for our heavenly home.” That is a clear description of salvation by works — you pay for your sins and earn a place in Heaven by serving others. We Christians know that is not right. We know that our service to others horizontally can never pay for our forgiveness vertically with God. But if we have been forgiven, then we will most certainly be motivated to serve others — it will flow to others horizontally. Thank God for the salvation of His grace.
Commit Yourself to the Great Commission and to Missions
As I was praying with Kevin Schaub recently, the dog park across the street from our church came to mind. You have seen it — the chain link fence, a little bench, colorful silhouettes of dogs on the fence. I am not a dog owner nor particularly a dog lover. As a runner and bike rider, dogs have frequently been my enemy. But I know that some of you really love dogs; I understand that. I had the thought that it is a great place to witness. If you have a dog, you could bring your dog there and let it play with other people’s dogs while you sit on the bench and talk to people about Jesus. It helps that you can see the church right up the hill. “I go to that church right there.”
From that came the thought to provide ideas for venues for evangelism and outreach. Like that old Mission Impossible TV show: “Your mission, should you choose to accept it… is this card.” We came up with 50 different ideas and placed them randomly. You may get a card that has nothing to do with your life at all. If so, trade it, like a baseball trading card. Families can choose one to do together. It would be easiest to throw your card away or leave it on the bench. But whatever you do with the card will not change the fact that God holds us all accountable to be evangelistically active. We are providing these to help you be faithful, to get you into habits of outreach. It is not as hard as you might think.
This is the one that started it all and I think I will do it: “Take your dog to the dog park and meet other dog owners.” My daughter Daphne got this one; I asked her for it. I do not have a dog, but I am going to borrow someone’s dog… (People will now volunteer their dogs. I will find out how much you love me — or not — by what kind of dog you give me and what it might do in my car as I drive to the dog park.) I will go, and be honest and say, “I'm dog-sitting. I don't know the first thing about dogs. Tell me about dogs.” And they will. People who love dogs are willing to talk about dogs. This gets us into a conversation. Then I can point to the church and say, “I'm the pastor of that church; do you have a church of your own?” (Ross pointed out that it literally says, “Take ‘your’ dog to the park,” so he says I can't do this one.)
Here is another one: workplace evangelism. “How did your weekend go?” Satan puts up obstacles in the form of objections to talking about God at work — “Oh, you can’t do this; can’t, can’t can’t…” Cut though through those obstacles and do something. We want to hear from you, so write on the card what happened. Success, failure, doesn’t matter; attempting is faithfulness. Tell us the story. A comedian (perhaps Jerry Seinfeld?) tweeted this: “If you write a book on failure and it doesn’t sell well, have you succeeded?” If you try, if you are bold and get shut down, I am telling you, you succeeded. We want to hear those stories too.
Close with me in prayer. Lord, thank You for the time that we have had to study Your word. Thank You for the insights it gives us. And Lord, we pray that You would give us zeal for this multitude greater than anyone could count. Zeal to see them converted, to see them rescued while there is still time before the wrath falls, to see them transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Oh, God, give us boldness. Help us not to be self-protective. Help us not to be cowardly or lazy. Help us instead to step up. If the suggestion on the card is not relevant to us, help us to do something like it. Oh, God, I pray that the people of this community will hear the Gospel from this church. In Jesus’ name, amen.