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Sermon Text: Revelation 19:1-9
Date: November 15 & 16, 2014
Saints Triumphant (End Time 3) A
Revelation 19:1–9 (ESV)
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
Once more they cried out,
The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”
And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice saying,
“Praise our God,
all you his servants,
you who fear him,
small and great.”
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
1. God has triumphed over our vicious enemies
2. God has brought us into the Lamb’s banquet
Have you ever given someone or something a review? Maybe you went to a fun movie and you recommended it to your friends. Perhaps you went to a restaurant where the food, atmosphere, and service were all exquisite, and you hopped on Yelp to leave a positive review for others to see.
Whenever someone writes or gives a review, though, the question is inevitably going to be, “Why?” “Why do you like it? What was it about the movie that was fun? Why did you think the service was great?” And sometimes we don’t necessarily have a great answer. Perhaps the movie was just enjoyable in a way that you can’t describe; maybe the restaurant was just the perfect amount of comfort food that you needed after a rough day. Yet, without solid evidence or rationale to backup our review, it might not be taken seriously.
In our vision from Revelation this morning, we hear a review of sorts. Not a review of a movie or a meal, but of God. In fact the very first word shouted by the great multitude, all the believers dwelling in eternal life, is the summary of their review: “Hallelujah!” “Praise the Lord!” The hosts in heaven give their God 5 out of 5 stars, a perfect score, but they have evidence and rationale to back that up. They declare God worthy of that praise, worthy of that review, because he’s conquered our vicious enemies and brought us to the Lamb’s wedding banquet.
To really understand what is going on here, we need to understand the context of the verses we’ve read. Just like we saw in Daniel last week, we’re neck-deep in a vision in the latter part of the revelation that Jesus gave to John. There is picture language flying everywhere here, and to understand what John is seeing, we need to understand the pictures that God is using as he shows these amazing things to John.
In the two chapters prior to our lesson, we were introduced to a nasty woman named Babylon the Great. She was described as one who would tempt people away from the truth and seduce people to follow her. Without going into a lengthy discussion of all the ins and outs, it’s clear in those two chapters that this woman symbolizes the segment of the church that gave way to various vices and false teachings. She is a branch of the Christian church that says that we need to add a little something to what God did to truly have forgiveness for our sins; she is a branch of the church that says we don’t need to really believe everything that God has said—we can pick and choose; she is the segment of the church that had fallen away from God’s truth and indulged her own desires, and she led many astray.
This is the type of danger that threated to exterminate the church. Far more than any external pressure and persecution, the problems from within a church threaten it. And so as this woman gained power and influence, there was a fear among the faithful that she would mean the end of our Savior’s Church. But not so; chapter 18 shows clearly the destruction of this woman and everything she had done. Though she would lead some astray, she would not lead everyone. A faithful remnant would be left, always clinging to God’s truth.
Now, at the time of our lesson, the faithful rejoice, with that wonderful “Hallelujah!” That Old Testament acclimation of praise is used here, the only time in the New Testament, to rejoice in what God has done. We read, “For his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” There is nothing left of this threat. God has undone the threat to undermine his authority and his Church and has left these wicked ideas as nothing but a burning husk.
We are not on that side of this threat, however. This prostitute with her wiles and charms still threatens us today. She threatens us in our personal faith life; she threatens our congregation and our synod. How does God defeat this threat to all of our souls? Through us. He has tasked all of us to listen carefully and to continually dive back into his Word to see if what we are being told is accurate. If we have doubts about what we’re hearing in the pulpit, what we’re hearing in Sunday School or Bible Class, what is being taught in our classrooms, what we’re reading in our devotional material, then we are on the front lines, and through us God fights the battle for his truth.
We can, at times, feel discouraged. We can feel like the battle isn’t winnable, or perhaps isn’t even worth fighting. That’s what the Christians first reading John’s letter here might have thought as well. They were continually blitzed by false teaching and Satan was always trying to lead them astray. But Jesus urged them, as he urges us, to stand firm in what we know to be true from God. And in that way, God keeps this vile temptress at bay, through us. And in the end, God himself will destroy the evil plans of false teaching and encourage his people in his truth, the truth that he has given so clearly in his Word.
With the enemies who threatened the security of our faith undone, the call goes out again, from the very throne of God this time: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” Listen. Listen to not even the words, but the sound you hear. Perhaps we feel a bit alone. As Wisconsin Synod Lutherans, we are far from the Midwest “home base” here in Northern California. As Confessional Lutherans, we are odd ducks in the ranks of Christianity. As Christians, we are foreign to the world with its desires and practices that set themselves against God.
But now he hear the sound of the faithful, of the remnant, those who trusted in God’s truth, who weren’t led astray by that evil false teaching. And how does John describe it? Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out. Have you been to a huge waterfall like Niagara Falls and not been able to hear yourself think because of the noise? Have you been in a crowd where the din of people is so loud that it’s tough to listen to anything because of the background noise? Have you been to a concert or sporting event where the noise from the crowd cheering in union left your ears ringing perhaps until the next morning? Have you been in a storm where perhaps the wind or the thunder was so loud and powerful that it seemed to shake the walls? Those all pale in comparison to the voice of God’s people, crying out in praise to their Savior. And what do they say? “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
It may not feel like God Almighty reigns now, but in that day, it will be clear that he was there working everything for the good of his church, his people, just as he promised. And the acclamations of praise shake the rafters! We’ve been singing Martin Luther’s hymn “Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old” the past few weeks, and that hymn ends with the line, “the beams and lintels trembled at the cry” describing the hymn of praise the angels sang back and forth in Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6. Isaiah himself describes it as “the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called” (Isaiah 6:4). If the angels’ song shakes the beams, the song of the united servants of God, of those who clung to God as their Savior, blows the roof off. My brothers and sisters, despite what it may feel like at times, we are not alone. Not by a long shot.
The reasons for our joy and acclamations are clear. The prostitute with her lies has been defeated; we can know and trust the truth. That wasn’t always something we wanted to hear, though. The truth is we were as far away from this celebration, this wedding supper, as anyone could be. We were not the invited guests at this great celebration, but more than that, as sinners, we were God’s enemies. We not only didn’t receive an initiation, but God made it clear that we were not welcome at his home for his celebration. We were barred from entry. We weren’t wearing the right clothes. Throughout Scripture, clothes represent works, and our clothes were covered in the filth of sin. No one lets someone disgusting like that into a wedding banquet.
But Jesus’ work has changed that. He removed the clothes of our sin and given us garments of his perfection. The aside the John makes describing these garments of fine linen, bright and pure is mistranslated in just about every English translation. As we have it printed before us we read the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. We can understand that properly, that these deeds themselves came from God even as the bride’s garments were given to her, but there’s a better, clearer way to translate that thought. John notes that the bright white garments are actually the declarations of “justified” placed on the saints. These garments have been given to God’s people because he has removed our sin and declared us “not guilty” in his sight. As we saw with the judgment of the Ancient of Days last week in Daniel, here as well there are no sins left to be dealt with.
Now we stand, beautifully dressed for the wedding. But notice that we are not the exiles, banned from the wedding banquet nor are we the invited guests at the wedding supper. No, we, the Holy Christian Church, are the bride at the wedding banquet. If the guests at a wedding are filled with joy, how much more the bride and groom! Here, the Church is wed to her Savior Jesus. And more than any earthly husband has ever done, Jesus will protect his bride, show her love, and build her up for eternity. The Lamb who let himself be slain to purify us, his bride, will never be apart from his people again.
John said, “The angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God.’” The reason this is “Saints Triumphant” Sunday has nothing to do with us. We are triumphant because Jesus was triumphant for us. He defeated our sin and every other enemy that would lead us astray. He has clothed us in his perfect forgiveness and righteousness. He has not only invited us to the wedding supper but made us the honored guest—his very bride. We are blessed, we are happy and will be eternally because of what our God has worked for us. We belong to him and are his forever and ever! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Amen!