Sheltered by God
When I worked as a consultant I travelled quite a bit, usually out of the country. My Canadian passport was an important document, particularly when I travelled outside of North America. It identified me as a citizen whom the Canadian government would protect in certain ways. To acquire a passport I needed to complete an application form, have someone guarantee I was who I said I was and have a picture taken. The government then verified this information and would issue a passport good for five years. I then had the right to ask for assistance from the Canadian government when travelling and they would try to ensure that I was treated according to the laws of the country I was in. Useful, but not necessarily all encompassing.
The happenings of this past week in the United States have caused me some concern. People attending the Boston Marathon were not safe in the middle of a big city at a sporting event, am I safe going to similar events? In the small town of West people were not safe in their homes when an industrial incident caused a massive explosion. Am I safe in my home? The Revelation reading today talks about being sheltered by God; does this include me? Am I protected? How?
Last week Tim talked about Revelation 4 and 5 and what heaven is like. He reminded us that at the centre of the universe is a throne on which God is seated; God is in control. Second, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is at the centre of God’s plan to save the world from evil. Third, in God’s view, the people of God have the place of honor; we will be seated closest to God.
Chapter 6 of Revelation shows, in a general way some of the things that make human life painful and faith difficult. It reveals what the world is really like and what God needs to do to bring justice back to the world. Remember earlier in the book of Revelation God is described as more beautiful than precious and colorful gems, now we hear the world described in terms of colors of horses. White represents conquest; red strife and war; black famine, inflation and inequity; pale green fear and death. These are the colors of a world which is hostile to God; they describe the basic nature of life on earth. Think about it and how we are a part of these colors. We see ourselves as winners when we have power and can have authority over others; is this not the white horse of conquest? We become skillful in conflict and get what we want at the expense of others; is this not the red horse of strife? The black horse of inequity encourages us to think that market driven world economies are good even when some have to pay a day’s wages for a loaf of bread. The green horse of fear and death seems to be all around us; evil appears to have won and we start to live by its agenda instead of God’s.
But, Chapter 6 shows us that God does not create evil, he restrains evil. God has the ultimate control and uses evil in the working of his plan. God says that it is going to get worse before it gets better, but that he will not leave Christians unprotected. God is sovereign and in control.
Remember, John wrote Revelation to give hope to the Christians who were being persecuted. Being a follower of Jesus does not protect people from the harm evil can cause. The scroll being opened in the book reveals a world where evil is at work, but evil is not the most powerful thing. God is in ultimate control. God and the Lamb restrain evil.
So then we come to Chapter 7 which was read today. This chapter, referring to God’s people, is an interlude in the opening of the seals.
The chapter opens with four winds representing evil, being restrained by angels. (This is part of what makes Revelation confusing, John mixes his metaphors, the winds are the same as the horses discussed in chapter 6; the angels are restraining the evil.)
Verse three says that no destruction can occur until the people of God are sealed. A seal must be put on the foreheads of the 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. This is a symbolic number; it represents all the people of God on earth. One interpreter says it comes from the 12 tribes of the Old Covenant multiplied by the 12 apostles of the New Covenant multiplied by 1000 (103 ) which is the number of perfection. The number 144,000 means that all the redeemed on earth are sealed.
What does it mean to be sealed? There is an old custom of documents being sealed with a glob of wax and then pressing a seal into the wax to identify the sender. In today’s age we talk about the seal on a bottle of aspirin, put there after manufacture; it has the same purposes as the wax seal on a document. The seal does three things: it prevents tampering, it ensures ownership, and it certifies that the document is genuine. So Revelation is saying that every believer is signed and sealed so that we can not be tampered with, because we belong to God. We can not be eternally harmed.
John next sees a great multitude, from all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues who are standing before the throne clothed in white. They are celebrating because they have been delivered from the tribulations on earth. The word tribulation (thlipsis in Greek) means pressure, all the pressure that sin, suffering and death cause, the stuff that the four horsemen create as they travel through the earth. The people around the throne, have made it through life on earth, they have been delivered by Jesus. They are dwelling with the Lamb on the throne and they will not hunger or thirst anymore. The lamb will shepherd them and lead them to eternal life.
So, the multitude of God’s people is sealed, safe and secure. They are in the presence of Jesus, the Lamb, and will serve him with joy and peace. There will be no more war, or famine, or sickness, or persecution and no more tears. Jesus, the Lamb of God will be their shepherd. But, how does this affect us? What does it mean to us, in this day and age?
The first question that comes to my mind is – Am I sealed? Has God stamped me saying: “This one is genuine! This one is my child!”? Paul talks about sealing in Ephesians 1 when he says: “It is in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. ”. (Eph 1:13, The Message). The Holy Spirit seals us. In baptism we are signed with the cross and marked as Christ’s own for ever. Therefore, all baptized Christians are sealed, marked as one of God’s people.
The second question is – What am I delivered from? We have seen that the four horsemen are present on the earth; evil is powerful. But we know that God is in control – any threat is known by God. He shelters his people and leads them to springs of living water. We have troubles, tribulations but Jesus has won the victory over death. The prophet Isaiah says “You’re my servant, serving on my side. I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you. Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.” (Isaiah 41:10, The Message) It does not say that nothing bad will happen to you or that once you are baptized life will be sweet and easy! It says that believers will face tribulations but God will bring them out of these problems. God is in charge. If we depend on God he will watch over us, shelter us and bring us to eternal life.
So, how do I stay protected? How can I have joy and peace now? How do I renew my passport in God’s kingdom?
The multitudes in heaven are those people of God who have gone before us. This cloud of witnesses shows us how we can be faithful by being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).
One way of being faithful and reminded of our hope in Jesus is by attending worship services regularly. It is sometimes easy to get out of the habit of attending church. I am reminded of the story of the Lonely Ember. Sitting around a fire and watching the flames and coals, a person moved one coal out of the fire. Over time the coal turned dark and became cold. The coal was then placed back in the fire and immediately it began to glow again as the light and warmth from the surrounding coals warmed it. Being in church and worshipping with others is like that. It warms us and keeps our faith strong.
Remember what the multitudes were doing in heaven? They were celebrating! They were dressed in white robes and waving palm branches as symbols of victory. They worshipped God by declaring that he is worthy. They proclaimed that blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power and might belong to God forever and ever. The multitudes were celebrating that God has power and is in control. We too need to celebrate, to worship as a people of God, to learn to listen to the voice of our shepherd so that we may follow him.
Let us pray: We give you grateful thanks, O God, for all the saints who have gone before us and who now dwell with you. We thank you for their witness in our midst, their faithfulness to you, and their courage in the face of adversity. And we thank you that for them, there is no more crying or pain, no more heartbreak or injustice, but only the great joy of worshipping you and serving you with all the hosts of heaven. Prepare us for the day when we too will be eternally worshipping you in heaven. Amen.