Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Heroes: there are countless movies, books, and TV shows about heroes. Our society seems to have a fascination with them. But the biblical understanding of heroes is radically different from our culture’s understanding. Our text from Revelation reminds us who the true hero is. But from a Christian perspective, what makes one a hero? Do you need to have lived an extraordinarily holy life? Do you need to have been another Mother Theresa? Do you need to have done some miracles or perhaps been a martyr? Almost every hero in the Bible has some flaw, whether major flaws like Samson and Jephthah or minor ones like Abraham and Samuel. So, what makes one a hero in the Christian faith?
Heroes are made in Holy Baptism
John caught a fleeting glimpse of heaven. He catches sight of a great crowd of people that no one can number. People from every nation, tribe, people, and language of the earth. An inclusive Israel. A multi-ethnic Israel. They are wearing white robes and carrying palm branches. The question that surrounds this vision is, “Who are they?” Who is this multi-ethnic Israel? Who is this great white-robed crowd of worshippers with palm branches? Palm branches should remind you of Palm Sunday. Palm branches were also used in celebrations when a conquering king returned home victorious. When Jesus came on a donkey into Jerusalem, he was hailed as King, the Son of David! Here, this enormous multi-ethnic crowd of saints is celebrating a victory. And they’re singing a victory song. They are heroes.
But they are not heroes because they defeated the enemy in battle. Jesus in our Gospel reading says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, that is, “the spiritually poor”, the spiritual beggars. The one exception is Jesus, the only true hero in the ultimate sense. Many soldiers died in the second world war to bring about victory in Europe. But in the Kingdom of God, it was the death of the King that assured the victory. Jesus Christ came “to seek and to save those who were lost”, and he found them!
John notices that these saints have identical white robes. White standards for purity. “Who are they?” “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They are not heroes because they were such great moral examples. No, they had all sinned. None of them had kept their robes undefiled. The reason their clothes are white is not that they lived lives of total holiness and righteousness but because the blood of the Lamb, the sacrificial death of Jesus himself, has rescued them. They were baptised, and God’s Word has placed them in God’s favour. By his blood, Jesus washed their sin-stained robes and made them white. Our triumph rests on the cross of Christ. His victory is given to us in Holy Baptism. As the old hymn goes, “What can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
You see, we don’t look like heroes. We don’t talk like heroes. We don’t act or think like heroes. But that’s not how God sees us. God has called us blesséd in holy baptism. Despite being spiritual beggars, mourning, hungering and thirsting for righteousness we don’t have, despite our poor condition, God calls us his children in holy baptism. You are heroes because, through baptism, you are connected to the victory of Jesus.
Heroes are kept by God
This multi-ethnic crowd have come out of “the great tribulation.” This life is a great tribulation. Back in John’s time, the Roman emperor and the pagan culture made being a Christian a dangerous thing to be. Unlike John’s audience, who are threatened with death, Canadians are not being put to death for being Christians quite yet. However, we do suffer in this world. We live in an increasingly anti-Christian world that challenges and questions the very foundations of the Christian Religion. The World, the Flesh, and the Devil are all against us just as much as any Roman Emperor was.
On top of that, life has its own sorrows and hardships we must endure. Life has been called a valley of tears. Some of this pain and trouble we bring upon ourselves, some of it others inflict upon us, and some we inflict upon others. There are trials and difficulties we must face every day. Only you know what yours are.
Maintaining faith while caring for the burdens and cares of everyday life can be a challenge. And then there are health problems, depression, or maybe a debilitating illness. Perhaps it’s the death of a loved one. It might be a constant barrage of one thing after another, with no chance to catch your breath. Maybe, it’s your sinful desires and tendencies which you battle day in and day out. We all must suffer. We all struggle feebly. And if we’re not careful, the cares and trials of this life can choke out our faith.
God help us. And he will. Christian heroes are those people who have faced these tribulations and won. They are those people who took the best that life could throw at them. They were victorious. They are the survivors. But how? What made them so special? Revelation reminds us that God helps us go through whatever comes against us. Baptism does not exempt us from sickness, challenges, wars and other calamities, but our baptism reminds us that God is with us in and around our lives and promises to be with us beyond this life. Our text says that God’s people are sealed. In baptism, you were marked on your foreheads with the special seal that declares that you belong to God and are not to be harmed. Not that they will escape suffering. It means God will see you safely through to the other side. He will strengthen us for the fight like he strengthened the saints of old.
Heroes are before the throne of God.
Where is this multi-ethnic Israel located? They are before the throne. They’re in heaven. We may well have to come through a time of great suffering and tribulation during our lives, but if we trust in Jesus our Lord, we will then find ourselves in God’s throne room, in the heavenly temple, worshipping in the ultimate Divine Service. The tears, and sorrows, sufferings and afflictions of this life are gone. God wipes them all away. He comforts them, and in his presence, there is fullness of joy forevermore. That’s the hope which is ours through Christ Jesus, the Lamb who was slain.
And this can bring us comfort.
“And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and Hearts are brave again and arms are strong. Alleluia! Alleluia!”For All The Saints, LBS 677, Stanza 5
The fight is fierce. The warfare is long. This nightmare requires endurance. But you are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses. Saints surround you. You are surrounded by saints who went to St. Peter’s and who have died in the faith. You are surrounded by your loved ones who have died in the faith. You are surrounded by (names of the departed). When we come to the Divine Service, time and space have no meaning. Today, you hear the faint echoes of the praises of heaven in our liturgy. We are worshipping with “angels and archangels, with (names of the departed), and with all the company of heaven.”
Those who have gone before us are not the only encouragment. So are those who run alongside us. Look around you. See your fellow saints, all racing toward Jesus. And see who is not here, those who have become weary, and remember that you can encourage them as well and help and strengthen them as we press toward the goal.
For it won’t be long now. Rest will come. The one who began a good work in us will bring it to completion. One day the bell will toll for us. A hero is someone who, despite their sin, was baptised into Christ and received his victory over Satan, sin, and death. God himself has placed his seal upon us and promises to see us through whatever life throws at us. Heroes have been redeemed by his precious blood and cling to Christ even unto death. True heroes or those who have died in the faith. They have this blessing: the very presence and love of the Lord Jesus Christ. He will dwell among us himself. Jesus Christ shall be like a tent to cover us, like a Shepherd to feed us, as a Guide to lead us to fountains of living water. The tears, and sorrows, sufferings and trials of this life are gone. God wipes them all away. He comforts the saints, and in his presence, there is fullness of joy forevermore. That’s the hope which is yours through Christ Jesus, the Lamb who was slain for you.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.