Sunday, October 17, 2010

How Long, O Lord?

Texts: Revelation 6:9-17; Luke 18:1-8

IF YOU WATCH VIDEOS on YouTube, or if you read online news reports, you've probably noticed a pattern in the comments. Say it's a news story about a pilot who's successfully landed a plane in the worst of conditions. Or maybe it's a video of the old Rescue 911 show, and a family has safely escaped a fire in their house. Some commenters will give God the glory. They'll say, "It was a miracle they escaped! Praise God!" And just as inevitably, ten other people will jump in with "What? How can you praise God for that? If God was good, he wouldn't've let that house catch on fire! And what about all the other houses that catch fire and all the people inside burn to death? Your god is evil! Or he doesn't exist! I don't think he exists and I hate him!!"

But you know what? It's not just atheists and scoffers who wonder how a good God can put up with evil. People who know God and love Him also struggle with the fact that justice seems to be in short supply in this world.

What is Justice, anyway? It's rendering each person what he or she has the right to and what he or she deserves. Sometimes individuals deserve bad things, sometimes they deserve good. Sometimes we forfeit our rights by our bad behavior, and we deserve to lose the benefit of them. However it is, Justice balances out the scales so good is paired with good and evil is matched with evil.

But we don't see it that way on this earth, do we? We see people whom we consider to be good receiving bad things all the time. Often the evil comes from other people, and it seems like our human justice system never gets around to punishing the guilty. Sometimes, the evil comes from nature or even seems to come from God Himself. As when someone we love gets incurable cancer. Or a child struggles with a terrible learning disability. Or a family member loses his home in a flood. And meanwhile, those we consider to be wicked seem to have no troubles at all. Where's the Justice in that? This world has a saying, "Justice deferred is justice denied." Is God unjust? Why doesn't He even everything out now?

But the Bible teaches that a day of Justice is coming in God's good time, a Day when Christ will return as Judge and lay down the verdict on Evil and mete out rewards and punishments according to what each person deserves. Both of our readings look forward to that Day, and they teach us to pray for its coming and to have faith in God, that He will indeed make Justice prevail in heaven and on earth.

In our passage from St. Luke, Jesus tells a parable illustrating how we, His disciples, should always pray and never give up. Yes, let us pray for healing for ourselves and our loved ones. Let's intercede for new jobs for the unemployed and petition God for solutions to our worries. Let us cast our cares on the Lord, for He cares for us. Let us do all we can in this world to live justly and see justice done to our neighbor. But first and foremost, as it says in verses 7 and 8, let us pray persistently for God to bring about ultimate divine justice for His chosen ones-- which is to say, let us pray without ceasing for the glorious return of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. For it is only when He returns that true Justice will have its day.

But how long, O Lord, how long? The widow in the parable knew she was in the right in her case. The unjust judge knew it, too. But he was so selfish, he couldn't be bothered to render the verdict she deserved. Or maybe he'd already ruled in her favor, but he'd done nothing to enforce the decision. This judge had no conscience before God, he didn't care what other people said about him, and he couldn't be bothered to do what he should. But the widow was going to bother him and bother him and bother him until he did his duty. He was a judge; it was his job to make sure that justice prevailed. For some time he ignored her. Maybe she'd go away. But she didn't. She kept bothering him: "Grant me justice against my adversary!" And finally, finally, out of his own selfishness, he finally does what he should have done all along: The unjust judge makes sure this widow gets justice.

Jesus says, listen to what the unjust judge says. The unjust judge finally does right by the widow because she's kept on bothering him with her petitions. So--- if a wicked man can be prevailed upon to do what is right because he's been hammered by a widow's pleas, how much more will the good and gracious God of heaven bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? How much more will He defeat their adversaries and bring them into the good they deserve, at just the right time?

Who are these chosen ones? They are Christ's elect, whom the Father foreknew before the creation of the world, to be adopted as His children through the shed blood of Christ. Brothers and sisters, we are Christ's chosen, and though all the forces of earth and Hell should come against us because we belong to Christ, all the more should we cry out to Him for justice against our adversaries.

Our passage from Revelation chapter 6 shows this from another point of view. St. John in his vision of the End watches as the seven seals of the book of judgement are opened one by one by Christ the Lamb. When He opens the fifth seal, John sees under a great altar in heaven "the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained." These martyrs cry out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" How long, O Lord, until we get justice? Our voices cry out to you day and night! They are each given a white robe-- which stands for the righteousness of Christ-- and are told to wait a little longer, for just the right time. For when? For when the number of their fellow servants who were also to be killed for the name of Christ was competed.

I have to admit that there's been something about this Revelation passage that has bothered me. It's just that, these martyrs are under the altar, and the altar represents the place of atonement, and our atonement is Christ. Moreover, St. John sees this altar as being in heaven. So, if these martyrs have found their refuge in the atonement of Christ, and they're in heaven, why are they so vindictive? Why are they so eager that their blood be avenged? Isn't it time they forgave and forgot?

Aren't Christian martyrs just ordinary human beings whom Jesus redeemed from their sins? Wasn't it the Holy Spirit who made sure they stayed faithful to Christ even to death? How could they claim anything for themselves?

And all the chosen ones of God: We didn't chose ourselves, did we? No. How can we claim to be more righteous or deserving than any other human being? It wasn't our works that got us into God's favor! Without the blood of Christ covering us, we would be just as lost and unholy as anybody else! How can we justify praying for Christ to come and judge the earth?

The answer lies every place the Bible speaks of God's love for His saints and His hatred of evil. It leaps out at us whenever we read that the Church is Christ's body on earth. We are His representatives here on earth, and the Word of salvation we carry into the world is the message of the living Word, Jesus Christ. Whoever persecutes His saints-- that's us, brothers and sisters-- persecutes Him. God has chosen us for Himself in Jesus Christ, and identified Himself with us and us with Him. So it is just and right that the souls of the martyrs should call out for vengeance on the earth. It is right that we His chosen ones should cry out day and night for Jesus to return and sit as Judge over this present evil age. Because ultimately, the One who deserves to have His right upheld is God. God is the ultimate object of justice. It is God Himself who must receive all the blessing, honor, praise, and glory He is due. As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, the time will come when Christ will hand over the kingdom to God the Father, after He has destroyed all (rebellious) dominion, authority, and power. All His enemies will be put under His feet, and the last enemy to be destroyed will be death. That will be ultimate divine justice.

So how can we not pray earnestly and persistently for that day to come? Should we not call out for the justice that will once and for all defeat evil and Satan and all who belong to him will get the punishment they deserve?

But how long, O Lord? Why can't God reach down and deal the evil of this world right now?

That's what some of these scoffing Internet commenters ask. They don't realize that if God were to make an end of evil in this world right away, He'd also have to make an end of them. We humans deceive ourselves when we think we ourselves are good and evil is Out There someplace. Evil resides in each of our souls, and none of us can begin to be free of it until Jesus clothes us with His righteousness and brings us from death to life. Strict justice would mean every last one of us should be separated from God forever, but Jesus paid the full price for our sin, so as it says in Romans 3, God is shown to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Through His blood we are not only justified, we are made holy before God and finally will be presented to Him glorified on the Day when Christ returns.

This is God's will for all His elect. And He is biding His time until all the company of His chosen is complete. There are some who are elect who are still dead in their sins, and one day the Holy Spirit will call them into life. There are some of the elect who have not yet been born. Every last soul whom the Father has given to the Son will come to Him, and every last soul who will have the honor of being killed for His sake will make their testimony in their blood, before the end will come and ultimate justice will prevail.

But how do you know if you are among God's chosen who know their cause is just and right? It's not my place to pry into the secret counsels of God. But if you want to be among Christ's chosen, that's a good sign. If you have a passion for justice and you look to God instead of away from Him to find it, that's a good sign. Jesus asks in Luke, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" Faith is a sign of those who belong to Him, of those who trust Him to make things right in His good time. Faith is a sign of those who love His appearing and who earnestly pray that it will be very soon. Faith is a sign of those who preach and testify to the Gospel of Jesus Christ died and risen again for the salvation of the lost, so that the full number of the elect will be speedily completed.

The sign of those who are not chosen? They are the ones described in verses 15 through 17 of our Revelation reading, the ones for whom the second coming of Christ is hateful, the ones who know they deserve His wrath and have rejected the blood that could have saved them from it. They beg the mountains to fall on them and hide them from the justice of God! Heaven forbid that anyone we love should be in that number! This is the tragic fate of all those who ally themselves with Satan and death and who turn away from the Lamb who was slain.

But you, people of God: Do you love Christ's appearing? Are you looking forward to the day when He will return and all evil, sadness, and death will be wiped away? Let us pray earnestly and persistently that Christ our righteous Judge will come quickly and bring justice to us, His chosen ones. For we belong to Him; and in Him, His cause is ours, and our cause is His own.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sovereign Grace, Healing Love

Texts: 2 Kings 5:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19a

HAVE YOU EVER MADE a terrible mistake? I don't mean something ordinary like forgetting to take the meat out to thaw, I mean committing some terrible trespass. You yelled at your spouse in anger and called her a filthy name. You blurted out a secret that wasn't yours. You punished your child for something he didn't do. Maybe you did something that seemed to be really good and helpful at the time, but when you came to yourself you realized it was the worst thing you could have done. Whatever it was, you couldn't just say, "Oops, sorry, didn't mean to do that!" Even if you didn't exactly "mean" to do it, the damage you did was lasting and deep. People were wounded and upset, and they were going to stay that way for a long time.

That wasn't really a mistake, what you did, it was a sin. As a decent human being, when you realized the enormity of your trespass, how did you feel? You didn't blow it off, I don't think. You apologized, of course. You asked forgiveness. You repented. And repented. And repented some more. But your friend/spouse/child was still so hurt! How could you ever have done that to them? You felt they never could forgive you. That you shouldn't forgive yourself. Maybe you should tear your garments like the lepers of old time and go about in wilderness places ringing a warning bell and calling out, "Unclean! Unclean!" Your guilt seemed to cling to you. It seemed to break out all over you like some loathsome skin disease. How could you merit forgiveness after what you'd done? "Unclean, unclean!"

We have two stories about lepers in today's Scripture readings. As we look into them, let's keep in mind that in Bible times, leprosy and other disfiguring skin diseases were not just a physical illness somebody might get, they were visible symbols of sin. A leper was a walking billboard of the damage sin did and how it separated a person from God and his neighbor. It depicted decay and corruption and a living death.

The laws of Moses about leprosy and so on can be found in Leviticus 13 and 14. If you read those chapters carefully, you'll notice something curious: The problem with these infectious skin diseases wasn't just that the sufferer had a disease, it's that it made him look mixed and mottled. Not uniform. Not whole. Not clean. It even says in Leviticus 13:12-13 that if the disease spread so far that the sufferer was a flat white all over his body, the priest could declare him clean again.

The laws ostracizing lepers were like the laws against mixing wool and linen in your clothing or plowing with a donkey and an ox yoked together or sowing two different kinds of seed in one field. These restrictions seem strange to us, but they were God's way of hammering home how His chosen people Israel had to remain purely dedicated to Him alone. Thoroughly. Faithfully. Cleanly. All those situations and conditions were symbols of mixing with the pagan nations. They were pictures of the false worship that tried to honor Gentile idols side by side with Jehovah God. From the very birth of the nation, God was impressing on them that they were to be whole and pure and devoted to Him alone. The salvation of the whole world depended on it.

And so you had the leper, with his red and white and brown skin, a picture of unfaithfulness to God. You had the corruption of his flesh as a symbol of the corruption of death and sin. You had his enforced separation to be a demonstration of how God's people must separate themselves from sin. It was terrible for the leper, but even more terrible is the effect that sin has in the idolatrous, unrepentant heart. Israel had to see and fear.

But who wants to live life as a negative sermon illustration? "Keep away! Keep away! Unclean! Unclean!" You could do nothing, nothing to help yourself. You could only pray that God would heal you and you could go show yourself to the priest, make your sacrifice, and be pronounced clean again.

And so we come to the story of Naaman, the Aramean (or Syrian) general. You notice first that he still seems to be living in his own house and he is able to go to the palace of the king of Aram. He also travels to the palace of Joram, king of Israel, and to Elisha's house with a large retinue. He isn't under the ban to live separated, for he's a Gentile. You may be thinking, good for them, they didn't have those Hebrew restrictions and rules. Yes, but they also didn't have the glorious covenant promises attached to those restricted and rules. And the Gentiles didn't have the sovereign power of Jehovah God working through the prophets that could heal a leper like Naaman.

So up comes the great General Naaman to the door of Elisha the prophet-- and the man of God doesn't even come to the door to greet him! Don't be mistaken-- Elisha isn't afraid of catching leprosy himself. No, he's expressed his purpose in the previous verses, where he tells King Joram to "Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel." Naaman expects Elisha to "come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy." He wants Elisha to do something. But Elisha wants Naaman to know that he, Elisha, is only God's prophet, the channel through which God works. Naaman has to learn that it is the Lord and the Lord alone who heals.

And so he has the servant tell Naaman to go dip himself seven times in the Jordan River-- the dirty, insignificant, piddling Jordan River. There was nothing healing or magical about the waters of the Jordan! If Naaman was going to be healed there, it would obviously be by God's sovereign grace alone.

The great General Naaman had to show his faith in the God of Israel by following the order, no matter how disappointing it was. Happily for him, he listened to his servants, got over his rage, and obeyed.

And what happened then? We read in verse 14 that "his flesh was restored and became clean"-- that is, healthy, whole, and unblemished-- "like that of a young boy." God didn't just put him back to middle-aged normal, He renewed his skin so it was like the skin of a little child!

That was worth killing his pride for! Naaman hurries back to thank Elisha for what he had done. Thanks to him, he has come to know the Lord Almighty! He says, "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel." The Lord God Jehovah, the God of Israel, is God alone! So never again will he worship any God but the Lord. He then requests the two mule-loads of Israel's earth. I admit-- the commentators are divided on why he does this. But most likely, like all the Gentiles of those days, Naaman believed that a god or goddess could be worshipped properly only on his or her own territory. With this earth he could make an altar or maybe scatter it in a shrine in his own home, so to make himself a little Israel in Syria, a sacred spot where the Lord was God and would accept his sacrifices. Naaman didn't quite understand that the Lord was God in all the earth, but he understood that the Lord was the only God who was really real, and the Lord honored the intent of his heart.

But there's one more thing Naaman needs before his cleansing will be complete. As commander of the army of Aram he was literally the Syrian king's right-hand man. And one of his duties was to attend his sovereign into the temple of the false god Rimmon and support him with his arm as the king made his reverences to this so-called god. As a Syrian he couldn't exactly go home and announce he wasn't going to do that any more. But how could Naaman bow down to Rimmon when he was now wholly devoted to the Lord as the only God? Would the Lord Jehovah graciously forgive him for bowing down his body in that idol temple, now that he would never again bow down his heart or his mind? He'd have to keep on doing it for a long time. Could the Lord forgive him for that? Might He? Would He?

And Elisha replies, "Go in peace." And Naaman goes, cleansed not only in body but also in spirit. "Go in peace," for by faith he has been made clean and well.

The grace God showed through Elisha foreshadows the greater grace He showed the world through the Messiah Jesus, the Son of God made flesh. Our passage in Luke tells us that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to be crucified. He was travelling through the borderlands between Galilee and Samaria-- Samaria, where around 925 years before His Father in heaven had healed Naaman through His servant Elisha. On the outskirts of a village Jesus encounters ten lepers, nine Jews and one Samaritan. They know He is a prophet who can heal them. They stand at a proper distance and call out, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"

It doesn't take the supernatural mind of Christ to know what those lepers wanted. They wanted to be cleansed and healed. They had no hope for healing in themselves, their only hope was that God's prophet Jesus will do it for them.

And He does. "Go, show yourselves to the priests." Leviticus tells us it wasn't the priest's job to cure the leper, it was only his job to declare before God and man that the leper was already cured and therefore had become acceptable and clean. The Old Covenant was still in effect and Jesus honors His Father's plan in it.

All ten of these lepers had faith enough immediately to head for the home of the closest priest they could find. They were sure Jesus could heal their bodies. And He did. "As they went," Luke tells us, "they were cleansed." They became like Naaman after he had bathed in the Jordan River, their skin restored to radiance and health.

But only one was cleansed in his spirit. And ironically, that one was the Samaritan. The despised half-breed. The unkosher foreigner. He immediately comes back to Jesus praising God loudly, enthusiastically, deep-heartedly for his healing. He throws himself at Jesus' feet-- this mixed-race Samaritan-- and thanked Him and thanked Him.

"Where are the other nine?" Jesus asks. Where are the nine Jews? They were all cured. Why didn't they also come back to render Him honor and thanks? Did they take their position as sons of the covenant for granted? Could it be that when the nine Jews obtained the bodily healing they wanted, they no longer needed the Son of God?

But the lone Samaritan has returned, and like Naaman the Syrian he praises the God of Israel and gives Him the glory. And like Naaman, his cleansing was complete. Jesus says to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well." The healing he received extended to his inmost soul, and it drove him to the feet of Jesus in gratitude and praise.

That is what Jesus can do with your sin, and with mine. He can take even the worst of our sins away and restore us to be like little children. We can be wandering around like lepers in the isolation of our guilt, separated from God, from other people, even alienated from ourselves, and He brings us the cleansing cure we never could obtain on our own. He can step into situations where we have wreaked havoc on other people's lives and work a miracle of restoration and hope. He does this by the forgiveness He won for you and me in His death on the Cross. There He paid for all our sins. We did deserve God's punishment. We did deserve God's wrath. But as Isaiah the prophet says, "By His wounds we are healed."

How do we receive that healing, especially as Christians who still sin every day? What do we do when we just want to beat ourselves up, when our guilt tells us how we don't deserve the forgiveness of God at all?

We remember the word of Elisha the prophet. He said, "Go wash yourself seven times in the waters of the Jordan and you will be restored." Let us, you and me, plunge ourselves again and again into the waters of our baptism. As often as we need it, as often as we sin, let us remember how the water of baptism recalls the blood that flowed from Jesus our Master as He hung on the cross. That blood makes a full, free, and complete covering for all our sins, no matter whom they affect, no matter how terrible they might be.

But as we bathe in that precious flood, what are we looking for? Is it enough for us to feel better about ourselves and have our relationships with others restored? Or do we want something more?

Yes, let's want something more. Let's lay hold on how good God is and rejoice in forgiveness He brings. Let's seek to be bound ever closer to Him, so we reject all mixed devotion and joyfully worship Him alone. May we never take His covenant love for granted, but always return Him the thanks He deserves.

Leprosy was a sign of confusion, corruption, and death. But we have been cleansed from the leprosy of our sin, we are healed every day by the blood of Jesus and given wholeness, purity, and life. This is the gift of God through His crucified and risen Son.

People of God, remember your baptism. Remember His blood that cleanses you still. Together, let us all return to the feet of Jesus and give Him unending thanks and praise. Amen.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

By All, in All Places, at All Times

Texts: Micah 4:1-5; Revelation 5:6-14

I WANT YOU TO LOOK AROUND. WHAT do you see? The same familiar church sanctuary, right? Look more closely. What do you see? The pulpit's in its usual place; the Communion table is front and center, today with the elements of the Lord's Supper laid out on it . . . But what do you see? Look at each other. All around you are the same old-- or young!-- church friends and family you see every week, correct?

But look more closely. Look with the eyes of the spirit. Look with eyes opened and made keen by the Holy Spirit of God. What do you see now?

It is my hope and desire that you see yourselves gathered together with apostles, martyrs, and evangelists of every time and place, with saints of every nation, race, tribe, and language. I would that you knew yourselves to be worshipping in the presence of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. It is my prayer that you see yourself falling down before the spotless Lamb of God sacrificed for the sins of the world; that you experience how He, the Crucified One, has even now raised you up with Him to the very throne of God.

For, brothers and sisters, that is among whom and where we are today, and among whom and where we are every time we worship our holy and living God in spirit and in truth. We are more than just the visible group you see congregated here Sunday after Sunday. The Church of Jesus Christ includes all His people who have ever lived and ever will live, and together with them we join in confessing that one true faith that is to be held by all people, in all places, at all times. We join with them in receiving the life-giving truth of God as He imparts it to us through His Word read and preached. We come to Him with our praises and petitions. We share our Lord's Holy Spirit and receive Jesus' own self by taste and touch as He gives Himself to us in the bread and the cup. What we do this morning is not something restricted to the Dallas Presbyterian Church, nor does it happen only on World Communion Sunday. No, brothers and sisters, whenever two or three or two or three thousand are gathered together in Christ's name, we are one in Him with all His Church. And in this holy meeting we with all Christ's saints know the joy of sacred union with our God and Father through our Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Do you know what your purpose in life is? Your purpose is to find your highest joy and fulfillment in worshipping your almighty, infinite Savior God. But we tramp through this world day after day, and it can be hard to realize that. It's difficult to imagine that receiving God's word and praising Him is our ultimate enjoyment! The troubles and tedium of everyday life simply get in the way.

It's not just that we get distracted, either, or that other good things take up our attention. It's the sin that dwells within us. We're not really inclined to worship God. The natural inclination of every person ever born is to worship his or her own will and desires; actually to worship himself, and what a dead, dark, and lonely worship that is! Our sin cuts us off from almighty God; it makes us liable to His wrath; it keeps us far from His presence. The prophets of old declared the judgement of the Lord against the idolatry of all people, Jew and Gentile alike. And that idolatry continues today. The natural human inclination is to find the worship of God to be a bore. "Pastor, get us out of church in an hour!" people say. "Forty-five minutes if it's a game day!" And that's regardless of whether the true riches of the faith are being proclaimed from the pulpit or not.

But the will and purpose of our Father in heaven for us, is that we should know our greatest joy in worshipping and enjoying Him, both in this world and the next. And that this joy be shared with all peoples from all times and from all places.

So out of all the nations, God called the Hebrew people to be His very own, that He might teach them to worship Him as He deserved. He gave them the sacrificial system in the tabernacle and the temple, not as an ultimate solution to sin, but as a looking forward to the ultimate sacrifice of the Lamb of God, slain before the foundation of the world. And for centuries this special relationship was only for the Jews. For centuries before the coming of our Lord Jesus only Israel had the right and privilege to worship and enjoy Him. The Gentile nations were enmired in the worship of idols and demons opposed to the God of Israel. They liked it that way. If you asked the Gentiles, they would have said that that Lord-- whom they knew as God Most High-- was worth worshipping, sure, but you could get so much more of what you wanted out of gods like Molech or Astaroth. The foreign nations were enemies to Israel and their God and Israel and its Lord were opposed to them.

But the word of the Lord came by prophets like King David in the Psalms, by Isaiah and Micah and others, looking forward to a day when the Gentiles would be included in the glorious worship of God. This would happen after Israel had been judged for their own unfaithfulness to the divine covenant, in "the last days" after the Messiah was revealed and the holy remnant that is the true Israel was called forth.

Micah says,

[T]he mountain of the LORD's temple will be established
as chief among the mountains;
it will be raised above the hills,
and peoples will stream to it.

By this we understand that the time would come when peoples all over the world would recognize that the God of the Jews was not just another national god, but the high and exalted holy Lord of the Universe, to whom all owe devotion and honor. This will not be according to the natural way of things, for look, the stream of peoples is flowing up the mountain of the Lord, drawn there by His majesty and power. This is the same scene we see in our reading from Revelation 5, where every creature in heaven and on earth is gathered around the throne of God praising and falling down before Him. This is not the natural order of things: This can only happen by the hand of God!

Micah goes on to say,

Many nations will come and say,
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths."

Here we see that the proclamation of the word of God is basic to true worship! Some, even many, people these days believe that "worship" is all about what we give to the Lord in our songs and praises, and that reading, teaching, and preaching aren't really needed at all. But if we do not first receive from Him, we grow weak and dull of spirit, and we forget what we are praising Him for. When we come together as a church God first of all serves us, and we respond to His gifts with our praise. All true worship of God is centered around the word of the Gospel of Christ, where we hear again how He was born and lived a sinless human being, true God but fully man; how He died on the cross to take away the sins of the world; how he rose again in victory to give us new and everlasting life; how He sits at the right hand of God forever interceding for us. We who have been Christians for years need to hear that good news over and over, too, just as much as the most wandering sinner needs to hear it for the first time. In fact, I think we can appreciate it more, for we've had longer to think about everything Jesus has saved us from! We know better than any new convert what He has done to make us rejoice!

And so in Revelation the divine worship centers around Jesus Christ the Lamb and His infinite worthiness. The scroll symbolizes His judgement against sin. Jesus accomplished it on the earth by the victory of His cross, and it will be totally fulfilled when He comes again in glory. For as it says in the new song of the elders and the living creatures,

"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."

Jesus' righteous blood gives Him the right to execute judgement on all who remain in rebellion against the Lord of all; but His blood covers our sins, having purchased us for God out of the evil of this world.

This word of mercy compels us to fall down in worship and adoration! We deserved nothing but wrath, but Christ through His cross has brought us joy and salvation and communion with God forever! And this mercy is not only for us, it's for people of every tribe and language and people and nation!

In fact, we are among those nations who have been streamed up to the mountain of the Lord. Are our ancestors Jews? Were we among the original covenant people? No, we were Gentiles, we represent the tribes and languages and peoples whom Jesus has redeemed for God! As St. Peter says in his first Epistle, "Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy"! So in Revelation it says,

"You have made them to be a kingdom and priests
to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth."

I hope you are struck as I am that we with all the saints have been purchased for God. Together we are a kingdom and priests to serve Him. How does a priest serve? By bringing the good gifts of God to the people and leading the people in praise to God. Our whole lives should declare the goodness of our Lord, shown to us in the cross of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Our whole lives are called to be acts of praise to the Lamb, who was slain, who is worthy

"[T]o receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!"

Brothers and sisters, the glorious worship of Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father will be made perfect in the Last Day when we receive our resurrection bodies and see our Lord face to face. But by His Spirit it goes on whenever we gather together in His name. Especially He makes it happen when we gather around the Table of our Lord. Here He gives us the benefits of His broken body and His shed blood in the elements of bread and wine. Here He renews in each of us His life-giving presence and unites us with saints of all times and in all places, while angels look on with rejoicing and awe.

But is our worship then finished? No, as the kingdom of Christ reigning on the earth we take our worship into the world. Micah declares that

They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

This verse has often been applied to the secular sphere; it's even engraved on a monument outside the United Nations building in New York. But unless and until every last UN delegate and every last national leader willingly bows the knee to Jesus Christ, that monument is a waste of real estate. Micah says,

"All the nations may walk
in the name of their gods;
we will walk in the name of the LORD
our God for ever and ever."

And without the grace of our God extended to them, the nations of this world will continue to walk in the name of their false gods. But the Spirit has called us to walk in the name of the Lord and to enjoy the peace and unity destined for the people of God. We are one in Jesus now! So let the old weapons of your warfare with your family, your neighbors, your co-workers become instruments of cultivation and growth! Use your thought and will and creativity to make peace with one another. You have been redeemed by one Lamb into one holy body to be ministers of the one true God! So say No to all racial or ethnic or regional prejudices! Away with economic envy or factional strife! Among our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all one in Him. And although the world may not respond with peace, we can extend the peace of Christ even to those who do not believe and so show the holiness and grace of God in this fallen world.

Brothers and sisters, together we stand with angels and archangels and all the company of the redeemed in heaven and on earth, singing glory and praise to the Lamb who was slain, the Lamb who is worthy, the Lamb who has purchased us for God. It's no ordinary thing we do here. It's no ordinary life you lead. You are not alone in your most holy faith. You are joined together with the faithful people of God in every time and place, confessing His mighty acts and rejoicing in what He has done.

"To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!"

Let us fall down and worship! Amen and amen!