Life is not Easy, but God is Good
It goes without saying that life is not always easy. We don’t always understand why things happen. Currently our world seems challenged by a pandemic that continues on in the United State while other places have been impacted less. We become impatient with wanting life to return to normal, and we are seeing an increase in infections and hospitalizations. The politics of our country is unsettled. The political parties are always in competition with one another for power and influence, and the election year does not make things any better. There is a lot of unresolved tensions with issues of race and justice. Still we don’t have to look far away to understand the difficulties of life. We have enough challenges within our own lives to keep us wondering –Challenges of health, finances, work, relationships. Sometimes life itself seems to be nothing more than a series of problems that we must solve or overcome.
Clara Null of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma writes, “It was one of the worst days of my life. The washing machine broke down, the telephone kept ringing, my head ached, and the mail carrier brought a bill I had no money to pay. Almost to the breaking point, I lifted my one-year-old into his highchair, leaned my head against the tray, and began to cry. Without a word, my son took his pacifier out of his mouth . . . and stuck it in mine.” Some of you have been there. You understand.
The Revelation describes life as not always being easy. In fact the world described in Revelation is downright terrifying. Today’s text is positioned between the breaking of the sixth and the seventh seal of the scroll which only the lamb who was slain was worthy to open. It is necessary to understand how the book moves us along in order to understand what is being said. Revelation begins with: An opening, Letters to the seven churches, A vision of heaven and the introduction to the scroll with the seven seals. At this point John is weeping because no was found worthy to open the scroll. Finally, the Lamb who appears to have been slain steps forward and opens the scroll with the seven seals.
The 1st seal is broken and a rider on a white horse went forth with a bow, conquering and to conquer.
The 2nd seal is broken and a rider on a bright red horse with a great sword went forth to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another.
The 3rd seal brought forth a rider on a black horse who held a pair of scales in his hand. This rider is a portent to famine and poverty.
The 4th seal is broken and a rider named death on a pale green horse is given authority to kill a fourth of the earth with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth.
The 5th seal brings the image of those who have been martyred
The 6th seal brings forth earthquakes and cosmic destruction of the stars and sky and earth. The kings, rulers, generals, rich and poor of the earth recognize the lamb upon the throne and flee to the mountains calling upon the mountains and rocks to hide them, but to no avail.
The 6th seal is an image of the world’s end. There is a pause before the presumable dissolution of all earthly things; while the servants of God are marked and counted.
After all of that one may wonder why the prophet was crying about the scroll not being opened. The image of the four horsemen of the apocalypse is horrendous. Would we not be better off if we could keep them in their stalls?
Billy Graham wrote a book entitled “Approaching Hoof Beats.” It is an easy to read book that I would recommend to you. His viewpoint, as I can remember it, was not so much that the horsemen of the apocalypse are an image of a time past, or necessarily of a time yet to come, but they are the images of past, present, and yet to come troubles that ride even today upon the Earth. If we listen, we may hear the approaching hoof beats of these riders in our world today. They are ever present, close at hand, but yet not quite upon us. We can not hold back the horsemen, because they are already here. Within the riders of the apocalypse is a warning from God calling us toward faith in the one who saves. Basically, it is as I was saying –Life is not easy. John’s description is an image of his time, and an image of our time. At one level it is speaking of the human condition and taking us beyond to God’s resolution of all things.
Then there comes an interlude in heaven between the opening of the sixth and the seventh seal. This is where we are at today. In the midst of the shear terror of the horsemen and the collapse of creation itself, we have this scene of worship and comfort.
9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,
12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
The question that runs through Revelation is, “Where are you going to be when the world does end?” To which reality will you give your allegiance in this life –to the reality of the temporal world or to the reality of an eternal heaven and before a God who loves and protects.
While Earth is in turmoil below, shaken to its terminal core, with all the power and might of Earthly humanity bowing before the lamb; in heaven there is a mighty song being lifted up in worship, amidst a great multitude beyond counting from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. They are standing before the lamb, robed in white, with palm branches lifted. This is Palm Sunday done right. This is a glimpse of the one true church of believers in glory. Revelation wants us to see that this is where we want to be.
On Earth there are a lot of denominations and some may think that they are the only ones who have it right, but when we get to heaven we are going to discover that God’s church runs across boundaries of nations, culture, race, language and denomination. In this true church universal, God and the Lamb are the center of worship. From this center every person comes robed in white, which is symbolic of a righteousness found not in oneself but given to one as an act of grace through the righteousness of Christ. All of those who stand before God in worship and in salvation are there because they have availed themselves to the grace of God and to the salvation found within Christ.
The question is asked, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” The answer is given, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” While a perfectly clear and complete understanding is difficult, I think it is fair to generalize that all those who are standing before God are those who have remained faithful in the face of testing, trial, and even persecutions unto death.
We are told about these,
“16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
In this end, what we see is the full salvation of God upon all who trust in Jesus. The troubles of life are weak and temporary, but that promises of God are eternal. In life what will you trust in? Which of these places will you call home, the world around you, or the heaven above you?
Just because hardship and difficulties are a part of life; even to the point of death does not mean that God has vacated the heavens. No, we are reminded of just the opposite. God is ever present, enacting his wrath and salvation upon the earth. There is hardship. There is suffering. There are difficult days, but there is also the ever-present reality of God; whose glory is above all and unshaken by anything that happens in creation. There is the ephemeral nature of creation and the permanent nature of heaven. There is the powerlessness of the earthly realm and the infinite glory and power of God. Therefore, believe in God. The trials and challenges maybe but God’s way of shaking the pillars of creation, to remind us that the eternal day is at hand.
The things of this world will pass away, but the glory of God stands untouched by time and creation, and it is to this reality we are called and invited to attend. Amen.