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Easter Revised Common Lectionary Year C

RCL Year C:

Fourth Sunday of Easter

May 8, 2022

Highlighted Text: Revelation 7:9-17 

Summary of the Text

To understand this section of Revelation, we have to remember that it was written by someone in exile to communities who were suffering for their faith. When we read Revelation 2-3, we see mention of patient endurance, affliction, poverty, prison, martyrdom, and great temptations from the surrounding cultures. This interlude, this pause between the sixth and seventh seals, is a word of comfort and abiding hope in the midst of such affliction. And while the afflictions in this text refer to a present reality for the seven churches and a future and final vision, it can also be applied to our own personal afflictions [RSB].

We see in v14, “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.” Before we rush forward to the explanation of this metaphor, we should first picture it literally. I missed a step going down into my basement a few weeks ago, and the closest thing I had to help stop the bleeding was a white shirt. I guarantee you that didn’t make the shirt whiter. In fact, I just had to throw it away. Here, though, we see that the robes are made white “in the blood of the Lamb.” That’s a strange image, and it’s worth pausing to imagine.

Like most things in Revelation, though, this imagery should be seen metaphorically rather than literally. White typically symbolizes purity and being blameless before God [JNTC]. And “the blood of the Lamb” typically refers to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross [JNTC]. Taken as a whole and taken in the context of afflicted communities, this implies that those who persevere in their connection to Jesus through affliction have truly incorporated Jesus into their lives and souls. Perseverance is a hallmark of the faithful.

Verse 17 also brings up one of the most important elements of this text. It says “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” There are several interesting parts to this verse.

First, we again see curious imagery of reversal. Previously, clothes were made white by the blood of Jesus. Now, we see that the Lamb will be their shepherd. Within the context of afflicted communities, these great reversals of expectations were probably very comforting.

Second, the imagery of living water is used throughout the Bible (John 4:10ff, 7:38, Isaiah 58:11, Zechariah 14:8, Psalm 1:3). I was reading earlier today that a family died while hiking near Yosemite. Even though they brought 85 ounces of water, the withering direct sun and skyrocketing temperatures caused them to overheat. Even though they prepared, the situation was too extreme for their planning. Thinking about that tragedy in light of the Biblical imagery of living water, it strikes me that human plans always have a limit. Whether that’s 85 ounces or Lake Mead behind the Hoover Dam, humans can only prepare so much. We can run out of water. But this and many other Biblical texts remind us that God does not run out of water. God’s plans are not finite, they are not limited, there are no asterisks or tiny print detailing that exclusions apply. God’s waters are infinite. God’s waters spring eternal.

Finally, there is a very specific person at the throne of God. The very same Lamb who is our shepherd (v17), the very same Lamb whose blood washes our clothes white (v14), the very same Lamb who stands at the throne (9, 10, 17), the very same Lamb who is our salvation (v10) is the one who meets the ones wearing white robes. Our entire destiny is wrapped up in a relationship with the Lamb who is the same from beginning to middle to end [TPC].

In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks stars as a man who survives a plane crash but is stranded on an island for years. One of the ways he stays motivated to survive is by picturing reuniting with his girlfriend, Kelly. But everyone back home thought he was dead. When he is finally rescued four years later, Kelly has a new family. His imagined joyful reunion instead becomes a heartbreaking goodbye. Part of our Good News is that Jesus never moves on, never finds someone new, and never gives up hope in us. Our relationship with Jesus is foundational and eternal.

Even in this vision near the end of time, the faithful are close enough to the Lamb to serve him day and night. We see in v15 that “he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.” An eternity serving the Lord in close proximity and underneath his personal shelter – that’s a promise of a better life to probably all of us. But imagine how glorious that must have felt to someone in Smyrna facing persecution and wondering if their perseverance would be worth it. This text shows us that our relationship with Jesus isn’t just an earthly moment – it’s an eternal state of being. As Henry Blackaby said, “To be loved by God is the highest relationship, the highest achievement, and the highest position in life.”

 

Preaching Themes

  • Perseverance is a hallmark of the faithful
  • Jesus demonstrated a vast array of great reversals
  • Our preparations are always limited, but God’s are not
  • Our entire destiny is wrapped up in a relationship with the Lamb who is the same from beginning to middle to end

 

References

[RSB] Reformation Study Bible

[JNTC] Jewish New Testament Commentary

[TPC] The Preacher’s Commentary

Cody Sandahl

Cody Sandahl has been the Pastor/Head of Staff at the First Presbyterian Church of Littleton, Colorado since 2015. Prior to that he was the Executive Pastor and Associate Pastor for Discipleship at the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He is passionate about equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12).

Cody came to pastoral ministry after a lifetime of programming computers and building robots, and he is the founder of the nonprofit Code4Kids. You can still find him down in his basement tinkering with computers, making things on his 3D printers, and shooting laser beams into things.

Cody is married to Becca, and they have two playful boys and one spunky dog who collaborate to ensure life is never boring.

Sermon Resources

Key Illustration

In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks stars as a man who survives a plane crash but is stranded on an island for years. One of the ways he stays motivated to survive is by picturing reuniting with his girlfriend, Kelly. But everyone back home thought he was dead. When he is finally rescued four years later, Kelly has a new family. His imagined joyful reunion instead becomes a heartbreaking goodbye. Part of our Good News is that Jesus never moves on, never finds someone new, and never gives up hope in us. Our relationship with Jesus is foundational and eternal.

Key Quote

Henry Blackaby

To be loved by God is the highest relationship, the highest achievement, and the highest position in life.

Additional Sermon Resources

Liturgical Elements

Opening Prayer

Radiant Christ,

You are Mystery

You are Holy

You are God

Give us eyes to see you and your glory

Eyes to see your sustaining and saving

Eyes to see your future and your now

Eyes to see and to follow. Amen

Radiant Christ © 2021 by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia, www.revlisad.com

Responsive Call to Worship (Psalm 23, The Message translation)

Leader: God, my shepherd!  I don’t need a thing.

People: You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from.

Leader: True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.

People: Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.

Leader: You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing.

People: Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.

Prayer of Confession:

Faithful God, we confess that we have trusted our own plans instead of Yours. We have built and saved and schemed to secure our future, but we haven’t placed our trust in You. We know that Jesus told us to store up treasures in heaven where moth and rust cannot destroy, yet we have stored up treasures on earth in the meantime. Forgive us for trusting our own hands too much, and trusting Your hands too little. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well, he told her, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.” Sisters and brothers, Jesus’ forgiveness is as limitless and life-giving as a spring in the desert. So believe the Good News of the Gospel: in Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!

Benediction

Sisters and brothers, our plans are always limited. But God’s plans never are. So go out into the world with the assurance of Jesus’ presence, the vision of God’s eternity, and the compassion of the Holy Spirit.