Revelation 7:9-17 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." 11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!" 13 Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes-- who are they, and where did they come from?" 14 I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "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. 15 Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. 16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17 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."
Have you ever noticed how pervasive music is in our lives? We listen to country music while we are washing the dishes. We listen to classic rock while driving in our vehicle. We listen to pop music in the stores. We listen to Muzak while in the elevator. Athletes create a play list to listen to in the locker room before their games. Researchers encourage us to play classical music in the nursery while our baby is sleeping. Very soon we’ll be listening to Christmas music wherever we go.
Popular music is the soundtrack of our lives. But when you really listen to the words, the majority of our music is trivial, mundane and clichéd. I’m not saying that Talk Radio is any better. (Although being a Packer fan, it was pretty fun listening to Chicago Sports Radio this past week.)
If you listen to country music you hear a lot about trucks, cowboys, alcohol and dirt roads. If you listen to rock or pop music you hear a lot about love, getting together, breaking up, and sex. If you listen to heavy metal or rap … don’t.
No matter what genre of music we most enjoy, that music is pervasive in our lives. Its themes influence our thinking. The lyrics can be about desires and losses, rebellion and inspiration, pain or joys. The themes really don’t matter … because ultimately the music is bland, insipid or inconsequential. It is easy. It is ordinary. It won’t last. It is music only for this life.
How different is music that embraces the sacred! Sacred music – the music we experience among God’s saints in worship is completely different. It is challenging – confronting our sinful nature and inspiring our sanctified spirit. It is serious – it contains themes of life and death, despair and doubts, joy and peace. It is significant – for in sacred music the creature meets the Creator, the mortal meets the immortal, and the temporal meets the eternal. It is demanding – for we are called to take up a cross and bear it daily. It is confrontational – for we are called upon to forsake the broad way and embrace the narrow one. It certainly is not trivial, for there is nothing trite or insignificant about conversing with our Creator in our music.
I’m not saying that the popular music we choose to listen to is inherently sinful. However, neither is it sacred.
Our earthly musical selections both affect and reflect us. They can affect how we think, what we say, how we feel, etc. But they also reflect what is going on in our daily lives. Music can influence us. But music can also imitate us. By nature we are violent people, apt to allow anger and tension to rule our homes. Rap music reflects that in its lyrics. Our mouths are cesspools filled with filth, gossip and hurtful words. Hard rock mirrors that in its tone. Whether it is oldies or country or hip-hop, the constant themes in each of those genres is love – looking for love, losing love, replacing love with sex, etc. We are creatures who want to love, but we abuse our Maker’s gift of love with shallow sex, broken relationships, and hurting hearts. And pop music is just that – popular. The lyrics and tunes are specifically created to appeal to large audiences. But that’s what we are like, too. We like the superficial, the simple, and the uncomplicated. It is too hard for us to be challenged in our faith, to mine the depths of our feelings, and to find substance in everything we hear and see.
How different is God’s sacred song of the Saints Triumphant! That song is expressed in our new End Times painting.
In his vision of heaven in Revelation 7, the apostle John sees those who are coming out of the great tribulation – those who are leaving this cacophony of suffering and pain. They are escaping the dissonance of discord and death. Through Christ they are exchanging the sin-filled soundtrack of this world with the symphony of the saints in heaven.
When John sees all these people streaming into heaven, it’s not as if he’s watching a silent movie. There is surround-sound! The saints are singing, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 7:12)!
They are a great multitude that no one could count in all their diversity (Revelation 9:7) – from every nation, tribe, people, and language. Their Babel divisions are finally ended (Genesis 11:9). Though on earth they spoke a multitude of languages, in heaven they sing with one united voice.
There is nothing mundane or trivial or common about their singing. We hear life! We hear vitality! We hear praise! They are the Bride of Christ meeting their Bridegroom (Revelation 19:7). They have transferred from this veil of tears to Jerusalem the Golden. They are singing the hymn unending. The halls of Zion resound with their song!
The lyrics of this life are ultimately about things that don’t matter, that won’t last. How different is the song of the Saints Triumphant! Their song is filled with emotion because it is filled with substance. That substance is the Lamb who is their salvation. They sing, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:10).
The Lamb at the center of the throne is their shepherd (Revelation 7:17). Our artist has painted that golden and glorious throne with the meander on the base of the steps. The meander symbolizes the waves of the sea. It is an ancient Greek symbol for eternity. “His dominion is an everlasting dominion and his kingdom will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14). The back of the throne contains the Celtic symbol of the Holy Trinity with interlocking triangle and circle. All three persons of the Trinity are involved in the saints’ salvation as they bless God’s people with grace, love and fellowship (2 Corinthians 13:14).
The main focal point of the painting – which is the main theme of the saints’ song – is the Lamb. He has a wound marking where the Roman soldier pierced His side with a spear, bringing a flow of blood and water (John 19:14). It was through the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or defect, that the saints were redeemed from their previous empty way of life (1 Peter 1:18-19). The Lamb has a nimbus around His head, portraying the divinity of the Trinity. In case there was any doubt, now all who gaze upon this Lamb know that He is “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). The Lamb carries the Christian flag. He is raising a banner for the nations to rally around Him (Isaiah 62:10).
The river of the water of life flows from the throne of the Lamb. On each side of the river stands the tree of life, transplanted either symbolically or physically from the Garden of Eden (Revelation 22:1-2). The river is as clear as crystal and the trees bear fruit for all eternity. The river flows into the home of God’s saints – Jerusalem the Golden. It is a paradise of milk and honey, the pastures are rich and green, the radiancy of glory, the bliss beyond compare (“Jerusalem the Golden,” Christian Worship Supplement: 728). New Jerusalem will be the city where God dwells with His saints and they will live with Him. They will be His people, and God will be with them and be their God (Revelation 21:2-3).
As great as all that is, your focus returns to Jesus, who is the Lamb seated on the throne. He is the Lamb who was caught in the thicket to take your place, suffer your death, and bear your iniquities (Genesis 22:13). He is the Scapegoat who has taken all of your sins upon Him so that He might make atonement for them (Leviticus 16:10). He is the Passover Lamb who was sacrificed so you might be set free from slavery to the Pharaoh of hell (1 Corinthians 5:7). He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
The saints sing to their Lamb. The songs we sing in worship are purposefully different than the songs we listen to outside the walls of church. Not coincidentally, our songs of worship sound much more like the songs of the Saints Triumphant. The saints sang to and about the Lamb on His throne. We sing in our liturgy, “O Christ, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us” (“Agnus Dei,” Service of Word and Sacrament). We sing during communion, “O Lamb of God, sweet Lamb of God, I love the holy Lamb of God! Oh, wash me in his precious blood, my Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God” (“Lamb of God,” Twila Paris). We love to praise with the words, “At the Lamb’s High Feast we sing” (Christian Worship: 141) or, “Worthy is the Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God” (Christian Worship: 265).
Fellow saints, look to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Look to Jesus whose death defeats death; whose nakedness is your garment; whose blood washes away the stains of the sins you’ve done and the sins you’ve suffered; whose wounds are your healing; whose pains are your comfort; whose voice is your absolution; whose condemnation is your liberty; whose defeat is your victory; whose death is your life!
Look with longing upon the white-robed saints in the painting. For who they are now you soon will be. Like them, you bear the mark of God on your forehead and in your heart. Water and Word has claimed you for Christ’s Kingdom. You have tasted the Passover Lamb’s flesh and drank His blood. This is the Feast of Victory in the Lord’s Supper. Yes, you are presently in the Church Militant – the Church at war – with your dirty robe, tarnished crown and wilted palm in the land of this world’s prince – Satan. But following this great tribulation, Christ will dress you in the white robe of His righteousness, give you a golden crown to wear and a palm branch of victory to wave. You will be before the throne of the Lamb in the Church Triumphant.
Behold the host arrayed in white (Christian Worship: 550). Their white robes are the baptismal sign of their priestly purity. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Their crowns are a fulfilled promise for their faithfulness during the tribulation: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). They wave palm branches, the way the Israelites did every year at their feast of Tabernacles when they marched around the temple grounds waving palm branches to signify God’s victory and their homecoming. A perpetual Palm Sunday. Though these saints died, they live. Though they suffered, they are comforted. Though their voices on earth were silenced, they sing.
Listen to their song. It is so unlike the songs with which we fill up our lives. Their song is filled with substance. It is filled with emotion. It is a song that affects them because it reflects their Savior. Fellow saints, join with them in singing their song. It is the great Te Deum that rings out from heaven to earth and back again: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” It is the song of the Saints Triumphant. Amen.