Through the Ordeal
May 12, 2019
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: Revelation 7:9-17
Carried up by the Holy Spirit, John the Elder finds himself in the heavenly throne room. Jesus, the Lamb who was slaughtered, sits upon the throne. An uncountable multitude surrounds him, the survivors of the great ordeal. In once voice they worship and praise God, the lamb on the throne, for their salvation.
Back up a few chapters and we learn they’ve survived the ordeal of the seven seals. Seven seals on a mysterious scroll. Breaking the first seal releases the victorious power of Jesus Christ. Breaking the remaining seals release the power of sin and evil in the world. First we get war. Then economic devastation. Then death. Then persecution. Finally natural disaster. Pain after pain. Suffering after suffering.
We can spend days decoding all of this or we can just note how close these ordeals match up with this week’s headlines. Or last week’s for that matter. Or those of a century ago, or a millennium ago. Or the stuff that doesn’t even make the headlines. The ordeals we face each day, in our own lives, in the lives of our families, our community, our country.
We know our ordeals. We know what we fight, what oppresses us, where we hurt. We know the demons of addiction and what its like to have cancer eat away at our bodies. We know the loneliness of mourning and the searing pain of family dysfunction. We know what its like to be broke, to be abused, to struggle with mental health, physical health. We know the powerless of watching hopes, dreams, ideals, values disintegrate around us.
We know our ordeals. The ordeals released by the sin of our own making. The ordeals suffered because of the sin of others. The ordeals rooted in the persistence of violence and injustice and hatred and environmental destruction. The ordeals seemingly baked into the ups and downs of life.
The first seal releases the undefeatable conquering power of Jesus. As the remaining seals release sin and evil, the throne room fills up with those rescued by the conquering power of our risen Lord. Not one person. Not one hundred people. Not one hundred thousand people. Not one million people. A multitude, beyond what anyone can count. A multitude from every tribe and every nation. A multitude so vast, so extensive, so universal, I wonder if there is anyone left on earth.
Jesus has gone before as he has always gone before. In the midst of the ordeal, God remains faithful. In the midst of the ordeal, God creates blessing. In the midst of the ordeal, God enables salvation through the blood of the lamb.
Consider Adam and Eve, expelled from the garden, losing their children, yet still they experience God’s blessing.
Consider Bathsheba, victimized by a lustful king who then murders her husband, yet still she experiences God’s blessing.
Consider Elijah, persecuted and chased because he remains loyal to the Lord, yet still he experiences God’s blessing.
Consider Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, exiled to a foreign land, thrown into a fiery furnace, yet still they experience God’s blessing.
Consider Mary, driven to Egypt by a king intent on infanticide, yet still she experiences God’s blessing.
Consider Jesus who, though slaughtered like a lamb upon the cross, was raised up and exalted, the lamb upon the throne, receiving power and wealth and wisdom and might, honor and glory and blessing.
Consider your own life. The ordeals you have survived. The blessings you have received. How God has intervened. How God has lifted you up upon a rock. How even when father or mother forsake you, God has been there.
Consider how you have seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living because Jesus has gone ahead of us. Jesus meets our sin and conquers it. Jesus meets the sin in our families, our relationships our communities and conquers it. Jesus meets the accumulated sin of the generations and conquers it. Jesus meets the baked in pain, hurt and suffering, and conquers it.
Jesus goes ahead, and is our light and our salvation.
Jesus goes ahead, and is the stronghold of our life.
The lamb becomes the shepherd and leads us through our ordeals. In this we have hope. In this we have reason to get up in the morning, to put our feet on the floor, to get through each part of a day – breathe in, breathe out, each breath a prayer, each prayer a song.
The Lord is my light
In whom shall I fear
And my salvation
My God’s always near
My refuge my strength
I’ll not be afraid
Up high on a rock
My God will me save
Each breath a prayer. Each prayer a song. And then one day, one day, we realize we’re among the multitude. We’re singing the joy of our salvation. We’re healed, renewed, forgiven. With tears dried, we are washed in the blood of the lamb, the lamb who became our shepherd, who led us, who still leads us, through.