“The Great Celebration”
May 23, 2010
Someday all of us will celebrate salvation in the shelter of the shepherd.
I. The Great Multitude (Revelation 7:9-10)
II. The Great Celebration (Romans 7:11-12)
III. The Great Salvation (Revelation 7:13-14)
IV. The Great Shepherd (Revelation 7:15-17)
Extended Children’s Corner: A Girl Named Dirty
Forever and always, the Caretaker of Great Park brought those who were hurt or frightened, sick or broken to his wife, Mercie, because she was wise and whatever she touched was made better...
Except Dirty. Dirty refused to become better. Caretaker had found her in the garbage dump outside the gate of Great Park, rooting around for food. The child was covered with welts and bruises. When Caretaker approached the girl, she immediately stood to her feet and shouted, "I'm Dirty! I never wash! I never cry! I'll fight anything that raises a fist to me!" Then she fainted from her wounds and hunger. Caretaker brought her to Mercie. But all of the old woman's efforts could not help the girl to enjoy life in Great Park. Dirty hated the cottage. She despised the people who lived there.
"I'm not going to live with those creeps." she declared one day as she stomped off to the barnyard to make her home with the pigs. From that day on, she tromped in the mud and slept in the sheds. She practiced pig grunts. She learned pig calls, "Hoi-soi-soi-soi-hoi!" She watched the sows give birth to litters, and made pets of the piglets.
Another orphan was living at the cottage, a girl Dirty's age who was crippled. Dirty hated the Crippled Girl because she was ugly. "Sui! Sui!" she would say to her pigs. "How can they live with that ugly thing? Why don't they just get rid of her? Dirty watched when Caretaker carried the Crippled Girl into the warm sunshine. She heard that ugly thing trying to sing. Dirty made pig grunts to drown out the sound.
At first Mercie tried to persuade her to come into the cottage for meals, but she would not. Then Mercie carried nourishing lunches to the dung heap where Dirty like to sit, and ate with the girl. Finally, Dirty refused any food from Mercie's hand. "I'll eat the pig slop. If it's good enough for pigs, it's good enough for me." Finally, the wise woman decided to leave Dirty alone.
So Dirty lived in the pigpen in back of Caretaker's cottage and never left it - except to creep into Deepest Forest on evenings of the Great Celebration, when the people of Great Park gathered to enjoy the presence of the King. Dirty loved to watch the dancing, the singing the feasting and the joyful fellowship. No one knew that Dirty watched them on those special nights.
At first, entrance - when all the subjects of the King became real - seemed stupid to Dirty. She’d been mad to discover that the goody, goody Amanda was really a princess. She was furious when Mercie walked through the Sacred Flames and became the most beautiful of women. She snorted when silly Caretaker became Ranger Commander. What kind of tricks were they trying to pull on her? No wonder they were happy and kind. It was easy to laugh if you were really a princess, or beautiful, or powerful. But what if you were just ordinary and never became anything else? Life was not so easy then. Dirty hated the subjects of the King all the more, but for some reason she could not stay away from their Great Celebrations.
One night, Dirty hid in the hollow stump of a felled tree, and watched the Sacred Flames. Looking through the dancing fire, she could see that banquet tables were being spread with glorious foods. She had brought a dried ear of corn from the pig trough and was munching on its hard kernels. Suddenly, she heard someone crying, "Alms! Alms for the poor!" She peeked her head out of her hole and saw a beggar, all ragged and threadbare. Too late! The beggar had seen her. He peeked into the black hollow of the stump. "Aren't you coming to the Great Celebration?" the man asked.
Dirty climbed out. She got down on all fours and pushed her nose into the dirt. She snorted. She made a pig call, "Hoi-soi-soi-soi-hoi!" The beggar was not fooled into thinking she was a pig. "Come," he said. "Come through the flames and be my guest at the banquet table." Dirty looked at him. She showed her teeth. She grunted again. She said, “Go with you? You're nothing but an ugly beggar! I'd rather be with the pigs!"
The beggar touched her gently on the shoulder. Dirty drew back, but her arm felt warm where his hand had been. "Oh, Dirty," he said. "Don't you know? All The subjects of the King are nothing more than ugly beggars." With that, he moved off. She was astonished he hadn't hit her with his staff or shouted, "You filth! Who are you to call me ugly?" Dirty watched the beggar make entrance. She heard the Rangers salute. She saw the glad clamor of hello in Inmost Circle. She watched the beggar become real. Through the burning flames, she saw that he was the most wonderful man. He was the King himself. And he had said to her, "come with me..."
At that moment, Dirty, unwashed and smelling of the pigpen, began to love the King. Longing filled her heart. She wanted to be as beautiful as he. The music for the celebration struck up. The King disappeared into the happy crowd. Dirty hid back in her hole. From her hiding place, she could see latecomers hurrying to make entrance.
Far off, hastening through the forest, she spotted Mercie and Caretaker. As they approached, Dirty could see that they were holding the Crippled Girl. They were taking her to the celebration. Dirty wanted a better view. She wanted to see if the ugly girl would become real. She watched them pass through the flames. Hah! thought Dirty. Caretaker became Ranger Commander. Mercie became beautiful. But the Crippled Girl was still deformed.
Wait! Wait! What were Ranger Commander and Mercie doing now? The people parted as they carried Crippled Girl through the crowd ... to the King! Dirty watched as he King smiled at the Crippled Girl. She saw him bend over and lift her into his arms. She saw him cradle her head against his chest. The wonderful man was holding that ugly thing! He was speaking to her. "No! No!" thought Dirty. "He asked me!"
Then, Dirty gasped. The King leaned over and kissed the girl. At his kiss, she became real. Her body straightened. She was lovely and shining. "It could have been me," thought Dirty. "If only I had not been so piggish. If only..." Dirty was filled with rage. "Sui! Sui!” But she was really angry with herself.
Next morning, Dirty watched Caretaker carry the Crippled Girl into the sunlight. Hah! she thought. She's still an ugly cripple. But wait! The Crippled Girl was singing. Dirty crept through the gate so she could examine the Crippled Girl more closely. Hearing a sound, the Crippled Girl turned to look at the crawling girl. Her face was as beautiful as it had been when the King kissed her! Dirty knew no one could think the girl ugly once you had looked into her face. So that's what happens when you’re kissed by the King.
The thought of going back to the pigs was awful now. The thought of mud was terrible. The thought of living in the shed, of eating slop, was horrible. Dirty would have given them all up for one more chance to say, "Yes, I'd love to be your guest . . ." But it was too late. She had become more of a pig than ever. He would never love her, never hold her.
When Dirty discovered she was crying in front of the shining girl, she ran into the forest. It took days for Caretaker to find her. When he did, she had clean hands and a clean face. Her hair and nails had been washed in Lake Marmo. Her clothes had been scrubbed in a nearby stream. But she was still crying. Caretaker lifted her into his arms and carried her, as he did all wounded things, to Mercie.
Mercie was delighted. "Why, who is this?" she asked. "I-I'm D-Dirty," the girl answered between sobs. "But you're all clean," said Mercie, meaning to be kind. "No!" the child sobbed. "I've washed and washed, but I'm still dirty. I'm all pig inside. The King will never love me. It's too late!"
Mercie shook her head knowingly. "We shall see what the King has to say about that." So Mercie took the pig girl to the next Great Celebration. Rangers stood watch all around the rim of the Circle of Flames. Dirty pulled on the cloak of one and asked, "Is the beggar coming tonight?" When the tall man shook his head, no, her heart sank.
Dirty followed Mercie, who had stepped into the fire. The heat seared the pig girl's heart. She felt as though everything inside of her was being burned. Mercie put her arms around her. "Don't be afraid, The pain is only for a moment." "It's no use! It's no use!" Dirty cried. "The King is not coming! He is the one I must see. No one else can make me clean." Mercie took the girl's hand. "Let me tell you a wonderful secret," she said "All the people of the Kingdom know it. It is one of the first lessons they learn. The King does not have to come in order for us to see him. He is always present."
Dirty stopped crying. She looked at Mercie. "I don't understand what you mean." "Listen," said Mercie. She held her finger to her mouth for silence. "Listen and you will hear him speak. Be still. He has something to say to you." Dirty wiped her tears. She closed her eyes and listened as hard as she could. Yes, there was something. It was the voice of the Beggar King. He was saying, “Come, come with me. Be my special guest at the banquet table.”
Dirty kept her eyes closed. His guest . . . She could feel something pouring over her. It flowed down through her, starting with her head, than behind her eyes, all through the knots and gnarls of her insides. It was warm, gentle, caring. Mercie whispered, "It's kingslove, Dirty. Kingslove." Dirty could hear the voice again. The King was laughing. Then he stopped. He said, "I'm so glad you'd rather have me than your pigs." The warm flood had reached her toes. Dirty felt as if she were being held by the king, just like the Crippled Girl. She felt his kiss. Mercie was right: you did not have to see the King to be surrounded by the power of his love.
Dirty heard music. The violins and the harps had begun to play. It was time for the dance. She had watched it many times from the outside. Now she was in its very middle. All the subjects joined hands in one huge circle. Dirty wanted to dance. She wanted to sing and shout. She turned to Mercie. "The King does love me! I'm clean! I'm clean! The King has made me clean!"
Mercie took her hand, drew her into the circle of dancers within the Sacred Flames. The musicians began the beat. The girl knew the dance would begin slowly, then build. She knew the dance steps. She had watched them many times. But she didn't know the subjects would all sing her song! From around the circle it rose: “She's clean! She's clean! The King has made her clean!” And the circle moved faster and faster and faster. The subjects of the King sang and danced, rejoicing. “I'm clean! I'm clean! The King has made me clean!”
I love the story of ‘A Girl Named Dirty’ because it pictures so clearly the truth that we are all broken, we’re all crippled, we’re all dirty, ‘all the subjects of the king are nothing more than ugly beggars.’ And yet we are invited to be washed, to be cleansed and to join the great celebration.
I can’t think of a more fitting place to pause for a few months our study in Revelation than the end of chapter 7. Here we see a preview of the final victory foretold by this book, a celebration of salvation through the blood of the lamb, a reminder that someday all of us will celebrate salvation in the shelter of the shepherd. Let’s read this text and join the celebration:
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. 10And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." 11All 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, 12saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!"
13Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are they, and where did they come from?" 14I 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.
15Therefore, "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. 16Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17For 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."
Lately we’ve been doing a little theology, fitting Revelation 6 and 7 into an overall understanding of the end times and of God’s plan for Israel and the church. This scene is a key piece. We’ve said that the seals of Revelation 6 fit really well with Jesus’ prophecies, and with the clear description of the rapture in 1 Thessalonians, so that we see in Matthew 24:29-31 and Revelation 6:12-17 descriptions of the rapture. But if all the saints of the church age, living and dead, are taken up to be with Jesus in Revelation 6, we would expect them to show up in heaven later in Revelation – and they do, I think, in Revelation 7.
This chapter has two scenes: last week we saw the sealing of the 144,000 witnesses from all the tribes of Israel. Now in the second scene we’re in heaven instead of on earth, standing before the throne with an uncountable multitude, in front of the Lamb. I believe this multitude is the raptured church.
Look at the details. First, this is the only multitude specifically labeled uncountable in Revelation. Even the angels of Revelation 4 and 5 had a number, though admittedly a large one: thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. I’m not saying John counted the angels, but he saw them as countable. This multitude exceeds that: only the whole church or all of God’s redeemed people could be that large. But we just saw in the first scene of chapter 7 that some of God’s redeemed people have been sealed on earth to go through the tribulation; it’s not all of God’s people before the throne.
Second, these are people from every nation, tribe, people and language – the same phrase used in chapter 5: “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.” We know that Jesus commanded the twelve to go and make disciples of all nations, and that when the Gospel had been preached to all nations, the end would come. This multitude is the fruit of that world-wide Gospel message.
Third, this multitude is dressed in white, a symbol of purity, righteousness and holiness in the book of Revelation. In fact we will learn in verse 14 that they are dressed in white because they have washed in the blood of the Lamb. They are declared righteous because of the power of Jesus’ sacrifice.
So who are these people? I think we’ve shown that it is not the full number of the redeemed, which makes it very logical that these are redeemed of the church age. We’ve already seen how well the rapture fits at the end of chapter 6, and here is the church that was raptured – the dead in Christ plus those who are still alive, who are taken up to meet the Lord in the air, and ascend into heaven just as he did, to now worship before the throne.
This leads us to an awesome, obvious truth: you and I, who have been saved by the blood of Jesus, are in this scene. We are the redeemed, raised and clothed in white; we worship God in this awesome setting. Put yourself in this picture: you’re rejoicing in salvation, waving a palm branch. Palm branches are totally appropriate to this scene of festive joy. Those who went to meet Jesus as he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem carried palm branches and cried out “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Some scholars contend that the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles lies behind this image of heavenly worship. In that feast the Israelites celebrated God’s deliverance from Egypt. They set up booths to remember their dependence on God in the wilderness. They waved branches and fruit to celebrate the goodness of the land God provided. Moreover verse 15 literally says that “The One seated upon the throne will erect a booth over them with His presence.” This multitude is celebrating the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles.
So they cry out “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” This salvation is more than their victorious passage through hardship and suffering. It is deliverance from sin and all its dire consequences. The great multitude joyfully acknowledges that their deliverance rests on the sovereign will of God and the redemptive activity of the Lamb. One translation says “To our God. . . and to the Lamb, we owe our salvation!”
We’re watching ourselves celebrate. And now the rest of heaven joins in, verse 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, 12saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
The heavenly beings that surround the throne respond to the jubilant cry of the saints by falling before God and offering to him their praise. The redemption of the human race, that ultimate purpose of God in creation, is at last being completed. If there is “rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents,” how unbelievably great will be the joyful adoration of the heavens when the redeemed stand before God!
As in chapter 4, each of these praises is preceded by an article, so that it’s not simply blessing but ‘the’ blessing that belongs to God. It’s ‘the’ glory, the radiance of His presence; It’s ‘the’ wisdom, God’s divine knowledge revealed in redemption. Ephesians says that God’s intent “was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” That’s happening here.
In the same way the witnesses of God’s salvation pour out their thanks, and they give him the honor he deserves, in their respect and obedience. Like all these attributes, power already belongs to God, but these worshipers affirm it, as well as his strength. These are the perfections of God displayed in his salvation, and his people direct their praise to both the throne and the Lamb.
Above all they worship because of God’s great salvation. Verse 13: “Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are they, and where did they come from?" 14I 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.” This question must have occurred to John; it’s a question we’ve asked: “Who are these people?” John says “Sir, you know the answer,” roughly “I was about to ask you that.” The elder says they’ve come out of the great tribulation.
The use of the definite article in the phrase “the great tribulation” indicates that the angel is referring to this final series of woes that will bring God’s judgment on the world. We’ve talked about this as the ‘Day of the Lord’ and the unleashing of God’s wrath. The time of tribulation may begin with the sixth seal, or even earlier, but this, ‘the great tribulation’ is probably associated with that wrath, from which these redeemed saints have been rescued.
So the text tells us that this white robed multitude has been pulled out of this great tribulation before it gets really bad. Still, all of us will have gone through tribulation and affliction, and the distress of living in a fallen world. I looked up all the uses of the word ‘tribulation’ in the Greek, and almost all of them refer to the affliction we suffer now, not to that great tribulation yet to come.
In that day we will be rescued from this brokenness, from the mounting effects of the fall: this multitude has “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Their stain of sin has been washed away. The cleansing effect of the blood of Christ is pictured in verses like Heb 9:14, “the blood of Christ . . . [will] cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death” and 1 John 1:7 “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” The prophet Isaiah compares the righteous acts of Israel to “filthy rags,” but elsewhere promises “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”
These verses tell us we can experience cleansing now, at least partially, because we have already been given purity and eternal life. We still struggle with sin, and we are surrounded by a fallen world in which we walk with brokenness – but Christ has accomplished this cleansing for us and we can know the firstfruits of it now, the firstfruits of peace and joy and confidence and hope.
I love the story we read earlier: you have the dirty girl who needs cleansing, the crippled girl who needs healing, and the king who affirms that all the subjects of the king are no more than ugly beggars. We’re all broken, we’re all stained, we’re all impoverished. But you can almost hear us cry before the throne: “I’m clean, I’m clean, the King has made me clean.” We have come into the very presence of his cleansing love: it’s an awesome promise.
Verses 15 to 17: 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. 16Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17For 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."
Because they are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, the multitude is qualified to stand before the throne of God. There they serve him day and night, that is unceasingly, without pause. The temple in which the faithful serve is not to be thought of as a building in heaven. Rather heaven itself is the sanctuary: within it all God’s children are worshipers. Again, their service is not the ritual of the Old Testament, but a spiritual worship of adoration and praise.
The promise that God will spread his tent over them would evoke memories of the tabernacle in the wilderness, where Israel first worshiped, overshadowed by the pillar of cloud and of fire. This tent or booth or tabernacle has always been a symbol of the immediate presence of God to shelter and protect them, fulfilling the central Old Testament promise that God will dwell in the midst of his people: I will dwell with them and be their God.
The eternal blessedness of the redeemed is pictured in phrases drawn from Isaiah’s description of the exiles returning from Babylon in Isaiah 49. The promise that they will neither hunger nor thirst would be especially profound in a land where both were real dangers. Yet the promise goes beyond physical provision. It points to that ultimate satisfaction of the soul’s deep longings: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” said Jesus, “for they will be filled” And again, “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” In the age to come we will be sheltered from all harm and danger by the presence of God.
The idea that the Lamb at the center of the throne is at the same time our Shepherd is both awesome and comforting. And true: Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.
We all cling to passages like Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want,” and Isaiah 40 “He tends his flock like a shepherd.” We cling to his gentle care and daily provision. God also reveals, that a shepherd will come, “my servant David,” who will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord. Eternity will reveal out shepherd to be both tender and mighty.
Remember, this is us in Revelation 7: the shepherd will lead us to the wellsprings of life and wipe away the last trace of our earthly sorrow. “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed,” sang Moses and the children of Israel. “Lead me, O Lord in your righteousness,” prayed the Psalmist. As God has led in the past, so will he lead in the future. He directs the heavenly multitude to the fountain and source of life.
There, as the Psalmist says, we will drink from the river of God’s delights, for with him is the fountain of life. Jesus promises that “whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” As a fresh-water spring in an arid land, so will be the eternal presence of God to these thirsty souls.
Finally, God wipes away the tears from the eyes of the redeemed. This looks forward to end of Revelation, chapter 21. Revelation 7 is like a telescope or magnifying glass, giving the redeemed of the church the first glimpse of the blessedness of eternity. Revelation 21 says “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Here in this world, we have all been broken; all of us still walk with a limp. There is still death and mourning and crying and pain. Even Jesus wept. Whether we express it as tears or anger, we know something’s wrong. Something’s wrong with us: we hurt and we hate, we stumble and fail, we sin and we’re selfish – we’re broken. And something’s wrong with the world. There’s something wrong with a world that has cancer in it. There’s something wrong with a world that has child abuse in it. There’s something wrong with a world in which babies starve and old people die in the streets.
But the wrong will not prevail. We have been given this hope. All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well. Salvation belong to our God, and to the Lamb. We have washed our robes and made them white in his blood, shed for us. Therefore, we will be "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 is. 16Never again will we hunger; never again will we thirst. The sun will not beat upon us, nor any scorching heat. 17For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be our shepherd; he will lead us to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.