Your Bridegroom Is Coming Back For You
Confirmation Sunday – April 24, 2016
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.”
5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” What a beautiful illustration for marriage! Husband and wife are joined together, helping one another up when the other falls.
But what happens at the death of a spouse? Who picks up the widow left behind? Many people know that loss. Many of you know that loss – the emptiness felt after the death of a spouse. A woman named Doris Ackerman knew that loss better than most.
At the beginning of World War 2, Doris fell in love with a young gentleman named Charles Fergusson. The two were inseparable. And after months of courtship, they were married. But the world was now at war. And Charles, who had enlisted in the Air Force, was sent to fight the Japanese in the Pacific.
Then, on Christmas Eve, 1942, Doris got the news that no military wife ever wanted to hear. Her husband, Charles, had been shot down. The report was especially grim because one of the other pilots flying nearby saw his plane go down. He related that no parachute was used and Charles’ plane exploded.
What was Doris to do? She had lost the love of her life. Should she eventually move on, and find someone else to spend her life with? She said no. She resolved to live the rest of her life longing for Charles, and standing alone.
Loneliness and loss can consume a person more than any other emotions. And that can be especially true when we lose someone we love. God knows how that feels, too. In the Old Testament, God often describes his relationship with his people to a marriage. God was Israel’s husband. They were his wife. “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness.”
The Lord was the perfect husband for his people. He cared for them. He protected them. He gave them everything they needed. However, Israel was not the perfect wife. God relates what Israel, his unfaithful wife, would say, “I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my olive oil and my drink.” The Lord reminded Israel, “You trusted in your beauty and used your fame.”
The people of Israel had been like an unfaithful wife to the Lord, their husband. They weren’t the only ones. God has blessed us in the same ways he blessed Israel. He has been our perfect husband too. Everything he did for Israel he has done for us: “I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments.”
How lonely and saddened the Lord must have felt when Israel, his bride, left him for the gods of this world. How lonely and saddened he must feel when we choose the things of this world over Jesus, who is our groom. The loss of a spouse is a saddening reality. And Jesus was saddened over our unfaithfulness more than we can even imagine.
But he didn’t leave us or forsake us. He could have. He had every right to move on without us. But Jesus, the husband of all believers, the church, didn’t give up. Instead, Jesus came to this world to be one of us. He sought us. He chased after us. In fact, to win us back, Jesus died for us.
The Bible describes Jesus’ love for us, his believers, in a variety of ways. But one of the most touching ways paints Jesus as the loving husband coming to save us, his wayward wife. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
Christ gave his life for us, and now every day we can remember just how much Jesus, the husband, loves us, his believers and bride. However, if Jesus is our groom, then why did he leave? When Jesus ascended into heaven the disciples continued to look up with longing in their hearts. In many ways, we still look up longingly into the heavens, waiting for our groom to return and bring us home.
Waiting for a loved one’s return can be just as difficult as losing a loved one. Again, that was what Doris felt after hearing her husband, Charles had crashed and died in World War 2. Having lost the love of her life, she had resolved never to love again. Even when the war finally ended, Doris felt that longing for Charles tugging at her heart.
Then one day, a gentleman appeared on her doorstep. It was Charles, seemingly back from the dead! Doris embraced her husband for the first time in years. She had been through such longing, such pain, but it had all ended. Charles was with her again.
You see, Charles’ plane had gone down and even exploded. Yet Charles survived the crash. Then he also survived years of suffering and torture in the hands of the enemy. But he survived. He had returned.
Some days you probably feel like Doris. You’ve lost loved ones here on earth. You feel alone and forlorn. Life loses its joy. Pain increases. Sadness seems to own you. And it is precisely at this point that John reminds you of what is coming. “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” And when Jesus returns, he is never going to let you go. “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.”
Those painful, sad, lonely days will be behind you forever. “He will wipe every tear from [your] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
You confirmands are making a solemn promise today. You are dedicating yourselves to your Savior, the bridegroom of the church. You are promising to be faithful to him as you live here on earth. You are promising to tell others about him. You are promising to faithfully await his coming. Christ, your bridegroom is also making a solemn promise to you today – to preserve you, to protect you, and to be with you always, to the very end of the age.
Your bridegroom has died for you. Your bridegroom has risen for you. Your bridegroom is coming for you. Amen.
Safe At Last…Troubles Past
Good Shepherd Sunday – 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.”
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Our readings have all focused on who our Good Shepherd is. Our hymns have all talked about how Jesus loves us as a shepherd, how he guides us through this life, and how he laid down his life for us, his sheep. Most memorable are the paintings that show us these things. There is the picture of Jesus carrying the little lamb on his shoulders. There is the image of Jesus reaching out to save a lost sheep caught in a thicket. And then there is the picture on the cover of our bulletin this morning of Jesus leading the sheep through a calm, serene grassland.
Those pictures are pretty common images to consider when we look at Jesus as our Good Shepherd. And most of them are accurate. However, the one of the cover of our bulletin this morning might not be the perfect description of what it is really like to be a sheep in this world. Look at how nice the walk is for those sheep. There aren’t any dangerous animals. They are in a perfect feeding area. The sheep are all getting along. In fact, the situation is so nice that the Shepherd doesn’t even have to look at the sheep!
That probably isn’t the best representation of what it is like to be a sheep of Christ in this world. In fact, the painting should probably look more like a battle field. If we were to paint an accurate picture we would have to show ourselves as sheep that wander off the path from time to time. The sheep are in thickets. They get lost. The sheep get angry with one another.
Then there are the predators. We would need to put them in our painting as well. There would be the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” He is constantly trying to snatch us away from our Good Shepherd through the pleasures of this world, the business of our schedules, and the anger that harbors within us. But that’s not all. There are enemies dressed in sheep’s clothing that are deceiving many.
And then there is the grass. Now I know, how can we find fault with the setting? But the grass of this world doesn’t always look nice and pristine. Sometimes it looks rough and bare. The walk isn’t a simple, level path. Often it feels like a difficult, uphill climb.
Finally, there is the Good Shepherd in the painting. Certainly we can’t remove him from the picture. He is the focal point. He is the most important part. But while those sheep can see their Good Shepherd in the painting, we don’t see our Good Shepherd physically. That can make the journey through this life all the more arduous and difficult!
So now we have quite a different picture than what we started with. So what gives? Was God lying to us with the 23rd Psalm? Not at all! Sometimes we look at that psalm and expect eternal rest and peace in this life. But that is all coming. In fact, in Psalm 23 David describes this life much like the new painting we just pictured. He says “we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Talk about accuracy! Death constantly hangs over us in this world like the shadow of a tall building.
Our second lesson this morning summarizes all the struggles and hardships that believers face in this world with one word: “tribulation.” The attacks of the devil on us, as Jesus’ sheep; the deceptions of others who claim to speak the truth but only speak lies; the pain and suffering that comes our way because of our faith all add up to this “Great tribulation.”
There have been a lot of different ideas about just what this great tribulation is or will be. As always, the Bible is quite clear on the matter. From the time Jesus ascended into heaven until today believers have experienced this great tribulation. The Apostle Paul knew it well. He preached, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” And it is getting worse. The Bible says, “evildoers and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
Seeing all of this around us, the temptation is to wonder if our Good Shepherd is around at all. Between the devil, deceivers, the rough road of this life and my own dumb, sheep-like decisions, the situation seems all but lost!
It is at this point we need to stop focusing on the surrounding problems and remember who our Good Shepherd is. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Not just any shepherd would do that. Not just any shepherd could do that. Your Good Shepherd, Jesus, loved you in such a way that he was willing to die for you. And to do that the Shepherd had to become the Lamb. The Lamb was sacrificed to take away the sins of the world.
In fact, it is Jesus’ blood that cleanses you. That doesn’t work for anything else. We don’t use blood at our house to wash our clothes or ourselves. I bet you don’t either. But Jesus’ holy, precious blood was needed to pay the price for our sins.
And it is with that sacrifice in mind that the book of Revelation shows us the end. In his vision John saw believers in heaven and asked who they were. God gave him the beautiful answer. “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.” The description of heaven for God’s flock certainly is a beautiful one. Here are the details God gives. “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 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.”
That is a beautiful scene. But we’re not there yet. We still walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We still have enemies coming at us on every side. We still struggle in our relationships with one another. And we still struggle with our own sins on this long, arduous walk through life.
How do I know if I will make the journey? What if I am snatched away? What if I become lost? Listen again to your loving, Good Shepherd, Jesus. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.”
This morning the words of Psalm 23 have new meaning for us. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear nor evil. For you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me…Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Amen.