Summary: A Message from beyond the Grave 1) Halleluiah! 2) Hang in there!
How do you keep in touch with your friends? Do you prefer the convenience of emailing, or the immediacy of texting? Perhaps you’re among the millions who rely on a social networking site like Facebook. Did you know that you can now stay connected even after you die? Really! Companies like MyWebWill will continue to send “updates” to your contact list even after you’ve expired. Of course these updates are hardly messages from “beyond the grave.” They’re only messages you prepared to send while you were still very much able to tap the keys on your keyboard. Is it possible to receive messages from a loved one who has died? It is. In fact we do so today. Listen to our text from Revelation 7:9-17.
“Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” That’s one message from beyond the grave spoken by those who are now in heaven. Is your loved one among those relaying that message to you this morning? He or she is if they sang this song while alive: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:10). “Salvation” or deliverance from our sins, our fears, and escape from a meaningless life and hopeless existence, belongs to God because he designed it, and to the Lamb, Jesus, because he manufactured it. God owns the patent on salvation, you could say, and distributes it according to the standards of his grace (Preach the Word, March/April 2007, p. 2).
Contrast that song of heaven, however, with one of the most popular songs requested at funerals today: Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” Many in this world like to boast that they don’t live by anyone else’s rules but their own. They think that God will be OK with this because, for the most part, living their way didn’t really hurt anyone. Friends, is that what you think? Do you figure that as long as you use protection you can enjoy pre-marital sex? You may not contract any disease but you are scarring yourself and cheating your future spouse out of a gift that belongs to him or her. Or do you suppose that the unkind remarks you make don’t really hurt others because “you’re only joking”? Living life as you see fit is a dangerous and foolish endeavour. Continuing to do things “your way” instead of “God’s way” will eventually bring you under God’s eternal wrath in hell.
So which song are you singing? The fact that you’re in church this morning would seem to signal that you’re singing the Song of the Saints. But what about the rest of the week? Do you sing a song about your work achievements, your family, your grades, or your looks? Are these little ditties getting in the way of the one song that matters? I find it interesting that the things John mentions about the saints in heaven, what they’re wearing – white robes washed in Jesus’ blood, and what they’re singing all point to Jesus. In other words, the only thing that will matter in the next life is Jesus – not how many friends you had, how much money you made, or what kind of car you drove. Are you living as if the only thing that matters is Jesus?
But often it’s hard to sing the Song of Saints because we’re so busy trying to survive in this world. We struggle to find affordable housing. We struggle to overcome that nagging injury or bout of depression. It’s easy to become discouraged and lose heart. Our loved ones in heaven know what that’s like. These saints are described as “they who have come out of the great tribulation” (Revelation 7:14). “Great tribulation.” That’s an apt description of life in this world. Think of how many of our dear friends have suffered intense pain in their final days because of sickness. It was hard to see once robust men shrivel and become weak. Others had difficult family lives and had to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. But what do those saints have to say to us now? “Hang in there!”
We’ll find it easier to hang in there if we remember the song the angels are singing in heaven. It goes like this: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Revelation 7:12) Instead of relying on our own smarts and strength to get ahead in life, rely on the one who is truly wise and powerful – even when this wise God sees fit to let you struggle under a burden as if you were an ant. Let me explain. A young woman named Brenda was rock climbing for the first time when midway up a granite face the safety rope slapped against her eye dislodging a contact lens. Brenda’s eyesight was really bad. She needed that contact lens but couldn’t find it anywhere. In spite of this she somehow managed to make it to the top of the cliff but there plopped on the ground despondent that she couldn’t see clearly the beautiful scenery around her. What was more, she still had to hike back to the car. Would she make it without stumbling and hurting herself too badly? And so she prayed: “Lord, you know where every stone and leaf on this mountain is. You know exactly where my contact lens is. Help me find it!” Of course I wouldn’t be telling you this story if Brenda didn’t find the contact lens. When she got to the bottom of the cliff face again, another party of climbers was just starting their ascent. One of them called out, “Hey, anybody lose a contact?” How in the world had he found Brenda’s contact lens? He had noticed it moving across the face of a big rock…as it was being carried by an ant! When Brenda returned home and told her father who was a cartoonist what had happened, he drew a picture of an ant lugging a contact lens with these words, “Lord, I don’t know why you want me to carry this thing. I can’t eat it, and it’s awfully heavy. But if this is what you want me to do, I’ll carry it for you.” Think about that ant next time your labouring under a burden that makes no sense to you. It makes sense to God. And what’s more he is giving you the strength to carry it. Remember, God doesn’t call the qualified to bear burdens; he qualifies the called. In other words God doesn’t let you suffer because he thinks you can handle it. He gives you the strength to handle whatever suffering you’re undergoing.