Summary: That crowd gathered around the throne is made up of African saints drumming and dancing, Lutherans singing Bach and Handel, medieval monks chanting plainsong, Latin American Pentecostals with shouts of triumph, messianic Jews dancing the hora, Southern Ba
There’s been some great stuff in the news over the last couple of weeks... We’ve seen our POW’s coming home and being greeted with almost hysterical adulation... many of our troops are on the way home as well. The bloodbath that many feared didn’t happen, and much though we mourn those who fell, the fact that there were so few is truly a testimony to the courage and professionalism of our military. And the turnout of cheering Americans who greeted the aircraft carrier Lincoln was great fun to watch. Isn’t it good to have heroes? It’s really heartening to see people turning out for genuine heroes instead of the usual assortment of shallow celebrities, famous for being famous. On the down side, of course, is the Lacy Peterson murder case, and even below that is the new Monica Lewinsky show Mr. Personality. Did any of you watch it? Talk about being famous for being famous. Or I should say, infamous.
Our society is full of celebrities of all kinds, and even the church has its celebrities, many of whom are really worthy of our admiration - people like Billy Graham or Chuck Swindoll. And our soldiers, too, are worthy of our admiration. But the Biblical idea of heroes is very different from our culture’s. The great end-time army of God that John shows us in this chapter turns out to be an army of martyrs, rather than powerful warriors. Instead of slaying the wicked for God, they die for proclaiming God’s message. And their admiration, their cheers, are for the ultimate hero, their leader Jesus.
Now, martyrs have a very mixed image in this day and age. The same word is used for both the extreme Islamic view which glorifies those who die in the process of killing for their God, and there is the classic Christian understanding of martyrs as those who are willing to be killed for their God. What is important to remember is that the Greek word "martyr" means, simply, “witness.” Death alone doesn’t make someone worthy of praise. What is important is who or what they are witnessing to. Their deaths are important be1cause of why they died.
And so this text reminds us who our true hero is. Every hero in the Bible has some flaws, whether major flaws like Samson and David or minor ones like Abraham and Samuel. They were heroes in the same way that our own soldiers, imperfect human beings all, are also heroes. They were willing to risk their lives in a cause they believed in, even though they had imperfect knowledge of either the issues or the outcome. And some never expected they’d be called on to fight;
they joined for the opportunity for advancement - kind of like Abraham, right? who wanted an inheritance ... does anyone think that God’s promised of land and descendants didn’t matter to him?
But they trusted their leaders and their cause, and so they went forward. Some died. Some came home. We honor them all. But we have to be just as careful of over-praising our military as we should have been to avoid demonizing them, as people did a generation ago, when our troops came home from Vietnam.
But there is one hero who has no faults, whose motives are not mixed, and whom we can - indeed should - follow and imitate and praise without limits or conditions or cautions. And that is, of course, Jesus, the only true hero in the ultimate sense. The palm branches the martyr army holds to praise their conquering general reminds us that what Jesus did for us by his death is of far greater consequence than anything an army can accomplish by fighting, as necessary as
that sometimes seems to be.
That these believers overcame by suffering and the victory of the Lamb rather than by armed resistance redefines for us the nature of triumph for the present age. Christ reveals his power more clearly through the broken than the powerful, through the Mother Teresas rather than the Crusades, more through the cross than through the sword. One Jewish writer observes her respect for one sort of Christianity: “When Christianity speaks of God’s strength being revealed in weakness, I understand it best through the deeds of evangelicals who do not overlook those who are weak and apparently powerless.” [Bru Greenberg, “Mission, Witness and Proselytism”] .
As spectacular as our military victory was, it is our commitment to peace that will have a lasting, long-term effect on changing the anger and division of the region into mutual respect and cooperation As impressive as our strength may be, it will mean nothing unless our service to the people of Iraq in rebuilding their country and helping toward self-government reflects the selfless, self-giving attitude of Jesus Christ. There is an Arabic proverb that goes, “You kiss the hand you cannot bite.” In that culture, gentleness is often seen as weakness. Having displayed our strength, our gentleness may now have an impact.