Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Seventh Sunday of Easter - Sunday, May 29, 2022

Text: Revelation 22:12-17, 20

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Whenever Memorial Day weekend arrives, it’s a common line of questions to ask people of all ages…What are your plans for summer? Do you have any vacations scheduled? Do you have any projects to complete? Will you do any gardening, or grilling, or fishing, or camping, or traveling? Especially after a long, relatively cool spring, it seems like a whole lot of people have been anxiously awaiting the start of summer, along with all the summertime activities we’ve come to expect. And if we’re going to fit it all in, we’re going to need some careful planning.

But let’s not forget that this world might not make it through another three months. In fact, this world might not make it through the long weekend! Today’s reading from Revelation puts at least a momentary pause on all of our planning as our ascended Lord Jesus reminds us that he is coming again soon, and he is coming to judge the living and the dead, just like we confess every time we say the Creeds together. How often do we think of Jesus’ glorious return? How often should we? What’s more, how do we wrestle with the potential conflicts we might have about planning for our earthly future at the same time as we are planning for the end of the world?

Good questions. Let’s listen again to what Jesus has to say. 12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

I know we’ve had a number of Revelation readings recently that have focused on the beauty, the glory, and the bliss of heaven. This section toward the end of the book reminds us, however, that not everyone gets to go there. We can all be glad that this isn’t the only portion of the Bible that talks about the basis of our final judgment, because if this is all we had, we could very easily come away troubled by what Jesus says here. And before we get to look closely at what Jesus says about us, let’s look at what he says about himself.

Here Jesus calls himself the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the Endthree ways of saying the same thing. As the eternal Son of God, he was there at the beginning of time. You might recall this verse from John 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. And now as everything comes full circle, he will bring about the end of time as well. The same Jesus who ascended to his throne on high will come back with his Almighty power, and he will give to each person according to what they have done.

And of course, the big question is this: where does that leave us? My guess is that for most people—including us, if we were to evaluate our own lives, would put ourselves somewhere in the middle. We might not be the best kind of people, but we certainly aren’t the worst kind of people. We try to be kind and honest and generous when we can, but we know we aren’t perfect… The trouble with that kind of thinking is that the way Jesus describes the outcome of the final judgment, there is no such thing as a middle. Either you are in or you are out.

Once more: 14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. From previous visions that John has shared, we know this city is heaven—it’s the eternal presence of God, an existence of complete perfection and joy, never to be disturbed or threatened. And outside the city is the opposite—the absence of God’s presence and blessing, an existence of complete suffering and never-ending anguish. And who belongs there? “The dogs”—a name used throughout the pages of Scripture for people who are unclean, unfaithful, and unbelieving—and here Jesus identifies them by their sinful actions.

Now, a proud person might gloss over this list of sins without paying much attention to it, assuming that because they’ve never murdered anyone or cheated on a spouse or made a sacrifice to a false god, they should be fine. But what happens when we study God’s Word and we read that God equates hateful thoughts with murder in our hearts, or says that lustful thoughts make us just as guilty as if we had outwardly committed the sin of adultery? Who of us can say that we have never lied to someone to try and get ourselves out of trouble or save ourselves from embarrassment? Can anyone be so bold as to claim that they have always loved God more than anything or anyone else, without letting their own desires get in the way? Selfishness is idolatry, and we have all been guilty. So where does that leave people like us?

If our eternity depended on our individual moral report card, we’d all wind up on the outside looking in. Thankfully Jesus has more to say before he comes again. 16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” 17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. Instead of leaving us alone or leaving us outside, Jesus comes to us with a gracious invitation. He calls to us through his Word with a testimony that we can trust. It is the gospel message, the good news that even as David’s Lord, he became David’s descendant and brought light and life into this world of darkness. Though we were the guilty ones, Jesus invites us to wear his holy life instead—we who are baptized into Jesus are clothed with Christ; through faith we wear robes washed clean in his blood. Instead of clinging to our sins or covering them up, we confess our sins and we can be confident that every single one is paid for and forgiven—all our lies, all our lust, all our misplaced love and affection for ourselves and the things of this world have been erased from our record forever, and it didn’t cost us a thing. As God’s children we drink freely from the water of life every time we look to Jesus, and our weary souls are satisfied when our need for forgiveness is quenched. Our eternal plans are plans that God himself made for us, fulfilled in the life and death of his own Son, and now revealed to us in his Word.

How does our certainty of heaven affect our plans for this world? We have some words to consider here. First of all, we already know that this world doesn’t always go according to our plans. We have regular reminders of the pain and suffering, the violence and tragedy that interrupt our proposed schedules. Temptation is always lurking to pull us away from the joyful and thankful obedience we intend for our lives. Worries creep in and threaten to shake our confidence and our certainty of God’s love for us. Relationships get strained when we give into the selfishness and pride that divides people, and death separates us from our loved ones, at least for a time. Again, thank God for every reminder that his plans and his love for us cannot be interrupted, and for all the times when he uses earthly troubles to draw us closer to him and remind us that heaven isn’t here yet. All these trials leave us longing for Jesus’ return, when all sadness and suffering will be over for us.

But even as we pray, “Come Lord Jesus” (and sometimes include “and hurry up!”) let’s all adjust our earthly plans to include the people around us, especially in the opportunities we have to reach out and share the gospel invitation. Here in these verses the church is called the bride, and as we look forward to seeing Jesus’ return to rescue us from this fallen world, we get to call out to others and invite them to come with us. As we have been invited, now God calls us to do the inviting. As those who know Jesus, we have a message of life, and hope, and comfort that this world can’t give; let’s live in such a way that we care enough for others to share Jesus and we trust the Spirit enough to leave the results up to him.

So, as we plan for the summer or plan for next week, let’s be sure and remember that God has plans for us. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Jesus is coming to rescue us once and for all when he comes to judge the living and the dead. Let it be our desire that until then, he works through us to add to the number of the faithful, that many others might have their robes washed, too, and come with us into the holy city, the new Jerusalem. May God bless our efforts as a church and as individuals, and guide others to long for heaven with us.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.