I’ve always liked Palm Sunday. It signifies the beginning of Holy Week. And over the years I have tried to look at that historic entry into Jerusalem from every angle that I can think of. We’ve considered the people in the crowd (the skeptics, the faithful, the antagonists), we’ve looked at the expectations of the people who cheered. We’ve considered Jesus’ tears over Jerusalem. We’ve looked at the irony or tragedy of the fact that less than a week following this grand celebration, some of these same people were yelling, “crucify, crucify.” I’m sure, somewhere along the way, we’ve even looked at the donkey. But this year God showed me something different. This year He showed me that this entry into Jerusalem should not only remind us of what was . . . it should also point us to what shall be.
In order to make this point, I was led to Revelation (please, no “s”) 7. My first response was to run. The book of Revelation can be an intimidating book. Lots of so-called experts are quick to tell us what every symbol means. I don’t think it is that easy. All week long I have struggled with various interpretations. I just got more confused. Then it seemed like the Lord whispered, “Forget the theories . . .just tell them what it says.” So that’s what we’ll do.
Listen as we read Revelation, 7: 9-15
- 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. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 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, saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” I 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. 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. 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.”
Do you see why I call this Triumphal Gathering II? There are Palm branches, cheers, and Jesus is in the center of it all once again. But there are some differences,
- The first crowd was a mixture of people the future group will be made up of only believers and the angels
- The first group looked forward to what might be, the second looks at what is
- the first group focused on the hope of temporal deliverance, the second group will look at eternal and spiritual deliverance.
I suggest that the reason the second triumphal gathering will be far superior to the first Triumphal Entry can be summarized in three statements.
First, We will Understand the Greatness of God and of His Grace Toward Us.
Perhaps you have talked about how great it would be to hold your child in your hands the very first time. But talking about it, and experiencing it are two different things. . . In the past we have talked to people who have experienced a severe grief. We have been compassionate and sensitive. But when we experience a grief like that ourselves, our tone changes. We become softer, our empathy becomes greater . . . now we understand.
It’s like that with sin and grace. We use the words but we don’t really understand. On that day, we will.
There are two reasons this is so. First, we will see our sin in light of God’s Holiness. At the present time we know that there are things that we do that are wrong. We can measure our lives by the Scriptures and see that we often fail to meet the standard God has set. We love the Lord. We want to please Him. And when we don’t it pains us. But we really do not have any idea of how offensive our sin is to our Holy God. We have not begun to comprehend how far we have fallen from the standard.
You see, there is a part of us that sees the wrong we do and draws comfort from the fact that others do the same thing. We even feel good that we are not as bad as others. But we are missing the point. We are not called to measure our lives by other people, we are called to measure our lives by the Lord.
You can play baseball in a community league and think you are really a great ballplayer. Your friends look up to you, other people marvel at you, you dream of how you are going to spend your money. Then you go to college. All of sudden everyone is as good or better than you are. You go from superstar to average in a hurry. It is an eye-opening experience.
Heaven will be an eye-opening experience for us. When we see God in His holiness we will realize our true nature. When we see the real greatness of His character we will understand the depth of our need. This was the experience of everyone who encountered God. Isaiah describes it best . . .when he saw God he felt sure he would die. He said, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips and serve a people of unclean lips.”
Isaiah was known as a righteous and holy man. Yet, when he encountered God he saw the depth of the sin in his life. When we see God there will be no excuses. Comparisons will be futile. We will know that we deserve God’s wrath.
But Secondly, we will also see God’s grace, in light of our sin. When we understand the depth of our need . . . we will appreciate His mercy and grace in a way we have not appreciated it before. We are told that these people before the throne were “wearing white robes” . . . we are told that “they have washed their robes and made them white by the blood of the Lamb” (v. 14)
On that day, we will realize that we stand before the Lord in Heaven ONLY by the blood of the precious Son of God. We will realize that it is not due to our efforts . . . but to His grace. We will understand that we have received a mercy that is so wonderful that our hearts could never, ever, begin to repay Him. Only then will we realize the price that was paid. Only then will we see what our Savior set aside so He could save us. Only then will we see the ways that God has worked in our lives to draw us to Himself. We will see and be overwhelmed.
And so we will spend the rest of eternity in gratitude and worship. Not because we have to . . . .but because it is the only response. No arrogance, no sense of superiority, no ranking ourselves against others . . . only worship. And even the angelic host, those that have been a part of this great act of salvation, when they see the multitude of those the Lord has redeemed also cry out: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!
On that day we will see the greatness of our God. On that day we will understand not only our sin . . . but we will see for the first time the depth of His love. It will be a spectacular day.
Second, We will be on the Other Side of Our Struggles
It may just be my imagination, but it sure seems like the struggle has become more intense lately. Everywhere it seems I turn, there are people going through very difficult times. In my own life, it is sometimes a real effort to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And that is why this passage is such an encouragement to me. It reminds me that the struggle will not go on forever. . . .even though it seems like it.
In our passage John asks who these white-robed people are. He is told, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation” (v. 14). These are the ones who have survived the trials of life. These are the ones who have remained faithful even though life was painful and hard. These are the believers who kept the faith.
This picture gives us strength. It keeps us focused and will help us keep going. It is tough to keep running is you don’t see a purpose. In fact, I have heard that one of the most devastating punishments in a concentration camp is when the captors make their prisoners do meaningless labor. They might have them move a pile of rock from one spot to the next . . . and then back. It is labor without a purpose and eventually it eats away at a persons willingness to go on.
Life can be like that. We face obstacle after obstacle.
- We get through one operation and another is waiting.
- We pay off one debt and another makes its claim on our life.
- We get one child healthy and the other gets sick
- We cross off one item from our “To Do” list and add three others
- We survive one crisis and another wave of trouble washes over us
I have always wondered why people run in marathons. Most know they have no chance of winning. During the race they encounter cramps, they battle exhaustion, and at time dehydration. They spend months punishing themselves and depriving themselves in preparation for this long exhausting journey. Why? Most tell me that it is because of the joy and satisfaction that comes when you cross that finish line. It is not the winning . . . .it is the surviving and conquering that brings joy.
That description does not inspire me to take up running . . . but it does help me understand what it will be like in Heaven. We run now, for the glory of finishing the course. Paul understood this when he wrote,
- I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day –and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7,8)
Paul does not say it had been easy. It was a “fight” . . . but he’s still standing. The thing that kept him going . . .the thing that keeps us going . . .is knowing that someday we will stand before the throne. Then, it will be worth it all. On that day the race will be over . . .we will have crossed the finish line. And as we run the race of life, we need to keep that day in our minds.
Third, We will begin to experience the Life we Never Dared to Imagine
Listen to these sublime words,
- he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. 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 every tear from their eyes.
In Revelation 21 we read similar words,
- God himself will be with them and be their God. He 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. (21:3,4)
Do you hear what is being said? There is coming a day when,
- we will no longer hunger or thirst for more (in our belly, stuff in our home, resources at our disposal, prices for our crops, knowledge in our head, depth to our love, an end to our loneliness.) those longings will have been satisfied in Him.
- we will no longer battle the forces of nature. No more mud, no more tornados, no more sun burn, no more winter storms, no more mosquitos or flies? Nature will yield only joy.
- we will no longer have reason to cry . . . except for joy. No more sorrow, no more disappointment, no more devastating losses. No more bullies. We will never have to bury someone we love again.
- we will know forgiveness – not only being set free from punishment . . . I think we will also be set free in our memories. The scars will be healed, the guilt will be silenced, the stain will be gone. O, what a day that will be.
- there will be no more cancer, no more arthritis, no more flu.
- there will be no need for glasses, none of the limitations of getting older.
- no more frustration, disappointment or failure.
- there will be no more using people to get ahead; no more hurtful words; no hatred.
We haven’t begun to build and exhaustive list. But the point is simple . . . in that coming day we will be granted the life we have always longed for. It is a life we didn’t think possible. But it was God who placed that hunger in our heart. And some day, He will satisfy it.
So what do we do in light of these facts? Who cares? So what? How does this affect me now?
First, we need to ask if this will be our destination. After hearing these great promises may I ask you a direct question? Will you be in the crowd that day? Will you be among those who have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb?
The Bible says this will be a large group, but it will also be an exclusive group.
- There will be people who knew the right words who will be absent.
- There will be those who went to church every Sunday, who won’t be there
- There will be those who were baptized who are missing
- There will be those who have done great works . . . even miracles. . . who will not be included
So, who will be present? Only those who tied their future to what Christ has done for them. Only those who recognize their need for a Savior and have responded by anchoring their life to Christ. In short, the only ones who will be there are the ones who really – TRUST Jesus. They aren’t playing at religion . . . they trust Him for salvation, for guidance, for wisdom, for grace. They trust Him in the trials and in the times of blessing.
So, what do you think? Will you be present that day? If you don’t think so, it’s still not too late. Stop right now and surrender to the Master. Drop the pretense, put aside the justifications, stop rationalizing your behavior and receive the life that He offers. Stop worrying about the status quo . . .and start thinking about eternity.
Secondly, We Should Live Differently in Light of the Glory that Awaits Us. Where is your focus for living? Are you anchored to the present, or the future? If everything you had was lost, would you feel that you had nothing, or would you still feel that you had everything you needed in Christ?
Let me ask you some questions,
- In light of what is ahead, how do you now define what is “important”?
- In light of Heaven, how will you deal with difficult times and people differently?
- In light of what is ahead how will you change your approach to your non-Christian friends and family?
- What effect does the promise of Heaven have on your anxieties?
- How do thoughts of Heaven affect the choices you make regarding possessions and enjoyments?
- How will these truths affect your enthusiasm for living?
- He was just a little fellow. His mother died when he was just a child. His father, in trying to be both mom and dad, had planned a picnic. The boy had never been on a picnic, so they made their plans, fixed the lunch, and packed the car. Then it was time to go to bed, for the picnic was the next day. He just couldn’t sleep. He tossed and he turned, but the excitement got to him. Finally, he got out of bed, ran into the room where his father had already fallen asleep, and shook him. His father woke up and saw his son. He said to him, “What are you doing up?” “What’s the matter?”The boy said, “I can’t sleep.”
The father asked, “Why can’t you sleep?”
In answering the boy said, “Daddy, I’m excited about tomorrow.”
His father replied, “Well, Son, I’m sure you are, and it’s going to be a great day, but it won’t be great if we don’t get some sleep. So why don’t you just run down the hall, get back in bed, and get a good night’s rest.”
So the boy trudged off down the hall to his room and got to bed. Before long, sleep came–to the father, that is. It wasn’t long thereafter that the little boy was back pushing and shoving his father, and his father opened his eyes. Harsh words almost blurted out until he saw the expression on the boy’s face. The father asked, “What’s the matter now?”
The boy said, “Daddy, I just want to thank you for tomorrow.”
-Benjamin Reaves, “Living Expectantly” Preaching Today
When you and I stop and think of where we were when the Father found us, when we consider the means that He used to draw us to Himself, when we think about what life would have been like without Him, we can’t help but be moved to gratitude. And when we think about what is in store for everyone who believes, when we think about the glory of standing in the crowd in Heaven to praise our gracious Lord, when we think about that day when we will no longer hunger or thirst, when all dangers will be abolished, where the living water is our refreshment and all our tears dried, when we think about that day when the Shepherd will lead us, we too will find ourselves lifting the Palm Branches to sing Hosanna. And periodically we will find ourselves swept up in the wonder of anticipation and we too will say, “Father, we just want to thank you for tomorrow.”