Sometimes in life, we get to experience what we could call joyous and glorious occasions. For me, those times would be my wedding to Susan, the birth of our children and my graduation from seminary. I am sure that you either already have or will experience some glorious occasions of your own.
These glorious occasions tend to have some important common characteristics. Something momentous is happening. There is a great celebration. And there is a community of inter-related people who join together in the celebration. We could say that
A momentous occasion + celebration + relationship = Glorious joy
This blog post is based on Revelation 7:9-17. This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on October 28, 2018. To go to the podcast, click here.
The momentous occasion and the celebration are self-explanatory, but the relationship piece is bigger than what we often think it is. For our key relationships are both vertical and horizontal at the same time. We have a vertical relationship with God and we have horizontal relationships with other people. And these times of joy and glory invariably involve both kinds of relationship. Often the occasion we are celebrating is a gift to us from God, so our celebration is a time of thanks, praise and worship towards God. And when we celebrate, we usually celebrate for others, with others, or because of the way others have helped us get to this point where we can celebrate this joyous and glorious occasion.
Let’s think for a few moments thinking about the word “glory.” It could be said that there are two types of glory: divine glory and human glory. Most of the time, when the word “glory” is used in the Bible, it is referring to God’s glory, and God’s glory refers to the presence of God. God is everywhere, but when He is present in a special place in a special way, that place is often described in the Bible as being filled with the glory of God.
Human glory is both different from God’s glory and often misunderstood. Human glory is not about being rich and famous. Human glory is not about a human being present is a special place in a special way. For human beings, our joy is our glory. When we experience a momentous occasion with celebration and relationship (both vertical & horizontal), the joy that we experience is our human glory. And here is the thought that I hope you will remember if you remember nothing else from this blog post: Dancing with Jesus will result in a joy that is far more glorious than anything else we can think or imagine.
To get a picture of what true human joy is like, we can look at Jesus, for He is the both the divine Son of God and the ideal human being. When we look at Jesus and His humanness, he can show us the way to ideal human joy. In Hebrews 12:1-2, we read: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
This passage tells us that because of the joy that was awaiting Him, Jesus endured the pain and the shame of suffering and dying on a cross. But what was the joy that Jesus was thinking about as He hung on the cross? It was the picture that is painted for us in Revelation, chapter 7.
Before digging further into the Revelation 7 passage, some background would be helpful. What you need to know is that the entire book of Revelation is a vision given to John by Jesus in which Jesus shows John, and by extension you and me, what is going on in the heavenly realms in the past, present and future. This is important because there is much more going on in reality than what we can sense with our physical senses. We human beings need to be aware of and attuned to reality if we are ever going to have a hope of making a difference that matters with our one and only life.
You see, when God first created the world and all that exists, heaven and earth were united, they were part of the same realm. But when our first parents, Adam and Eve disobeyed God, there was a cataclysmic shift in the cosmos, and heaven and earth became separate realms. Ever since, it has been like heaven and earth are separate, but parallel dimensions. The book of Revelation tells us what is happening in the heavenly dimension.
Below is the passage that describes the glorious joy that motivated Jesus to go to the cross and suffer and die to save the world. It is from The Message paraphrase which was written by Eugene Peterson to help people really get a hold of what God is saying to them in the Bible. Eugene passed away last Monday, and because of Jesus, Eugene is now able to see with his own eyes what is described for us in this passage.
9-12 I looked again. I saw a huge crowd, too huge to count. Everyone was there—all nations and tribes, all races and languages. And they were standing, dressed in white robes and waving palm branches, standing before the Throne and the Lamb and heartily singing:
Salvation to our God on his Throne!
Salvation to the Lamb!
All who were standing around the Throne—Angels, Elders, Animals—fell on their faces before the Throne and worshiped God, singing:
The blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving,
The honor and power and strength,
To our God forever and ever and ever!
Oh, Yes! (Rev. 7:9-12)
This picture of countless people from every nations, tribe, race and language standing in God’s holy presence and praising Him as He protects, provides and comforts them is the glorious joy of Jesus. This was what motivated Him to endure horrific suffering so that there could be this momentous occasion where countless inter-related people celebrated. But is this picture of heaven your source of glorious joy?
If I were to ask you if you believe in heaven and that is a good and glorious place, you might say “Yes.” But if I asked if you want to go there right now, you would likely say, “No” and I there are often times when I feel like giving the same answer. What is going on inside of us?
The reason that we don’t want to go to heaven right now, even though we believe it is good, is because we misunderstand what heaven is all about. Because of our misunderstanding about heaven, we then fear losing the good things that we enjoy in this life. You see, we tend to think that going to heaven is like moving from BC to Saskatchewan. Yes, there will be sunny days and beautiful skies. But we think to ourselves, “I will miss the tall trees, the mountains and the warm, moist climate.” But going to heaven is more like moving from BC to Hawaii, because in Hawaii you will have the mountains, the tall trees and the warm, moist climate of BC, plus the sunny days and the beautiful skies of Saskatchewan. Heaven will be the best of all the good things on earth amplified to perfection without all the bad things in this life that tend to drag us down and threaten to destroy us.
Because He loves us and because we can never get into God’s presence on our own, God the Father sent His Son down from the heavenly realm. Heaven and earth met in the person of Jesus, who was knit together in Mary’s womb, was born a baby in a lowly stable, and became a man who, at around the age of 30 began teaching through His words and actions, what life with God, or we could say, dancing with God looks like for us.
What we learn from Jesus is that dancing with God involves partnership and communication, just like dancing with another human being. As we move through time and space in our dance with God, grace and beauty are produced. And our hope and our prayer is that, as God produces grace and beauty in our lives, those things would encourage and inspire others to also dance with God or dance closer to God.
But one way that dancing with God is not like dancing with anybody else is when we dance with God, we are not only moving through the time and space of earth, we are also interacting with heaven, because we are dancing with God.
Jesus not only taught about heaven. He also created the way for us to be in heaven and for heaven to be in us. Jesus tore down the barrier between fallen humanity and the glory of heaven by becoming human and taking our place on the cross to more than pay in full the total cost of forgiveness of all sins of all people throughout all time. The way into heaven, the way into the presence of God is through Jesus.
Two thousand years ago in ancient Judea, people could only enter into God’s presence in one special place, the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple. But they could only do that through one representative, the Chief Priest, he could only enter that room on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement, and he could enter that room only after animals were killed, drained of their life blood and offered up as sacrifices to cover over the sins of the people. That special room in the Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the Temple by a thick, heavy curtain.
When Jesus gave us His life on the cross and died, that veil in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom to show that, through Jesus, people now had free and open access to the presence of God. We do not need a priest to intercede for us, Jesus is our priest. We do not need to make some kind of a sacrifice to God to gain His attention or earn His favor. Jesus is the one perfect sacrifice that ushers us into the family of God where we are unconditionally accepted and infinitely loved as God’s own dear children.
Jesus has defeated all of the things that can hurt you. Because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, a day is coming when heaven and earth will be joined back together in what the Bible calls the new heaven and earth. Everything in this broken and dying world will be restored and renewed. All evil will be purged away. Our dead and dusty bodies will be raised from the dead, restored and renewed. We will live in our resurrected bodies and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away and God will wipe every tear from your eyes. (cf. Rev. 21:4). And a huge crowd of people will be gathered together worshiping God. There will be a momentous occasion, there will be celebration and there will be relationship, both vertical and horizontal, like you have never experienced before. What that be a time of glorious joy?
We need to be mindful of the glory of the dance as we dance with God The glory of the dance is very important because it is both the high point and the conclusion of our dance with God. Our dance with God is going somewhere and knowing where it is going will help us to keep dancing with God even when this life gets hard. This life being what it is, there will always be times when life will get hard. But knowing the joy and the glory that waits for us in the end will help us to keep strong and carry on, especially in times of suffering and sorrow, trials and tribulations, darkness and death.
Jesus is inviting you to this heavenly celebration. Yes, there will be hard and difficult times between now and the time when you get to experience the glorious joy of heaven for yourself. But hang in there dear sisters and brothers because Jesus is with you. He will carry you this in-between time and you won’t want to miss how your dance with God will end.
Heaven and earth have met in Jesus and He is the Way for us to get into heaven and for heaven to get into use. We can rest in the confidence of knowing that Jesus loves us, He is with us, and He will hold us close throughout the dance in this life, and keep us safe right to the very end. Amen.