I don't like mice. I know they're all over the place. I know the fields and other areas nearby us here are filled with them. I get that. I don't feel the need to exterminate all mice out there in nature. But I don't like them in my home. I don't want them scurrying around looking for food, finding hidden away places, and growing their little mice families in the same place where my family is.
But a little less than a year ago, maybe some of you heard about this, but we found mice. I caught a glimpse of a mouse one evening. And of course, by the time you see one, you know there are more. We set traps and we ended up getting 14. 14 mice, living in my home. It still makes me shiver.
Now, I couldn't stand dealing with these mice. I couldn't stand seeing them, alive or dead. I couldn't stand dealing with the traps; it was awful. And I'm ashamed to admit it, but part of me at the time just wished those mice had stayed hidden. I wished I'd never found them. I wished that they had just lived in our house, as long as we didn't have to see them or deal with them. When I walked to where we'd found the mice, I would make noise, stamp my feet, whatever I could — I made sure if there was a mouse, he'd have a chance to run and hide. I didn't sneak up and try to catch them. I just didn't want to deal with them.
This morning, we have to face the fact: we live with sin in much the same way. We officially don't like sin, of course. We shudder when we see how sin tears families apart and ruins relationships. We tremble in fear at what sin an do as we hear of a bomb going off during the Boston marathon. We know sin leads to death and it is the root cause of every problem in our world.
But we live with it. We go about our days, we live our lives, and often we don't think about the sin that's there in ourselves. Like mice scurrying under the floors and in the walls, we see evidence that it's there once in a while, but we like to ignore it. We like to pretend it's not there. Dealing with sin, trapping it and killing it with God's Word, well, that's messy. Most of the time we avoid it.
But then in our text today, we get a vision. Along with the Apostle John in the book of Revelation, we see a vision of heaven itself. And how striking there to see believers who don't have sins anymore. They are completely cleansed, completely sin-free. And we're told they praise God day and night. As we look at them, it will be a stark contrast to who we are now, stained as we still are with sin. But it will also fill us with joy as we think of God's love that would bring us from our sins here and make us the sinless children of God who would praise him forever there.
And through it all, we have someone shepherding us. It's Jesus. And here in Revelation we have the striking imagery of a Lamb being a shepherd. A lamb that was slain is a Shepherd who gives life. Only in Jesus could that make sense. He'll be our shepherd forever in heaven, and he's still our shepherd now. So we rejoice in him and give thanks for the sins that he didn't ignore, didn't hope would disappear on his own, but that he cleansed with his blood. He's the Lamb who was slain. The Lamb is your shepherd.
What a scene this is in heaven in our text. We can hardly imagine it. We’ve got people praising their God. We have the throne of God himself there. We have Jesus in the form of a Lamb who was slain there. What a sight! And as we look at that crowd gathered in heaven, I can’t help but think of the differences between that crowd there and us here today.
There are some pretty big contrasts. In John’s vision, he said, there before me was a great multitude that no one could count. (Rev. 7:9) Now, I get that this is all believers in heaven, but I can’t help look at the crowd in front of me and think, “Yeah, we could count this crowd without too much trouble.” And we think of the bigger crowds that tend to stay home from worship.
And the crowd in our text was from every nation, tribe, people and language. (Rev. 7:9) And again, it reminds me how much trouble we have finding just the people from this part of Wisconsin, let alone every nation. And of course in heaven, what is the crowd doing in heaven? They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple. (Rev. 7:15) We hear that and we think, “Wow, day and night. In the temple? That’s kind of a long church service. I wonder if they have breaks…”
But really, these differences are just the beginning. In so many ways, we can’t imagine the profound differences between ourselves now and the perfection of heaven for all eternity. We live with sin in so many ways now, that we don’t even notice a tiny fraction of it. It’s like there are so many mice running around in the house that we don’t even see them anymore, let alone try to stop them.
Think about your thoughts. I don’t mean on your bad days, when you’re in a horrible mood and everything makes you angry. Sure, you can think of sins of thoughts on those days. But what about your best days? What about when you’re helping people, or in church, or even praying to God? Those are good things! But how quickly our minds wander! How soon we think an angry thought at that one person who did something to us. How fast an impure thought might appear in our minds. How easily we pat ourselves on the back even when we’re doing something good, “Wow, God is sure lucky he has me!” Friends, our thoughts are hopelessly infected with sin. Always. Even on our best days.
Our words and actions seem like they’d be easier to control. Sure, we can probably all think of our sins in this area. The “bad days” when we get in a shouting match with someone and say all sorts of things we regret. The actions on our worst days that get us in trouble, that cause problems in our lives. Yes, we can all remember something we’ve said or done we regret.
But what about our best days? How many words can tend to be spoken under our breath, even when we’re at our best! How many times can God’s commands go out the window as we’re joking and laughing with friends! How many sinful actions we take every day, barely thinking of them. How many things we do, almost unconsciously, that show the brokenness of our sinful hearts!
Yes, we are fundamentally broken because of our sin. That sin infects every part of our lives, every thought, word, and action, even on our best days. The Apostle Paul himself was ready to throw his hands up. He noticed what I’ve been talking about, the sin that stalks our every step, not outside of ourselves, but inside our own hearts. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Rom. 7:21-24)
I think that phrase “body of death” is a good one. We know there are horrible diseases that kill people. We know when someone has a terminal illness that they’re going to die from it. It’s just a matter of time. Well, that’s us. It’s not some exotic disease, or a cancer that only affects a few. It’s sin. It’s in us and it’s been there since we’ve existed. And it leads to death. Every single time. We are terminal.
We are, every second of our lives, headed to death. And this isn’t just death of our body, it’s death of our souls and bodies forever and hell. That’s what sin brings! That’s what we deserve! Who will rescue us from this body of death? Well, only the Good Shepherd can.
After all, that’s why they’re praising Jesus up there in heaven in our text. They cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:10) God made everything; everything is his. But they’re praising him because of one specific thing he has: salvation. It belongs to God and the Lamb. He alone can give it.
The picture of Jesus as a Lamb is such a beautiful one. Even though, at first glance, that vision of the Lamb might not have been so beautiful. John describes it earlier in Revelation. He said, I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne. (Rev. 5:6) The Lamb looked like it had been slain. It had been killed. It had a wound that you couldn’t recover from. It had lost a lot of blood. That’s the symbol of victory?! That’s who we’re supposed to put our trust in?!
God’s people from Old Testament times were used to sacrificing lambs. It pointed back to the first Passover, where the lamb’s blood was used after its sacrifice to paint on the doorways of the Israelites’ homes in Egypt before the Exodus. The blood is what caused the angel of death to pass over the Israelites’ homes, so only the firstborn of the Egyptians died. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. But he’s also our Lamb who was slain.
His blood, shed on the cross, paid for our sins. The death we deserve went to him instead. He is the only cure for our body of death. Even though our sins make us terminal, a Lamb who shouldn’t survive, who appears to be slain — he is our only hope. His blood has taken our sins away. He gives us his forgiveness today, and his forgiveness will allow us to stand before his throne for all eternity.
That’s the crowd in our text. 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. (Rev. 7:14) Despite the tribulations and trials of our lives in this sinful world. Despite our sins and the sins of others, only Jesus can bring us through to the other side. Only he, our shepherd, can lead us from this land of sin to the greener pastures of eternal life. There, God will bless us forever, or as our text says, he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. (Rev. 7:15) God’s tent and protection and love will be over us for all eternity.
We can hardly imagine it now. But it fills us with joy. It gives us hope. Does that mean we ignore our sins now and shrug them off because of what Jesus did? Absolutely not! Our sins should be that much more horrifying to us. Worse than a houseful of mice. And like we’d set traps for mice, in Christ, we work to trap those sins. We want to kill them. Motivated by Christ’s love, we want those sins to die, to each day be lead by our Good Shepherd to lose those sins and grow in our faith. To have our Shepherd lead us by Word and Sacrament to put our sinful self to death, and lead a new self in faith every day.
May we never give up in that struggle. May we always continue forward in our faith, fed by our Shepherd in Word and Sacrament, not pulled away by sin and temptation. And we know that our shepherd’s ultimate sacrifice for us was not in vain. The Lamb is your Shepherd. He’s given his life to give you life forever. So live in him, for him, and by his power now and forever. And look forward to the day when every promised will be fulfilled in eternity. Because when we’re there… Never again will [we] hunger; never again will [we] thirst. The sun will not beat upon [us], nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be [our] shepherd; he will lead [us] to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes. (Rev. 7:16-17)