“Protection of the Shepherd”

Revelation 7:9-17

{Prayer}

            One of my favorite things to do on a summer vacation is to go jet skiing.  When we head up and visit our friends in Nebraska, we always end up on the lake.  On the lake, I’m given the keys to a jet ski with a full tank of gas and am told, “see ya later.”  This past summer, it was really windy the day we went out on the lake.  As the waves crested, there were these nice large white caps which formed on top of them. Of course I didn’t let that deter me from having fun and doing donuts and jumping waves, but those waves did make it a lot harder to stay upright when I was just sitting there idling outside of the marina waiting for my friends to come with the trailer.  Rocking back and forth, I had to make sure that I was always facing the waves head on.  If I turned to the side, it felt like I was easily going to roll over.  Had I rolled over, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world as the jet ski would have shut off and I would have gotten really wet.

            But … being outside of the breaker wall on an extremely windy day can be a deadly place to be.  On an episode of Deadliest Catch, a huge crab fishing boat was trying to make her way into a harbor to try to unload her cargo of crab.  The captain tried to ride the waves into harbor.  Realizing it wasn’t going to work, the captain decided to turn the boat around.  Caught in the trough of a huge wave, this 110-foot-long boat weighing about 400,000 lbs., rolls over on to her side as the wave crashed over her.  Fortunately, the boat did not flip over and everyone survived. 

            Had this boat been able to get into the harbor and get inside of the breaker wall, the boat would have been safe and the cargo of crab could have been unloaded in calm waters.

            John says, “There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language” (Rev. 7:9).  Standing before the throne and the Lamb, these white robed individuals have gathered together.  They gather together, the angel says, having come out of the deadly danger of the great tribulation.

            These white robed sinners have lived amongst the rough waters of sin, death, and destruction.  They have experienced that sinking feeling of receiving bad news from the doctors; they have been knocked over by the waves of devastation; they have gasped for air as wave after wave of anxiety and depression have washed over them.  This multitude, these standing before the throne and the Lamb have experienced their moments of feeling soaked to the core and being lost at sea.

            But within this gathering there is no sense of anxiety or uneasiness but rather there’s a sense of peace.  Peace found in the fact that they are no longer struggling with trying to stay afloat amidst the rough waters but instead they are firmly standing with both feet on the ground.  Firmly standing together with others just like them.  Firmly standing in a place which is calm and dry.  Their soaked clothes have been replaced with a dry robe, a white robe which has been washed not in the piercing salt of the sea but by the blood of the Lamb of God.

            These sinners turned saints, they’re able to firmly stand with confidence and peace in their hearts because they are being protected.  John says at the beginning of Revelation 7, “I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or the sea or on any tree” (Rev. 7:1).  These saints are gathered together in a place where the angels of God are holding back the four winds of the earth.

            In Scripture, when winds are typically mentioned, it’s not always a good thing.  In the beginning of Job, after Job had already lost his livestock, it says, “While he {a messenger} was still speaking, another messenger came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!’” (1:18-19).  This wind here was probably an east wind for the east wind in the Old Testament was one which came off of the desert and would come with destruction and scorching heat.  In Jonah 4:8 it says, “When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. Jonah wanted to die.” 

            The same idea is true in this reading from Revelation 7.  These four winds the angels are holding back, they’re symbols of destruction, symbols of trials and suffering.  The “four winds” symbolize the tribulations and sufferings which take place all over the earth under the permissive will of God.  They express God’s anger and judgment over and against the sinful human race. 

            But these gathered before the throne of God and before the Lamb, they are protected from these winds of tribulation and judgment.  In the midst of being protected from the four winds of God’s destruction by the breaker wall of these four angels, those white robed saints sing and praise God.  And not only do those who are in white robes sing and praise God but so do the angels, the elders, and the four living creatures around the throne.  In the midst of their praise they fall to their faces and worship God.

            But even when one is behind the breaker wall in a harbor, that doesn’t mean you still don’t have to pay attention or be careful.  Even behind the breaker wall, one can still feel the effects of the wind which is causing havoc on the waters.  Even though the wind may not be as strong, it can still cause you to struggle.

            You and I, we know this all too well.  Out there in the world, the winds of sin, the wind of trials and tribulations and suffering which we experience … they’re strong.  At times they cause us to stumble; other times they redirect us; other times they flat out knock us off our feet.  They repeatedly go over us again and again as we gasp for air.

            So we come here, to a sanctuary, to a place of protection and refuge.  We come behind the breaker wall of the church, so that we can worship and offer to praises to our great God who watches over us.  But even in here, we are not totally safe.  Even in here, behind the breaker wall of the church, here in the sanctuary, the effects of sin still linger.  The health problems we deal with, the relationships we struggle with, the temptations which cause our minds to wander and think about other things, the grief of death and remembrance … they’re real, and they’re here as well.

            As hard as the broken things of this world make it for us to sometimes stay afloat, we know it can’t and it won’t last forever.  It won’t last forever for we have One holds us in the palm of His hand.  Our Good Shepherd leads and guides us through the shadows of the valleys of deep darkness to quiet waters.  As children of God, as the lambs of a Good Shepherd, we will make it through this great tribulation for nothing can snatch us from His hand.  By the blood of Christ, we will come out of this great tribulation, have had our sin soaked bodies washed, dried, and clothed in the white robes of God’s grace.  By faith and God’s grace, you and I … we will stand behind the breaker wall held up by the angels in the presence God and around the throne of the Lamb. 

            And if being behind the breaker wall isn’t enough, our God provides another layer of impenetrable protection.  John writes of those who have come out of the great tribulation, of you and me someday, “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’” (Rev. 7:15).  The angels hold back the four winds of destruction and God places his tent over you and me and the saints who have gone before us.  In the protection yet to come from the Good Shepherd, there is nothing which can reach us.  These gathered in the protection of this tent of God, “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” (Rev. 7:16-17).

            We live behind the wall, behind the protection of a Shepherd now, today.  And when our Good Shepherd comes again, you and I will live in the protection of God’s house as we will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23:6b).  Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in the protection of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, now and forever.  Amen.

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