The Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 26, 2019

Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23

I Believe in the Holy Christian Church

the Communion of Saints!

 

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.  It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.  It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates.  On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west.  The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.  I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.  (NIV1984)

 

 

Dear fellow worshipers of our Living Lord and Savior,

 

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

 

Ever since the early days of the New Testament Christian Church, God’s faithful people have been confessing these words, “I believe in the Holy Christian Church the Communion of Saints.”  We confess these words every time we recite the Apostles’ Creed here in God’s house.  When you speak those words, my friends, do they simply roll off your tongue without even giving them a second thought or do you heartfully reflect on what those words mean?  What you and I are confessing with the words, “I believe in the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints” is that we believe that there is only one true Church— Church with a capital “C.”  The one true Church is the sum total of everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah who came into this world to save us from our sins.  The one true Church is not limited to any visible organization here on this earth.  In other words, the one true Church crosses all denominational lines.  The one true Church contains no hypocrites at all.  The one true Church is known only to God Himself because only God has the ability to look into a person’s heart to see whether or not saving faith lives there.

 

As you and I continue our sermon series from the book of Revelation we are given a picture of the one true Church.  For that reason let’s study our text for today under the theme:  I Believe in the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints.”  As we study this text we’ll see three things.  First we’ll see that the Holy Christian Church the Communion of Saints is the epitome of perfect beauty.  Then we’ll see that the Holy Christian Church the Communion of Saints is the epitome of perfect protection.  Finally we’ll see that the Holy Christian Church the Communion of Saints is the epitome of a perfect existence with God.

 

Our text for today is all but a continuation of last Sunday’s text (Romans 21:1-5).  Last week we heard that John was given the privilege of seeing “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”  That picture emphasizes the close personal relationship that exists between “the bride” which is the Church and “her husband” which is Christ.  Then, in the verse directly preceding our text for today the angel says to John, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”  Our text then begins with these words, “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.  It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.”

 

Since the “Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” is a picture— a picture depicting the Holy Christian Church the Communion of Saints we need to be careful that we don’t read too much into this picture.  The main point that I see the Holy Spirit emphasizing with both the picture of the “bride beautifully dressed for her husband” and the picture of “the Bride” as “the Holy City, Jerusalem” is found in the words, “It shone with the glory of God.”

 

For the Jewish Christians who first heard these words the term “the glory of God” was both very familiar and very significant.  In Exodus 40:34, 35 we’re told that the “glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle”— to the point that Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting.  In 1 Kings 8:11 we’re told that when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Solomon’s Temple, “the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple.”  And for me at least, the picture of the “glory of God” automatically reminds me of the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus’ face “shone like the sun,” His clothes became “as white as the light” and a “bight cloud enveloped” Peter, James and John.  (Matthew 17:1-5)

 

The point here, my friends, is that neither you nor I nor the church (with a small “c”) has any “holiness,” any “glory” in and of ourselves.  Scripture very clearly proclaims, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22, 23).  Then why do we believe in the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints?  The only reason we are able to confess those words is because through faith in Jesus God gives us His perfect glory!  Paul brings this out very clearly when he says in his letter to the Ephesians, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

 

What does this mean?  It means that the Holy Christian Church (of which you are a member); it means that the Communion of Saints (which includes you) is the epitome of perfect beauty!  Yes, it is true that because of our old sinful nature we openly confess our sins before God.  Because of our old sinful nature we daily ask our Father who is in heaven to forgive us our trespasses.  But, because of our faith in what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross of Calvary’s hill (Pointing to the cross) from God’s perspective we are holy, in God’s eyes we are saints.  Because of the robe of righteousness that He (Pointing to the cross) has secured for us the perfect “glory” of God Himself shines in us and through us!

 

Let’s move on to the second truth proclaimed in this text.  We are able to say that the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints is a place of perfect protection because of these words, “It had a great high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates.  On the gates were the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west.  The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”

 

The fact that the Holy City has a “great high” wall around it probably did not surprise John or any of his original readers.  In ancient times every city of any importance had a protective wall around it.  What may have surprised them was the fact that this wall had twelve gates and on the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  What may have surprised them was the fact that there was a powerful holy angel stationed at each of these gates.

 

There are two possibilities as to why a holy powerful angel is stationed at each of these twelve gates.  First, they could be there to make sure that only the descendants of Abraham are allowed into the Holy City— hence the names of the twelve tribes of Israel inscribed on the gates.  Now if that thought leads your eyes to well up with tears because as far as you know you don’t have the blood of Abraham coursing through your veins, be of good cheer!  In Romans 9 Paul writes, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.  Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.  On the contrary, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’  In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring” (Romans 9:6-8).  Even though we may not have the blood of Abraham coursing through our veins, the fact that by the grace of God we have the faith of Abraham living in our hearts means that we are included in God’s promise “All Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).  It means that those powerful holy angels will allow us to pass through the gates and enter into the “Holy City” of our God.

 

The second possibility is that the angels are stationed at the gates to insure that no unbeliever enters through the gates to eat from the “tree of life” (Revelation 22:2) — much like after Adam and Eve sinned against God we’re told that the Lord “placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24).

 

The fact that the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints is a place of perfect protection is also brought out in the words, “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”  A beautiful parallel passage here is Ephesians 2:20.  Paul says that we, “God’s household,” are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”  Since the Holy Christian Church is built on the rock-solid foundation of Christ and His holy Word, since the Communion of Saints is built on Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) Jesus Himself assures us that not even the gates of hell will be able to prevail against us!  Now that’s the epitome of perfect protection!

 

The final point we want to glean from this text is that the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints is the epitome of a perfect existence with God.  Look at the closing verses of our text.  John writes, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.”

 

The Temple of the Lord was the very heart of the Old Testament city of Jerusalem.  The Temple of the Lord was the center of Israel’s worship life.  The Temple of the Lord was the place where God’s grace and God’s mercy and God’s peace were dispensed to God’s people.  The Temple of the Lord was the place where sacrifices were made to take away the sins of God’s people as well as the place where God’s people brought their offerings to their Lord. As John scanned the “Holy City, Jerusalem” he was indeed surprised to see that there was no Temple— until he realized that “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”  There was no longer any need for a special specific place where God’s people needed to go to receive God’s grace and God’s mercy and God’s peace.  There was no longer any need for a special specific place where God’s people would bring both their sacrifices as well as their offerings.  The Holy Christian Church includes being enveloped by a perfect existence with God.  The Communion of Saints includes living in perfect harmony with the Lord God Almighty— always and forever!

 

My prayer then this morning, my friends, is that every time you gather together here in God’s house and confess the Apostles’ Creed that in your heart you will reflect on the words, “I believe in the Holy Christian Church the Communion of Saints.”  Remember that the Holy Christian Church the Communion of Saints is the epitome of perfect beauty, the epitome of perfect protection and the epitome of a perfect existence with God.

 

To God be the glory!

 

Amen