Today, we find ourselves in the seventh chapter of Revelation, Revelation 7:9-17. There is nothing easy about these words. They are filled with Old Testament symbolism. John did his best to describe what he experienced in the vision, but the English language is unable to hold the full meaning of the experience. The best we can do is use our sanctified imagination. To fully understand the vision, you must go back to the beginning of the vision in chapter four. It all begins with John standing in front of an opened door. He is invited in to experience the glory of God. According to the text, God is seated on a throne surrounded by various beings. Some of them we understand, like angels. Some of the beings we do not understand. In chapter seven, we are told that 144,000 people are surrounding the throne. They are the various representatives of the tribes of Israel.
Surrounding the 144,000 is a greater group. Their number is so large that they cannot be counted. They come from every nation in the world and speak every tongue. Yet, despite their differences, they have one thing in common. Each one is wearing a white robe. It is white because it has been washed in the blood of the lamb, Jesus. That fact should not be surprising. As I have told you in the past, Jesus is our only hope of salvation. The scriptures do not say it, but it must be true. Every day, the great multitude grows larger because each day people leave this world. Today, we remember twenty-two in the great multitude. Someday, you and I are going to be in that multitude. I hope being in a crowd does not bother you!
One night, I stayed up late working on this message. I kept thinking about the great multitude. At first, I found it to be emotional. I know people who are in that great multitude now. My parents, Ron and Ruth Adams, are in that great multitude. My sister Janet is in the great multitude. My grandparents, Roger and Orbie Adams, are in that great multitude. My good friend, Jim Humphrey, is in that great multitude. People from this church, who I really enjoyed, are in that great multitude. How many people do you know are in the great multitude? As I thought about the people I know, I began to grieve again. Then, it all changed. In many ways those people are still with us. Their memories are altering the way I live and perceive today. The pagans believe that as long as their memory remains in this world, they remain in this world. Today, I want to talk about their influence.
Several years ago, I watched a documentary on Russian prisons. They interviewed a Russian prisoner, who had been sentenced for selling drugs. They walked through a normal day with him. We saw the food he ate. We saw where he slept. We saw his normal routine. Every day was identical. However, that day was different. It was visitor’s day. They only had visitors one day once every two months. He was excited because his father was coming to visit him. Through an English translator, he said the worst thing about being in a Russian prison was the loneliness. He didn’t trust any of the other prisoners, so he did not have any friends. He was alone and afraid. He said, “If I had one friend in here my experience would be completely different.” How would your life change if you had to live in complete isolation? The fear of loneliness is alive and well in our world.
That is why the great multitude is so important. They remind us that we are never alone. When we get to heaven, the people we have loved in this world will be waiting for us. The faith was never meant to be lived out in isolation. It was meant to be lived out in community. The church is filled with people who are running the race with you. In the perfect church we are all striving to be a little more like Jesus every day. On All Saints Day, we are reminded of the saints who have completed the race. The very presence of both the living and the saints comforts us as we run the race of life.
Second, the great multitude reminds us of what is important. What are the most important things in your life? Who are the most important people in your life? How important is your church? How important is your relationship with Jesus Christ? You will be able to answer that question in a few weeks when you fill out your estimate of giving card toward next year’s budget.
You may remember this story from the past. It was Super Bowl Sunday, and the stadium was packed except for one seat. Surprised to see an empty seat, a diehard fan remarked about it to a woman sitting next to it. “It was my husband’s,” the woman explained, “But he died.” “I’m very sorry,” said the man. “Yet I’m really surprised that another relative, or friend, didn’t jump at the chance to take the seat reserved for him.” “Beats me,” she said. “They all insisted on going to his funeral.” It is a question of priority.
What are the most important things in your life? Who are the most important people in your life? How important is your church? How important is your relationship with Jesus Christ? I have said it a million times. The only things that really matter are those things that will matter in one hundred years. What matters in one hundred years? The answer is Jesus! The great multitude reminds us of what is important. They are wearing white robes because of Jesus.
Third and finally, the great multitude challenges us to finish the race of life. Let me ask you two questions. First, do you know any church drop-outs? They believe they can forge a relationship with Jesus on their own. Good luck! Once again, the faith was designed to be lived out in community. The second question is harder. Do you know of anyone who has resigned from the faith? Where does one go from church? Where does one go who has walked away from the faith? You know the answer. They go nowhere.
In 1968, the Olympics were held in Mexico City. One of the featured events in any Olympics is the marathon. The winner of that year’s marathon was an Ethiopian, Mamo Waldi. The crowd cheered as he crossed the finish line. An hour later, the last marathon runner crossed the finish line. He wore the colors of his nation, Tanzania. His name was John Steven Aquari. He limped to the finish line and was assisted to a first aid station. His leg was bleeding and bandaged. He had taken a bad fall early in the race. Now, it was all he could do to limp his way around the track. The crowd stood and applauded as he completed that last lap. When he finally crossed the finish line, one man dared ask the question all were wondering. “You are badly injured. Why didn’t you quit? Why didn’t you give up?” Aquari, with quiet dignity said, “My country did not send me seven thousand miles to start this race. My country sent me to finish.”
It isn’t just true of marathon runners; it is true of us! Has anyone here ever fallen in the marathon of life? How many times have you fallen? Perhaps, you fell when your marriage failed? Perhaps, you fell when you lost your job? Perhaps, you fell when your medical tests revealed the unthinkable? Perhaps, you fell when your children messed up or your parents gave up? Perhaps, you fell when a loved one died? Do I have to go on? When was the last time you fell? At that moment in your life, did you get up or did you stay down? The great multitude won’t let you quit. They are saying, “Get up!”
It is not how you start the race that matters. The only thing that matters is, how you finish!
This is All Saints Day. May we praise God, we are not alone. We are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses! May they never be forgotten because they comfort. We are not alone. They remind us of what is important. They challenge us to finish the race.
I love this story. An anonymous writer tells us about an American tourist’s visit to the 19th century Polish rabbi, Chofetz Chaim (1838-1933). He was astonished to see that the rabbi’s home was only a simple room. In that room were a table and bench, along with a variety of books. Perplexed, the tourist asked, “Rabbi, where are all your possessions? “Where are yours?” replied the rabbi. “Mine?” asked the puzzled American. “But I’m a visitor here. I’m only passing through.” “So am I,” replied the rabbi. Never forget, we are only visitors in this earth. Someday, we are all going to die and go home. Who are you missing on this All Saints Day?