Its been a long time since I have been invited to preach, mainly due to the restrictions placed on places of worship because of the Covid-19 pandemic. However back in May I did produce one short online service for my home church – Becontree Avenue Baptist Church, as our pastor was dealing with a pastoral emergency which tied her up for several days. I may well publish that talk on this blog in due course.
So this Sunday I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church but sadly had to announce that our church building would be closing in accordance with the latest lockdown coming into force on Thursday 5th November.
Sunday was All Saints Day so I talked about Heaven and of course about saints.
Revelation 7:9 – 17
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” 13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “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. 15 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 shelter them with his presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the centre 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.’
This time of year we get bombarded with Halloween. In previous years I have had children either unaccompanied or with their parents, dressed as witches, orges, zombies and all sorts of evil looking creatures knock at my door. They seem amazed that I don’t do “trick or treat”.
The shops are full of evil masks, witches outfits, etc and of course pumpkins to make into lanterns.
People delight in telling scary stories about ghosts and demons and the like.
Many people have a fascination about the occult and the spiritually bad.
Frankly I have had to deal with all this stuff before and help people who have got caught up with it.
So I’m not going to talk about that stuff because as Christians we should be more concerned about Heaven than Hell.
Lots of people have strange ideas about heaven.
You know the sort of thing:
Sitting around on a cloud playing a harp and wearing a white dress.
Other folk believe the myth that when you die you become an angel. Angels are quite different. They are God’s servants. Some are messengers like Gabriel who spoke to Mary
and told her she was to have a baby called Jesus. Other angels are God’s warriors. In Revelation12:7 & 8 we read: “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.” and Matthew 26:53 “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
Or people tell me that all their favourite relatives and friends will naturally be there no matter how villainous they were, and irrespectiive of their lack of faith in Jesus.
Rowan Atkinson’s character Blackadder in one episode, when he had been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, described heaven as being for those who liked talking to God and watering pot plants.
So what will heaven be like?
Very quickly lets look at a few verses in John14:1 -6 “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus described heaven as his Father’s house. It’s home for those who are in God’s family. And you know how good it is to get home after a bad day at school or work or a long tiring journey or after a stay in hospital. The old Victorian song used to say “there’s no place like home” And Jesus says to us, he is the way home so we are to follow him as he has got our room ready and waiting for us.
Jewish tradition said it would be like a never ending banquet – an amazing feast which you never have to leave. A bit like the “all you eat buffet” at the Chinaman restaurant or Pizza Hut but so much better and you don’t have to pay!
Here in the Book of the Revelation its likened to a wedding feast. Weddings are normally happy occasions and people celebrate as we read in Revelation 19: 6 – 8 “Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)”
Who are the saints?
Are they just those special people the church has recognised as being of special note? If you like, holy celebrities.
The Bible tells us that if we believe and trust in Jesus then we are saints. This is how Paul addresses the believers in Rome: Romans 1:7 says “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
There are some 42 references to saints in the New Testament and each time they refer to all believers not just special ones. Though it is right to remember and thank God for those men and women who give us good examples to follow in our walk of faith. We naturally think of the disciples and men like St Francis of Assisi, a man of peace, or England’s first recorded martyr St Alban. But how about more recent examples such as Maximilian Kolbe a Polish monk who died in a Nazi concentration camp to save a young Jewish man’s life?
We may not all be called to die for our faith or face persecution and we may think that no one notices what we do but God sees how we live our lives. He knows.
So how many people will there be in heaven? The Jehovah Witnesses will tell you only 144,000 but in truth the Bible says it’s many more. Revelation 7:9 “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”
There are some very dark goings on in the world and some folk seem to enjoy the dark side of things and so celebrate Halloween and the sinister side of life. The only way to get rid of the dark is to bring light. Jesus called himself the light of the world and as his followers we are called to bring the light of Jesus into every situation we face.
Philippians 2:15 says: “so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.”
So a chorus I would have liked to have sung this morning would have reminded us that even if we are what we think is only a little light we can push the darkness away as we live our lives for Jesus.
Jesus bids us shine, With a pure, clear light, Like a little candle, Burning in the night In this world of darkness, So let us shine– You in your small corner, And I in mine.
As a little reminder of being a light for Jesus you should find in your pew a glowstick. Take it home and light it up after dark. Some of them may well shine all night.
In many parts of the church throughout the world, today is known as All Saints Day and is a day when we give thanks to God for all Christians. So if you are a Christian, today is your day!!
There is a very special book mention in Revelation. Its called the “Lamb’s book of life”.
It’s Jesus’ address book with the names of all the believers in it. So if you have turned your back on your old life (that’s called repentance) and asked forgiveness for what you’ve done wrong and Jesus has wiped the slate clean, then you’re in his book. Not only that but you’re on the invitation list to the amazing feast in heaven.
This is what it says in Revelation 21:27 “ Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
So entry into heaven is strictly invitation only and if you have chosen not to be on the list you don’t get in.
Heaven is an amazing place where there is plenty of room for all who accept Jesus’ invitation and we have the assurance that not only does he show us the way home but he’s got everything ready for when we arrive. Amen.