2Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” 4And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
512,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 612,000 from the tribe of Asher,12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 712,000 from the tribe of Simeon,12,000 from the tribe of Levi,12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 812,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.
9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming 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 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
My first parish out of the seminary was a small congregation on the north side of Salt Lake City. The community was dominated by LDS churches. Something like 92% of the population were LDS and many of them were ardently LDS. We had a small youth group, about 5 teens. While being in high school is always a bit of a challenge, in that context it could be doubly difficult. My parish raised the funds and sent this little group to the LCMS National Youth Gathering. It was one of the best things we ever did for them. The programing was great, and the week spent in service, worship, and play was excellent. But what truly made the difference was the first night and walking in a stadium filled with nearly 30,000 young Lutherans.
I had taught all these young people in confirmation class. We had spoken about the fact that the Christian church was far larger than the LDS church. But they really could not internalize that. For those who grew up in that community, they had been a tiny minority in every classroom they had ever experienced. I remember one young man standing in awe at the entrance to the arena seating area. He looked at me and asked, “Who are all these people?” I told him they were all Lutherans, like him. He spent the next five days getting his head around that. He had no idea that there were so many Lutheran young people. I think he went back to school that fall feeling differently.
Survivors of persecution have told me that the final goal of the evil one is to cause you to lose hope. The devil wants nothing more than to cause the Christian to believe that God has forgotten about you, that you are alone, the last one, a dying minority, insignificant and inconsequential. I do not think that is only in places and times of persecution. The devil works that same despair in many ways. Do you look around your parish on a Sunday morning and feel some of it? You might think that there was a time when this parish needed this big building, but now its pews are mostly empty. Perhaps your church is full. Praise God! That is not true for most Christian churches in North America. This sense of being alone has only been exacerbated by the pandemic of recent years. Our every human interaction is tinged with fear for some people today. Some elect not to come to worship because they are especially vulnerable. Zoom meetings and video services are what we can do, but they are not the same as time spent together. It is easy for the Christian to feel isolated.
Look at verse 9 in this reading again. The author was exiled to Patmos, in a cave, all alone. It must have been glorious for him to see that vision of a mighty, innumerable host. This is the reason God is sharing it with you: you need to see it too. You need that experience of that young man standing in the arena in San Antonio many years ago. You are part of a great and mighty host. You are gathered around the throne and the Lamb every Sunday.