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“Revelation’s Second Beautiful Beatitude”
Revelation 14:13


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost—August 8, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We continue our sermon series on “Revelation’s Seven Beautiful Beatitudes” as printed on the back of the bulletin.  In today’s Epistle Reading we have, “Revelation’s Second Beautiful Beatitude”: “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labors, and their deeds will follow them.’”

I remember very vividly the night in 1988 when my father died.  It was a Saturday and I was up late rehearsing my sermon for the next morning.  Just after midnight the telephone rang.  As a pastor I am accustomed to late night calls, and my first thought was that it was a parishioner, perhaps fallen ill or in an accident. 

But, when I heard my brother Ralph’s voice, I knew immediately why he was calling.  My father had been ill with various forms of cancer on and off for five years.  Just a few months before I had accepted a call to a church about an hour away, so that I could help my mother care for him.  That Saturday morning I had helped by mother bath and feed him, and I could see from his struggles that the end must be very near.

What surprised me was that, although my father’s death was not unexpected, and for him a blessing in many ways because he was relieved from his suffering, how nevertheless I was soon overwhelmed with waves of grief.

As I sat in my living room crying, I noticed my pet cat.  It may sound odd, but in his eyes it seemed like he understood something was very wrong.  Other pet owners have told me the same thing.  There seemed to be a look of concern and sympathy on his little face, like he wanted to help, but he didn’t know how.

Isn’t that how we often feel when someone we know is facing death, either their own death, or the death of a loved one: helplessness?  We have sympathy for their pain and grief, and we want to help.  But, like my pet cat, so often we just don’t know what to say or do.

Death and dying are subjects most of us are uncomfortable with and try to avoid.  To help ease our discomfort, we often use euphemisms to describe death, which the Scriptures often employ: “passed on,” “passed away,” “departed,” “fallen asleep.”

But, Scripture also speaks very plainly about, both its cause and its cure.  Paul says in Romans, “The wages of sin is death.”  Death is the result of sin, and before sin entered the world, there was no death.  But, as Paul also explains in Romans: “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”  Through the fall into sin by Adam and Eve, sin and death came to all humanity.

“For the wages of sin is death.”  That is the cause of death. “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  That is the cure for death.  God has mercy upon us!  He sent his Son to be the Savior of the world, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For, with his perfect life and sacrificial death, Jesus Christ paid for all our sins, and not only ours but for the sins of the whole world.  With his resurrection from the dead he opens for you the gates of everlasting life. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”

“I am the Resurrection and the Life,” Jesus says.  “Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live.”  Believe in Jesus, trust in him as God’s Son, your Savior, and death for you is not a punishment, but the gateway, the passage, to eternal life.  Believe in Jesus, and death is not the awful end, but the beautiful beginning of everlasting peace, happiness, and joy. 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned . . .  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.”

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” Take comfort in the beautiful promise of “Revelation’s Second Beautiful Beatitude” as you face your own death.  “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says.  “Trust in God trust also in me.  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 again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you also will be. . .  You know the way to the place where I am going.  I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” Also take comfort in the beautiful promise of “Revelation’s Second Beautiful Beatitude” as you mourn the death of loved ones.  As Paul writes in 1st Thessalonians, “We would not have you be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve in the same manner as the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. . .  And so we shall be forever with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

Your loved ones who trusted in Jesus await you in heaven.  “And so we shall be forever with the Lord.”  “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, they will rest from their labors.”  That would be better translated: they will rest from their “troubles,” or “struggles,” or “problems,” of any kind.  In heaven, all the problems that cause us sorrow in this life will be ended.  As Revelation says, “There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

But, what does the second part of this verse mean, “And their deeds will follow them”?  This does not indicate that the blessed dead gain entrance into heaven on account of their own works.  Many other places in the Bible make clear that our salvation is not in any way due to our own works.  For example in Ephesians, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

What this verse means is that in heaven we won’t be amnesiacs, we will still remember our past lives here on earth.  There is a question among theologians whether we will recall bad things from our life on earth.  For Isaiah says, “Everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”  And the Psalms say that in heaven, “Then will our mouths be filled with laughter, and our tongues with songs of joy.”

So, if we do still remember in heaven bad things from our lives here on earth, it will never be a source of sorrow.  Because, it will always be in context, we will finally see and understand the “big picture” of how God in our lives here on earth worked all things together for our good.  As Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully.”

But, in particular what we will remember and rejoice and celebrate in heaven is all the good things of this life, especially the blessings we received from and gave to others in our earthly lives.  Not as a matter of works righteousness, not as a matter of personal pride or boasting, but as a celebration of God’s grace at work in our earthly lives.

For example, my father is no longer burdened by, and does not recall with sorrow, the sufferings of his earthly illness.  But, when we are all together in heaven, he will remember and rejoice and give thanks for my mother caring for him in his illness, and my mother and me bathing and feeding him the day he died.  “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.  They will rest from their labors, and their deeds will follow them.”

There is a distinction between the words sympathy and empathy.  Sympathy means you feel sorry for someone, but really you can’t understand what they’re going through, because it’s not something you have personally experienced. Empathy means you really know what they’re feeling, because you have been through it yourself. 

The old spiritual says, “Jesus walked this lonesome valley.”  Jesus empathizes with you as you mourn the death of a loved one, because he’s been through it himself.  For, the shortest verse in the Bible tells us of Jesus’ own sorrow as he stood before the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus: “Jesus wept.” 

And, Jesus empathizes with you as you face your own death.  As he told the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he suffered and died, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  So, Jesus has not only sympathy, but also empathy for your grief and sorrow as you face your own death, or mourn the loss of a loved one.  Because “Jesus walked this lonesome valley,” he has been through such grief and sorrow himself.

Like my cat, we often feel helpless as we mourn the death of loved ones, or face our own death.  But, Jesus not only empathizes with us as we face the grim reality of death, he does something about.  He makes our sorrow truly better, as only he is able to do.  At the door of Lazarus’ tomb Jesus proclaimed, “Lazarus, come out!”  And at the Last Day he will raise up you and all the dead, and give to you and all believers in Christ eternal life.  As he promises, “Because I live, you also shall live. . .  You will be with me in paradise.” 

That’s what Psalm 23 means when it says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”  When we face the grim reality of death, when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus comforts us with the assurance of “Revelation’s Second Beautiful Beatitude”: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”

Amen.

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