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St. Matthew writes, ‘And great crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. SEEING THE CROWDS, he went up on the mountain, and He sat down.’ When a Rabbi sits down, that means its time for class to begin. ‘His disciples came to him. And he opened His mouth and taught them, saying”
Jesus ‘SAW the crowds.’ He didn’t ‘work the crowds’ or ‘play the crowds’ or entertain the crowds.’ He ‘SAW the crowds.’ And what did Jesus see when He ‘saw the crowds’? He sees people who are ‘poor in spirit,’ ‘those who mourn,’ ‘those who are meek,’ ‘those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,’ ‘those who are merciful,’ ‘those who are pure in heart,’ ‘those who are peacemakers,’ ‘those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.’ How many of us can’t find ourselves somewhere in that crowd?
This is what Jesus sees when He ‘saw the crowds.’ The world doesn’t see these things when it sees the crowds. When the world sees the crowds, it sees ‘consumer,’ ‘tax payer,’ ‘constituent,’ ‘worker,’ ‘liability,’ ‘dependant,’ ‘statistic.’
Jesus wants to teach His disciples to see what He sees in the crowds. And He wants them to see that they are ‘blessed.’ Why are they blessed? Not because they follow Him. They could follow Jesus to the end of the earth and never be blessed. It’s not the fact that they are ‘poor in spirit,’ or that they ‘mourn,’ or that they ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness,’ that they are blessed. They are blessed because HE SEES THEM.
And that’s why we are confident that we are somewhere in that ‘great crowd.’ He sees us. We don’t see Him, but He sees us. Jesus sees you. ‘Blessed are you’ because Jesus sees you.
How well the disciples of Jesus learned to ‘see the crowd’ as Jesus sees them is hard to say. But one of the disciples ‘sees the crowd’ because his eyes are opened in a ‘vision.’ What Jesus SEES in this crowd John now SEES as well. John SEES that great crowd that Jesus SAW on the Mount. ‘After this I looked, and behold.’ ‘Behold’ is a ‘seeing’ word. ‘A great multitude that no one could number.’
If John recognizes any of those whom he sees, he doesn’t mention their names like we just did; George, Jim, Ginny, Elizabeth, Hedi, Brendan. They’re all there, that’s for sure. And how can we be so sure? Not because they were good. Even though they were, they weren’t good enough. Not because they were ‘poor in spirit,’ or ‘meek,’ or ‘peacemakers.’
No, we are sure that they are there because they were baptized and they believed and the promises of God are trustworthy and infallible, ‘whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.’ (Mark 16:16).
John SEES, ‘A great multitude that no one could count.’
The world is always counting people, counting voters, counting the unemployed, counting the homeless, the number of graduates, the number of drop outs. Everybody is a number and everybody has a number and everybody is counted. John ‘sees’ the futility of counting. It’s not about counting or numbers.
But he does see that this great multitude is made up of people ‘from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.’ It’s the ultimate Pentecost event. The ‘ingathering’ of the harvest from the seed that was sown and that took root and grew and produced its crop of saints; thirty, sixty, ninety, a hundred fold ‘ a ‘great multitude that no one could count;’ the one, holy church.
John sees the clothing that they are wearing. Three times in these nine verses John mentions the ‘white robes’ that everyone is wearing. They were not always ‘white.’ The prophet Isaiah had described these same robes as ‘filthy rags.’ But John sees that they are now white, because ‘they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.’
It’s a strange metaphor, I know. How do you wash something in blood and it comes out pure white? I’m surprised Procter and Gamble hasn’t figured this out yet and introduced a ‘new and improved’ detergent ‘ ‘Now with lamb’s blood to get out the toughest stains.’
These are they who brought their sin-stained lives to the Lamb of God for the cleansing that only He can give. They didn’t claim to be perfect or holy or pure. They claimed to be sinful and UNCLEAN. They confessed that they could not get the stains out on their own. In fact, the harder they tried, the worse it got. They washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.’
John notes another detail about this ‘great multitude’ that he sees. They’re holding palm branches in their hands. What our Lord saw in that crowd that lined the roadside as He made His way into Jerusalem and to the cross, John sees in his ‘vision.’ It’s a perpetual Palm Sunday. There they cried with a loud voice, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ Here they ‘cry with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!”
There is salvation in no other than this Jesus whom the Father sent to die and rise again. His is the only Name by which men must be saved. He alone is the Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. There is only one Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He is the Savior of the world and the world’s only Savior. ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.’
And to this confession of faith, the whole ‘company of heaven’ couldn’t agree more. Every time the ‘great multitude’ waves their palm branches and worships the Father and the Son in the Spirit, they get so excited that they ‘fall on their faces before the throne and worship God, saying, ‘Amen!’ ‘Amen’ means, ‘this is most certainly true.’ And then they break out in unrestrained worship and praise; ‘Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen!’
That kind of singing back and forth between ‘great multitude’ and ‘heavenly hosts’ is their ‘liturgy.’ If it sounds a little bit like what we do here, you’ve got the idea. It’s not that they use our liturgy but that we use theirs.
Just as Jesus sat down and His disciples gathered around Him and He taught them, one of the elders approaches John and has something to teach him. In typical catechism style, he asks a question, ‘What does this mean’? ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes and where did they come from’? John plays it safe. ‘I don’t know, but I know that you do.’
‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.’ Listen carefully. ‘These are the ones COMING OUT of the great tribulation.’ That’s present tense, not past tense. The ‘great crowd’ that Jesus ‘sees’ on the mountain is the ‘great multitude’ that John sees in heaven, are not spared the ‘great tribulation.’ They’re not ‘taken up,’ or ‘raptured,’ out of it. The saints don’t ‘escape’ the trials and troubles of this world, they come through them together with Jesus. Jesus isn’t a way to detour around suffering and sorrow and even death. He is the One who leads us through it by going ahead of us and telling us to ‘follow me.’
Here, on this side of death, we walk by faith. And ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things NOT SEEN.’ (Hebrews 12:1). But John SEES those things that are ‘NOT SEEN.’ He sees what lies on the other side of the ‘great tribulation’ and death. He sees the church triumphant.
We see the church militant ‘ caught up in the struggle of living by faith, failing far more often than succeeding, falling over and over again, speechless when we are called on to give a reason for the hope that is in us, weak faith, confused living, poor example to the world. The Church’s glory is covered up in the shame of a criminal; their victory lies hidden under a cross; and the One who is crucified on it is their only hope.
But John sees what lies on the other side of ‘the great tribulation.’ He sees the same sinners, who in this world were ‘sinful and unclean,’ transformed, cleansed, pure, holy, ‘washed in the blood of the Lamb.’ ‘We feebly struggle, they in glory shine.’
The difference between them and us is not as great as it seems. The white robes that they wear, you are actually wearing right now. In your baptism, you were clothed with the righteousness of Christ. You are forgiven, you are pure, you are holy before God. Your salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. The only thing separating you from them is death. Theirs has come. Yours will come too.
In the meantime and until it does, we live by faith. We hear and believe what we WILL see and know. Your future rests in Jesus, and that should effect your present. No matter how bad things may get, no matter how much we may hunger and thirst for righteousness, it will all work out just as He has promised us, because’ He is risen! He is risen indeed.
There will be tears of pain, tears of sorrow, tears of disappointment and despair. But the Lamb in the midst of the throne is your shepherd, and he will guide you to springs of living water, and God will wipe every tear from your eyes.’
For now, let it be enough to know that Jesus sees you. And for that reason alone, you are blessed.
‘Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’