Do you know what’s dangerous about wearing a white shirt like this that I’m wearing beneath my white robe? What’s dangerous about wearing a white shirt like this has to do with the danger involved with a little object like this called a razor, because if I cut myself while shaving with this, there’s a very good chance I’m going to be shedding some blood — and if I shed some blood, some of that blood very well might end up on my white shirt collar, and maybe even some of it will smudge the top of my white robe. And then, especially if I don’t notice it right way, I have to figure out how to get that blood stain out. It’s kind of a hassle, not to mention somewhat embarrassing, to have a clean white shirt and pastoral white robe dirtied by blood for everyone to see.
Now I don’t know a lot about washing clothes, but I do know that it is not a smart thing to wash clothes that are stained with blood with more blood. But that’s exactly what God says spiritually is the best way possible to wash clothes that have the worst stains imaginable. That’s what our Lord said to the apostle John in his Revelation of what heaven will be like in the middle of our lesson in verse 13. Verse 13: “Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”14 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.” People of God, if you want to have the cleanest, whitest clothes that will never need to be washed again in the way that God says they never will need to be washed again, then Wash Your Clothes with Blood.
It’s very obvious from reading these words that this is not just any kind of blood, but this is the blood of the Lamb, the Son of God, whose blood makes us clean, because the Lamb’s blood has taken away the sin of the world. But the sin of the world also makes us have to think about the fact that this is not just any kind of dirt that needs to get cleaned by this not just any kind of blood, because what are stained are our very hearts and souls – our very being and everything about us and in us.
That voice in heaven told John that the people in heaven have come out of the great tribulation – that means this earthly life which is so victimized by the sin of others against us and the sin of us against others – and all the problems and heartaches and sadnesses in life which result because of that sin. The book of Revelation is a book of many visions, and in the vision right before this vision, St. John had seen examples of some of those heartaches and sadnesses. In that vision he saw Jesus as the Lamb of God open up a scroll that had seven seals that kept that scroll shut tight. As Jesus pealed back those seals, John saw riders on horses which had the power to start wars and to cause famines and severe poverty and horrible economic pain, and to produce illnesses and diseases – and then out came wild animals bent on destruction, destruction also caused by people opposed to the gospel message of the Lamb, who persecuted and even killed some of the people who believed in the Lamb – and then John saw another seal ripped open in which he saw the heavens ripped open on the last day of judgment, as people who did not believe they were Jesus’ little lambs were trying to hide in caves and among mountain rocks, but they could not get away from the wrath of God, leading them to say before they went to eternal agony, “The great day of wrath has come, and who can stand it?” “This is too much for anyone to take.”
This, we know, is exactly what life is like this side of heaven. Even if you have never paid attention to any part of the history of this world except these last thirty days of your life, you know and you have seen and maybe you have even cried while seeing the violence and the destruction, the greed and the selfishness, the senselessness and the hopelessness, the distrust and the blasphemy, the chaos and the corruption in places very near to us and in places far away from us, leading us to sometimes not even know what is real any more, except to know without any question that this life – this great tribulation – is not where we want to live forever. And all that is not even taking into consideration our own contributions to the tribulations in the day by lives of others and the honest hurts and difficulties and the simple sadnesses and setbacks that occur every day in our own lives.
If you right now are even the least bit suffering in your soul about all of this all around you and anything inside you, then look with John when he said what he saw in our opening verse, “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…” Sadly many, many people will go from this great tribulation to the far worse tribulation of eternal suffering, but thankfully many, many people from all over the world – people in places where there is unspeakable suffering right now and people in places where there may be temporary peace right now; people who look very different from us and who lived at different times than us and who speak and spoke languages we cannot understand – many people will all be joining us around the throne of heaven, singing the song all of God’s people have always sung and which can be understood by every single person who sings it, no matter the language, no matter the time: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb… Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever.”
That’s what we will see and sing when we no longer live on earth, but live in heaven – and that’s what we right now see and sing by faith, because faith believes what it cannot now see and faith sings songs of praise for the ability to see it. And what we have faith in is that all the filth of our own lives and all the dirt of the world around us which will not end until the end of the world around us – what we have faith in is that all that filth and all that dirt and all that sin have been washed clean – yes, have been made white – in the blood of the Lamb. In other words, when we today are encouraging each other to wash our clothes with blood, that is simply another way of saying, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”
And what we are saved from means all the more when we know what we are saved for – a time when we are with all those people in the white robes, enjoying a life which the apostle John was privileged to see and to describe in this way in the last part of our Lesson: “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. (And then perhaps in many ways the blessing which so many of us can relate to most of all.) And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
We certainly cry when, for example, someone we love dies. That is another example of living right now in the great tribulation. But we do not cry for someone who dies in the Lord who has washed their clothes in the blood of the Lamb, because they will never cry again, and they would want us to know – yes, anyone in heaven right now would want us to know – that there cannot possibly be anything better for us to enjoy in this life than what they are experiencing in life eternal, which is the goal for every single one of us.
With the goal of getting blood out of a white shirt, I looked up what the Good Housekeeping magazine website said about it. It described to me what seemed like a complicated process, involving things like hydrogen peroxide and special kinds of detergents and figuring out what kinds of fabric make up the clothing and how long the blood has been ingrained, along with instructions about having to repeat all the steps if all the first steps don’t work – and all with no absolute guarantee that you will not be able to see some remnant of that stain, even if it is very small.
In the kind of washing that God is talking about today, a stain that remains is something we don’t have to worry about in any whatsoever, because when we say, “Wash your clothes with blood,” what God is really saying is, “Believe that my Son has already washed your sin-stained clothes once and for all time.” That’s why we can sing as we sing in one of our hymns: I lay my sins on Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God; He bears them all and frees us from the accursed load. I bring my guilt to Jesus to wash my crimson stains White in his blood most precious till not a spot remains. Since Jesus washed your clothes with his blood. not a single stain of your sin remains that can be seen by God. You are wearing the totally perfect, totally clean white robe of his Son’s holiness and his forgiveness. You are wearing the robe that proves he loves you. You can’t see it with your eyes, but you can see it by faith.
In heaven we will see it with our eyes. Remember what we sang at the beginning of our service:
“When will I wear the robe of brilliant white and raise aloft the victor’s branch of palm,
where long-forgotten is the noble fight and glassy seas betray a perfect calm?
My days, O Lord, are trouble-filled and few, and I’m not home until I’m home with you.”
People of God, every day, wash your clothes with the blood of the Lamb, and through any tribulation in which you find yourselves, you will most definitely find your way home. Amen.