I’ve had the opportunity to visit or be a part of many different churches in many different states and several different countries by now. It’s been a real privilege to see the churches, meet their members, and many times join in myself, in places such as Rome, France, South Africa, Madagascar, and of course Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Oregon and a few other states whose churches I’ve only visited.
And every place is different. Sometimes not by a lot, but sometimes most everything seems different. Often, the language used is different (or even multiple languages are used within one service); sometimes the songs are the same and sometimes their musical notes don’t even exist in the Western world; the buildings are often different but similar; the leadership structures can vary significantly; and of course the people, who are the bricks and mortar of the church, are different everywhere. And it’s a wonderful thing.
In Revelation, John saw a vision of some present and/or future time, a time of climax and change, of doom and redemption. Many parts are confusing and others are just plain disturbing. So a lot of people tend to avoid Revelation. But it often seems like the few who spend much time there spend that time developing complicated mathematics and predictions, finding parallels to our current political climate, or drawing plans for new social systems. I’m sure the idea is to be prepared for the vision John saw, but too few others find much of anything truthful, or even beneficial, in these efforts. So we often skip over Revelation altogether.
But nestled into the middle of all this, right after some of the most disturbing scenes in the book, we find a very beautiful part of John’s vision. In Revelation 7:9-10 is written: “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
Here we see, perhaps most clearly, and probably most poetically, one of the core truths of our Christian faith. The Church, the Body of Christ, is made up of people from everywhere. Not everyone in the world is a member of this Body, but someone from every people group is at least a representative. And sometimes these verses here are used as a sort of goal, like a business objective, something to achieve to somehow speed up the “end times”. The idea is that if we reach someone from every people group, and if we do it fast, then the events described in John’s Revelation will have to happen right away and Jesus will come again and take us all to Heaven.
But I think there’s a lot more to it than that, or at least something more subtle and more significant. These verses, and their following ones, seem to be happening more in the background to all of these climactic events in Revelation. This isn’t a single event in the plot, but more a drawing away of the curtains, a revealing of what lies beneath. Behind the transient tragedies and troubles of the world, we see something much more permanent: the Church of God, the Body of Christ, in full beauty and diversity, and doing what it does best – proclaiming the truth and glory of God.
With all these different colors, God makes a painting; with all these notes and noises, God forms a chorus. All the churches of the world, in particular their members, those who follow Jesus and give themselves to him, are all part of the same effort and the same result: making the truth and glory of God known, no matter what else may be happening around them. What one member and one church can’t do, another can. What one member and one church does well, another struggles. But together they make the Church, the Body of Christ, and together we show the world who Jesus is, what a wonderful work he’s done, what he’s about, and what it is to know his grace and truth, his power and beauty.
That’s why I count it such a privilege to have experienced and become a part of, even when it’s temporary, so many churches throughout the world. I get the chance to see more and more who Jesus is, to meet the various members of his Body. I get to see so many of us members, joined together by Christ, build up the body in his love, becoming who he’s intended us to be.
I can only remember visiting Life Connection Church in Blue Mountain once before. But I’m looking forward to seeing you all again. We’re excited about the chance to see what role God has called you to fill in his Body. And we’re excited to remind you what a glorious and wonderful Body it is that we’re a part of, one that stretches throughout the world and proclaims the truth and glory of God.