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January 19, 2020

For the Joy of All Peoples

Steven Lee (North Campus) | Revelation 7:9-12

After 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, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And 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, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”—Revelation 7:9–12      

This week and next we devote to discussing two issues: (1) ethnic harmony and (2) sanctity of human life. They are back-to-back weeks every year in January because of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and observing Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Both of these issues, abortion and racism, are an attack on the image of God.

Genesis 1:27 states, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Abortion says that unborn babies are less valuable, less human, and are treated as “medical waste.” Racism says that certain groups of people—based on ethnicity, how they look, or where they come from—are less valuable, less human, and less deserving of dignity. And as Christians, we say that this is not right, and not only is it not right, we want to be part of the solution to make abortion and racial prejudice increasingly unthinkable in both the church and in our culture. 

Addressing Misunderstandings

I don’t want this sermon to die the death of a thousand qualifications, but a few misunderstandings should be addressed at the outset. 

Ethnic Harmony Is a Biblical Issue
We believe that the Bible has a lot to say about ethnic harmony. Andy Naselli’s seminar North and Pastors Jason and Ming-Jinn’s DT seminar that will be held in February, seek to do the same thing. Namely teach on what the Bible says about ethnic harmony. Discussions about race and ethnicity have become political issues (just like abortion), but these are issues that the Bible addresses, and we want to be Bible people.

Ethnic Harmony Is a Complex Issue
Ethnic harmony is complex. There is much that can be said from the Bible, about our world, about our culture, about American history, about race relations here in America and around the world. We can’t cover it all. In the next 35 minutes or so, I hope to highlight one aspect of this issue that I think we need at this particular moment in time.

Ethnic Harmony Is a Long Journey
This message is not the final word on ethnic harmony. We realize the campuses are comprised of different people and at various stages in this journey. There are more steps to be taken to learn and to grow so that we look and live more and more like Jesus in every area of life. None of us have arrived in our sanctification—on this issue or a thousand others. We want to grow in knowing and applying the truths of the Scriptures. Let’s have the humility to not conclude we know everything there is to know on this issue, but let’s let God speak through his word.

Ethnic Harmony Is an Emotionally Difficult Issue

John Piper writes …

This issue is an emotionally no-win issue, which is one of the reasons (of dozens) that people don’t want to touch it. You just get beat up so much. Black or White; Red, Yellow, Brown. You make an attempt—you think you’re doing the right thing, and you don’t get it right. It’s a hard issue to deal with.

As an ethnic minority at this church, this topic makes me uncomfortable. I wish we didn’t have to talk about it, and I know many other ethnic minorities that share that same sentiment; you’d rather not talk about it. But there are others who have experienced pain and hurt because of these issues. You feel that you’re alone, or wish others could climb into what you experience, because it’s something you live with every day. So as your pastor this morning, I’m asking us to lay down our barriers as we look at the Bible together to be shaped by his word.

Two Texts to Guide Us

I have two texts I want us to look at this morning. The first is Matthew 6:10, the second petition from what we commonly call the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus teaches his disciples to pray. The second text, we had read this morning: Revelation 7:9–12, where we get a vision of the redeemed gathered in worship of Jesus.

Matthew 6:10

Many of you know this verse by heart:

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

We are taught by Jesus to make this petition. What does that mean? What are we supposed to pray? Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray for more and more of God’s rule and reign here on earth. It’s like saying, “In light of the darkness in our world, the sin, the division, the pain, the suffering, the death, and the oppression and injustices, bring more of your kingdom, Lord.”

The world isn’t as it should be, so Jesus’ disciples are taught to pray for more of God’s rule and reign. His rule and reign is being exercised perfectly in heaven right now, and we’re to pray for more of it to come into our lives, into the hearts of those around us, and into our world. 

This prayer is an already-not-yet prayer. God’s kingdom has come in the person of Jesus, and it is not yet fully consummated and realized. This prayer asks for more of what is already true in heaven—namely, that God’s name is honored, his kingship is acknowledged, and goodness is delighted in—to increasingly be true in our lives, our church, and our world. More of Jesus. More of his empowering Spirit. More awareness of his greatness and goodness. More justice, more peace, more worship, and more of Christ.

How do we know what to pray for? Matthew 6:10 says, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” What does heaven look like? For some of us the mere mention of heaven conjures up images of fat babies playing harp. Instead, we look to the book of Revelation for understanding heaven. Which leads us to our second text.

Revelation 7:9–12

Revelation 7:9–12 gives us a peek into the heavens and the events of the last days unfolding. My plan is to read the text, and then highlight three observations from this text that shape and inform how we pray. My aim this morning is help us to see the beauty of the worship of all peoples in Revelation 7 and to go from acceptance, to loving and longing for this vision, and participating in making it more of a reality here and now. 

Words fail to describe the beauty of this scene. It tells us the end of the story. Jesus wins. The end comes. Our mission statement goes away in that final day because it will have been accomplished. We’ve heard it said, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t,” but in the book of Revelation we see that “Missions will end forever because Christ will be worshiped forever.” In this heavenly vision I want us to notice three observations: 

Three Observations About Revelation 7:9–12

1) God Redeems a Diverse People for His Glory

After 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, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And 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, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”Revelation 7:9–12 

We see that the worldwide Church will be comprised of a “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9). Revelation 5 tells us they have been ransomed by the blood of Jesus, “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). These overlapping categories emphasize the multiethnic diversity of God’s people. 

Question: How does God get more glory in diversity? You may have heard the phrase, “God is not a tribal deity, but a global God.” That statement says God is not just for those of a certain ethnicity, country, socio-economic status, background, or culture. Instead, Jesus came to redeem some from among all peoples. Therefore, God’s glory and the glory of Christ is greater because of the scope and reach of his redemption. The diversity of worshipers reveals a greater praiseworthiness, a greater glory.

Consider that right now, Jesus is being worshiped in a multitude of languages besides English. Worship resounds to the glory of Jesus Christ right now in Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi, Bengali, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Punjabi, Telugu, Turkish, Korean, French, German, Vietnamese, Urdu, Javanese, Italian, Arabic, Persian, Indonesian, Polish, Yoruba, Burmese, Ukrainian, Romanian, Tagalog, Dutch, Amharic, Pashto, Thai, Somali, Malay, Nepali, Azerbaijani, Greek, Kazakh, Hungarian, Zulu, Czech, Uyghur, and on and on. Jesus Christ redeems a diverse people for his glory. He is not a tribal deity.

Different languages were once a sign of judgment in Genesis 11 and are now gathered together to worship the one and only true God. At the Tower of Babel—where the pride of mankind attempted to make a name for themselves—God “confused the languages of all the earth.” And now in Revelation this diversity of language resounds to the greatness and glory of our God. One language, one set of grammar, one body of expressions and terms, is not enough to contain the glory, majesty, and wonder of the steadfast love and redeeming blood of Jesus. 

2) God Establishes a United People for His Glory 

Revelation 7:9–10 tells us that they are together, clothed in the same white robes, and crying out in unison “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Only God can bring such a diversity of people—some from every single people group on the face of the earth—to be united and singing out in unison. By what or by whom are they united? Scroll down to verse 13–14:

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I 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.”

God’s people are gloriously united by the blood of Jesus Christ.

All of God’s people have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. There is no other way, no other truth, and no other life. There is one way into God’s kingdom, and it’s Jesus Christ. We have profound unity with all Christians. Christ has already begun that work by his blood. We read Ephesians 2:14–15 that Christ “has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility … that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.” Christ death creates unity among God’s children.

There is no boasting apart from boasting in Christ and in the cross. No room for ethnic or racial superiority or inferiority. All people are made in God’s image, and all the redeemed required the blood of Christ. The unity we have in Christ leads us to go to great lengths to love and to forgive others like Christ has loved and forgiven us.

Deep, profound unity we have in Jesus should move us toward loving and pursuing people who are different from us. In that day, every voice will cry out in praise. From the sea villages of Indonesia to the countryside of Brazil, from the Twin Cities of Minnesota to the yurt dwelling people of Mongolia, and from the urbanites in London, Sydney, New York, Los Angeles, San Paulo, and Beijing to the rural towns and villages across our globe, may the name of Jesus be praised!

So God redeems a diverse people for his glory and God establishes a united people for his glory.

3) God Accomplishes His Great Commission for His Glory

Revelation 7 reveals to us that the Great Commission becomes a great reality and a great gathering. Matthew 28:18–20 says,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

God’s people, right now, are called to make disciples of all nations, and then someday, all nations will be gathered around God’s glorious throne. This is embolden our missionary efforts across the world, and enliven our pursuit of ethnic diversity locally. 

The image portrayed in Revelation 7 echoes the Feast of Booths from Leviticus 23. In Leviticus 23:39–40, we see that the people, when they have gathered in the whole harvest, they are to celebrate it by gathering palm branches and boughs of lefty trees and willows of the brook, and celebrate the feast before God for seven days. In Revelation, echoing the Feast of Booths, the image is that the long-awaited harvest of bringing in God’s global people is complete.

We should celebrate that God—in his sovereignty—is drawing people to himself.

Consider some of these statistics:[1]

  • In 1900, European and North American Christians comprised 83% of Christians worldwide, while the rest of the world comprised 17% of Christians (Africa 2%, Asia 4%, Latin America 11%)
  • In 2005 (105 years later), European and North American Christians comprised 40% of Christians worldwide, while Africa had grown to 19%, Asia to 17%, and Latin America to 24%. 60% of the world’s Christians came from outside Europe and North America.
  • By 2050 (just 30 years from now), Africa, Asia and Latin America will comprise 71% of global Christianity, and Europe and North America will comprise 29%.

One might look at these statistics and lament the decline of Christianity in Europe and North America, but it is an occasion to celebrate that the gospel is going forth and taking root among “all peoples,” and we get to be a part of that glorious Great Commission that is taking place.


Martin Luther King Jr. issued a prophetic call to the church, which seems just as applicable to us today:

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. … But the judgment of God is upon the church [today] as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century.[2]

God forbid we become a social club. If we become a place that is mainly about being entertained, advancing our comfort, and gathering with socially likeminded people, we should turn off the lights, sell the building, and shut it all down. We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. We are mission to magnify the greatness of our God in every sphere of life. No aspect of life is untouchable, but we bring it all under the lordship and authority of King Jesus.

So if we see the brokenness of our world, the division and strife, and yet we know the end of the story, what do we then do? How do we advance ethnic harmony here at the North Campus of Bethlehem, knowing that it’s a long journey?

1) Love and Pursue Diversity 

John Piper once wrote,

What seems to be missing among many Christians, is a solid biblical conviction that ethnic diversity in the church is a beautiful thing, and part of God’s ultimate design for his people. It is inconceivable to me that a Christian can have a Christ-exalting love for diversity in the church and be hostile toward diversity in the nation. The knee-jerk hostilities I see betray, it seems, a very thin veneer of politically correct tolerance of diversity, instead of a deep, biblically grounded, cross-centered exuberance over God’s plan to reconcile all nations in Christ.[3]

In loving diversity in the church, we’ll seek to diversify our circle of relationships both within and outside of the church. We need to love and befriend and know people different from us. It will take decades. If we are willing to send folks like the Paul & Susan Lim, trained medical professionals, to leave their earthly home and country, to raise support, to send their kids to boarding school, in order to serve Muslim peoples in North Africa, I hope and trust we are likewise willing and eager to befriend the diversity of peoples we’ll get to interact with here in the Twin Cities. We get an opportunity to welcome our Chinese, South Asian, Russian, Somali, Hmong, and Mexican neighbors, and all those Iowans, South Dakotans, Wisconsinites, and native Minnesotans into our lives and into a relationship with Jesus. 

2) Learn to Lament & Rejoice With Others

Romans 12:15 says “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” We have an opportunity within the body of Christ to learn to lament with others, to weep with those who weep. Say if you have a friend, and their dog dies, we don’t—if were a good friend—say, “just buy a new one” or “I never liked that dog” or “I prefer cats more anyways.” We listen, and learn weep with those who weep. We have a unique opportunity to minister to one another the truth of God’s word in the context of a Christ-centered and compassionate and caring community.

A few months ago I was invited to a family thanksgiving celebration that took place here at the North Campus. The family is from Nigeria, so we had more dancing here in the North Campus sanctuary than I have ever seen. It was amazing. I was learning to rejoice with those who rejoice for healing from cancer, a graduation, and a marriage anniversary.

3) Learn to Listen to Others

In Side By Side by Ed Welch, he challenges us to “walk together and tell stories.” We all have this deep longing to be truly known. And here in the church, with those similar and with those different from us, we have an opportunity to walk together and ask for stories about one another’s faith, upbringing, family, and hopes and dreams. When we learn to listen, we open up opportunities for God to minister to us and to others as we listen and seek to understand God’s good work in the lives of others who are unlike us. It will broaden our ability to understand who God is. 


This can feel daunting, and yet I’m encouraged to come back to this heavenly vision in Revelation. God sits on the throne, all that is wrong will be made right. Later in Revelation 7:17 it says,

“For 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 hope is that Jesus Christ will be our shepherd, guiding us to springs of living water, and will wipe away every tear from our eyes. He will care for his sheep, he will build and establish his church, he will gather the nations to himself, and he will be our God. Let’s look to him with faith, hope, and an eagerness to love those around us and to pray earnestly to our God, “Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”


[1] These are cited from The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 3rd edition, by Philip Jenkins.

[2] M.L. King, “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” with an introduction by Paul Chaim Schenck, p. 17