Sunday, November 7, 2021

All Saints' Day (Observed)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)

November 7, 2021

Text: Rev. 7:9-17; Matt. 5:1-12

            Our first reading from Revelation 7 is the fulfillment of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.  These, clothed in white robes… these are the ones coming out of the great tribulation (Rev. 7:14).  That is, they suffered.  They suffered in faithfulness to Christ.  They were the poor in spirit, who mourned, who hungered and thirsted for righteousness, who were persecuted and reviled and falsely accused of evil on account of Christ and His Gospel, even as they were meek (that is, humbly and wholly dependent on God), merciful, pure in heart (which is to say, cleansed, absolved of their sins), peacemakers.  They were Christians, and so the world was not their friend.  They suffered, but now they are coming out from that.  Which is to say, they are dying and going to heaven.  That is the great parade in our text, the multitudes gathering before the throne of God, and of the Lamb, from every nation, tribe, people, and language.  They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  That is, they are baptized into Christ, into His death and resurrection.  And now they have come to the reward He has won for them. 

            Behold their beatitude, their blessedness.  They were poor in spirit, having no spiritual riches of their own, only their sin and death and condemnation to bring to the table before God.  But Christ has taken their poverty upon Himself, and given them His riches and Kingdom in exchange.  And now, here they are, in the Kingdom as it is manifest in heaven.  They were those who mourned… their sins, the state of the fallen world, the brokenness that marks every relationship, death… that of loved ones, their own death, not to mention all of death’s symptoms, sickness, injury, pain.  But now they are comforted.  God wipes every tear from their eyes.  They were meek, gentle, humble.  They did not, by show of might, demand others submit to their power and control.  And now the New Creation is their inheritance, the New Heavens and the New Earth, where the sun shall not strike them nor any scorching heat.  They were those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness, and Christ has given them His own in abundance to eat and to drink, here at the altar, and there where He guides them to springs of living water.  They were merciful, forgiving as they had been forgiven, food for the hungry, drink to the thirsty, hospitality for the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned (Matt. 25).  As they’d done it unto the least of these, they’d done it unto Christ.  Now, He mercifully shelters them with His presence, providing for them, protecting them.  Pure in heart, cleansed from sin, they now see God with their own eyes as they stand before His throne day and night in Divine Service (and you know that doesn’t mean slavishly working for Him, but joyfully receiving His unending gifts).  Peacemakers, for they were given the peace that surpasses all understanding, peace with God, sins forgiven, eternal life and salvation, and that peace overflows into relationship with others, living at peace with others, and reconciling those who are opposed to one another by the Gospel of reconciliation.  They are called sons of God, because that is what the Son of God does by His cross and death.  He reconciles God and sinful humanity by atoning for sin.  And so He reconciles sinful humans to one another, atoning for their sins against each other, thus making the two, one.

            And then, persecution.  This is probably the main thing we envision when we think of the great tribulation.  The great tribulation is not just at the very end of time, right before Jesus comes again, although it is certainly true that as long as God gives this old world to endure, evil will intensify, and Christians will suffer.  But the tribulation is now.  It is the time of the New Testament, from our Lord’s Ascension into heaven to His coming again in glory, as Christians suffer persecution at the hands of unbelievers who are not meek, who do demand power and control by show of might and force, who demand divine honors for themselves, room to rule in your conscience, and authority over your soul.  So they revile Christians, who will not burn incense to Caesar or call him “Lord,” and they utter all kinds of evil against the Christians falsely on account of Christ.  They don’t realize it, but they are really just stooges of a more sinister power.  As Paul says, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12; ESV).  That is, against Satan and his demons, which is why we need to be outfitted with the whole armor of God. 

            But what is the Christian to do in the face of such oppression?  Three things.  First, remain faithful, no matter the cost.  Abide in the Word of Christ, and confess it boldly, even if it brings suffering.  Second, take Christ Himself as your example.  Peter reminds us that we are called to such suffering, “because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:21-24).  Third, Jesus tells us in the Beatitudes: “Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:12).  The reward is that which we see here in Revelation 7.  And that, beloved, is your sure and certain reality.  Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?  Look around you.  They are your brothers and sisters in Christ.  And you are one of them.  Rejoice.

            This is why, no matter your circumstances, no matter what you are suffering, no matter what is going on in the world, or in your sad sack of bones at this moment, you can have absolute peace.  Yes, even you.  Even now.  Because this Beatitude, this blessedness, is already your possession in Christ, albeit in a hidden way.  And it is your future manifest reality.

            Now, this is important, because it is a hidden reality for you at the present, as Paul says, “your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).  We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).  This is why you do not always feel at peace, and often feel quite the opposite.  The devil is always trying to convince you that it’s not true, that only seeing is believing.  And what you see brings you no peace… only despair.  So, says the devil, you may as well shed that poor, meek, merciful, pure, and peacemaking persona, and get what you can, while you can, avoiding persecution at all costs.  And the Old Adam in you is attuned to that station with open ears.  This is why you rebel.  This is why you sin.  Because you’re afraid he’s right.  Repent of listening to the lying serpent.  He can’t be trusted even a little.  He’s a master of spin, taking the objective facts available to the naked eye and interpreting them with his own biased propaganda.  That kind of thing is always from the evil one.  Reject it.  Call it what it is.  Call him what he is.  A liar, and the father of lies (John 8:44). 

            There is a way to know the truth of this life now hidden with Christ in God, this life which is yours, described here in Revelation 7.  Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of your faith, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).  Keep your eyes fixed on Him.  Now, I mean this quite literally.  Take a crucifix, or a painting of His Passion, and meditate on Scripture with this image before your eyes.  In His earthly life, and above all in His suffering and death on the cross, Jesus, who is by nature God, becomes the Poor in Spirit.  He is the Meek, the Merciful One, the Pure, the Peacemaker; yet He mourns with our grief as He carries our sorrows.  He hungers and thirsts for our righteousness as he bears our sins.  He is persecuted, reviled, falsely accused of evil, all the way to the death of the cross for our sakes, to atone for our sins, to suffer our punishment, our death, our condemnation.  And so the reward is His.  He is risen from the dead.  The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to Him.  He is comforted.  He inherits the Earth.  His hunger and thirst is satisfied.  And so all of this is His to give.

            You are baptized into Christ.  Your robes are washed white in the blood of the Lamb.  When you are distracted by all that is going on in this fallen world and in your fallen flesh, it is easy to lose the peace that is yours in Christ, and fall into despair.  But always remember that is a lie of the devil.  This is your reality.  Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  For you.  Keep your eyes fixed on that.  Keep your eyes fixed on Him.  If He has done all of this for you, how can He fail to keep His Promise?

            All Saints’ Day gives us a glimpse of the reality enjoyed at this very moment by our loved ones who have died in Christ, and so live with Him in heaven.  This is tremendously comforting, because we know they are alright, and, in fact, more than alright.  They know by sight what we can only know by faith.  But it is also comforting because All Saints’ Day gives us a glimpse of our own future reward.  Eyes on the prize, so to speak.  And above all, eyes on Jesus.  Martin Luther famously said, “When I look at myself, I don’t see how I can be saved.  But when I look at Christ, I don’t see how I can be lost.”  Don’t let tribulation avert your gaze.  You are coming out of it.  You see it now in the Scriptures and the cross of Christ.  It is coming into focus, enthroned upon the altar.  Already “Steals on the ear the distant triumph song” (LSB 677:5).  Soon you will see it in all its manifest glory.  The magnificent reality.  The saints.  The angels.  The whole company of heaven.  God upon His throne.  And the Lamb.  Slain, but standing.  Risen.  Living.  Victorious.  Reigning.  Welcoming you.  Is your vision yet a little blurred?  Not to worry.  When you arrive, God will stoop down and wipe away every tear (Rev. 7:17). 

            And that’s just the beginning.  That’s just heaven.  There is more to come.  On the Final Day, at the sound of the trumpet, the risen Lamb will raise you out of the grave.  And so your loved ones who died in Christ.  Your arms that now ache for those torn from them in death, will be full as you embrace them once again.  And, New Creation.  He really means it.  You will inherit the earth.  Just wait and see.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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