Sermon for the Feast of All SaintsRevelation 7:9-17 (NASB)
9) After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; 10) and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11) 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, 12) saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” 13) Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” 14) I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15) For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. 16) They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; 17) for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
You may have heard it said often enough that there are two kinds of people in the world. Sometimes they're described as "saints and sinners." Perhaps a better description would be sinners that think they are saints, and saints that know they are sinners. Sinners it seems often shy away from claiming the title "saint." Yet today we are remembering the saints who lived among us, and though we may not yet think of ourselves as saints, I would like each one of us to leave here today feeling like saints. But in order to do that, we need to know where we fit in. Are we saint or sinner? St. John gives us a good description of saints so that we can answer the question:
WHO ARE THE SAINTS OF GOD?
I. They Are People Whose Sins Have Been Washed Clean by the Blood of Christ, and
II. Whose Faith Brings Them Through Tribulation Into Heavenly Bliss.
Before we look to see what a saint is, it would be good to see what a saint is not. A few days ago Pope John Paul II elevated a dead person to within one step of being a saint in the Roman church. She was a nun who had lived in a poor Spanish town, and dedicated her life to helping the poor. This is all fine and good, but the question then becomes, is a saint a person in a special class of Christians, living in a special way, and in special places? That's not the picture we get from St. John. He writes, "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'"
Notice that John points out no particular nation or class of people or any particular occupation. Saints then are not simply especially good Christians, or those who live a certain way or in a certain place but they are from all over the world and from every walk of life, and indeed every level of sanctification.
Already we are getting a clearer picture of what a saint is; he can be anyone, anywhere, and any time. The reason is just as clear. Simply put, before one is a saint he is a sinner, and that covers everyone. Everyone is a potential saint because everyone is already a sinner. But John calls those people saints who "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." You see, Jesus, with His death on the cross, paid the price for all the sins ever committed by anyone, anywhere, of all time. Those that believe this fact have then washed their sin-stained lives in Jesus' holy blood so to speak, and that blood has made them perfect in God's eyes. It's as if we come into the world with a dingy, dirty robe stained by original sin, then we add the mud, and grease, and grime of daily sinning to it until it becomes completely black and filthy. By faith in the sacrifice of Jesus, given to us by God through His Means of Grace, we give that robe to Him, and using His blood which coved the sins of the whole world, He makes that robe white as snow. Now we can stand before God our maker as His own perfect children - saints of God!
God's saints are those that He has chosen, not decided on by any man, not even a Pope. Any and all can be saints, but only those who have faith are washed completely clean and are perfect in God's eyes. Those alone He calls saints. And we can too! I am a saint by faith in Jesus, and so are you by that same faith, as are all those who have gone before us in faith.
II. This brings up another part of what it means to be a saint of God. Saints are those whose faith brings them through tribulation into heavenly bliss. This means that those who have believed in the cleansing power of Jesus' blood retain that saving faith throughout their entire lives, or at the very least they have it when they die. That faith must endure because without it no one will or can be saved. As Jesus says, ". . . but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned."(Mark 16:16 NASB)
And faith is a living and growing thing. It either lives or is dead; either grows or it dies. God sees to it that our faith grows by sending us challenges, trials, problems, and sometimes even pain and sorrow. But these are merely tests to temper our faith, to point us back to God, to force us to lean on Him for our salvation – and for everything else for that matter!
God is not trying to destroy our faith, for He wants us to be saved. But to do that our faith must be strong. Be assured that God will never test you beyond what your faith can stand, and that He will always provide a way out, through His Word and Sacraments, and through fervent prayer (1 Corinthians 10:13 NASB). Remember that St. John describes saints as, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation."
So far we've seen that saints are first of all sinners, then they are believers of all kinds, in all places, of all occupations and times; also that they have their faith tested throughout their lives. So what is the outcome? St. John now gives us his great "THEREFORE" that is, the result of remaining faithful, he writes, "For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes."
In other words, finally the faithful are taken to heaven. This is proper and fitting, for God created them to be with Him forever, and now they will be. And what an existence it will be! Look again at that description. We will be always in front of God. No longer will He be only the God above us, but the God before us. We will see God, and speak with Him. We will serve Him, saying an everlasting "Thank-you!" for saving us from Hell. He will protect us; nothing bad will ever happen to us again, not even anything unpleasant will come near us. Jesus Himself will guide us in the joyful study of His Word, and all God's marvelous works. We will spend eternity learning the riddles and wonders of the universe, knowing things that only God can tell us and marveling at His power and glory. Finally, we will not even remember the bad things that happened to us. The best thing is that we will not even remember the sins we committed. There will be no need to remember sin, it will be forgotten once and for all, not only forgiven but never brought to mind. Oh, what peace and comfort!! Surely this is a place for saints. This is where God's saints are right now. This is where we are heading!
We know what God says about us. We know we are sinners. We also know we are saints – right now. But we are saints with only one foot in heaven, the other foot still in a sinful world. Let us give thanks to God for all those who have made it with both feet. Be joyful at their memory. Pray that you will be among them someday. Let us also pray that our one foot in heaven will never slip! The way to be sure of that is to look to Jesus for salvation, faith, and the strength to keep it. Then we too will be those for whom a congregation in the future will sing:
- For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.
[Preached at St. Peter Lutheran Church, Brodhead, WI, November 7th, 1982]