All Saints’ Day (observed)
November 7, 2010
“The Now and Not Yet of God’s Baptized Saints” (Matthew 5:1-12; 1 John 3:1-3; Revelation 7:9-17)
On this day when we have a baptism in our midst and we commemorate the faithful departed from our midst, on this All Saints’ Day observed, I want to talk to you briefly about “The Now and Not Yet of God’s Baptized Saints.” We’ll be looking at aspects of this theme from all three of our lessons today.
First, when I say, “God’s baptized saints,” I’m talking about us. You and I are God’s baptized saints, the people he has made his own in Holy Baptism, just as he has added young Patience to that number here at the font this morning. We are God’s baptized people, washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. We are God’s saints, his holy ones, set apart to belong to him alone.
And our lessons this morning show us “the now and not yet” that are ours in Christ. The “now” is our present situation that we find ourselves in as Christians. The “not yet” is what is in store for us in the future, even as our departed brothers and sisters have begun to experience that reality that awaits us.
“The Now and Not Yet of God’s Baptized Saints.” Let’s start with the Holy Gospel. In the Beatitudes, from Matthew 5, Jesus describes, in memorable terms, both our now and our not yet. Jesus here is talking to disciples, that is, to Christians. And the “now” he describes for those who follow him is generally not too good, at least not from the world’s perspective: “The poor in spirit.” “Those who mourn.” “The meek.” “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” “Those who are persecuted.” “Those who are reviled and spoken evil against.” The world would call these people “losers.” But Jesus calls them “blessed.”
You see, our situation now, now as followers of Jesus, does not always–or even often–resemble a bed of roses. Indeed, it may feel more like a crown of thorns. Besides the ordinary problems that befall all men, it’s like we get some extra suffering added on precisely because we are believers. If you want an easy life, don’t become a Christian!
But Jesus calls us “blessed.” That’s weird. It’s a puzzle and a paradox how Christ can pronounce us blessed when our life is in the pits. But he does. And we are. Why? Jesus gives us the reasons in the second half of those verses. And this is our “not yet”: “For they shall be comforted.” “For they shall inherit the earth.” “For they shall be satisfied.” And so on. “For your reward is great in heaven.” Our future reward makes our present suffering bearable–and blessed. And that future reward is ours, guaranteed to us, simply because we are Christ’s followers. We believe in Jesus, we have been joined to Jesus in Holy Baptism, and so the future reward Christ has won for us is guaranteed to us even now.
But now notice this. While most of the promises in the Beatitudes are cast in the future, there is a pair that are spoken of in the present. In bracketing verses at the start and near the end, Jesus puts the blessedness in the present tense: “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Is,” present tense! We share in the kingdom of heaven even now! Christ came bringing the kingdom of heaven with him. And with him, the blessings of that kingdom: righteousness, peace, joy, salvation, forgiveness, wisdom, healing, the restoration of creation. This is the kingdom of heaven that is ours, now, in Christ. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” And your blessedness is pretty great also, even now, here on earth.
The now and the not yet. John speaks of this, as well, in his epistle. He even uses the terms: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.” Right now, we are already God’s children. It is a present reality. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” It is a present reality, but there is also a bonus, a future reward we have to look forward to. “What we will be has not yet appeared.” But it will appear when he appears, when Christ returns at his second coming. “What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” We will be like Jesus, having a resurrected body, glorified, fitted out for immortality. We will be like him, without the sin that currently weighs us down. A bright and glorious future awaits us. We don’t know exactly what all of that will look like, but we do know it will be good, better than good, outstanding–well, the words even pale.
Meanwhile, now, the world does not know us, because it does not know him. The world can’t figure out us Christians. They don’t understand us, and they don’t accept us. They will mock Christians, think we’re crazy. They don’t understand Christians, because they don’t understand Christ. So don’t be surprised when the world hates you for no good reason. It comes with the territory when you bear the name of Christ.
But because we bear the name of Christ, we also bear the name “children of God.” The Father has made us his children when he baptized us into Christ. God the Father is now our heavenly Father, who loves us and takes care of us. God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, is now our Savior, and our sins are washed away for his sake. God the Holy Spirit has been given to us, to give us faith through the gospel and to keep us strong in that faith, our whole life long. A present joy and a future hope, all bestowed on us in the precious name of the triune God.
The now and the not yet. Revelation catches this too, in the scene of the white-robed throng in heaven: “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. . . .” “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” “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.”
The “now” mentioned in the reading from Revelation is the great tribulation that the white-robed saints are coming out of. That would be the life of pain and distress and persecution that God’s people must endure here on earth. But those in the white robes, they have come out of that. They are no longer suffering the afflictions with which we are afflicted, the troubles with which we are troubled.
Dear friends, our dear friends, our departed friends, have already entered into that rest and that joy. Anna and Kennard Skaggs, Ron Benear Jr., Charles Heineman–they are no longer suffering, no longer struggling like we are. “We feebly struggle, they in glory shine.”
Yes, behold that host, arrayed in white. But how did their robes get so white, pure and clean to stand before the throne of God? It was not because of any inherent purity or cleanliness in them–or in us. No, on our own, our robes are filthy and fouled, soiled by our sin. Our sin would exclude us from that heavenly scene. But here in Revelation, we get the answer as to how our robes are cleansed and we become qualified to stand in God’s presence. It is this: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
The blood of the Lamb–that’s Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin. It is the blood he shed for us on the cross. As God’s perfect sacrifice and our perfect substitute, Christ won our forgiveness and purchased our eternal salvation. All this is delivered to you in the gospel. And so when you were baptized, those robes of yours were washed clean, made white, in the blood of the Lamb. A striking image, isn’t it? Robes made white in blood? But that’s really the only way that happens.
And with that as our “now,” our “not yet” will surely follow. We will share in the inheritance of God’s baptized saints. Listen to what our dearly departed brothers and sisters are already beginning to enjoy, and realize that this is what is in store for you and me: “They are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 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.”
“The Now and Not Yet of God’s Baptized Saints.” Our now is poverty of spirit and persecution for the faith. Our now is a great tribulation–the world does not know either us or our Lord. But our now is also blessed, for ours is, present tense–ours is the kingdom of heaven. We are children of God even now. And with robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb, we baptized saints have a glorious future in front of us. We’re not yet there, but we can see it from our house, from this house of hope called the church. Our now is good, and our not yet is even better. And that’s the best, most blessed, good news I can give you!