“Thanking God for All the Saints” (Revelation 7:9-17)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
Sunday, November 3, 2019

“Thanking God for All the Saints” (Revelation 7:9-17)

Last week we celebrated Reformation Day. We remembered how Martin Luther broke with the Roman Catholic Church by saying that we are saved by grace through faith, faith in Christ, and not in the slightest measure by our works. This is the eternal gospel that Luther proclaimed loud and clear. And this doctrine of justification is the central teaching of the Christian faith. It is the article on which the church stands or falls. Sad to say, Rome has never corrected her errors on this most important teaching. And so this is still the underlying issue that divides Lutherans and Roman Catholics to this day.

At the same time, though, some people think that being Lutheran means that we must avoid anything they regard as “too Catholic.” For example, making the sign of the cross or chanting the liturgy or going to private confession–they think that we must not do these things or else we are being “Romish.”

Well, then, what do we do with a day like today? Because today we’re observing All Saints’ Day. Now what in the world is All Saints’ Day doing on a Lutheran church calendar? I thought “saints” were strictly for the Catholics. What do Lutherans have to do with saints?

What we do with them is to thank God for them. And praise God with them. And so our theme this morning: “Thanking God for All the Saints.”

You see, the Lutheran Reformation did not do away with everything that had been handed down in the church up to that point. In fact, the Lutheran church kept whatever could be kept without obscuring or going against the gospel. In practices where abuses had crept in, the Lutheran church corrected what needed to be corrected. But we did not necessarily get rid of the practices themselves. So those examples I mentioned earlier–the sign of the cross, the historic liturgy, chanting, private confession–all these practices were retained. We kept these things in the Lutheran church–cleaned up, of course. And in that way, with the necessary corrections having been made, we have kept All Saints’ Day. It is not “too Catholic.”

The basic correction that had to be made was in putting the saints in proper perspective. They do not aid us in gaining salvation, as if Christ were not enough. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession states: “We maintain that we dare not trust in the transfer of the saints’ merits to us, as though God were reconciled to us or accounted us righteous or saved us on this account. We obtain the forgiveness of sins only by Christ’s merits when we believe in him.”

But having said that, our Lutheran Confessions do not reject the practice of remembering and honoring the saints. In fact, the saints are held in high regard. The Augsburg Confession says: “It is taught among us that saints should be kept in remembrance.” The Apology adds, “Our Confession approves giving honor to the saints.” Luther himself said, “Next to Holy Scripture there certainly is no more useful book for Christendom than that of the lives of the saints.”

Now let’s clarify what we mean by “saints.” In the broad sense, all Christians are saints. Paul addresses several of his epistles, “To the saints”: “To the saints in Ephesus,” “To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi,” and so on. All believers are saints. The word “saint” means “holy one,” and in Christ, in his holiness, we all have been made holy. We have been set apart to belong to God. In that sense, we are all saints, holy ones. So to call ourselves saints is not bragging on us. Instead, it’s bragging on Christ, the one who makes us holy.

Luther puts it likes this: “Just as we should not deny that we are baptized and Christians, so we should not deny or doubt that we are holy. It would be well to impress this deeply on people and to accustom them not to be shocked at it or hesitate to accept it. . . . For when Christians call themselves holy after Christ, this is not arrogance; it is honoring and praising God. For thereby we do not praise the malodorous holiness of our own works but His Baptism, Word, grace, and Spirit, which we do not have of ourselves; He gave them to us.”

Yes, Christ Jesus has made us the holy people of God. By faith in Christ we are saints. For this great fact, we praise God today, to whom goes all the glory.

The Bible makes it clear that it is because of Christ that God regards us as holy, as saints. In the Book of Revelation, chapter seven, St. John is given a vision of the church triumphant. He sees a great multitude standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They are “clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” Then John is told who these ones are in the white robes: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

The blood of the Lamb! This is how we become saints, holy ones! This is how our sin-stained robes are washed clean, white as snow! The blood of the Lamb! This is how one day we will leave the troubles of this life and join that host arrayed in white. By the blood of the Lamb. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus Christ made the perfect sacrifice for all your sins! He shed his blood on the cross for you! The holy precious blood of God’s own Son is the price that was paid to set you free, to redeem you from sin and death and eternal damnation. By the blood of the Lamb you are free, you are forgiven. Like the saints in Revelation 7, we have had our robes washed clean and made white in the blood of the Lamb. The white robe of Christ’s righteousness was placed on you in your baptism. Now you are a child of God and an heir of heaven. This is how you and I can be called saints.

So all Christians are saints. But this term is especially used for those who have died in the faith and departed this life. And it is on All Saints’ Day that the church commemorates those faithful departed. Today we remember with thanksgiving those who have gone before us in the faith. We thank God for them, for their faith, for their contributions to the life of the church, for their example of good works done from a living faith. This is what Luther and the Confessions mean when they say that we remember and honor the saints.

We especially think of the outstanding saints, those whom history recalls and whose names we know. Saints like St. Mary, the mother of our Lord and that most blessed of women. We honor the saints of old. We strive to follow their example of faith and good works.

We also benefit from their example of being forgiven sinners who received God’s grace. That encourages us, because we know how much we ourselves need God’s forgiveness. Think of St. Peter and St. Paul, what examples they are of God’s great mercy to sinners. Remember how Jesus restored Peter, after Peter had denied the Lord. What pardon and forgiveness God shows! Think of Paul–first known as Saul, the persecutor of the church. Yet Paul will say, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” Again, we see the grace of God to redeem even those who were fighting against him. This is of great comfort and encouragement to us. If God can save sinners like Peter and Paul–and David, the adulterer and murderer, and Matthew, the crooked tax-collector–then he can rescue poor miserable sinners like you and me. God is in the business of turning sinners into saints.

Think of how God used these saints for the work of the gospel: Peter, preaching to thousands on the Day of Pentecost. Paul, traveling the Mediterranean world to establish churches. Matthew and John, authors of gospels. Then there were the great saints of church history: St. Athanasius, courageously confessing Christ before the world. St. Augustine, the great teacher of the church. Brave martyrs like Polycarp and Perpetua and Felicity. Hymn writers like St. Ambrose and Bernard of Clairvaux. Missionaries like St. Patrick and St. Boniface. All these saints lived long before Luther, but we Lutherans claim them as part of our heritage, too.

Then there are saints whose names history does not record, but whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. We may not have known them, but God does. And the saints whose names you do know, because they’re written into your own personal history: That sainted grandfather or grandmother who influenced you for Christ and the church. Your late husband or wife who was your companion in Christ for so many years. How we thank God for those dear loved ones we miss so much!

Today we remember in particular those from our own congregation who have fallen asleep in Jesus over the last twelve months. This year we remember two from our midst, Bill McBride and Glen Schilling. We miss these brothers, and we thank God for keeping them in the faith and giving them the victory in Jesus. And we look forward to seeing them again one day.

Brothers and sisters, today we thank God for all the saints: the saints of old, the ones whose names we know, as well as all the unknown saints who have gone before us. We thank God for the faithful departed we have known personally. We thank God for the good gifts they have been in our own lives and in the life of the church. And baptized in the cleansing blood of Christ, we look forward to joining that white-robed multitude gathered before the throne, where we all will sing God’s praises forever: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Published in: on November 3, 2019 at 1:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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