“For All the Saints, With All the Saints” (Revelation 7:9-17)

All Saints’ Day
Sunday, November 1, 2020

“For All the Saints, With All the Saints” (Revelation 7:9-17)

Yesterday, October 31, was Reformation Day, when we remember how Martin Luther had to break with the Roman Catholic Church. Luther made it clear that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone and not in the slightest measure by our works. This teaching of justification is the central teaching of the Christian faith. It is the article by which the church stands or falls. And the Lutheran Church is still waiting for the Catholic Church to correct her errors, but she has yet to do so. So we Lutherans are certainly not about to go “home to Rome.”

Well, then, what do we do with a day like today? Because today, November 1, is All Saints’ Day. Today many churches around the world–including Catholic churches and Lutheran churches–are observing this ancient festival. Now what in the world is All Saints’ Day doing on the Lutheran church calendar? I thought “saints” were strictly for Catholics. What do we do with the saints? What we do with them is to thank God for them. What we do with them is to praise God with them. That’s what we do with the saints. And that’s what we’ll explore now this morning, under the theme, “For All the Saints, With All the Saints.”

You see, the Lutheran Reformation did not do away with everything that had been handed down in the church. In fact, the Lutheran Church kept whatever could be kept without going against the gospel. And in those practices where abuses had crept in over the years, the Lutheran Church corrected what needed to be fixed, but did not necessarily get rid of the practices themselves. And so the tradition of observing All Saints’ Day was kept in our church, with the necessary corrections being made.

The basic correction that had to be made was in putting the saints in their proper perspective. That is, the saints do not aid us in obtaining salvation, as though Christ were not enough. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession puts it this way: “We must not trust that the saints’ merits are applied to us, that because of these God is reconciled to us, regards us just, or saves us. For we receive forgiveness of sins only by Christ’s merits when we believe in him.”

However, our Lutheran Confessions do not reject the practice of remembering the saints. On the contrary, the saints are held in high esteem. The Augsburg Confession states: “Our churches teach that the history of saints may be set before us.” The Apology adds, “Our Confession approves honoring the saints.” Martin 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 me clarify what we mean by “saints.” In the general sense of the term, all of us are saints, you and I and all Christians. Paul addresses several of his epistles, “To the saints,” for instance, “To the saints who are in Ephesus,” “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are 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. So to call ourselves saints is not bragging on our part. No, it’s bragging on Jesus, who makes us saints. It is extolling what he has done.

Luther puts it so well: “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 you and I are saints. For this great fact, we praise God, to whom goes all the glory. The Bible makes it clear that it is because of Christ that God regards us as righteous, holy, saints. In the Book of Revelation, the seventh chapter, St. John is given a vision of the church in heaven. He sees a great multitude standing before the throne and before the Lamb, who is Christ. They are “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 then John is told who the ones in the white robes are: “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 blood of the Lamb! This is how we become saints, holy ones! This is how our sin-stained robes are washed white as snow! The blood of the Lamb! This is how one day we will leave the troubles of this life and enter the bliss of heaven. It is all because of the blood of the Lamb. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world–the perfect sacrifice for your sins! Jesus shed his blood, on the cross, for you! His holy, precious blood is the great price that was paid to set you free, to redeem you from all 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 too have had our robes washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. That 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 of us are saints, all Christians are. But the term “saints” has come to be especially associated with those who have died in the faith and entered the bliss of heaven. And especially on this day, All Saints’ Day, the church commemorates those faithful departed. Today we remember with thanksgiving those who have gone before us. We thank God for their lives, 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. And they’re thinking especially of the outstanding saints, those whom history records and whose names we know. We Lutherans honor those saints of old, and we strive to follow their good example, 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 need God’s forgiveness!

Think of St. Peter and St. Paul, what examples they are of God’s mercy to sinners. Jesus restored Peter after he had denied the Lord. What pardon and forgiveness that is! Paul was a persecutor of the church. Yet Paul will say later, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” See the grace of God to redeem sinners who were fighting against him. This is great encouragement and comfort to us. If God can save sinners like Peter and Paul–or David, an adulterer and murderer, or Matthew, a tax-collector–then he can rescue poor miserable sinners like you and me. God is in the business of turning sinners into saints.

Then think of how God went on to use those saints of old for the work of the gospel: Peter, preaching to thousands on Pentecost. Paul, traveling throughout the Mediterranean world to establish churches. Matthew and John, the authors of gospels bearing their names. And then there were the great saints of church history after the New Testament: St. Athanasius, who boldly confessed Christ before the world. St. Augustine, whose teaching influenced the theology of the church probably more than any other person. St. Ambrose and Bernard of Clairvaux, whose enduring hymns we still sing to this day. All of these saints lived long before Luther, but we Lutherans claim them as part of our heritage, too. We are heirs of an astonishingly rich heritage, most of which we modern Americans are not even aware of.

Then there are the saints whom history does not record, all the ones whose names are unknown to us. And all the saints whose names you do know, because they’re written into your own personal history–the sainted grandfather or grandmother who influenced you for Christ and the church. The late husband or wife who was your companion in Christ for so many years. We thank God for these dear ones whom we miss so much! Today be glad for the good gifts from God they were in your life, and rejoice that they now enjoy the unbroken joy of heaven, and that by God’s grace one day you will join them there. Yes, thank God for all the saints.

We thank God for all the saints. And we also praise God with all the saints. The holy Christian church is one great communion of saints. We in this house of God today are joining together with all our brothers and sisters around the world in one great big Sunday worship service. Not only that, we here in the church on earth are being caught up into the very worship of heaven. We join with the saints and angels in heaven, who are gathered around the throne, singing the praises of the Lamb who was slain. We even acknowledge that in our Communion liturgy, don’t we? “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name.” When we gather around this altar, we are united with all the saints of heaven in the magnificent presence of our gracious God.

For all the saints, with all the saints. Today, on this All Saints’ Day, we thank God for all the saints. Today, and every time we’re gathered here with the whole church on earth and in heaven, we praise God with all the saints. Today, on this Lord’s Day–the day when our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead, in victory over sin and death–rejoice that we too have had our robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb and now are numbered among the saints.

Published in: on November 1, 2020 at 12:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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