“The Now and Not Yet of All God’s Saints” (Matthew 5:1-12; 1 John 3:1-3; Revelation 7:9-17)

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
November 7, 2021

“The Now and Not Yet of All God’s Saints” (Matthew 5:1-12; 1 John 3:1-3; Revelation 7:9-17)

Today, as we do every year on the first Sunday in November, we observe the historic Christian festival known as All Saints’ Day. On this day we thank God for making us all his saints, his holy ones, set apart by God’s grace to belong to God alone. We thank God for the saints of the past, those who have preceded us in the faith, who by the witness of their lives inspire us and encourage us to carry on. And we remember the faithful departed from our own midst, from this congregation, who over the past twelve months have fallen asleep in Jesus and now rest from their labors. This is All Saints’ Day, a time to reflect upon and ponder “The Now and Not Yet of All God’s Saints.”

We see both the “now” and the “not yet” of God’s saints in all three of our lessons today. 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, the beautiful reality that awaits us.

“The Now and Not Yet of All God’s Saints.” Let’s start with the Holy Gospel for today. In Matthew 5, in the Beatitudes, Jesus describes our now and promises our not yet. The “now” he describes for his disciples is generally not too good: “The poor in spirit.” “Those who mourn.” “The meek.” “Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” “Those who are persecuted.” Wow, that’s pretty grim! The world would call these people “losers.” But look, Jesus calls them “blessed”!

You see, our situation now, as followers of Jesus, does not always resemble a bed of roses. On the contrary, it may feel more like a crown of thorns. Because, 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 call 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 these 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. 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 our Savior. 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 notice this. While most of the promises in the Beatitudes are cast in the future, there’s a pair of promises spoken of in the present. In verses bracketing the Beatitudes 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, along with all of its blessings: comfort, righteousness, mercy, sonship, etc. This is the kingdom of heaven that is ours now. And our not yet is the great future reward waiting for us in heaven.

The now and the not yet. John speaks of it as well, in his epistle. He even uses the terms, “now” and “not yet”: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.” Right now, we are 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.” That’s the now. But there’s also a “not yet,” a future reward we can 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, with a resurrected, glorified body, no longer subject to death. 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 that it will be good, much better than anything we experience now.

Meanwhile, now the world does not know us. The world doesn’t understand Christians. They can’t figure us out. And they don’t accept us, either. They mock Christians. They think we’re crazy. “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” The world doesn’t know us, because they don’t know 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 made us his children when he baptized us into Christ. We now are children of the heavenly Father. Our Father loves us and takes care of us. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is now our Savior; our sins are washed away for his sake. And God the Holy Spirit has been given to us to give us faith in Christ and to keep us strong in that faith our whole life long. A present joy and a future hope, bestowed on us in our baptism in the name of the triune God.

The now and the not yet. Revelation catches this too, in the scene of the white-robed multitude 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” that you and I experience is the great tribulation that the white-robed saints are coming out of. This is the life of pain and distress and persecution that God’s people 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. They are no longer troubled with the troubles that trouble us. That’s the “not yet” we can look forward to.

Dear friends, the faithful departed have already entered into that rest and that joy. They are no longer suffering. They are 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, so pure and clean to stand before God’s throne? It was not because of any inherent purity or cleanliness in them. No, on our own, our robes are filthy and fouled, soiled by sin. Our sin would exclude us from that heavenly scene. But here in Revelation, we get the answer to how sin-stained robes are cleansed. We find out how the saints are able to stand in God’s presence. Answer: “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 you from all sin. It is the blood he shed for you on the cross. As the perfect sacrifice and our perfect substitute, Christ Jesus won your forgiveness and your eternal salvation. All this is delivered to you in the gospel, in Word and Sacrament. When you were baptized, those robes of yours were washed clean, made white, in the blood of the Lamb. Think of it: Robes made white in blood! But that’s what happens, when it’s the blood of Christ.

And with that as our “now,” our “not yet” will surely follow. We will share in the inheritance of all God’s saints. Listen to the joy that is in store for us: “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 All God’s Saints.” Our now is poverty of spirit and persecution for the faith. Our now is great tribulation; the world does not know us, and it doesn’t know our Lord. But our now is also blessed, because Jesus pronounces it so. He declares that ours is–present tense–the kingdom of heaven. We are children of God even now. And with robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb, we have a glorious future waiting in front of us. We’re not yet there, but we can see it from here. Our now is good, and our not yet is even better. And all God’s saints said . . . “Amen!”

Published in: on November 6, 2021 at 10:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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