Monday, November 02, 2009

Sermon - All Saints' Day - Rev. 7:9-17

All Saints' Day – November 1st , 2009
Revelation 7:9-17
“All the Sinners and Saints”

Greetings in Christ, you saints of God. Children of God. Redeemed of God – holy people. Saints. Not of yourselves, but in Jesus Christ. We are all saints. And this All Saints' day, we follow in the long tradition of Christians who have recognized this, as well as remembered all the saints that have gone before us. Here at Grace, we toll the chimes for the dead in Christ who have gone before us this past year. We sing songs about the faithful of generations past. And we think about the glories of heaven, when on the last day we are all reunited with the Lord and with each other.

Revelation 7 helps us to do this. If you sat down to read through the first six chapters of John's vision, you would have just finished a terrifying description of the 7 seals, and of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. War and bloodshed, famine and pestilence, and persecution of the saints. Pretty much all of the things that scare the socks off of people in the book of Revelation have just been described.

And in a sense it should scare us – for trouble and suffering are what we deserve as sinners. There's a part of us that always fears that we will be exposed as the frauds that we are. The thought that we will have to face God's wrath – that He will finally have enough of us sinners and our wickedness, that he will come in judgment and make us all pay. Many people, many Christians, read Revelation like a sort of Halloween scare story, or refuse to read it at all because they are so terrified by such thoughts.

Still, these visions are not meant to terrify us. They are more of a description of what troubles we already have. It's a vision of all the calamity and trouble that the church has faced, still faces, and always will face living in a sinful, fallen world. It's as if Jesus is saying to us, his people, “I know what it's like. I know how when a loved one dies it feels like the end of the world. I know what it's like to have your friends desert you and betray you. To be accused falsely. To hunger and thirst, to be imprisoned and reviled. I know when you suffer, and fear, and face persecution – for I faced it all too. I know what you're going through”

We are living in the end times, already, right now – also called, “the great tribulation”. We know is that there will be increasing trouble in these times – as Paul compares creation to a woman groaning in labor pains – and this trouble will continue until our Lord comes again to rescue us. And he will.

But let's not forget that there's more to the story. There's more to the vision of Revelation. God's word to us is not, finally, a word of judgment, but of mercy, salvation, and peace.

Through all of the troubles and plagues, God protects his people. And so we get to chapter 7, where a beautiful and comforting vision greets us – the great multitude in white. “These are they that have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”. These are all the saints in glory. These are all those who have been cleansed and forgiven, made just and righteous by the blood of the Lamb – Jesus Christ our great sacrifice.

Here is a picture of the church and the angels in the final kingdom of glory! Here is a wonderful and powerful vision of the final and unending triumphal victory song. Here we meet “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” and “laud and magnify His glorious name”. Here the singing of praises never ends.

God does not hold our sins against us, or make us pay for them. He doesn't punish us as we deserve, or smite and strike us as he could. Jesus took all the punishment. He paid the debt. He was striken, smitten, afflicted, for us. He sacrificed himself, the perfect Lamb of God without spot or blemish. He shed his holy, precious blood to redeem us. Our robes, even our very souls, are washed clean and lily white in that blood. A striking paradox that red could make white – but no more than that life comes by death.

So look into that great multitude of white-robed saints, and see your believing loved ones who have died but live eternally. Look and see the saints of old – Abraham, Issac and Jacob. Moses and Aaron, David and Solomon. The Apostles and Prophets, our forefathers in the faith – Martin Luther, C.F.W. Walther, Herman Bartz and Gerald Martin. Look and see those who have gone to be with the Lord this very year from our congregation....

And look and see yourself. For one day you will join that great crowd in victory and celebration. One day you'll be waving a palm branch and singing a new song of praise to the Lamb who was slain. In fact, that song has already begun here on Earth. We anticipate the final celebration each time we sing, “This is the feast” and each time we come to the Lord's table, “with angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven”.

And what a beautiful promise, that there in His presence, God's people are free of suffering and pain, and God himself wipes every tear from their eyes. From our eyes.

We are all sinners. We all deserve the plagues of Revelation and more. But we are all saints. Made clean and holy by the blood of the lamb, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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