All Saints' Day
November 1st, 2015
Our text this All Saints' Day is from John's vision in Revelation – to be more clear, what Jesus Christ revealed to St. John. Revelation uses these word pictures to show us eternal truths of God's kingdom. Like the angel flying overhead with the eternal Gospel – which we heard about last Sunday. When did that happen? It's always been God's way – to send messengers who bear his message – and it will be that way forever.
Today, we read John's vision of the great multitude clothed in white. It is another anchor of comfort in the sometimes stormy clouds Revelation paints. A moment to exhale and be comforted by a picturesque promise of the blessings that His people enjoy in Christ. Blessings we enjoy now, and will enjoy fully in the age to come.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,
This is the church, of all times and places. It is a grand reunion into one body, now one visible multitude, of the many who on earth were divided by national borders, lines of lineage, and mother tongues.
They are innumerable. Like stars in the sky and sand on the seashore, the multitude cannot be counted by any of us (though certainly God knows its exact number). This is the final fulfillment of the promises to Abraham, for all his children by faith are now gathered into the final family reunion. Here, in glory, the church is one.
Sin, which had divided us in so many ways, is now behind us. No longer is the judgment of Babel enforced, in which the languages were confused and the people scattered – for God knew that if we were united in our sinfulness, no sin would be too great for our human pride to accomplish together. So just as he punished Adam and Eve with exile, for their own good, so they wouldn't eat of the tree of life and live forever in their sin, so he scattered the nations at Babel to prevent us from joining our wickedness as one.
But now, in the church's final glory, all is right again. Any rifts of division are washed away in the blood of the Lamb. All the national distinctions and ethnic tensions melt. And the language becomes one again. Just like it did at Pentecost. When each heard the wonders of God being declared in his own tongue. The Apostles preached the Gospel of Jesus to all people – and all people heard it as the Spirit gave them utterance.
So today, the church speaks and hears the same language – the language of the Gospel. That in Jesus Christ, all are one, all are holy, all are saints.
standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,
Palm Sunday peeks its head out today, too. But this is a far better Palm Procession. For these branch-wavers are no longer crying “Hosanna”, that is, “Save us Now”, but they are singing to the one who HAS saved them. They are are not anticipating the one who rides the donkey just might be the Son of David come to save. They know full well he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The Passover in Egypt pointed to him as a shadow. John the Baptist said it clearly. And Jesus fulfilled it fully, when on the altar of the cross, he made the perfect sacrifice of... himself. He is the perfect and spotless Lamb without blemish, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Lamb who once was slain but now lives forever enthroned in glory.
For they stand in his throne room. They are before him in his place of honor. And he rules there, from his throne, for their benefit. He is their advocate with the Father. He is the one intercessor of God and man. And he, the Lamb that was slain but now lives – is both true God and true man to eternity. He is one of them. He is one of us.
and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
They shout the triumph call. It's worth saying and worth saying LOUDLY. Salvation belongs to the Father and the Son. Our God who sits on his throne, and his Son, the Lamb. The Father sent the Son, and the Son completed the Father's mission. He died for all and rose again for all. He paid the price, fought the good fight, and conquered death once and for all. And the victory – it's ours. He doesn't keep it to himself. We share that in the triumph he won on our behalf. By pure grace, all that He has is ours.
And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,
All creation joins the church in continual worship. Not even the highest ranking angels with all their mysterious might are immune from falling on their faces in the presence of God's almighty glory. The Elders – the 24 who represent the church's spokesmen in both Old and New Testament times – they too, join this heavenly worship. And the four living creatures – with the head of the man, the ox, the lion and the eagle – show that even the wisest and strongest and fiercest and swiftest of all creation defers to the majesty of its Creator. We are not worthy to even come before him. But he makes us worthy. Always and ever.
saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
The content of their praise, a sevenfold (a holy) song:
Blessing – We bless him from whom all blessings flow.
Glory – That mysterious quality of God that shows his surpassing worth
Wisdom – Omniscience – all knowing, all seeing
Thanksgiving – For we are ever-grateful for all his benefits, and he is ever benevolent.
Honor – The highest honor, which no medal can designate and no proclamation exhaust
Power – Dynamic, explosive, thunderous power to destroy and create at will
Might – The Lord of all hosts, or heavenly armies, who serve at his command
He is the superlative of all this and more, forever and ever. But for all the superlatives, we are about to see the most wondrous work he has done. An accomplishment to exceed them all.
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “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.
And we have some heavenly catechesis here. “Who is this crowd of exultant worshippers?” John is asked. And like a child too fearful to offer a guess, he demurs, “Sir, you know”. And now the answer.
“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.” And let's be clear – this is not some special group of elite believers who've earned a better heaven than you poor schlubs. It's not some particularly faithful and holy subset of Christians who faced trials way harder than yours, and thus deserve a more impressive reward.
We all must face, and daily do face the great tribulation. The great struggles and turmoils of the life of faith lived in a fallen world. Fear and doubt. Temptations of all kinds. Wondering, “how long, oh Lord, until you hear my cry?” Loneliness and sorrow and grief – and all other sorts of cross-bearing that the people of the cross have been given to do. Even the struggles against our own fallen nature – this is all the great tribulation. And we are troubled in various ways at various times. This is the church as a whole. This is the entirety of God's people. So it has always been.
But they are now those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
They have come through the great tribulation. Their robes were soiled – sullied and stained by the stench of sin and death. Torn to shreds and stinking to high heaven, but certainly not fit attire for the very throne room of God. But by God's grace they have come through clean and clear on the other side, through the one who cleanses them, and cleanses us by His blood.
They have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, but with a Good Shepherd to guide them. Some were martyred. Some we cast down by the world. Some were persecuted for righteousness' sake. Some were cut down in youth. Some languished for years in ill health. Some were mourned but the world, but others were forgotten. Some suffered the senseless abuse of strangers, or friends, or even family. But all bear the baptismal seal upon their brow, the seal of him who died. And so they who toiled in Christ's kingdom now have blessed rest from their labors.
They bore crosses, for so did our leader who went before us and paved the way to heaven. But so also will they follow him into glory, and life eternal:
“Therefore 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 o living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Here we find some of the most precious promises of all Holy Scripture.
These saints, all the saints, and that means you too – will be ever before the throne of God, serving him day and night in his temple. And God will shelter them with his presence.
Friends, there is nothing better than to be in the presence of God, forever. There in perfect communion with our Creator, paradise is restored – and even better. There aren't enough “veries” to tell how very good it will be.
The Elder speaks to John in poetic language of earthly provision: No more hunger, no more thirst. No more scorching heat. In other words, no more physical wants or needs. No more pain or worry about tomorrow. We'll have all that we need and then some. God will shelter us with his very presence. But it gets better.
The Lamb, Jesus, will be our shepherd. And he will guide us, not just to green pastures and still waters, but to the springs of living water. The river of life itself. And so death and all its sorrow become a distant memory for those in his eternal sheepfold.
And this tender promise, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes”. Like a loving parent who kisses the child's boo-boo. God will, so very personally, take all hurt and pain away. And can we put on a finer point than that?
Jesus suffered all, endured all pain, cried all his tears for you. He knows your weakness, he knows your pain and then some (and then some!). He has answer to every drop of sadness that wells up and runs down your cheek. And he will wipe every tear from your eye on that blessed day when you re-unite with him and all the saints in glory. This is our hope. This is our future. This is his promise, and what a beautiful promise it is.
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”