All Saints Day| November 4, 2018| Rev. Rolf Preus| Matthew 5:11-12
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12
To be blessed is the opposite of being cursed. When people curse you, you know that you aren’t being blessed. But there are times when to be cursed means you are blessed. This might not make sense, but it is true. When you are cursed for confessing Christ and his truth, you are being blessed. You join the company of the blessed. The prophets were persecuted for preaching the truth about Christ. Remember Elijah and the prophets of Baal? Elijah stood alone. He preached the truth and for his efforts the false prophets sought to kill him. Throughout history, the children of God have been mistreated by this world. When you are mistreated because you are a Christian, God is blessing you. This is how God conforms you to Christ’s image. This is how he confirms you in your Christian faith. Listen to what St. John writes in today’s Epistle Lesson:
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. (1 John 3:1)
To be a Christian is to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. What did they say about Jesus? They slandered him, twisted his teaching, falsely accused him, and crucified him as if he were a dangerous criminal. So then, Christian, what do you expect? Do you want to be a disciple of Jesus? Do you want to learn from him, listen to his voice, follow him, hold onto him in firm faith, and confess him? Then get ready to receive the treatment he received.
Take a look at the martyrs in heaven. St. John writes in Revelation chapter seven:
These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
We call them martyrs. The word martyr comes from the Greek word for witness. They testified to their faith. This is why they were exiled, slandered, prosecuted, and killed. They testified to the truth about Jesus. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. When they were baptized they were washed in the blood of the Lamb. In baptism God forgives us all our sins. God washes away our sins and clothes us in Christ’s righteousness. In baptism we confess to the world that the blood of Jesus is more precious than all of the holy works of all of the holy people who build monuments to their own greatness. This confession offends those who trust in their own good deeds. This is why Christians have always been persecuted. We claim Christ as the only Savior of the human race. We dismiss all other religions as false and useless. When the early Christians did so, they were persecuted and killed by the political authorities. Those who had the power of the sword murdered many Christians, but they could not silence their confession. The blood of the martyrs watered the church and made it grow. Those early Christians knew to whom they belonged and they knew where they were going. They didn’t get pleasure from the praise of foolish people. They didn’t curry popularity with a world on its way to hell. They didn’t seek the approval of this sinful world. They confessed Jesus as the only hope for sinful humanity.
The Christian confesses Christ. We confess his gospel. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is the Savior of sinners. He is the only Savior. Those who confess their sins to God and trust in Jesus as their Savior from sin cannot be condemned. Those who refuse to acknowledge their sins and do not confess Jesus as their Savior from sin stand condemned before God. This we confess. We confess that Christ’s obedience, not ours, is our righteousness before God. We confess that the only God who exists is the God in whose name we are baptized, the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We confess that our baptism joins us in fellowship with God who puts his name on us, claims us as his children, and delivers us from every assault against us from the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.
To confess Christ makes people angry. Why is that? People want to be praised for their good deeds and many accomplishments. The Christian faith, on the other hand, gives all the glory and honor to Christ. We don’t advertise our own good deeds. We proclaim Christ’s. When Christians embrace Christian values and act on their faith, they invariably anger people. That’s because we dismiss the popular gods as useless. People get upset when you diss their religion. This is why people say nasty things about Christians who are bold enough to confess Christ. The world wants to be praised for its wonderful achievements. People make up religions to celebrate their own accomplishments. They expect others to share their values. Then the Christian comes with a very different set of values. We believe that the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are blessed by God. That sounds strange to the ears of people who value wealth, self-esteem, pride, strength, and self-vindication. We Christians are countercultural.
Christians are being persecuted all over the world. During the twentieth century, it was Communist regimes that most cruelly persecuted Christians. Now in the twenty first century it is Islamic regimes and mobs. But we don’t have to go overseas to see the persecution of Christ’s church. It’s going on right in front of our eyes.
Much of the persecution against Christians in America comes about when we Christians confess clearly what God teaches about marriage and the family. When we do so, we will be accused of sexism, homophobia, and various kinds of hatred. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for Christ’s sake. When we confess God’s law we confess God’s love because God’s law reflects his love. God’s love teaches us that an unborn baby should be protected by law from the poison and knife of the abortionist. God’s love knows nothing of a woman’s right to choose to kill her unborn child. God’s love teaches us that sexual intimacy belongs to marriage and that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. God’s love opposes same sex sexual unions. The love God requires is summed up in the familiar words:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
We Christians are accused of hateful bigotry when we take our stand on what God’s law of love teaches. We love those who are caught in sin that destroys both body and soul. We love them enough to bear the slander and lies of those who accuse us of hatred for speaking God’s truth. True love always tells the truth.
Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day. God turns sinners into saints. He does so by forgiving them all their sins. After God forgives us we are able to live holy lives. The holy lives we live don’t make us holy. God’s word of forgiveness does. This same word calls us to separate ourselves from the lies and false promises of this world.
We confess the church to be the Communion of Saints. The saints in heaven sin no more. The saints on earth must battle against sin every day of their lives. In the Catechism we learn of our three spiritual enemies: the devil, the world, and our flesh. The words of Jesus before us today remind us of our victory over the world. Christians are mocked and insulted. The world targets Christians. It targets Christian teenagers who resolve to remain virgins until marriage and aren’t afraid to say so. It targets Christian women who submit to their husbands as to the Lord and don’t mind who knows it. It targets Christian fathers who teach God’s word to their children and put it above sports, jobs, and every other thing in their lives. It targets the Christian student who is willing to say openly and without fear that this world is not billions of years old and that we didn’t come about by a process of evolution. God made us in his image as Moses records in Genesis. The world will let you off if you keep your mouth shut. But we cannot but confess what we believe. We know that our faith is grounded in God’s pure and unchanging word. It is focused on the Word made flesh, our God and brother Jesus, who has purchased us with his holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death. This we will confess.
We Christians will be persecuted for holding onto the gospel because sinners who deserve God’s punishment would rather deny this truth than humble themselves before the crucified and risen Savior of sinners. We Christians will be persecuted for holding onto God’s law because it condemns what the world says is your right to do whatever you please with your own body.
And when they lie about us, exclude us, say all kinds of false and malicious things about us, we will rejoice. We won’t just bear it. We’ll rejoice! We rejoice for two reasons: first because we have a great reward in heaven; second because we are being honored here on earth.
We have a great reward in heaven. It’s not a reward we earn. It’s a reward of God’s grace. God graciously rewards his children for what they do in his name. What we do in Jesus’ name and for Jesus’ sake is precious to our Father in heaven because Jesus is precious to him. Jesus is his eternally beloved Son. Jesus loved purely and suffered patiently. Jesus bore the wrath of God against sin in humble obedience to his Father and out of love for us. What we suffer for Jesus’ sake is precious, because God sees our suffering in light of Christ’s, and no greater offering was ever given to God than the offering of Calvary. God rewards his Christians for Christ’s sake.
The greatness of our reward in heaven is far greater than anything we suffer here on earth. The Bible says:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Heaven is not just a dreamland promised to ease our pain when facing death. Heaven is our true home. It is where our Christian fathers and mothers have gone. It is where God’s church lives in glory, forever separated from the sins, persecutions, and evils they suffered in this life. There is no curse in heaven. There is no judgment in heaven. In heaven we will forever praise God for the forgiveness we received here on earth, but we will never require any more forgiveness because we will be confirmed in innocence. When a Christian goes to heaven, the angels rejoice. There is no sin in heaven. There is no sorrow, suffering, or death.
Meanwhile, here on earth, we are honored when we suffer on account of Christ’s name and God’s word. God makes us members of the most exclusive group of people in the world. You don’t buy your way into it. God invites you. He sets you next to the prophets and apostles who proclaimed the truth and suffered for it. You are in fellowship with the martyrs who have gone before. Jesus glorified the Father when he suffered shame on the cross. So God honors us who trust in Jesus. Let the world deride us. Let it shame us. Nobody can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.