All Saints Day Sermon| St. Matthew 5:11-12| Rev. Rolf Preus| November 7, 2010
Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “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. Revelation 7:13-14
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. St. Matthew 5:11-12
All Saints Day falls on November 1. We celebrate it today. The word “saint” is used in the Bible to refer to a Christian. We confess in the Apostles’ Creed that the Church is the Communion of Saints. The church on earth is in communion with the church in heaven. The saints who go through tribulation here below are joined in an unbreakable fellowship with the saints in heaven who are wearing white robes and waving palm branches of victory.
All Christians are saints. They become saints by washing their robes and making them white in the blood of the Lamb as God so vividly revealed to St. John. There is no other way to become pure than by being washed in the blood of the Lamb. We need forgiveness of sins. Only sinners – self-confessed sinners – can be forgiven of their sins. The impenitent and self-righteous, who scorn forgiveness as if they don’t need it, don’t receive it. They are not saints. They don’t belong to the Communion of Saints, the Holy Christian Church.
Several years ago I called on a young couple who had visited church. She informed me that they would not be coming back. I asked why not. “All that talk about sin,” she said. What she found particularly objectionable was the beginning of the service where the congregation confesses their sin and the pastor absolves them. She found that just too depressing.
I suppose it all depends on your perspective. If you are a sinner and you know it you will find the confession and absolution positively uplifting. The words that give us God’s forgiveness also give us that white robe of righteousness that makes us fit to enter into heaven. To live forgiven is to live forever. To define sin away doesn’t get rid of it. To ignore it won’t take it away. A sinner who is burdened by his failure to fear, love, and trust in God above all things needs to behold what St. John the Baptist even today holds before our eyes as we prepare to receive Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Christians are blessed because they are forgiven of their sins through Jesus’ blood.
They are blessed, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at them. Jesus says:
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are those who mourn.
Blessed are the meek.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Blessed are the merciful.
Blessed are the pure in heart.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
This is what Jesus says. This is not what we see or what this world says. We see nothing good in poverty. We think the poor cannot be blessed unless they have more money. We see nothing good in mourning or meekness, either. And as far as those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, we sure don’t encounter a whole lot of justice in this world, though we keep on looking for it.
If we want to understand the happiness – the blessedness – of the Christian life, we must look beyond what we see, feel, and experience. We must look to Jesus and listen to him.
First we look to him. This is the art of Christian living. This is the source of all blessedness in this life. We look to Jesus. It is Jesus who fulfills every single one of the Beatitudes. Jesus is poor in spirit. He owned the whole world but chose to live a life of poverty. Jesus mourned. He took upon himself the weight of the world’s sin and sweat drops of blood in the agony of the deepest sorrow ever experienced by a human being. Jesus was genuinely meek, as he submitted to abuse without threats or complaint. Jesus hungered and thirsted for righteousness and he won righteousness for us by his obedience to the death of the cross. Jesus was merciful, even praying for those who were crucifying him. Jesus was pure in heart. Satan could not lead him into sin. Jesus was a peacemaker, making peace between God and sinners by taking away our sin on the cross. Jesus was persecuted for righteousness’ sake. He did good. He suffered for it.
We look to this. We look to this as a pattern of life. But is that all it is? Do as Jesus did? Were that the case we would not be blessed. When we do what brings blessing we always fall short. But God promises us blessing anyway. How is that? It is on account of Jesus. We look to Jesus not only as a pattern to follow but more that that we look to Jesus as the One who has done what God required of us all. He has done so perfectly. He has done so vicariously, that is, as our representative, our substitute. We receive the blessing that he has won by his holy life.
We look to Jesus and see our lives. He lived them for us. When he died, we died with him. When he rose, we rose with him. His life is ours. We live lives as saints because we live wearing white robes, made white by the blood of the Lamb. Our sins were as scarlet. They have become white as snow. They were red as crimson. They have become as wool. We look to Jesus in faith and we have everything he has to give.
And we listen to him. We don’t create our own Jesus in our own image. We have nothing to do with the health/wealth Jesus of the prosperity gospel who promises healing for every disease and prosperity here and now. We have nothing to do with the political Jesus who reduces the gospel to a politically correct creed, letting you vote your faith. We listen to the Jesus of the Holy Scriptures who says to us: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.”
Jesus defines true blessedness for us. He tells us what makes us happy and we take his word for it because it won’t seem like genuine happiness at the time. Who wants to be picked on? Who wants folks lying about him, twisting his motives, and painting a caricature of him to hold up for scorn? Nobody! But Jesus says that you are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and tell lies about you for his sake.
Richard Wurmbrand was a Lutheran pastor in Rumania who was imprisoned under the Communists and tortured because he preached the gospel. He was eventually ransomed by Christians in Norway. In his book, Tortured for Christ, he described how the persecution of Christians made them stronger. Sometimes the torturers themselves were converted to the Christian faith when they witnessed how God preserved his flock even in such terrifying circumstances. The early church father, Tertullian, said: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” When the Church is persecuted, she is driven back to the word. There she finds her life and strength.
The Bible teaches that before Jesus returns the Church will endure terrible suffering as never before. Of course, we never know if the suffering we are presently facing is the Great Tribulation that signals the return of Christ and the end of the world. But when we face suffering, we can be sure that Jesus told us it would come. It is a sign of which Jesus spoke. We don’t interpret suffering as God’s disapproval.
There is a popular teaching today known as the Pre-tribulation Rapture. Those promoting this teaching insist that just before the Great Tribulation begins the Christians will be raptured – lifted out of this world – to avoid having to suffer through it. But the Bible teaches no such thing. We read in Acts 14:22, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” God blesses us, not by keeping us from suffering persecution, but by preserving us through it.
When we listen to Jesus we start thinking of things the way he thinks of things. He goes on to say, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” To suffer for Jesus is a privilege. It is a high honor.
Think of it. By his suffering, Jesus has overcome all evil, destroyed the power of the devil, washed away all our sins by his blood, overcome death, and won everlasting life. All this was achieved by his suffering for us. His suffering for us is therefore the most precious act ever done by anyone. Our God become flesh, by his suffering, has brought us back to God. There is no greater honor than to suffer for Jesus sake.
Those who wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb are not content to say that they need Jesus to die for them but there may be other ways to heaven for other people. No, we confess Jesus as the only way to heaven. This is not a popular teaching. People don’t want to admit that they need to be forgiven of their sins or suffer for them in hell. To say that Jesus is the only way to the Father is say what Jesus himself said. And it is to invite persecution.
To stand on God’s word, refusing to compromise for the sake of outward unity, is to invite persecution. Christians willing to compromise God’s truth won’t have to suffer for it. But if we are despised and rejected for holding on to what God says we are in good company. The prophets of old were hunted down and killed. The apostles suffered martyrdom for their faithful witness. This is why we don’t permit the world to judge our faith and confession. The ruler of this word is judged. God knows those who are his.
We wear the white robes here on earth. God sees it, but the world cannot. What do we care about that? Who can give us forgiveness of sins? Who can give us innocence for guilt, life for death? Who can guarantee to us that our lives will not have been for naught even if nobody acknowledges a thing we do? Christ can. We have Christ. We are wearing robes washed white in his blood. This is why we are blessed. If God chooses to permit us to suffer for Christ’s sake we will count it a joy and a privilege to suffer for him whose suffering has brought us eternal life. Amen