All Saints Day (Observed)| Revelation 7:9-17; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| November 7, 2021
“Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.”, so wisely spoke the otherwise foolish King Ahab of Israel to King Ben-hadad of Syria after the latter boasted in the power of his army to defeat Ahab (1 Kings 20:11). The one who straps on his armor has not fought the battle yet. The one who takes his armor off has already won the battle. To boast before you have won is foolish. Had Ben-hadad listened to Ahab’s advice, he would not have gotten drunk with his allies while Ahab was marching with his army to battle. Ahab’s words proved wise when the LORD granted him victory over Ben-hadad and his mighty armies.
Yet, we the Church Militant celebrate All Saints Day by boasting in our victory over sin, death, and Satan even as we are on the battlefield! We heard from Revelation 7, how we will be before the throne of God worshipping him, while being free from every trouble. 1 John 3 states that we are God’s children now. And in our Gospel lesson, Jesus calls us blessed, even as we are poor in spirit, as we mourn, in our humility, as we hunger and thirst for righteousness, as we forgive those who sin against us, as we hold fast to the pure doctrine maligned by so many, as we seek reconciliation with our enemies, and as we are lied about, mocked, scorned, and persecuted for our faith in Jesus. Even in the heat of battle, we saints on earth boast in our victory with the saints in heaven!
Well, if it is foolish to boast yourself as you strap on your armor, is it not foolish for us to boast in our victory even as the fiery darts of Satan assail us from every direction? No! We should boast in our victory, because the battle has been won. Christ Jesus won it. On the cross, after he had paid the debt for all our sins, our dear Lord Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished!” What is finished? The atonement for our sins! The work needed to be done to win our way into heaven. The ancient serpent’s head was crushed when the bruised-heeled Jesus died on the cross. And the Apostle Paul teaches us to boast, “Thanks be to God, who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.!” (1 Corinthians 15:57)
So, we will boast in our Baptism, which clothes us in Christ Jesus and washes away our sins. “Satan hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ! Drop your ugly accusation, I am not so soon enticed. Now that to the font I’ve traveled, All your might has come unraveled, And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me!” (LSB 594:3, God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It) We boast in the absolution, where we conquer Satan, the ancient dragon with the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11). We boast in the Gospel of Christ, which tells us that we are God’s children now, despite the accusations of Satan, and the persecution of the world.
Faith compels us to boast in this way, because faith does not trust in you, but in Christ. Christ has won the battle. He is risen. He is ascended. He is seated at the right hand of God the Father. He has made propitiation for our sins. We are saved now by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. We must not doubt this or else we doubt Christ Jesus and make shipwreck our faith! We the Church Militant on earth must boast in Christ’s victory for us with the Church Triumphant in heaven, because we are one Church. And Christ has given his victory to his Church.
Yet, you must not take your armor off! The Church Militant is the Holy Christian Church on earth. It is called the Church Militant, because it is at war. Christians on earth must battle the attacks of the devil, who wants to destroy our faith and send us to hell. Christians on earth must battle persecution by the world, which hates Christ for having greater glory than it. Christians must even battle their own sinful flesh, which constantly wants to give up in the battle and join the world for temporary peace. The Church Triumphant is the Holy Christian Church in heaven. Those are they who have come out of the great tribulation. They have been granted a Christian death. They are before the throne of God and neither hunger, thirst, nor weep. They are sheltered by Christ and know sin no more.
Yet, there is only one Church. The Church Militant and the Church Triumphant are both members of the one Holy Christian Church. To this Church, Christ has given victory over sin, death, and hell. This is why we must rejoice with the Church Triumphant. Their victory is our victory. But we must not forget that we are still in the battle. The battle is the LORD’s! His victory is certain. And our victory is certain only if we remain with him.
Our enemy does not fight with swords, or guns, or missiles. He is spirit. He uses words, thoughts, the inclination of our hearts, and the pressures of the world. Satan is our wily foe. He knows our weaknesses. He knows what temptations you struggle with, the chinks in your armor. And he doesn’t rest. So, you must always have your armor on. The Holy Spirit caused St. Paul to write in Ephesians chapter 6, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and for shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (vss. 11-18a)
You take the armor of God off when you abandon God’s holy Word, which is the source of truth, righteousness, readiness, peace, faith, and salvation. The Spirit of God speaks through the Word of God. The most common way people take off their armor is by ceasing to come to church to hear the Word of God, pray, praise, and give thanks. When you get the thought in your mind that you’re not going to go to church, because you have more important things to do, because you’re too busy or you’ve heard it before, or you’re mad at the pastor, or you’re mad at someone else at church, or you’re embarrassed about something, or whatever other reason you’ve come up with to not go and hear the preaching of God’s Word and receive Christ’s pardon, take a big whiff, and you might catch the sulfuric scent of Satan’s breath, because he has just whispered a lie in your ear.
Every time you get the idea that you should not listen to God’s Word and learn from Jesus, Satan has lied to you. It is hubris to believe that you do not need to learn from Jesus, that you can handle this whole faith thing on your own. Does Jesus tell you not to go to church? Does Jesus tell you not to go and talk to the person you’re upset with? Does Jesus urge you to nurse that grudge, to stoke that pride, to place him last in your life? You don’t need to guess the answer to these questions! Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31). Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) Jesus says, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Scripture says that Christ has given all things to his Church, so if you want to have victory in Christ, you need join yourself to his Church! Did Jesus tell you to nurse the grudge and not become reconciled with your neighbor? You know he didn’t. Jesus says that if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone, and that if he listens to you, you have gained your brother (Matthew 18). Satan is lying to you. Jesus tells you the truth. Strap on the armor of God by hearing God’s Word. Listen to Jesus. When you have trouble distinguishing between Satan’s lies and Jesus’ truth, you know that your armor has slipped, and you need to be refreshed by Jesus’ pure word.
Those who are members of the Church Triumphant have come out of the great tribulation. This means that those who are members of the Church Militant are currently going through the great tribulation. The great tribulation is suffering for the name of Christ. Jesus tells us that we are currently blessed with a great reward in heaven if we are going through such a tribulation for his name’s sake. Yet, while we are on this earth, we receive this blessing through faith, while we experience with our senses the tribulation. Tribulation for Christ’s sake can take many forms. Some saints endured it through torture and death, stonings, burnings, and being fed to wild beasts. Others suffered the loss of lands, jobs, suffered discrimination, and mean words. Perhaps the worst form of tribulation that has affected Christians throughout the ages is the loss of family. Jesus warns concerning this, saying, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39) Jesus clearly teaches that whoever loves his family more than him is not worthy to be a saint. And this causes many to leave the battlefield. When son or daughter, husband or wife lose their faith and grow cold toward God’s word, it becomes too painful to stay on the battlefield.
But you cannot save your loved ones by leaving the battlefield. Rather, by patiently suffering for Christ’s sake, you can bring your loved ones back to the church through your example and confession of Christ. Yes, we must go on boasting in the Lord’s victory, so that all may know that our faith is certain. Yet, we must never take off our armor or leave the battlefield. Because, although Christ cannot lose, we can if we sever ourselves from him.
Today, we remember those saints who have gone before us and preceded us in death. They are rejoicing in their victory and waiting for the glorious resurrection of the righteous from the dead. We must continue to rejoice with them, in their victory through Christ, and ours as well. We must not avoid the battle, but know that the Church Triumphant is praying for our success. Our sorrows are almost over. The battle belongs to the Lord. Hold on soldiers of the cross. Keep your chins up and your eyes on Jesus. Victory is yours for Christ’s sake. He will never fail you. Amen.