All Saints Day
“Receive the sign of the holy
cross, both upon your forehead and upon your breast, to mark you as one
redeemed by Christ, the crucified.”
So says the pastor as he holds the baby in his arms, just before
he pours water on his head, calls him by name, and says, “I baptize
you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Spirit.” The sign of the
holy cross is no empty gesture! It
causes the powers of evil to quake and shudder. It drives the devil
right back into hell where he belongs.
The crucifixion of Jesus is the decisive event of all human
history. When God joins the
crucifixion of his dear Son to us, when he marks us as his own, when he
puts his divine seal upon us, he guarantees us eternal life.
And so we sing in celebration of the fact that we are baptized
Simple water poured on the head or covering the whole body means nothing
more than a bath. But when
that water is joined to the command and promise of Jesus it becomes a
cleansing that gives everlasting life.
This washing seals the church here below.
It protects the church from every evil.
It guards and protects every single individual Christian.
The church is symbolized in the Revelation of St. John as 144,000
people from the 12 tribes of Israel.
They are all sealed. They
are all baptized. There is
no doubt that this 144,000 is a symbolic number referring to all the
Christians living in the world. The
list of the tribes of Israel given here in our text is unlike any other
list in the entire Bible. It
begins with Judah because Jesus is the head of the church and Jesus is
the Lion of the tribe of Judah. It
leaves out the tribe of Dan because of the idolatry that that tribe fell
into. As we know, the
church of Christ is separated from all idolatry and the baptized
renounce it when they are sealed. This
vast gathering of 144,000 who are sealed here below correspond to the
“great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes,
peoples, and tongues,” gathered around the throne in heaven.
Indeed, it is the same people.
Here on earth they are pictured as the 144,000 who have the sign
of the cross on their foreheads. In
heaven they are pictured as those wearing white robes that they washed
in the blood of the Lamb. The
washing that sealed them here on earth from the power of the evil one is
the same washing that brings them to heaven spotlessly arrayed in the
white garments of perfect purity and innocence.
Others pretend to be innocent and they love to use the color white to
promote their pretense. For
example, the Freemasons, who teach that a man is saved by his good
religious character, in their Masonic ritual wear a lamb’s apron that
is pure white. According to
their teaching, that white apron “symbolizes that purity of heart and
rectitude of conduct so essentially necessary in gaining admission to
the celestial lodge above where the Supreme Architect of the universe
presides.” The white
apron is a symbol of the Mason’s pure heart, and so he relies on the
purity of his heart to gain admission to heaven.
Not so, for the Christian. The
Christian has washed his robes and made them white in the blood of the
Lamb. The innocence and
purity of the Christian doesn’t come from the Christian.
It comes from Jesus. And
this is why baptism seals us, washes us, and cleanses us, preparing us
for heaven. Baptism is the
blood of Christ joined to the water.
This is why Jesus was identified as the Son of God when he was
being baptized. This is why
St. John the Baptist was the first man to identify Jesus as the Lamb of
God. Baptism is
incomprehensible if you disconnect it from Christ’s crucifixion.
This is why St. Paul writes: “Do you not know that as many of
us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”
Jesus himself said, “He that believes and is baptized shall be
saved.” How can baptism
save us? By joining us to
the crucifixion of the Son of God!
And that joining involves pain. So when we invite folks on this Mission Sunday or any other
day to join us here at River Heights Lutheran Church we are inviting
them to share in pain. In a
sense they will understand that pain is good for you.
After all, every athlete knows that only those who are willing to
embrace the pain of working out will reap the benefit of winning the
prize. So nobody should be
surprised to learn that becoming a Christian will require pain and
suffering. But there is
another sense in which those who don’t yet know Christ cannot
understand the pain involved in living the life of a Christian.
They will assume falsely that the pain we endure is what gains
for us the benefits of the Christian life.
That’s not so. The
pain that Jesus endured is what gains for us the benefits of the
Consider the benefits or blessings of being a Christian.
Just look at the beatitudes that St. Matthew records for us in
today’s Gospel reading. Blessed
are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and
thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the
peacemakers, and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Is this a description of the church of Christ here on earth?
Yes, it is. But more
than that, this is a description of Jesus Christ himself, is it not? Who was so pure in spirit that he was willing to toss aside
his rightful claim to the riches of heaven to become poor for our sakes?
Jesus. Who mourned
in deepest sorrow and commiseration for the sinners whose sins he came
into this world to bear? Jesus.
Who meekly bowed his head before those that tormented him and
mocked him and crucified him? Jesus.
Who hungered and thirsted to make us righteous to deeply and so
completely that he submitted to every rule and law and obligation we
faced and did so without complaint?
Jesus. Who was so
filled with mercy that he cried out to heaven that those murdering him
should be forgiven? Jesus.
Who was so pure in heart that he was incapable of any sinful
Who made peace between God and this sinful world by becoming the
sacrifice to bear God’s wrath against all sinners?
Jesus. Who willingly
bore persecution for doing what was right?
Jesus. Now who is
it, then, who has procured for us the benefits of being a Christian?
Whose poverty, sorrow, meekness, hunger for righteousness, mercy,
purity, and peaceful intentions have been given to us?
Whose name do we bear? Whose
sign is on our minds and hearts? Whose
death for us has made us holy? Jesus’!
Good things don’t just happen. Blood, sweat, and tears make for success.
Denying this won’t change anything.
Any religion that denies this isn’t much of a religion, either.
People know by experience that you cannot have the good without
the bad. The Christian
faith doesn’t teach the contrary.
In fact, the Bible makes it crystal clear that the road to glory
is going to be marked by pain. Jesus
says in Matthew 24:9, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation
and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s
sake.” He says in John
16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation.” Likewise, the apostles teach us in Acts 14:22, “We must
through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
But we know that it is not the tribulation we go through that
wins for us the glory. It
was the tribulation Jesus endured for us that wins for us the glory of
Nevertheless, the church and every member of her does indeed go through
suffering or affliction or tribulation in this world.
As our text makes clear in describing the saints in heaven:
“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation.”
The popular notion promoted by such popular books and films as
the “Left Behind” series is that the Christians will be raptured out
of this world before the so-called “great tribulation” begins.
That’s not so. The
church on earth must go through tribulation or suffering.
Jesus said, “Whoever desires to come after me, let him deny
himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
Where are we going? We
are going where Jesus went. With
palms the adoring crowd welcomed Jesus into the Holy City of Jerusalem
which would reject Jesus and send him to die on the cross.
We, too, are going to be rejected.
With palms the saints in heaven stand before the Lamb of God and
adore him. They serve him;
that is, they worship him day and night in his temple. There in heaven
the worship is without any memory of sin. There in heaven the worship is not tainted by any hunger for
anything else. There in
heaven our eternal service to God brings us eternal joy.
There is no sorrow. Every
tear is wiped away and every cause for sorrow is forever forgotten.
But we’re not in heaven yet. Two things still mar the joy of being a Christian.
Two things still exist that cause us to suffer.
I am talking about the sin out there and the sin in here.
The sin out there is the sin that others do that hurts us.
The sin in here is the sin we do that hurts us.
The sin out there often takes the form of persecution.
People like to put down Christians.
They tell lies about you because you confess Jesus.
They make life difficult for you because you confess Christ’s
truth. You take a stand on
the pure teaching of God’s word and they call you a bigot.
You refuse to join in false worship or false witness and they
accuse you of being arrogant or holier than thou.
You insist on placing the pure gospel – learning it, confessing
it, and teaching it to your children – above any other loyalty, and
they condemn you for it. That’s
tribulation. And it will
get far, far worse than it has been.
Count on it.
But that’s not as bad as the sin in here.
The sin inside is the source of all our doubts about God and his
word. It leads us to deny
what God teaches us and to think that our baptism is just a silly
gesture and the cross of Jesus just a symbol.
The sin inside is unbelief.
It tells us that there is no heaven, there is no victory, there
is nothing ahead but what we earn while we are living.
It tells us to put our trust in this world that is heading for
destruction. Should we do
that, we will surely be destroyed with this world and condemned forever.
That is a frightening thought!
But that will not happen because we are sealed.
The same power that brought us to the faith is the power that
will keep us in the faith and that is the power of the Holy Spirit who
came into our hearts and made his home with us when we were baptized.
He is the Lord and giver of life who proceeds from the Father and
the Son. He lives within us
and gives us courage to confess the true faith to those who ask us why
we believe as we do. He is
the One who seals us. He is
the One who is with the preachers and teachers and ordinary Christians
all over this world that bear witness to the truth that sets sinners
free. He is the One who
gives us courage when we doubt. He
is the One who gives us comfort when we are sad as we remember Christian
loved ones who are not with us anymore.
He gave the Revelation to St. John and he reveals Christ to our
hearts today. He is the Spirit of truth who will keep proclaiming and
defending the truth until the Church militant becomes the Church
triumphant and the vision of heaven becomes blessed reality.
Rolf D. Preus
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