All Saints Day

November 3, 2013

“The Hope of Heaven”

1 John 3:1-3


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.  Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.   And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.


“Says who?”  Children challenge other children by questioning the authority behind what they say.  If it’s just some other kid’s opinion, well, what’s that worth?  Children learn to argue with each other by appealing to authority.  This authority is authoritative while that authority is not. 


“Says who?”  The Christian asks the same question.  Our answer is always the same: says God.  This is how we Christians think.  And this is how we argue with the world.  God says we are his children.  We say we are God’s children because God says we are his children.  The world does not know us as God’s children.  Why not?  The world doesn’t know God and doesn’t recognize his authority.


We know God because we know his Son.  To know God’s Son is to know God’s love.  The world does not know God, his Son, or his love.  And so the world does not know us.  How often St. John contrasts the life, faith, and future of Christians with that of the world!  As we celebrate another All Saints Day we, once again, consider the difference between what God says and what the world says.


But here is what Christians do.  Being delivered from the vanity of a dying world by the love of God in Christ they pine after the approval of those who are perishing.  Christians seek out affirmation from those who don’t know God or God’s word.  Why should we do that?  What does the world know about our true value as human beings?  What does the world know about who and what we really are?  St. John writes, “Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.”  Instead of seeking our identity from the world that does not know God, let us listen to what God says in the Bible.  The Bible is God’s book about his Son Jesus.  It is in Jesus that we become God’s children.


The world cannot teach us Christians what we are all about.  The world does not know us.  The world does not know us Christians because it does not know Christ.  That’s what the Bible says so that settles it.  We are children of God.  We know this is so because God says so.  He calls us his children and this makes it so.  Children of God and children of the world think and act differently.  They believe different things.  They value different things.


Children of God are children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  They believe everything he says.  Who is he?  He is the Son of God.  He is the eternal Wisdom of God.  He is the Word made flesh, Immanuel, God with us, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  The world did not know him because they preferred to remain blind rather than to be enlightened by him.  They treasured what was passing away.  They did not want the eternal treasures.


That’s because the eternal treasures come in humble packaging.  Jesus humbles himself all the way to being crucified on a cross.  His humiliation is the exaltation of those who belong to him.  Christ’s humiliation led to his exaltation.  He who became obedient all the way to the death of the cross was highly exalted and given the name that is above every name.  Those who through faith in him are children of God are humbled and exalted with him.  They are humbled with him.  The psalmist writes:


Yet for your sake we are killed all day long;

We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. (Psalm 44:20)


The apostle Peter wrote:


Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time. (1 Peter 5:6)


The world sees no glory in suffering.  The world boasts that it can eliminate suffering.  Just follow this man or that man or this theory or that theory.  Vote for this political party.  Adopt that social ideology.  We can solve the ills that plague us if only we adopt the right methods.  But the world is blind, not knowing its own sin and that it is the reason things don’t work in this world as they should.  The world is blind because it cannot see its own sin.  It sees no need for the suffering and death of Jesus because it sees no need for atonement for its own sin.  The world imagines that sin is but an impediment that can be overcome.  So it despises Christ and his suffering and death to take away their sin.


The world sees only this life.  It doesn’t consider what lies beyond.  Whatever glory it treasures is the glory that is visible now.  Here and now.  That’s where it’s at.  But we do not put our trust in the things that we can see here and now.  We look for the glory that is to come.  St. Paul writes about what it means to be a child of God in Romans 8:17-18 where we read:


And if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.  For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.


In the Beatitudes, Jesus speaks of the blessedness of the saints here on earth.  Each of them begins with the words, “Blessed are.”  The saints are blessed right now.  But this blessedness is hidden under humility and pain.  It will only be finally revealed in heaven.  The Revelation of St. John speaks of the blessedness of the saints in heaven who are wearing white robes.  In heaven you will see it.  But we’re not in heaven yet.  We don’t see it yet.  We believe it but we don’t see it.  We have glory right now.  It is ours.  It is ours through faith.  But it is not yet ours by sight.  As St. John writes in our text:


Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.


What is hidden will be revealed.  When?  When Christ is revealed we will be like him.  He will appear.  He will return to judge.  When he does, we will be changed.  These dying bodies will become immortal.  Even as we were forgiven of all our sins in this life through faith in the gospel, when we see Christ as he is, the sin that clung to our bodies will immediately be purged out of them and we will be glorified with Christ.  We will see him as he is.  We will be like him.


The devil lied to Eve.  He said, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  He failed to tell her that the evil would blot out the good.  God intervened and enlightened Adam and Eve and their children after them through his word.  From the time of Adam and Eve to the present we have relied on God mediating to us his goodness, his grace, and the forgiveness of all our sins through his word.  Apart from God’s word we are blind.  God’s word remains a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.


When Christ is fully revealed so that we see him as he is, we will be like him.  The lie of the devil will be exposed as a lie and replaced by divine truth.  We will be like God.  We will not be like him by seeking him apart from his word.  We will be like him by his grace given through his word.  We will know God as he is in the face of his Son.  The words of the Benediction – the LORD make his face shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee – will find their perfect fulfillment in us.  We will see God.  The immortal words of Job will be realized at last:


For I know that my Redeemer lives,

And He shall stand at last on the earth;

And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,

That in my flesh I shall see God,

Whom I shall see for myself,

And my eyes shall behold, and not another.

How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)  


This is the Christian’s hope.  It is supernaturally revealed.  It doesn’t come to us by our own contemplation.  God teaches us.  And the joy, the bliss, the happiness God has prepared for his children is simply inexpressible.  As the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:9,


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.


The world must see.  The Christian must be blind.  Oh, for the grace of God to see this!  To see that hope is so much better than sight!  For sight will always see the imperfection, the sin, the decay, the betrayal, the lies, the death, and the final and utter futility of it all!  Sight will leave you spiritually blind as it captures you with lies and when you see the lies manifested as lies you are left empty, alone, and without hope in this life or in the life to come.


Hope, on the other hand, doesn’t care what it sees.  Hope knows that the already guarantees the not yet.  Christ has already suffered and died for us.  There was no sin he did not bear and so there is no sin that he did not take away.  His resurrection from the dead is our absolution, giving to us our status as God’s dear children.  This is how Holy Baptism makes us God’s children.  It binds us to the death and the resurrection of Jesus.  Faith holds onto this.  And from faith comes hope.  St. Paul writes:


For we were saved in this hope but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, then we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. (Romans 8:24-25)


What are we waiting for?  We’re waiting for God’s love to be revealed in its unadulterated purity, beauty, and glory.  We’re waiting to see God.  When we see him we will become like him.  We will feel no temptation to sin.  We won’t want to sin because our will will be conformed perfectly to the will of our God.  We will never again suffer any of the consequences of sin.  We will be filled with joy.  God will wipe all tears from our eyes.  We will see and feel and hear the blessedness of which our Savior spoke and promised to us.


Love is why we hope.  Love is the foundation and goal of our hope.  As St. Paul writes,


Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:5)


This love is our assurance.  Consider Christ’s death on the cross for us.  Under the humility, the rejection, the scorn of the world and his apparent failure as he cried out in pain, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” lay something more powerful than all of the combined might of every worldly power: God’s love.  This is how St. John can say, in the words of our text, “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”  We hope for the love of God to be revealed in us.  This hope purifies us because it clings to the purity of God himself.  Our hope for the heaven that Christ has won for us by his suffering and death is not just hope for the future.  It is confidence in our present circumstances.  We are children of God.  We are identified by God’s love.  This is how we live our lives here on earth with those whom God has given us to love.  Our power to love, to forgive, to bear with, and to serve comes from him whose love, whose forgiveness, whose faithfulness, and whose service have given us the hope and the promise that we will be like him when we see him as he is. 


Rolf D. Preus


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