Readings: Revelations 7:2-17 | 1 John 3:1–3 | Matthew 5:1–12
Text: 1 John 3:1-3
St. Paul writes to us, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-7) While we are at home in the body means this life we know each day. This is all we’ve known thus far.
What did you think when you heard the Epistle reading?
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
If you’re like me, you might experience times when you doubt that this is true. See what kind of love? What we see with our eyes, what we feel with our hearts, and our experience “at home in the body” often contradicts this.
What we see is a world which stubbornly tries to push God further and further away. People don’t want the creation given to them, but seek to enhance and change it to suit their own imagination. It may be as small as trying to skirt the natural consequences for your actions, or as large as redefining your anatomy to fit the gender of your choosing.
What we see among the Church, supposedly the people of God isn’t encouraging either. From a confession like ours, where the Word of God and pure teaching is so vital, we see the wider Church riddled with enticing heresies and deceitful practices. Christians can be at loggerheads over clear passages of Scripture because they refuse to let go of their own darkened reason. Besides all that, false religions that teach people to trust in their own works gain the most ground. The Mormons have 9.4 million members in America and there are an estimated 4 million Muslims. Just for comparison, the Missouri Synod is the largest historic, orthodox church body with about 2 million members.
We see disease and death having their fill, seemingly unchecked. Why is death allowed to steal children from their parents, spouses from each other, and freak illnesses cause debilitating, permanent damage? And to be frank, why God work miracles, sometimes, but other times, it seems like He’s on vacation?
We also see people betraying one another, vows being broken, and foolish choices. That’s disappointing, and that hurts, but if that weren’t enough, we sometimes (or often) make stupid decisions, act in godless ways, and all the while try to leave God out of a part of our lives.
The things our eyes see are enough to weigh us down. It’s akin to how watching too much of the news can get you depressed and cynical. Too much of this life can make us overwhelmed and want to escape the pain, the shame, the helplessness, the sadness. But that’s why Christians since the late 300’s have had a single festival dedicated to lifting our eyes beyond this vale of tears. Originally done in the time of many martyrdoms, All Saints Day is a time to remind the children of God who they are and drown out the loud noise of this life to tell them what their lasting hope is.
What we see with our eyes is not where we are to find hope and good courage. That’s what we lament and pray for God to hasten our salvation. We pray every day, “Come, Lord Jesus!” “Deliver us from evil!” “Hosanna! Save us, we pray, O Lord!” (Rev. 22:20; Matt. 6:13; Ps. 118:25) And while we pray for our deliverance, our God and Savior does give us the hope and good courage to walk by faith, even while we wait for our Lord to appear.
It’s in the Lord’s Word that we find our identity and assurance that God calls us His children. The Apostle John wrote his letters latest of all the New Testament writings (AD 85-95), and throughout the Holy Spirit fills his epistles with assurance:
“We are writing these things so that your joy may be complete… (1:4)
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for His Name’s sake… (2:11)
I write to you, children, because you know the Father… (2:18)
Little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming… (2:28)
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God… (3:9-10)
Little children, you are from God and have overcome [the false prophets and the spirit of the antichrist], for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (4:17)
God gives you objective confirmation of how He adopted you. It’s one thing if we try to bear witness about ourselves because of how we feel or what we can do to prove that we are children of God. Ultimately, however, that’s shaky ground. So God gives His children His unbiased and true testimony. His Word declares what is true no matter what century it is, no matter the political situation, and regardless of any trait or merit you have.
Here’s an excellent example of why it’s so important to hold up Holy Baptism as God’s work, not ours. Of course, we hold Baptism as important because God’s Word presents it—how it builds upon the covenant idea of circumcision (Gen. 17:5-11; Col. 2:11-12), how it is the way that disciples are made of all nations and children of God are born (Matt. 28:19; John 3:3-8), and how it is a “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Take all that together, and you find that in Baptism, God is giving us a new identity, an wholly eternal ground of being.
You may think of your identity as what your name is, who your family is, traits about you. You may also think of your identity as your reputation as a citizen, a worker, or even as a consumer (what “identity theft” threatens). But in Holy Baptism, God gave you—and you still have it—a new Name. It’s His own Name, so now you belong to Him and pray not just “O Almighty God,” but “Our Father who art in heaven…” In spite of earthly differences like gender, nationality, or status, “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ…[and] you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:27-28) And in Holy Baptism, God has also given you a truly impeccable reputation (impeccable meaning “without sin”)—for Christ, “having cleansed [His Church] by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:26-27)
This is meant to ever more confirm the truth that all who believe in Jesus Christ are beloved children of God. And if children, then we can be assured of God’s divine fatherly care. Are His children in danger or need? God the Father will come to their defense. Are they discouraged and nearing despair? He will again show His steadfast love to them, as He promises at the end of Psalm 91: “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (Ps. 91:14-16) Are His children forsaken by men and alone? He will comfort them in the communion of saints, where He gives us “brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30).
In an era when everything is questioned, as to what’s essential and what can be changed or done new ways, this affirms why it is so important for the children of God to gather together often. We need those reminders and assurances of who we are. When the world and the devil, and when our own consciences cry out against us, we need our gracious and mighty God to speak to us, and say, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11) By this gathering, our heavenly Father assures us that we are indeed His children, we are not alone, and we are certainly not forsaken!
And there’s yet another truth that is revealed by His Word, not by our eyes or experience: Our Lord Jesus has defeated death. He is broken its power and shares His victory with us. The oft-quoted and ever true Word tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” And, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) This is more than a nice sentiment, possibly even a lie we tell ourselves and others to soften the harsh blow of death. This is what God’s children believe, because we know our God cannot and would not lie to us. So, along with everything else that comes from being “God’s children now,” there’s also this: The dead in Christ are not lost to us. As God’s Word is true, they live. Yes, their eyes have closed, their hearts have stopped beating, we cannot have a conversation with them, and all the days we spent together are resigned to our memories. But they are not lost. Very little separates us from them because we are all in Christ. Even though their soul and bodies have been wrenched apart, and our eyes cannot see them, when we are with the Lord, we are also with them. Together, we await the consummation of the age, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. But do not be dismayed that they are far away, because our one Lord has brought us back together, anticipating the Great Day when our eyes will see what our God has told us.
And so, when we come before the Lord’s altar, we confidently pray, “It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God. In the communion of all Your saints gathered into the one body of Your Son, You have surrounded us with so great a cloud of witnesses that we, encouraged by their faith and strengthened by their fellowship, may run with perseverance the race that is set before us and, together with them, receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You…” (Proper Preface for All Saints Day)
Be of good cheer, brothers and sisters in the Lord! Trust in the Lord’s Word because He will always be true. The Father, through His Son has adopted you as His very own, and poured out on you His Holy Spirit to keep you in this eternal hope. Thanks be to God! Amen.