All Saints Sunday (Revelation 7:9-14)

The Adoration of the Lamb

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

All Saints Sunday + November 3, 2019

Text: Revelation 7:9-14

This scene of the faithful at rest is given to John in the middle of great judgments at the end of the age.  After the sixth of seven seals, the proud of the earth who have rejected the Gospel vainly call for the mountains to hide them from Judgment.  What follows is further judgment against God’s enemies. But chapter 7 stands apart as interlude—both a heavenly picture of the Church on earth arrayed for battle (Rev. 7:1-8), and a vision of what our Lord has promised his disciples when He says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…”

This time of year, sneak previews abound.  Retailers like drop hints about what will be on sale over the holidays (like Costco sending out a flier detailing their sales week by week).  It creates anticipation and the promise—however remote—of good things on the horizon.

Hope is why the Lord gave the Revelation to St. John.  It is an inspiration and encouragement, and yes, it’s meant to evoke excitement for the end of our lives and the end of the this present world.  Sure, it has a lot of scary scenes and hideous depictions of God’s enemies, but it doesn’t really tell us anything which the Gospels haven’t already covered.  It’s as simple as we confessed in the Creed—“He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God. From thence He shall come in glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”

Now, if we can get manipulated by advertisers to get excited about worldly goods, think about how much greater Revelation is for our spirits:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Before His Ascension, our Lord commanded that His Church make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them.  This is a picture of the sum total of all the Church’s evangelistic ministry. It’s the fruition of the seed of the Word being planted, and while we often see the part that gets snatched by the devil, falls away in persecution, and gets choked by the cares of life—the Gospel is truly effective at doing what God sends it for.  The Holy Spirit continues to “call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the whole Christian Church…and keep it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

In this, we ought to be encouraged that God’s purpose is fulfilled—that He would bring the blessing of salvation to all the families of the earth who receive Him.  There’s much to do in reaching out with God’s Word in our various callings—pastors must preach faithfully, parents must catechize their children, Christian citizens must exercise their conscience as a witness against ungodliness around them, we must be ready to share this hope we have within us when friends and neighbors ask us.  Yet, the Church feebly struggles. Earlier in Revelation 7, we’re pictured as this great army in companies of 12,000, but we march together like kindergartners. Tugging, lagging behind, hitting each other, wandering, and throwing tantrums. But the miracle in this—the grace to us—is that God’s Kingdom still comes in spite of that.

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”  I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

As the Lord does in other prophetic writings, He asks a question to get us thinking before He explains.  This great countless multitude, who is gathered around the Throne of God, and singing full-voice to God their Savior—who are they and where did they come from?  Like cliffhanger in a TV show that flashes forward after a plane crash, you’re left wondering how did things go from the world as we know it, to seeing this countless throng of the saved?

Some of it is known to us, how the Lord saves through increasing persecution, hearts growing cold, wars and rumors of war, famines, earthquakes.  Some of it will be worse still, as Jesus warns, “Then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (Matt. 24:21-22)  But the blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might belong to God because He gathered His elect, He kept them in body and soul to join in this heavenly court!  Neither by our willpower, nor our ingenuity, nor as our proof of our dedication do we arrive safely across the Jordan.  Neither by how many good works we’ve done, nor by how much we’ve studied, nor our offering dollars do we have the privilege to stand among this throng.  All glory belongs to God alone, and to the Lamb who adorns us with all the righteousness needed to be welcome in God’s house and recipients of this blessed rest!

Now in words that can only be appreciated after we have felt the sharp pangs of our earthly pilgrimage, does the elder speak these consoling verses:

“Therefore they are before the throne of God, 

and serve him day and night in his temple; 

and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 

 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; 

the sun shall not strike them, 

nor any scorching heat. 

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, 

and he will guide them to springs of living water, 

and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Paradise at last restored, but this time better.  This time we will be innocent, after we have known guilt.  We will serve Him, after we have wandered and denied Him. We will be sheltered after having been exposed.  We will be satisfied, after we have hungered and thirsted. And then, we will not be naked in this new creation, because we will be clothed by God after we had been covered with shame.  But the Day is coming when all those things will pass away, and this is what we will enjoy forever.

What we need now is that foretaste, that preview of the good things to come.  That’s what we have in the Divine Service and in His Word. It’s our sanctuary from this wearisome life.  When we are here, first thing our Lord assures us of His peace by forgiving our sins. He puts His Word on our lips, and then feeds us with His Word and we respond with singing.  After the sermon, we acknowledge our present life, giving of the things of this life to carry out God’s work on earth and bringing him our cares and needs in prayer. Then, before dismissing us to those burdens, our Lord invites us to table with Him, with angels and archangels, and all the saints at rest.

An ancient name for the Divine Service is the “Mass” (although this name is usually only used by Roman Catholics now).  It comes from the Latin, missa, which means dismissal, named for the prayer at the conclusion of the service. The point is this is a service which comes to an end, one which we are dismissed in peace.  But, we look forward to that Day we will no longer have to leave the Lord’s immediate presence. In the meantime, having had this foretaste, we are prepared by the Lord for all the tribulations of this present age, with the steadfastness we need to endure to the end. 

This is the hope toward which we press in Christ our Lord.  Amen.

All Saints Day (observed) (Revelation 7:9-14)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

All Saints Day (observed) + November 4, 2018

Text: Revelation 7:9-14

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

All Saints is a holiday in the true sense of the word—a holy day—because it commemorates what God calls holy, distinct from that which God calls profane.  God separates us from the multitude of unbelievers.  “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:15) and from today’s Epistle: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1)  For now though, it doesn’t look like it.  It looks like Christians and Muslims and Jews and dogs and cats all die the same.  Their flesh lies rotting in a box, or incinerated at 1500 *F.  But even though that flesh has perished, the Last Day will reveal quite the distinction.

In God’s eyes there is a difference as significant as the first day when He separated light from darkness.[1]  Jesus says, “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28-29)  But this difference is on hold until the Last Day.  For now, the Lord says, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:28) and “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

This future has not come.  But don’t be foolish like the people who say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4)  So, they lump Christians together with other religions and look down their noses and think, ‘Isn’t that quaint! They comfort themselves with some bright hope of an afterlife. Whatever helps you sleep at night!’  But because they do not believe, they don’t understand that no Word of God ever fails.  The Lord Jesus did not get lost in the clouds on His way back, nor did God sleep through the day and hour of His Son’s return.

At God’s appointed time, this hum-drum cycle of days and years and seasons will suddenly end.  Creation will come unraveled and then the Lord will return for His people and to mete out judgments against His enemies.  None of this was fabricated in some pious person’s imagination; this the Word of the Lord and the Church says, “Thanks be to God” for this.[2]

From an earthly perspective, death is death.  It’s all the same.  Your body wears out and you die.  It’s sad and painful when someone dies, and eyes are filled with many tears.  But death in God’s sight continues to be life: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26).  It is deliverance, as the faithful pray, “but deliver us from evil.”  God even goes to the point of saying in Psalm 116: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (v. 15)

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

So God has turned death into life and a precious deliverance.  Also from God’s perspective, what we now live in is a tribulation, even though unspiritual eyes will just ask why you’re making such a big deal of your religion.  We may call it ordinary life, but God calls it a pilgrimage.  Many say that whatever faith you are is just a matter of opinion, but God says it makes the difference between eternal life and eternal death.

We live in both realities—before God and before man.  We have eyes of faith and eyes like the rest of mankind.  We have hearts that belong to Jesus, but we also have hearts which can be enticed by God’s enemies.  This is what calls for perseverance among the saints.  It would be great if the Lord took the baptized immediately to paradise, but in His wisdom, He leaves us “to struggle, [while] they in glory shine.”[3]  Perhaps that’s the hardest part of being a Christian, that we don’t always have tangible confirmation of our trust.

But we are not alone while we wait with longing hearts.  The Apostle to the Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…[and] we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 11:1, 12:1)  We are called to a hope that we cannot now see, but one which is precious, eternal, and certain.

As we live straddling these two worlds, we have fleeting moments where the beatific vision is clearer, like when we read a favorite passage in God’s Word, or hear an inspiring song.  Yet something surpasses the elation of personal spiritual highs, when the faithful are called together in assembly.  In that gathering, heaven does touch earth.  Here in the Divine Service, we are gathered in the Name of the Lord, and He is among us.  That’s also why it’s here that we remember and receive the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord’s Supper brings us the closest to our heavenly reality that we can share in this side of glory.  That’s because it brings the heavenly reality in the Flesh.  Most of the Christian life happens in the heart and is unseen.  When we try to share our faith with others, if they don’t have the Holy Spirit, our words fall flat and it’s like we’re speaking a foreign language.  If we share our Christian faith with another believer, it’s a beautiful thing and there’s a special connection with fellow believers on this earth.  At the same time, we long for something tangible in our fellowship with God.

This He gladly and freely gives us in His Supper.  “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 34:8)  In this place, it is the Lord Jesus who personally invites us to His Table to feed us with His Body and His Blood.  His Body, once broken and now risen victorious over death, is on your tongue.  His blood, once poured out for your sins now flows eternally to give life to you under the shadow of death (as the Scripture says, “the life is in the blood,” Lev. 17:14)—and it is this very blood on your lips.

Saints, fellow heirs of the kingdom of heaven, your inheritance is very great.  Even as we bear the tribulation of this life, our Savior stands among us and pours out the strength and perseverance which we need on our pilgrimage.  Come again—and come often—to the Table where your Risen Lord feeds your mortal body with the Bread of immortality.  Come and be renewed in what is eternal.  The world in its present form is passing away, and what now troubles you will also pass away.  But what God has worked for your life and salvation is eternal.  In this we have hope; through Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

[1] Genesis 1:4

[2] 2 Peter 1:21

[3] LSB 677, “For All the Saints,” st. 4

God's Every Promise Does Not Fail (Matt. 5:1-12)

All Saints Day (observed) + November 6, 2016
Text: Matthew 5:1-12
We live in a world that disappoints because it can never truly satisfy—no matter how much it might promise.
Infomercials are notorious for making great promises about products, only to be told later “results may vary.”
“Read my lips: No new taxes.”  No matter how Tuesday turns out, our elected officials will not fulfill all their campaign promises.
Drug commercials depict the idyllic lives of people who have been freed from the burden of arthritis, depression, and other life-altering conditions.  But as you watch the actor-portrayals, they say the drug can lower the ability of your immune system to fight infections, cause rashes, bleeding, and in some cases even death.
Men and women know the pain when vows are broken: “I take you, to have and to hold from this day forward…till death us do part.”
But in this world of disappointments and broken promises, there is One who never breaks His Word.  Hear His Words:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
These are the words of the living and true God, who has redeemed us from sin and death by His holy precious blood, and who fills us with the hope of eternal life!
Yet even in our faith, we can become disillusioned.  The Apostle John tells us that “we are children of God; and so we are!”[1]  But we see in our lives a different story—lives marked by lying, gossiping, hating one another, and indifference toward our family and neighbors.  We look at the Church and see a real mess—divisions, infighting, and false teaching.  Jesus prayed that we might all be one,[2] but it looks like we’re failing.
But the Lord knows all the pains of our heart and how we see how things are and long for His deliverance.  He knows how it is for us now, and describes it in all the first half of each Beatitude.  No one would envy the situation we find ourselves in, being children of God in a world dominated by the devil and wicked men.
“What we will be has not yet appeared,” John tells us.[3]  It’s sometimes said that Christians on earth belong to the Church militant, shielded by faith and armed with the Word of God.[4]  The Church militant presses on, longing and striving to join that great throng pictured in Revelation 7, whose weapons of warfare have been replaced by palm branches of eternal peace.
So often, like wearied soldiers in an extended battle, our sin wants to doubt if this is all even true.  Experience from this world tells us that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.  But against that diabolical lie, we must remember that He who speaks these promises is not another man setting us up for disappointment.  It is God who speaks, and He never lies nor do any of His Words fall to the ground.
Take heart!  That snapshot from Revelation 7:9-14 is a future picture of us who believe in Christ.  After all that we know in this life has passed away, we will be part of the countless multitude who have been preserved in this true faith.
Even now we enjoy glimpses of that heavenly vision.  Have we not heard the voice of God who speaks to us from heaven in His holy Word?  Doesn’t He speak from heaven in Baptism and say in Christ, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well-pleased.”[5]?  On this altar, doesn’t the Lord, victorious over death and the grave, give us His very Body and blood to eat and drink?  These are windows into heaven, opened by God with promises delivered to you.  Though they may be partial, they are by no means imperfect.  As the Apostle says, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.”[6]
When the Lord comes again in glory,  every single promise will be manifest.  1 John 3 said that we are children of God even now.  What we believe now by faith, we will see come to pass in sight. Amen.
[1] 1 John 3:1
[2] John 17:21
[3] 1 John 3:2
[4] 2 Corinthians 10:4
[5] Matthew 3:17
[6] 1 Corinthians 13:12