Lessons: Revelation 7:2-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12
Hymns: LSB 909, 676, 659, 677, 670, 672
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear saints, dear holy ones made white in the blood of the Lamb: Today we observe All Saints. We remember the saints who have gone before us, and we recognize that there are saints living among us. In fact, God declares you to be a saint—holy and righteous.
But when people hear such glorious names ascribed to them, they may respond in doubt, saying, “That is not for me. Jesus does not love me that much. I have been too wicked. I’m not a saint.”
Satan is always on the attack. He lies to us day and night, trying to get us to doubt the grace of God and the promises of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sadly, many believe in the holiness of doubt. They try to make you think that your doubt is good and God-pleasing. They attempt to turn the sin of doubt into a good work.
Doubt comes from Satan. When you doubt the truths of God, it is because Satan wants you to reject God. Satan wants you to follow him to Hell. And so he tells you in your doubt, “Ask God for a sign. Tell God to give you something tangible that proves His existence and His love for you.” Then we pray for signs. We seek after earthly signs, wonders, and miracles. We turn from the realities God has established and the mysteries Christ has instituted to figments of the imagination, superstitious activity, and anything but the Word of God.
In the Gospels, we can see Jesus performing many miracles. These miracles were done in part to prove Christ’s divinity and to verify His preaching as true. Yet, even while He performed miracles, people came up to Him and requested signs. They wanted a sign to show He is God. They wanted signs from Heaven.
Did Jesus fulfill their requests by giving them signs? No. Instead He proclaimed, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Matt. 16:4).
You may feel that asking God for a sign is only natural—a human request. But Jesus calls it evil. When people tell God, “Just give me a sign to show that You love me or have saved me” they are saying that God’s Word and Sacraments which God Himself instituted and gave to create and sustain our faith are not good enough.
The sign of Jonah is enough. Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, and he was spit up on dry land three days later. If this isn’t enough, what is? If Christ’s death and resurrection are not great enough signs, what are?
Despite this, we may still find ourselves seeking after signs. Perhaps St. John longed to see the signs that he saw when he saw the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Perhaps he wasn’t seeking signs. But the reality is that the signs established in Scripture are more than sufficient for us.
Consider the book of Revelation. It’s about the year 95. Jesus died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven about 65 years earlier. In 70, Jerusalem and her Temple are destroyed by the Romans. By the year 95 every Apostle is dead except John. It is believed that all of them were martyred—put to death for their bold confession of the Faith. Only John is alive. And his life is not easy. Not only is he an elderly man, but he is exiled to the island of Patmos—a place for criminals. He had written his Gospel and three epistles within the previous five years. While he’s suffering persecution, rejection, and hatred, John sees a Revelation of Jesus Christ. He sees heaven. He sees mysterious things. He sees many things with mysterious meanings.
John’s visions in the book of Revelation are significant. In his visions, he sees the Church in a way the Church has never been seen on earth. He sees the Church Triumphant. The people are clothed in white robes from all the nations of the earth. They worship God continually. The Lamb of God is in the midst of them and shepherds them. Their tears are wiped away forever. No cross or sadness there can hinder their untroubled gladness. John’s accounts are truly glorious depictions of the Church!
But here on earth, we do not yet belong to the Church Triumphant. On earth, the Church is Militant. The Church Triumphant and the Church Militant are not two separate churches but two sides of the same Church. There is but one Church on Heaven and earth. That one Church worships the same Christ. That one Church is washed in the Blood of the Lamb. That one Church sings together: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth (Isaiah 6:3). That one Church sings together: Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace goodwill toward men (Luke 2:14).
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1). When we come to the Divine Service, the whole company of Heaven participates with us, as we confess in the liturgy: “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and glorify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.”
Thus, when we come to the Divine Service, we put our personal preferences aside, we stop being self-centered, and we worship together, employing music that is suitable for Heaven. Our worship service is not a plaything, a game, a time for emotional highs, or an opportunity for the Church mimic the culture or today’s trends. Instead, it is here where Christ is supernaturally present, giving us His gifts, His signs and His wonders. It is here that the Church sings, employing ancient styles that transcend time and culture and space.
It is here that the Church Militant gathers despite the opposition of the devil, the world, and even our own sinful flesh. It is here where the Church Militant is gathered around Word and Sacraments to receive the forgiveness of sins, to be united with Christ, and to lay hold of eternal salvation.
The world despises the Church. So does our sinful flesh. And yet, the Church here fights onward. The fight is fierce. The warfare long. We feebly struggle. Our time of tribulation is not over. The battle must continue. Our fight for God’s Word of Promise must never end.
And the world will always scoff and jeer. The Church in this world will always appear weak, incompetent, confused, divided, irrelevant, mismanaged, and hopelessly out of touch. But God is fine with that. For the Church’s glory is hidden behind the cross of Jesus Christ.
Jesus suffered shame and scorn, hatred and persecution, rejection and torture, temptation, and ultimately crucifixion so that we can have life eternal. He came into this world for one purpose: to die in the place of sinners, thereby taking away the sin of the world.
His death was not some accident in human history. His death was planned by God so that we can be redeemed, so that our separation from God would be no more, so that we would not face eternal death.
Jesus died in our place, bearing our sin and iniquity, taking away our guilt, suffering the punishment due for us.
And He has replaced our sin with His perfect righteousness so that we may be clothed white in His Blood. We are not clothed white on our own accord. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). When we were not seeking after Him, He came to us in Word and Sacrament, adding us to His Church, declaring us to be saints.
He has numbered you, O Christian, to His Church.
Do you want a sign to prove it? Your sign is your Baptism. Through Baptism, Jesus comes to you, takes away your sin, and clothes you in His perfect righteousness. God forgives you of your sin. You are delivered from death and the devil. You have been granted eternal salvation. Surely your Baptism is a most perfect, infallible sign from God! For through Baptism, you are white in the Blood of the Lamb!
Do you want further signs that you are numbered in His Church? He has taught you His Word and has gathered you here in His House with fellow saints who are also redeemed by Christ.
Your sign is also the New Testament in Christ’s Blood. Your sign is the Lord’s Supper in which you eat Christ’s very body and drink His blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Your sign is God’s Word of promise. Your sign is Christ’s declaration to you: even though you are a sinner, by God’s grace you are a saint, redeemed, washed, holy, set apart, justified, sanctified, forgiven, innocent, and righteous.
Do you think you’re not good enough for this Gospel? The fact is, no one is good enough. No one deserves it. But Christ earned it for you anyway out of His great love for you. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit loves you. And God loves you with the same unconditional love as He loves all the saints of God.
You are a saint of God in Christ Jesus. You are no different than those who are in heaven, except you are still here and your fight must continue. There is still more work for you to do here in the Church Militant. But soon, you, too, will rest from your labors. Soon you will be part of the Church Triumphant who has come out of the great tribulation and whose robes have been washed and made white in the Blood of the Lamb. Soon you will neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore. Soon you will be led to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe every tear from your eyes. And so we proclaim with all the saints of God, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-17). Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen