The 22th Sunday After Pentecost November 5, 2006
Revelation 21:9-11, 22-27
Isaiah 26:1-4, 8-9, 12-13, 19-21
479, 473, 463, 477
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ has turned countless sinners into the Communion of Saints. May that same grace be multiplied to each one of you, together with the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Fellow Saints:
Will you celebrate Thanksgiving this year? Of course you will, despite the fact that our society has now tainted the real purpose of that holiday. Will you celebrate Christmas? Of course, despite the fact that our society has all but buried the real meaning of that great event. So also you will celebrate Easter, despite the Easter Bunny; and you have very likely celebrated the Reformation, despite the perversions of Halloween.
Why not then celebrate All Saints Day? This too is a holiday in the Christian church, but it is a long neglected holiday. Why? Again, mankind has perverted the good, God-pleasing celebration and has replaced it with a nonsensical adoration of man rather than God. With this holiday, however, there is a twist. This time the perversion came not from our godless society. This time the attack came from within.
So it is that we are tempted to skip lightly over this event and pass right from Reformation to Thanksgiving and then on into Advent. Is this wise? Our God wants us to avoid what is bad, but He also wants us to cling to what is good and there is much that is good in such a celebration, but only when the focus is upon our God rather than upon any part of His creation.
With this then we turn to a study of All Saints Day and therein a celebration of the grace of our God. The text that will guide us is God’s verbally inspired words found recorded in Revelation chapter 21, beginning with verse 9:
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. … But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
These are God’s words. Think of it! The very words of God, recorded and preserved down through the ages so that we also, on this day, might hear and learn from them. That these words would have God’s desired effect in our hearts, we pray: “Sanctify us through your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
So then, All Saint’s Day has been almost irreparably sullied by those folks who imagine that forgiveness can be gained by praying to a list of certain dead people. Is it then high time to give the whole thing the old heave-ho and start over? In other words, do we do more damage than good by celebrating what has been so thoroughly perverted?
The clear answer is that this sinking ship is well worth the salvage effort. The reason is both straightforward and simple: the commemoration is worth it because our God is worth it. Remember, God is supposed to be the focus for this and every other holiday. He is to be the center or heart of all that we do. Consider how we end the Lord’s Prayer each time we pray it: “…For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.” Those are not just words. They are facts. Nor are they exaggerations. They are, in fact, understated truths. They are understated in that mortal human beings really cannot fully comprehend just how worthy our immortal God is of our praise and adoration in absolutely every aspect of life. Since “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” (James 1:17) it is then also true that the same God is worthy of thanksgiving, praise, and honor for countless big and little things in our lives every single day.
Why should All Saint’s Day be any different? On this day we sing the praises of our God for the grace given to all the believers who have been brought to and preserved in the one true, saving faith. Think for just a moment about how worthy such a celebration really is. Once you get past the notion that a saint is a human being with more good works than sins (every believer, by the way, is a saint and sinless in God’s sight) and once you remember that this celebration is directed toward God rather than man, nothing could be more good and natural than to celebrate God’s victories in saved sinners.
We do ourselves a great disservice when we fail to make a big deal about the rescue of even one sinner. Why is this such a great disservice? Because it is a big deal. Every single Christian who dies in the faith is an eternal victory over humanly insurmountable odds.
Are you having trouble grasping the magnitude of every such victory? Think about it in these terms. Every single one of us started our lives as a spiritual failure. The deck, as it were, was stacked against us. We had lost before we even started because we were born “dead in trespasses and sins” (cf. Ephesians 2:1). We could never keep God’s command to be holy because we were born sinful. Even the tiny little baby girl lovingly carried by her parents to the front of the church to be baptized was born “dead in trespasses and sins.” Hardly seems fair, does it?
Before we start to feel sorry for ourselves, understand that human beings have also added a never-ending supply of sins to those with which we were born. Original (birth) sin sealed our doom before we even took our first breath, but every one of us did plenty to condemn ourselves even without original sin. Still God rescued us.
What is even more remarkable about the salvation of any sinner has to do with the enemies we face. How can any human being possibly do battle against an enemy that we can’t even see. Even worse, apart from Jesus Christ, we don’t even have any weapons that could possibly be effective in such a struggle. Still worse is the fact that this unseen, indefensible enemy has a traitorous ally that remains inside every human being—our sinful flesh. In other words, there is a part of each one of us that actually hopes that our enemy wins, and it works hard to make that a reality.
Could the situation possibly get any worse? How about a total inability for any sinner to choose the right path to heaven? Add to that the fact that there is only one path—through faith in Jesus Christ—and that someone else has to show us that path (we cannot find it on our own) and then the Holy Spirit has to work through that message of salvation to bring us to faith. All of this and that is just the start! From that point on and every single day of our lives, the Devil and his allies will try to rob us of the saving faith that we have been given. With no one but you left to stand guard, the fortress of your human heart would certainly and quickly fall.
How in the world can anyone at all ever be brought to faith, let alone be kept or preserved in that faith? How can even one sinner be rescued and preserved to the very end of his time of grace? “Thanks be to God, who gives us such a victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:57). Our God most certainly is worthy of unlimited praise, honor, and glory for every single sinner he rescues from an eternity in Hell and blesses instead with an eternity in Heaven.
The world obviously has fooled itself into believing that the gift of Heaven is passed out willy-nilly by a God who is more like a doting grandfather than a holy and righteous judge. The Bible calls God the Father a judge for a reason. To correctly dispense justice, a judge cannot just set aside the law. He is sworn to uphold the law. So too, God the Father cannot simply overlook the transgressions of sinners and reward them with heaven for “doing their best” or some such silliness. No one is rewarded with heaven for being a “good guy.” Every sin demands payment, and here there are only two options: you pay the eternal death penalty for every single sin, or the debt is charged to Jesus Christ. That is why it is well said that the only sin that damns is unbelief. Unbelief is a rejection of Jesus and His gift of salvation. It is a personal denial that Jesus did what He said He did.
For this reason the notion that God will freely dispense tickets to heaven on Judgment Day to anyone who does not believe in Jesus Christ is the most serious kind of wrong. It is not only impossible, the very thought that it is possible can and does wreak havoc with a naïve, unbelieving world. Divine justice would not, could not allow it. He that believes will be saved. He that believes not will certainly be condemned (cf. Mark 16:16), no matter how socially good he appears on the outside.
Given all of this, we truly stand in awe of the miracle that God has worked in every Christian—both bringing us to faith and keeping us in the faith until the very end of our lives on earth. How fitting and proper, therefore, to set aside a day—or at least a worship service—to marvel at the goodness of our God and sing his praise for souls delivered from the eternal torments of Hell.
Here is where our text comes into play. Our text is a visual representation of Heaven—the place where God will dwell for all eternity with the saints. Understand that heaven itself is beyond human description. It is a place of joy and bliss that is immeasurably greater than our ability to comprehend. That is why God in our text gives the Apostle John a special “artist’s rendition” of what heaven will be like, using human words to relate to the human mind that which really lies beyond the ability of human words to describe. In other words, we are undoubtedly mistaken if we expect heaven to actually look like a city, especially a city with huge pearls for gates and streets of gold. These descriptions are intended to magnify the image of heaven in our minds, but heaven itself will be so much more. In fact it is hard to imagine anything that we know today that will not be dramatically altered in heaven. Things as simple as lighting will be radically different, since in heaven the very presence of God eliminates the need for any artificial light. We will have no churches or temples for we will reside in the very presence of the true object of every worship service—God himself. Obviously nothing impure or unclean could ever enter such a place, for there will be no death there, no sickness or corruption of any kind.
How then could any of us—foul creatures that we all are—ever be admitted into such a perfect, holy place? Didn’t our text tell us that “there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie”? [v.27] The answer lies not in us but, again, in Jesus. Our text says: “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” [v.9] That's you and me. That’s every single sinner who has been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. That’s the Holy Christian Church—the very bride of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. You and I can enter such a perfect, holy place only because we have been cleansed by Jesus himself—by the blood He shed for us on the cross when He paid for our sins. How can blood be used to wash anything? The filth we had was spiritual. It was the corruption of sin and “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
There’s still more cause for celebration. At the resurrection of the dead, every single member of the communion of saints gets the ultimate make-over. Everything bad, cumbersome, unclean, or undesirable in any way is removed forever, and we are left with holy, glorified bodies—forever. Pain, sorrow, death, decay are gone eternally. Joy, comfort, security, immortality are ours for all of eternity.
Our God has done this for us. Countless thousands have already been rescued, and are now asleep in the perfect comfort of their Lord's enfolded arms, awaiting only the final call to resurrection. You know and love many of them. Will you be among them? With Jesus as your Savior, you need have no doubt. With faith in Jesus Christ, your place too has been secured. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.