All Saints Sunday November 3, 2019
Worship Supplement 2000: 776 (alt. TLH 464), 478, 463:1-5, 463:6-8
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
For centuries the church has observed November 1st as a festival known as “All Saints Day.” This festival essentially came about out of concern that the life and death of many of the “saints” (believers) of the past would go unnoticed or forgotten. The Bible defines “saints” as believers—literally, “holy ones.” Since only forgiveness through the blood of Jesus can make us holy, “saints” are those who by faith are covered in Christ’s righteousness. So a proper celebration of the “saints” who have gone before us—not venerating or praying to them, or believing that they can somehow help us from beyond the grave, but rather giving thanks to God for the saints of the past and thoughtfully remembering them—has been part of the lives of Christian people in every century.
All Saints Day was especially popular during the Middle Ages and in Luther’s day. “It was not by calendar accident that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on Oct. 31, 1517. He knew that one of the largest gatherings of the faithful in the entire year would be passing by that door the following day, as it had become a ‘holy day of obligation,’ requiring church attendance by all Christians by decree of the Pope in 1484, the year after Martin was born.” (Dr. Gregory J. Wismar, from https://blogs.lcms.org/2008/saints-more-than-a-short-list-11-2008)
The Church has continued the celebration of All Saints, not just to look backward in time, but to look to our own times as well. And so, on this “All Saints Sunday” I would like to direct our attention to the “saints” that are sitting next to you in the pew this morning. Our text from Hebrews directs our thoughts to those fellow “saints” as well.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian!” Have you ever said or thought this before? What is the proper response to that type of statement? Can you be a Christian without going to church? The answer, of course is “Yes,” so that statement in and of itself is correct. It’s true going to church doesn’t “make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.” But usually the type of thinking and attitude behind such a statement is not only false, but is dangerous and clearly goes against God’s will for His children, the members of His church.
This section of Hebrews is essentially God’s response to that statement and that type of attitude. These are words of strong encouragement from the Lord Himself. God wants you to come to church—not just so you can “show up” and sit in a pew. He wants you to gather together with your fellow believers for a number of good and important reasons. So He gives us this encouragement in our text: “Keep Meeting Together!”
The first reason He gives us this encouragement is found in v. 24 of our text: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Someone who is unable or unwilling to go to church services can, in fact, do a number of things to help strengthen his or her faith. They can read their Bible at home. They could watch a sermon or a Bible study on the TV, over the internet, or listen to one on the radio (maybe you are reading this printed sermon from home right now. That’s a good thing!).
But one important thing you cannot do from the privacy of your own home is simulate church fellowship. In order to enjoy and “share” (which is what the word “fellowship” means) in the blessings of church fellowship you must be around fellow believers. One of the great blessings our fellowship with each other brings is love and an encouragement to grow in love! One commentator wrote something that I thought was profound about this verse of our text. He wrote, “We can believe and hope as individuals, but the practice of love always involves others. It also involves ‘good deeds.’ When love is present, it is exercised in good deeds toward others” (Lauersdorf, Richard E., The People’s Bible: Hebrews, p. 120).
Jesus Himself tells us that our love for each other is the sign that we are truly His followers: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) You can’t show your love for each other or “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (v.24) without meeting together! We all need that type of encouragement at times.
That brings us to the second reason God so strongly encourages us to “Keep Meeting Together!” Verse 25 of our text says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another— and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Do you ever watch nature documentaries on TV? When a lion stalks a heard of gazelles, do you ever notice the one he goes after? The lion goes after the one who strays from the herd.
The Bible tells us that there is a “lion” roaming about looking to devour us—to devour our souls: the devil (cf. 1 Peter 5:8). There is “safety in numbers” and there is strength in numbers. The book of Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) God wants us to “Keep Meeting Together!” for mutual encouragement. Giving and receiving strength when tempted, giving and receiving advice, correction, and encouragement when wavering, comforting and being comforted when sorrowing are all blessings we receive when we “Keep Meeting Together” around the Word of God. And as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, we should do this “all the more as you see the Day [Judgment Day; the Last Day] approaching” (v.25). If the Hebrew Christians of that day needed this strong encouragement all the more as they saw the Last Day coming, what about us who are almost 2000 years closer to that Day?
Did you notice also that none of the reasons given in these verses are selfish, or self-centered at all? That’s kind of strange isn’t it, since we derive benefits and blessings from gathering together with fellow Christians? But the encouragements in these verses do not emphasize the fact that you’ll want to go to church because it’s good for you, but rather they emphasize the fact that you’ll want to go to church because it’s good for others, for the whole body in general. Look again at our text: “…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds… let us encourage one another” (v.24-25). In other words, if you don’t feel like going to church for your own benefit, or if for some reason you feel that you’re not “getting anything out of it,” then go for the benefit of others! I can speak for myself when I say that it is an encouragement to me as a pastor and a fellow church member just having you show up! That’s encouraging, isn’t it?! Full pews are always more encouraging than empty pews. You can’t encourage your pastor or your fellow members if you’re an “empty pew!”
Finally, the third reason our text gives as to why God wants us to “Keep Meeting Together” revolves around the reason we gather together as believers in the first place: God and His Word. We gather together here in God’s house to meet with Him, to worship and praise Him for all that He is and all that He has done, and to learn from Him and His Word and draw our spiritual strength and eternal life itself from that Word. The first verse of our text gives us this encouragement and points us to the promises of God and His Word: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (v.23). The same God who sent His only Son to pay the ultimate price for your sins, the God who saved you and has a place waiting for you in heaven with all His saints, wants to meet with you in His Word. He wants to remind you of His promises every day and He wants you to share these blessings, to remind each other of these promises, and encourage each other with the blessing He has given you in giving you each other! He even promises to bless you with His very presence when you gather together in His name. As Jesus Himself once said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)
Can you be a Christian without going to church? Yes, but a better question is this one: If you are a Christian—and if you are able to come—why would you not want to be a part of all this? Why would you not want to be a part of the Church that the Lord Jesus has established and paid for with His own blood? While Jesus was here on this earth He went regularly to worship with His fellow believers—to encourage and be encouraged (cf. Luke 4:16). If the Son of God Himself felt the need to attend worship services and gather around the Word with His fellow believers, shouldn’t we?
Let’s all do some soul searching in regard to this area of our lives. How has your participation been in this congregation and in the work of the Lord? Let’s ask ourselves: Have I participated as much as I should? Am I attending as often as I could? Am I doing all I can to encourage my fellow believers and my pastor? If not, remember the words of our text. This is God’s encouragement to you to “Keep Meeting Together” around His Word to encourage each other and to spur each other on toward love and good works.
Yes, it’s true going to church doesn’t “make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.” You can be a Christian even if you don’t go to church, but if you’re a Christian you’ll WANT to go to church! So, please, for your sake and for the good of all of us, keep coming! Amen.
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