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LSB All Saints Day Sermon – Revelation 7:2-17

November 1, 2015

November 1, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“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.’”

Behold a host, arrayed in white,
Like thousand snow-clad mountains bright!
With palms they stand;
Who is this band
Before the throne of light?

The great Norwegian hymn for All Saints Day recounts John’s vision of the heavenly host. That vision was read this morning in the First Reading. The apostle has the opportunity to view the company of saints who eternally stand in the presence of God the Father and His Eternal Son—the Crucified, Risen, and Ascended Jesus.

But how did they get there? What allows them to be in the presence of the Holy One? How can mere humans be given such an ability? The Scriptures speak about people encountering the divine holiness and being full of dread. Isaiah sees the LORD on His heavenly throne and believes that he will be destroyed because of his uncleanness. When Peter saw one of Jesus’ miracles, he insisted that Jesus go away from him because of his sinfulness. But no such fear is found in the people that John beholds. There is no fright. Instead, the people draw near to the Holy One.

These are the saints of glorious fame,
Who from the great affliction came
And in the flood
Of Jesus’ blood
Are cleansed from guilt and shame.

Those verses state the reason why these people can stand in the Holy One’s presence without fear. The Holy One has given them that ability. That is what the Elder explains to John: “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.’” 

The company of saints does not stand in the LORD’s presence because of their own holiness. Rather, their blessed state has been conferred. It has come from the Holy One. They accessed it through the atoning sacrifice that Jesus offered for the world. What the people had lacked Jesus provides, so that they have a holiness equal to His.

They now serve God both day and night;
They sing their songs in endless light.
Their anthems ring
As they all sing
With angels shining bright.

The multitude that John sees is not silent. They are not mute in the Holy One’s presence. Instead, they speak and sing. They confess what they believed on earth and have come to experience in heaven: “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, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

John does not simply describe what the heavenly host looks like; he makes note of what they say. For good reason he does so. The testimony of the multitude clad in white declares why they stand there before the throne and not cast away from Jesus. The company of saints makes known to the world where salvation is found—it belongs to God and the Lamb. And that declaration points the world to the source of holiness—be connected to Him; make yourself clean by accessing His work done for you.

The Elder’s statement proclaims the great benefit that comes to all who make the same testimony about salvation and access the divine holiness offered by God and the Lamb: “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.” That benefit is meant for individuals “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” The salvation and holiness offered are not limited by any ethnic or nationalistic division. Rather, God and the Lamb create a household for themselves, those whom they call the children of God.

As the Church celebrates All Saints Day, the focus is not really on what the humanity has done, but on what God has done for humanity. It is not that great works performed by people on earth gained them access to a blessed state. John’s vision makes that clear. Instead, divine holiness has been granted to them. That truth helps to explain the Beatitudes which Jesus taught the Church. Jesus speaks about the blessed state of various categories of people—the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. He declares what is theirs—the kingdom of heaven, comfort, earth as an inheritance, satisfaction, mercy, the ability to see God, being called sons of God, the kingdom of heaven.

But what do these Beatitudes teach? They do speak about blessings that will come to people who have such character. They can be cause for introspection and reflection about yourself. They serve as words of consolation for those who do endure hardships in this world. But they do not declare the pilgrim’s path to salvation. Jesus’ statements aren’t an agenda to adopt, so that you can be declared blessed. His intention is not to have you hear those words and say: “Let me evaluate my poverty of spirit, my level of mourning, my meekness, my hunger and thirst for righteousness, by mercifulness, my purity in heart, my record of making peace, and how much I’ve suffered for the cause of righteousness.” And then come to the conclusion: “Look how blessed I am and how much I shall receive.”

Instead, the Beatitudes serve as a testimony about Jesus. He humbled Himself to be a servant for your salvation. He mourned over the plight of mankind. He demonstrated meekness when fulfilling His role as Redeemer. Jesus strove for righteousness at all times. He showed mercy to people. His heart was pure and wholly devoted to the LORD’s will. He serves as the mediator between God and man, bringing that enmity to an end. When Jesus came to do what was truly righteous, many rejected and reviled Him.

That is what makes Jesus holy. And that is why the multitude of saints do not praise their own works, but rightly worship Him in heaven, as they declare: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” They found their blessedness in the Blessed One. They found their holiness by being connected to the Holy One. They have salvation by trusting in the Saving One. It is not their own merits which have attained these things. Rather, they are recipients of divine love expressed to the world in Jesus that makes people part of the divine household, as John describes: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

All Saints Day puts this matter of Christian Hope squarely in front of you. After hearing John’s vision of the great multitude and hearing of Jesus’ statement about a reward great in heaven, your hearts should be set on things above. What you heard becomes your desire, even the promise of glorification: “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.”

Since this is your hope, what should you do? John tells you: “Everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.” That purifying is first and foremost trusting the testimony given: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Such trust means that you access that salvation in the ways Jesus has established—hearing His Gospel, being cleansed in the washing of rebirth found in Holy Baptism, having your sins absolved, and eating and drinking the heavenly meal. This is how you wash your robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. That gives you a place in the heavenly kingdom and allows you to stand in the presence of the Holy One.

That purifying also means following the great example that Jesus established, being like Him on earth as much as possible. Though the Beatitudes do not declare a path of salvation, they do give you a pattern of life to follow. Poverty in spirit, mourning, meekness, desiring righteousness, showing mercy, keeping a pure heart, making peace, and enduring persecution are part of the Christian life that imitates Jesus. Such a life can be led by those who know what awaits. Because you have the salvation which belongs to God and the Lamb and have your place among the heavenly host established, you can patiently undergo what following the Beatitudes may bring in this life. The reward in heaven is great, so you can endure the reviling and persecuting and slander for Jesus’ sake that comes from the world.

You are God’s children now. What you will be has not yet appeared, but you been given a vision of it. Your reward in heaven awaits. You will have a spot in front of the Crucified, Risen, and Ascended Jesus. Your dwelling place will be under His sheltering presence. For you have shared in the act of faith done by the heavenly host: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” And their testimony is what you declare: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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