All Saintsí Sunday
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
1 John 3:1-8 Sermon
November 6, 2011
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
469 "Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken"
463 "For All The Saints, Who From Their Labors Rest"
468 "For All Thy Saints, O Lord"
475 "Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones"
CONJUGATING OUR FAITH
TEXT: (vs. 1-3) ď1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are Godís children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appearswe shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.Ē
The study of language, especially the English language is interesting, but also very complicated. I can't think of anybody who hasn't had to take English courses in school, ranging from primary school, middle school, high school, and then in college or university classes. In order to learn any subject, a person has to have a grasp of the language. That's the medium we use to communicate.
When it comes to English, we know that all words fall into a particular category or categories. Nouns are fairly simple to comprehend. The definition of a noun is a person, place, or thing. Nouns can be singular or plural, like "goose" and "geese." Nouns can be masculine or feminine in gender, like "host" and "hostess." As long as you have a working knowledge of the language, you pretty much know what word to use in a sentence to get your message across.
The words that are the trickiest to learn are the various verb forms. These not only reflect action, but they have a time reference as well. Verbs come in three basic categories: past tense, present tense, and future tense. If that's where it all ended, then it would be fairly simple. But then you add perfect and imperfect and pluperfect tenses, imperative and indicative tenses, and the list keeps on growing. So by the time you've learned how to conjugate a verb, your head is literally reeling from all this information.
I learned a lot of this when I was in school. But when it really became important, is when I was learning (or attempting to learn) Greek. The verb conjugation chart I had was this big 11 x 17 piece of paper with all of the various tenses printed in very small type. In fact, my final examination in second year Greek was just one word, "paideuw," which means "teach." The professor wrote it up on the blackboard, and we sat there with pencil and paper, and had to write out every form of that verb. Believe me, it wasn't easy.
But if a person is going to be a Bible student, these are the things a person has to know. If you translate a passage from the original Greek, you have to know how the verb is being used. Because there's a lot of difference between something that has happened in the past, something that is happening now, and something that will happen in the future. And that's the kind of thing that a person cannot get twisted around. You can really get your theology all out of whack if you do that.
I didn't mean for my sermon this morning to be a lesson in grammar, but I think that we need to keep in mind the three basic verb tenses as we look at our Epistle lesson for this morning: past, present, and future. And instead of learning how to conjugate a verb, we'll see how we conjugate our faith.
In studying this Epistle, I found it quite remarkable that those three basic concepts are brought out so clearly. It's one of those things that fairly jumped right out at me, right in the first three verses. And that's where I'm going to be focusing during this morning's sermon.
Let's start with the first section of verse one. "See what kind of love the Father has given to us..." John begins here by turning our eyes backward. We are to look at what God has done in the past, which is one of the things we do on All Saints' Sunday.
You'll often hear people say, "You can't live in the past." And that is very true. However, we cannot neglect the past and what it teaches us today. Benjamin Franklin once said, "He who will not learn from history is doomed to repeat it." History is a great teacher.
So what kind of love has the Father given to us? We can start right at creation. When the man and woman fell into sin, what's the first thing God did? Instead of annihilating them like he could have, he promised that he would send a Saviour instead. One of God's greatest acts of love in the past was to give a future promise. And today that promise is also in the past, because God fulfilled it.
We can go on right through the Old Testament, seeing how God protected and preserved his children. We can see how he gave them to drink from the spring of Elisha, how he gave them manna from heaven to eat, and how he gave them the power to defeat their enemies.
And then we can bring this even more current. In Matthew chapter 6 verse 26 Jesus says, "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?"
Now John is asking us to look backward. The examples of the past are great, but we need to look at ourselves and what God has done for us in our lives. I know how generously God has blessed me, even beyond my comprehension. How has he blessed you in your lifetime? Just think back a bit. Don't you think he will bless you today and continue to do so in the future?
That brings us back to our Epistle lesson for today. I'm going to continue with part of verse 1 and skip ahead to the first part of verse 2. "1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are....2Beloved, we are Godís children now..."
Notice how quickly John brings us from the past tense right into the present tense, and he does so very emphatically. "Beloved, we are Godís children now." That's what we are, right now, right here, today! God didn't redeem us, and then leave us out in the dark somewhere. He hasn't deserted us. This isn't some old hackneyed concept, nor is it something that may or may not happen in the future. His love for us in the past is still very real and very active, right at this very moment!
John records in his Gospel, chapter 3 verse 16 those familiar words: "God so loved the world that he have his only begotten Son..." That's Jesus, the one who loved you so much that he came to this earth, and lived, and died, and rose again, all because he loves you! Yes, see what love God has for you! Through faith in him, you are God's children now!
So, is Jesus Christ only a past-tense reality? Does the joy of Christ only reside in the unforeseen future? Absolutely not! As baptized children of God, we have a present-tense joy and peace that surpasses all human understanding. How often we forget that. When trouble arises, how tempting it is to go into "default mode" and lament the "good old days." And then we imagine and long for better days to come. And far too often, we fail to recognize the joy and truth of Immanuel in our present lives; Jesus, who is God with us in our very midst.
So what is all of this stuff about "saints?" How does that apply to us? As baptized and redeemed children of God, we, too, are saints right now! It's not a future-tense thing. Through faith in God's grace alone because of Christ alone, we have the ever-present joy and peace of knowing that we have been declared "holy" in God's eyes. That's what it means to be a saint. That's what the Greek word hagios means: "holy one." That's what it means to be justified through faith alone in God's grace alone because of Christ alone. God declares us to be innocent and holy and righteous saints, not because we've earned it with good and saintly behavior, but because Christ Jesus earned it for us in His death and resurrection. That's what we are! We're redeemed and forgiven Saints through faith in Christ Jesus.
If we look at verse 3 of our Epistle lesson, John writes: "And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure." You might think of this as a recipe for a saint, in a manner of speaking. A person is not purified by anything they might do or say. Going through any sort of rite or ceremony does not purify a person either. A person becomes a saint only through faith in Christ, who was himself pure and sinless. And because he was sinless, we have inherited that through him by faith alone.
If we go now to the last part of verse 2 in our Epistle, we read these words: "...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."
Right there is our future tense. We haven't been taken into glory yet. We haven't appeared before the judgment seat of Christ. Our mansion in heaven is still awaiting us. But we have that future hope in our hearts today. And that's what brings all of this together.
This is something that the saints who have gone before us are now enjoying. Our future is their present. Our First Lesson for this morning from Revelation 7 talks about these people when it says in verses 14 & 17, "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.... 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."
You may have noticed that I sort of skipped over the last half of verse 1 in our Epistle. It says, "The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him." This is also part of the present. We live in a world where many do not know Jesus as their Saviour. There are many around us who are not saints in any sense of the word. Our faith is foreign to them, and Jesus gets pushed further and further into the background. This is a reality of life.
Christian saints throughout history have faced opposition. The world seems to be focused on the present, and has no hope for the future at all. This is the way things will be right up until the world comes to an end.
God's saints have always had a special place. They know God's love, and they can continually see his hand of blessing. God's saints know that the world is not their end, but a step toward that which is to come. God's saints who are now receiving their heavenly reward have made a difference in our world and in our lives, and we thank him for allowing them to be part of our history.
The world may not have always known them, but we do. Some we have known personally, and some we may only know about; but the majority of them we will never know until we meet them in glory.
The saints like you and me and the other believers here on earth, along with the saints who have gone before us form a type of circle we call "The Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints." We are all joined together through one common denominator, which is faith in Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour.
As saints in this life, we hold forth Christ as the one who indeed calls us saints and who goes with us as we walk through this fallen and sinful world by faith and not by sight, especially when we suffer along the way. However, in the life to come, we know that we too shall see Jesus Christ as he is, for we will be like him and we shall live forever in his paradise without fear, darkness, shame, sin, death, pain, suffering or tears. This reality is right now for the saints who have gone before us. This same reality is the hope and sure and certain future of all Christians who walk this earth today. This is the sure and certain blessed reality of all who are called saints in Christ.
Today I used an illustration from English grammar to describe the faith of a saint. To take the concept of faith and conjugate it like a common verb, we can see that there are the identical three categories: past, present, and future.
We have a faith that is historical and rooted in the past. We see this throughout Scripture, and even as recently as our baptism. We have a faith that is living and active, right now this very day. We know that God is at work within us, right now, right here. And we have a faith that has a hope firmly planted in the future, where we will gather together with all the saints in eternity.
Jesus Christ is the center of that faith, and we can see our conjugation of faith right in him. That conjugation is best described in Hebrews chapter 13, verse 8: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever."