All Saints’ Sunday
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Revelation 7:9-17 Sermon
November 4, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
475 "Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones"
463 "For All The Saints, Who From Their Labors Rest"
476 "Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand"
660 "I'm But A Stranger Here, Heaven Is My Home"
HOW DOES ONE BECOME A SAINT?
TEXT: (vs. 13-14) “13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, 'Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?' 14 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.'”
Several years ago, I was having a rather deep discussion with another pastor friend of mine. He was experiencing some difficult moments in his congregation, and I knew that he was having feelings of despondency and frustration. At one point in our conversation, he asked me, "How does a person know if they have had a successful ministry?"
My answer to him was simple. I said, "If you are at the deathbed of one of your members, and they close their eyes for the final time, and they are completely at peace, you have had a successful ministry." And then I went on to say, "Always remember that you are but a tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit. It's not your work that counts, it's God's work in you that makes for a successful ministry."
If you were to talk to any Christian pastor who takes the Bible seriously, they will tell you that one of the important parts of the ministry is to prepare people for what will come once their earthly life has come to an end. This usually can be classified as giving strength for today and hope for tomorrow. A church in a college town once had this on their outdoor sign: "Come on in; we'll help you prepare for your finals." That's not a bad way to think of it.
Today is All Saints' Sunday, which is usually celebrated the Sunday following November 1st, that is if November 1st isn't on a Sunday. In the historic church, All Saints' Day was considered a high festival. That's why Dr. Luther chose to nail the 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31st, the day before All Saints' Day. He knew that he would have a large audience when worshippers came to church the next day. So the celebration of All Saints has a lot of significance in the Lutheran Church.
One of the common mistakes people make with All Saints, is that they tend to feel this is only a day to remember those saints who have passed from this earth into glory. Actually, there is another minor festival called "The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed," celebrated on November 2nd, where this is the main focus. But as time has progressed, this has sort of faded away, because this has been incorporated into the celebration of All Saints' Day.
The point here, is that All Saints involves a lot more than just those who have departed. It includes all of those saints who are alive today. It covers a very broad spectrum.
So now the question before us is this: How does a person become a saint? That's what we're going to be examining today, based upon our Epistle reading from Revelation chapter 7.
People have often had a misguided definition of what a saint is. I would imagine that you've heard people use the expression, "Well, I'm no saint." When somebody says that, they generally mean that they're not perfect, and that's the way I take it when somebody says it in my presence. Usually, I just let it slide without further comment.
Actually, this is a rather poor choice of words. A saint, by proper definition is somebody who is a true believer in Christ, namely a Christian. I have in the past used this as a teaching moment. A few times when somebody has told me that, "I'm no saint," I have responded, "So, when did you stop being a Christian?" You can almost imagine how some people might react to that.
This confusion is often a result of the way we use the word "saint" as a specific title for a person. The Apostles are talked about in this manner, like St. Matthew, St. John, St. Paul, St. James, etc. The Evangelists are also given this title, like St. Mark and St. Luke. Then there are other key Biblical figures, like St. Stephen, St. Joseph, St. Mary, and even St. David. This has even carried over into some key people in the early church, such as St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Patrick, and let's not forget St. Nicholas (and I don't mean Santa Claus!).
Contrary to what people might think, none of these people were perfect on their own. Nothing they did on their own earned them this title. It wasn't something that was conferred upon them by the church or any other group of people.
The only reason these people are called "saints," and I stress ONLY, is because the term "saint" is a testimony of their faith, and that's it! They were faithful in what they did, and they were faithful in defending what they believed. We don't "make" people saints. It simply describes what a person is.
Our text for this morning from Revelation chapter 7 is one that I have used at virtually every funeral I've ever conducted. What makes this a beautiful text for a funeral, is because it gives a great picture of the reward of faith, and the perfection the believer will experience in heaven. This not only gives comfort to those who mourn the loss of a loved one, but it also gives hope for those who are still on earth, that they too will enjoy this reward. It is a text that is full of hope and joy.
Let's look at verses 9 and 10: "9 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, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'"
Does something here stand out for you? What are those saints before the throne holding in their hands? They're palm fronds, or branches! Think back to Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The people were waving palm fronds and shouting "Hosanna!" "Hosanna" means "Lord, save us!" That was the cry of the saints on earth.
And now in heaven, those waving palm fronds are shouting, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" The plea of "Hosanna" has now come to fruition. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God has indeed done what he came to earth to accomplish. He has redeemed sinful mankind, and through faith they are now saved. So the pleading cries of "Hosanna" are no more. The cries we now hear are cries of praise for what Christ has done. These are the cries of the saints.
The question of how a person becomes a saint is answered by what God has done, and not what people have done. There is indeed human involvement all the way along, but it is still God's power and work, and not man's.
Let's start with Scripture itself. It's like we talked about last week; the Bible is God's divinely inspired and infallible Word, and we can make no mistake about that. But God the Holy Spirit caused his Word to be recorded by humans by divine inspiration. Even though human beings are sinful and subject to error, God's inspiration and direction assures us that human error doesn't even factor in to the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible.
Humans are involved with the recording, translating, printing, distributing, and even preaching that Word. However, the focus is not upon the human involvement, but upon what God is doing.
The Bible is a living Word, and is the vehicle of the Holy Spirit. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit brings people to faith in Jesus their Saviour. They come to the knowledge of their sin, and then they come to know their Saviour through faith. People become saints through the Word.
We need to look at Baptism as well. Again there is human involvement with the administration of it. When I baptize somebody like a small baby, I do so according to what God has commanded. It's not my power, but God's power at work. God promises that he will give the gift of the Holy Spirit through Baptism. God is able to work the miracle of faith even in the heart of an infant, so they come to know Jesus as their Saviour. People become saints through Baptism, which is how it happens for many people.
As God's saints, we also partake in the Lord's Supper. Humans are involved with making the bread and wine, and humans administer the Sacrament. But again, our focus must be upon what Jesus is doing here, and not the human involvement. In a way we can't fully comprehend, Jesus gives us his true Body and Blood in, under, and with the earthly elements of bread and wine. And when we receive the Lord's Supper, we not only receive the forgiveness of sins through it, but we are actually joined with Christ in a very special and personal way. So God's saints are spiritually fed and strengthened in their faith through the Lord's Supper.
In verse 14 of our text for today, the saints in heaven are described in this manner: “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." In order to understand how this applies to us, we look at what the prophet Isaiah says in chapter 1, verse 18: "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."
You see, a saint is not a perfect person in their own right. If that were the case, there would be no saints at all. The saints are those who are sinners who have come to Jesus for the forgiveness he offers. They cannot make their robes white by themselves. This can only happen with the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. This is purely an act of faith alone, which is something that only God himself can provide. Yes, the term "saint" is an appropriate one for any true Christian.
Just a little while ago, we confessed the Apostles' Creed together. I want you to notice something in particular about it that most people overlook. In the Third Article, it says, "I believe...in the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints..." If you look at that whole Third Article, all of the different phrases are separated by a semicolon, with the exception of the phrases "Holy Christian Church" and the "Communion of Saints." The reason for this is that they essentially refer to one in the same thing. If you are a true believer in Christ, then you are a member of the invisible Holy Christian Church, and therefore you are also part of the Communion of Saints.
The Scandinavians have a tradition in their church architecture that symbolizes this. If you've ever been in a church with that background, quite often you'll see a semicircular communion rail. The idea behind this is that the Communion of Saints completes the other part of the circle. It's a reminder to them that they are not alone in their worship. They are joined, as it says in the liturgy, with "...angels and archangels and all the company of heaven." And what a dramatic picture that is!
When it comes to the Communion of Saints, the Germans have about the best grasp linguistically of the concept. "Communion" to a German has nothing to do with the Lord's Supper, which they call "Heilige Abendsmahl," which means "Holy Evening Meal." Communion (where we get the word "community" or "commune") in German is "Gemeinde," which in an ecclesiastical sense has no real English equivalent. It means more than just a secular community or a parish, because it also implies that there is an invisible and inseparable connection with each other that happens only through a common spirit and a common faith. Sometimes the Germans call this "Kirchengemeinde" which directly places this in the context of the church.
When we boil all of this down to a personal level, we can go right back to that person on their deathbed. Only a saint can close their eyes for the last time, and truly be at peace. Only somebody who knows and trusts in Jesus their Saviour has this assurance. It doesn't matter what they have done or haven't done, because the term "saint" is applied according to faith, and not according to merit. And the faith required of a saint can be as small as a mustard seed.
The saint can be at peace, because their heavenly reward is certain. Verses 16-17 describe what Jesus has awaiting them: "16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 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."