“Saints: Now and Then”
All Saints Day 2015 (#1167)
“Saints: Now and Then”
They say that if you want to know what a church believes, teaches and confesses, attend a funeral service at that church. Watch what happens at that funeral. Look at what the pastor does and listen to what he says. A funeral tells you so much because it’s in the funeral service that the ultimate questions of life and death and salvation and eternal destiny and God are addressed. As someone once said, a funeral service is about “bottom-line issues.”
At a funeral, you need to be listening for these things: What hope is given, and on what basis? What doubts are removed? What joy is expressed in Christ Jesus in the midst of the sorrow of the loss of a loved one? Are the bereaved family members left uncertain about the eternal destiny of their loved one—or worried if he or she did enough to earn heaven—or are they comforted by the Gospel? Are the folks at church that day directed to the good life, the good deeds, the good works of the deceased—that the departed was a fine person who did his or her best—or are they directed to the work of Jesus Christ? These are the kinds of things you need to look for to find out what a church believes, teaches, and confesses.
These kinds of questions are also relevant for us today as we observe All Saints’ Day. It’s a time of year when we think about those faithful departed who have gone on before us to be with Jesus. Especially we remember those who’ve left us during the past year. Since the fourth century, (this date since the 700’s)Christians have gathered together on a special day to remember and give thanks to God for those who’ve won the victory by faith.
But as we think about those saints who are now in heaven, we should also remember that there are saints here, too. What do you have to do to be a saint? This question and more will be answered today, as we discuss, “Saints: Then and Now.”
Traditionally, someone is called a saint who has lived an excellent life of faith. Most of the people we call saints have been canonized (officially declared to be saints) by the Roman Catholic Church. There is quite a process for this. First, the person has to be dead for at least five years. That counts us out! Then, once the person has been dead for that long, a bishop can begin an investigation to see just how “saintly” the hoped-to-be saint was. If the investigation turns out OK, the cardinals and bishops assigned to handle saints take a vote on whether to proceed or not. Finally, there must be at least one miracle performed by the dead saint-to-be before the examination is completed, and one miracle performed after they have been vetted! As you can see, it takes quite a bit of effort to become a saint, according to Rome. You can’t stop working at it even after you’re dead!
Those who have studied the lives of some of the people who bear the official title saint very quickly discover that the saints, while amazing regarding their faith and life, were also flesh and blood people who were sinners at heart like us. As Lutherans, we do look to the saints as examples of faith and Christian living, but we’re careful not to credit them with more than that. No one earns anything before God, where salvation is concerned. We talked about that last week if you recall.
There is only One, who has earned the favor of God. There is only One, who has earned the right to the title saint, One who is perfect. That One is Jesus. Today you heard the Beatitudes. Many teach that the Beatitudes are primarily rules for how you should lead your lives as Christians. But instead, they are Gospel because they properly describe everyone who belongs to that Perfect One.
Let’s take a look at a few of them so you can see what I mean. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (v 3). Who is poor in spirit but Jesus who humbled Himself and left heaven and came here and went to the cross for us? Remember, Jesus is the one who said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).
“Blessed are those who mourn” (v 4). Who has really mourned but Jesus, not over His own troubles but over the unbelief of His people? Jesus came to comfort His people as their Savior, but He was, in the words of Isaiah, “Despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3).
“Blessed are the meek” (v 5). Who is meek but Jesus who as King entered Jerusalem, “Humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9)? Jesus said of Himself, “I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:29).
“Blessed are the merciful” (v 7). Who has been merciful but Jesus, so dedicated to mercy that, according to Hebrews, “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become. . . merciful” (Heb 2:17)? Christ mercifully healed and forgave all who called upon Him in faith, even from the cross we saw Him say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
“Blessed are the peacemakers” (v 9). Who has made peace but Jesus who made our peace with God? He said to the disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27). According to Paul, “He himself is our peace, . . . through the cross. . . . He came and preached peace to you. . .” (Eph 2:14, 16–17).
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (v 10). Who has endured persecution but Jesus who was perfectly sinless yet condemned? Because Christ was sinless, He became the target for the world’s hatred; He was threatened with death from all sorts, from Herod to the Pharisees of the Sanhedrin to Pilate.
Jesus is all this. And to those who belong to Jesus, we also get the blessings! Jesus gives them to us! When the Holy Spirit brings you faith in Jesus, you get the kingdom of heaven, the comfort of salvation, the inheritance of the earth, the mercy of the Father as shown us in Christ’s resurrection, the right to be called a child of God.
Jesus’ saintliness is proven by what He has done. (And yes, He even did several miracles after He died!) And now this One who has earned the right to be called Saint also calls you holy, and all of the blessings He has earned He now gives to you. He makes you a saint.
We have a description of what it really means to be a saint in today’s reading from Revelation. Note how the people are described. First of all, there are lots of them, not just those who went through canonization or even who led particularly good lives. These, we are told, are saints because they have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. The blood of Jesus has removed their sins in Holy Baptism, and they have been clothed with His own holiness. Now, having been cleaned, they live in the presence of Jesus. They are victorious in Jesus Christ. All that was thrown against them—their sins, death, the devil—are destroyed and removed by Jesus.
This, my friends, is a picture not only of heaven but also of you here in the Church on earth. Already our Lord has made you holy in the waters of Baptism, dwells among you in His Word and Sacrament, and gives you the victory over your enemies. Remember back on page two when I asked you “What do you have to do to be a saint?” The answer is nothing. We do nothing. We do not earn salvation. We are not saved by our works, lest anyone should boast, the Bible says. You are saints, not because of what you have done. You are saints because of what Jesus has done for you; what Jesus has given to you. This is what we teach at funerals, this is what we teach on Sundays, this is what we teach in Bible Classes and this is what we teach, period. God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has made you a saint. You may not feel like a saint yet, we may not look like saints to each other, but in God’s eyes you are, for you have faith in Jesus Christ His Son, who has saved you and made you holy. Come then, you saints, and receive His gifts.