Sermon–All Saints’ Sunday Revelation 7:9-17
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Revelation 7:9-17 (St. Matthew 5:1-12)
November 4, 2012
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In heaven, a multitude which no one could number, from every tribe, language, nation, and people, around the throne of God and the Lamb. These are the saints, the holy assembly, the church built by Jesus to live forever.
They are dressed in long flowing white robes; they have palm branches in their hands. And they shout with loud voices, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!”
The palm branches remind us of the Palm Sunday liturgy. When I was a child they had us lead the procession into God’s house carrying palm branches, just as there was a crowd to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem as the Messiah, the promised King. And above all there were children in this crowd, praising the King of the Jews, Jesus. He rode into Jerusalem on a carpet made of their clothes which they spread out before Him in the road, accompanied by waving palms and loud shouts of “Hosanna!” The palm branches are symbols of victory. “Hosanna” is a cry of praise which means “Save us!” It says that the king is the deliverer and savior.
The Gospel of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem is also the Gospel for the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of the church year.
What the people cried out on Palm Sunday; what we sang as small children. In heaven the saints sing the same thing to Jesus.
There is a difference, though. The crowd on Palm Sunday did not really understand what they were saying and doing, did they? They were all like children. They shouted, “Hosanna! Save us!” “You are the Messiah! Save us!”
But they didn’t know what they were asking. When Jesus began to fulfill their request, then all these crowds were confounded. Some may have been in the same crowds a few days later that shouted “Crucify him!” Others just stood there and watched the spectacle of Jesus who had ridden into the city and been greeted as Messiah now led out of the city as a cursed and condemned man carrying a cross.
Hosanna! Save us! So Jesus did; He did not drive out the godless, immoral Romans—not in the way they thought. He didn’t solve take away hunger and poverty and sickness—not in the way they thought. He drove out demons and death. He united people from every nation and language and tribe. He made people full and rich, and healed them in the same way that He was full and rich even though He hungered for forty days in the wilderness and even though He had no place to lay his head.
Hosanna! Save us! They were asking, “Sacrifice yourself for us! Spill your blood for us! uffer and die for us!”
They did not realize that is what they were saying. But the saints in heaven know. They shout “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” They are looking at the lamb who was slain, who died like the Passover lamb so that His blood might paint the doors of our houses (Exodus 14); they see the Lamb who makes atonement by His death for our desecration of God’s Holy Name, and Whose blood cleanses us (Leviticus 14: 10, 13-14) from the leprosy and uncleanness of our flesh so that we may come near to God. His blood which was poured out on the altar (Leviticus 8:30) is also taken from the altar of God and sprinkled on us so that our robes are white and we may enter God’s presence as priests. The saints in heaven see the reality. What we ask for when we say “Hosanna!”—the saints in heaven see clearly what the crowd in Jerusalem did not see, and what we see only darkly. They see that “save us, forgive us,” means, “shed your blood for us”. And they see the Lamb who was slain, and can say not “save us!” but “He who sits on the throne and the lamb who was slain have saved us.”
Yet when Jesus answered the prayer of the people in Jerusalem, they drew back. They stood back from His suffering. To have stood with Jesus would have meant to die with Him. The priests plotted His death because they wanted their teaching and authority to stand. Some of the people of Jerusalem shouted for his crucifixion because He did not come to pat them on the back for their goodness and put the Gentiles under their feet and the riches of the earth in their hands. Judas sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Jesus was worth less to him than a little sum of money. But Pilate condemned Jesus rather than have the trouble that would have come from doing justice and declaring Him innocent. And Peter denied Jesus; Jesus was worth less to him than his honor and his life. And the rest of Jesus’ disciples ran away, except for John and Mary and a few women. And they did not die with Jesus. All they could do was watch.
Why did everyone run away or desert Jesus, or at best just watch? Because they wanted to keep their lives; they loved their lives more than Jesus.
We cry “Save us” to Jesus too, and we do it in the presence of the angels and the saints in heaven. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest!” We sing it every week or nearly every week. And Jesus comes with life and salvation, giving us His body and blood, forgiving our sins, purifying us.
But are we really different from the Palm Sunday crowds, and the disciples, who backed away from Jesus when He answered their cry for salvation? They wanted to save their own lives.
And don’t we do the same? We eat Jesus’ body and drink His blood. But when Jesus answers our cry “Save us! Hosanna!” He not only gives us His body and blood, but the tribulation that came to Him comes to us. And when the tribulation comes, don’t you back away?
When the tribulation is that you must trust that Jesus has washed you with His blood even though you are poor and helpless and God does not make you rich and prosperous? Or when the tribulation is that you must suffer wrongdoing from someone and forgive them, pray for them, love them, not speak evil of them? When the tribulation is that you must put to death the desires of your flesh—don’t we often do as Jerusalem did? We said, “Hosanna! Save us!” But then when Jesus gives us His body and blood and saves us—and when tribulation comes and our earthly safety or happiness is threatened—we turn away from Jesus and trust other things to be our savior. We prefer our life and preserving it to Jesus and His cross.
How can we be saints then? How can we stand among the angels—even more, before the throne of God and the Lamb who was slain—and sing His praises when our hearts continue to shout “Blessing and glory to God—and some to me also”?
That was the question that Luther agonized over, and some of us do too.
No one can be a saint who wants to continue in his sin and who wants to go on justifying himself and saving himself. That is what the priests in Jesus’ day did. And the tax collectors and prostitutes and idol worshippers who did not want to give up their theft and adultery and false gods could not be saved, because they already had their gods and saviors. The rich young man would not follow Jesus’ instructions for eternal life because what he loved most of all was his great riches.
But then what about those who want Jesus’ salvation but fall into sin—repeatedly turning away from Jesus and warming their hands at the fire, making ourselves comfortable instead of bearing the cross?
The saints who come out of the great tribulation wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the lamb.
With our falling, we go like Peter to Jesus for mercy. “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
And He washes us in His blood. And His blood does not stain our clothes. His blood washes out our stains, our filth, our guilt.
Jesus washed us in His holy blood in Baptism. Just as the Passover blood stained the doorposts of the Israelite houses but caused the angel of death to Passover, Jesus blood was smeared over us in Baptism. We were born in uncleanness and death. But in Jesus’ flesh and blood is righteousness and life. And when He suffered, His blood was sufficient for forgiveness of the sins of all men. It paid for their sins to be forgiven. It paid for human beings to be cleansed.
That blood washed over us and all the saints in Baptism. And when we stumble and fall and turn away—as we do daily, sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly—there is only one remedy—the blood which was shed for us and which drenched us in Baptism.
Whenever you hear, “Your sins are forgiven,” you are not simply hearing, “God loves you and doesn’t look at your sins anymore.” You are hearing, “The blood of Jesus was shed for you. It is poured over you. It drenches your body and your garments. And it makes God’s wrath pass over you. And on judgment day you will stand with robes whiter than any man can bleach them (Mark) as Jesus did in His transfiguration.”
The saints in heaven—that is their righteousness. That is their only righteousness. The saints in heaven are those who constantly turned not to their attempts to change, or their sorrow over their sins for salvation. They cried, “Hosanna! Save us!” and then they came near to Jesus and were washed in His blood, again and again. They went nowhere else and looked nowhere else.
That is why we can stand among them and the angels, now in the divine service and hereafter in eternity, even while we still have hearts which turn away from Jesus because we still have the sinful flesh.
We are washed in the blood of the lamb in Baptism. We return to it each day.
When we confess, we are splashed with Jesus’ blood and put on His righteousness, believing the absolution, “I forgive you all your sins.” Jesus sprinkles you with His cleansing blood that He shed for your atonement and salvation, for all the sins you could not excuse; for the heart that goes on praising itself while the Spirit of God within us praises the Father.
When we come to this altar, in the company of the saints and angels, Jesus gives us the atoning sacrifice; His body and blood—the life-giving body and blood of true man and true God. This and this alone makes us saints.
This struggle with sin, the suffering that comes from sin and death—the persecution of the ruler of this world and his servants who hate Christ—these give us trouble and great pain until we die.
But today we rejoice in those who have come out of the great tribulation. Blessed are they!
God is their shelter from heat; the Holy God spreads out His glory over them, and they are before His throne day and night—always. They see God and the Lamb. They are in the presence of the fountain of life and the fountain of eternal joy, and they never leave, but see His glory. And the glory of God and His goodness is so great that we have no words to speak of it.
That is what our brothers the saints who are at rest have. They come out of the tribulation. Instead of continually returning to Jesus by faith, and washing their robes in His blood, the Scripture says, “They Have washed.” It is finished. They sing of salvation that has been finished.
They no longer hunger and thirst for righteousness, as we do. But the lamb who was slain, who became one of his flock shepherds them to living water—where thirst is quenched forever. The saints drink of the Holy Spirit and are refreshed. The Lamb who is the shepherd makes them lie down in green pastures. They no longer weep over sin, over the misery and evil in the world, over death. God Himself wipes away all tears from their eyes. God Himself comforts them.
That is how it is for our brothers who are at rest. But they have received their rest from God and the Lamb alone. They received rest because they washed their robes in the blood of the lamb.
That is why we rejoice in the saints. What God has done for them and in them, He has done for us and He is doing in us. He washed us in the blood of His son in Baptism. He is daily putting us to death and raising us from the dead, returning us to Baptism, until the day we no longer say “Save us! Hosanna,” but “Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb!”
Then we shall see Jesus as He is, and we will be like Him—perfectly in His image. It will be glorious. And it already is for John and Mary and Peter. And also for Martin Luther, and our loved ones who this year died in Christ.
But you have what they have if you believe in Jesus Christ and are baptized. Because you have been washed in His blood. You are one with Him and with them. Today He comes to us; and we know that the saints are with us in Him—all of our brothers who died in Christ this past year and this past century and all the way to the beginning of the world.
Praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, who gives us salvation, and victory, and clean white robes and brings us to His glorious table.
The peace of God, which passes understanding , keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria