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What Has Been Revealed and What Has Not. All Saints’ Sunday 2019

November 7, 2019 Leave a comment

All Saints’ Sunday

Emmaus Lutheran Church

1 John 3:1-3

November 3, 2019

What Has Been Revealed and What Has Not


Iesu Iuva


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!


Behold, the life- giving cross, on which was hung the salvation of the world.


As the pastor says these words on Good Friday, he lifts the black cloth and reveals one arm of the cross.  He says the words a second time: Behold, the life-giving cross! and bares the second arm.


Then a third time he says the words and takes away the black cloth entirely, and the cross is revealed to the congregation, perhaps with the image of Jesus’ body.  Behold, the life-giving cross, on which was hung the salvation of the world.  And the congregation answers: O come, let us worship Him.


There are things God has uncovered and things that He has left hidden.


He has uncovered the salvation of the world just as the Good Friday service does.  And in uncovering the salvation of the world, His only Son, He also reveals His children, the holy ones, the saints.  But He has not yet revealed the glory of His saints.  This is what John the apostle says in the Epistle.


But how has God revealed His saints?  Who are these who have a right to be called “holy ones” and where do you find them?  And who dares to number themselves among “the saints”?  Do you?  Did you hear how Jesus described them?  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…blessed are the pure in heart…blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matt. 5:6, 8, 10).  In the same chapter He says, You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48).  And it is written: You shall be holy, for I [the Lord Your God] am holy (1 Peter 1:16).  And as we approach the table of the Lord we join in the song of the seraphim who covered their eyes as they sang Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth.  I have known some wonderful Christians, but I have not known any who were so holy even the angels dared not look at them.


But when God uncovered the salvation of the world on the cross, He also uncovered His holy ones.  They are found where the salvation of the world is lifted up.  They receive their holiness from Him.


Behold, what manner of love the Father has given us!  (1 John 3:1)  Just as it is strange on Good Friday when the cross is uncovered, and the pastor says, “Behold, the life-giving cross,” so these words of the apostle are strange.  As though you and I don’t know what’s under the cloth!  As though we have never heard before how the Father loved us!


He so loved us that He gave His only Son (John 3:16).  But where and how did He give His Son?


He gave Him into the hand of the high priests, the soldiers, Pontius Pilate.  And into your hands, for it was your sins for which He was handed over to die.  He gave His Son to us hung on the cross by the nails, so that the cross of death would be the life-giving cross upon which we find the salvation of the world.

Behold, the man, Pontius Pilate says, moved to pity by the bloody, bruised face and back of Jesus.  Behold with John the spear entering the side of Jesus, the water and blood streaming from His heart.  Behold the manner of love the Father has given us, giving His Son into death for our sins.


Behold, what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.  Not called God’s enemies for causing the death of His Son.  Called children because sanctified by the death of God’s child.


God called Jesus His child, His beloved Son, when John plunged him into the water of the Jordan.  Jesus came to that baptism offering Himself to fulfill all righteousness for us, to make an end of our unrighteousness on the cross and bestow on us a seamless, spotless righteousness before God.  Then the Father’s voice said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased, and the Holy Spirit came down and rested on Him.  The Triune God uncovered Himself.  And such love the Father has given us—to uncover Himself to us, and to enfold us into Himself as at the Baptism of Jesus.  We are called His children in our Baptism, sealed with the name of the Triune God.


What love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God.  And so we are.  The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. 


Behold the love the Father has given you.  You are not only called God’s child.  You really are His child.  The Scripture knits us to Jesus.  John says, “The reason the world doesn’t know we are saints and children of God is that it did not know Him.”  Jesus said, Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14).  John says, Whoever knows God’s Son knows us.


Jesus has fastened Himself to us.  He was knit together in His mother’s womb, like us.  He became sin and a curse, because that was ours.  He gave us the divine name, which was His.   And what He calls us we truly are.  We are sons of God.  We eat His body, we drink His blood.  We live in Him and He in us.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me, and I in him (John 6:56). 


With Thee, Lord, I am now united;

I live in Thee and Thou in me,

No sorrow fills my soul, delighted,

It finds its only joy in Thee.

Lord, may Thy body and Thy blood

Be for my soul the highest good.  (LSB 619 st. 2)


Behold what manner of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.  And so we are.  He has revealed His love to us in the preaching of the cross; He has declared us His children in Baptism, and affirmed that we are united to His Son in the holy supper.


But there remains something that God has not uncovered.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. 


We did not become Christians for the benefits that it brings in this world.  St. Paul says, IF in Christ we have hope for this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15: 19). 


Our hope is for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  Sometimes it takes pain to remember this; it takes standing at the graveside of parents and friends.  Or it takes having people revile and speak evil of us because we believe in Jesus.


Then, we are reminded that our hope is not in this life, where we are called and truly are God’s children, but are still suffering the poison dart of our sinful nature, and the hostility and deceit of the devil and the world, where we are still dying and living in the midst of death.


Our hope is for what we will be when the dead are raised and our Lord appears in the clouds.


But what will we be then?


That is not yet revealed.


Just as the cross lies hidden under the black cloth on Good Friday at the start of the service, so what we will be is not revealed.


All we know is that we will be like Jesus when He returns.  That will happen because we will see His glory.


When Jesus prayed the night before He gave Himself for us in great love, He had this in mind: Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see the glory that You have given me because You loved me before the foundation of the world.  John 17:24


The weakness of our fallen minds can’t comprehend this great reward of seeing Christ’s glory and being transformed into it.  But you may remember, how in Exodus, Moses asked God to show him His glory.  The Lord said, “No one may see My face and live.”


So He put Moses in a rock and covered it with His hand and walked by, proclaiming His name; then Moses came out and saw God’s back as He walked by.  Moses did not ever see God’s face.  But only seeing His veiled glory made Moses’ face shine for days.


We will see the unveiled glory of Jesus.


No angel in the sky

Can fully bear that sight

But downward cast their wondering eye

At mysteries so bright.  (LSB 525 st. 3)


But we will be able to gaze into the brilliant sun of the eternal glory of God the Son.  And we will be like Him, just as Moses’ face bore the fading radiance of the glory he saw.


This glory is not yet revealed, but because it is our hope, and is promised to us, we run to make it our own now.  Everyone who has this hope in himself purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:3).  We don’t wait for it to come lazily; we press on to make it our own.  We come and confess our sins and are absolved; we come and eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus that put our sins to an end.


Each day we purify ourselves and put to death our old self that Jesus crucified and buried on the cross.  We do this because we have a hope—we belong to the one who is pure, and one day He will be revealed, and we will be uncovered too.  And we will be like Him.


The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.




Soli Deo Gloria

A Without-Law Righteousness Has Been Revealed. Reformation 2019. Romans 3:19-28

October 31, 2019 Leave a comment

mercy seatThe Sunday of the Reformation

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Romans 3:19-28

October 27, 2019

A Without-Law Righteousness Has Been Revealed


Iesu iuva!


Beloved in Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Two years ago was the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation of the Church that God began through Martin Luther.  You might have sensed that the celebration of this anniversary was muted, considering how consequential it was in the history of the church, even the history of the world.


The Reformation was caused by something that was as strange in 1517 as it was in 2017 and as it was in the year of our Lord 17.  What came out of Luther’s pen and mouth and started the Reformation was a message the world could not understand in any age.


It was a message about a righteousness that stands before God, a righteousness that comes without the law.  St. Paul writes: But now a without-law righteousness of God has been made manifest.  (Rom. 3:21)  And it is as that without-law righteousness is made manifest and unleashed that the Church continues to be reformed, to be healthy, to bring righteousness and peace to troubled sinners.


  1. What is so significant about a “without-law righteousness”? To answer that we should clarify what a “with-Law righteousness” is.


To a pious Jew at the time Paul was writing, the idea that there is a righteousness that stands before God apart from the Law of God would be blasphemous.  After all, God said in Leviticus 18 verse 5:  You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.  A person is righteous when he does according to God’s will laid out in His holy law—and that’s it.


Although people today don’t circumcise on the 8th day or do no work on Saturday, they basically agree with the pious Jews at the time Paul wrote that being righteous is a matter of doing righteousness.  Being righteous is a matter of following the laws of justice.


But Paul makes it clear that the real Law of righteousness—God’s commandments—pronounces no one righteous.  Even though God’s Law is good and right, and the God who gave it is good and just, God’s Law does not make anyone good or righteous.  Instead it pronounces every single person in the world guilty.  It brings the terrifying knowledge that we are sinners against God, that we have made enemies of God by disobeying His commandments—indeed that we are transgessors of His commandments by our very nature.  And yet it leaves us no way of escape.  We know of no other way to be righteous and pleasing to God than to do works that please Him, and yet we are not able to accomplish what He requires in the Law.

  1. [A without law righteousness—free, by faith]

When Paul says, But now a without Law righteousness of God has been made manifest, what wonderful news this is to anyone who is condemned by God’s Law—who is condemned to eternal death, cut off from his presence, who lives with the shame of having turned away from God!  You can see this in the Gospels—how sinners reacted to Jesus.  There was the woman who wept on His feet and dried his feet with her hair—remember that?  There was the tax collector Zacchaeus, who climbed up a tree to see Jesus, knowing everyone would laugh at him—but he didn’t care, because he was hungry and thirsty for forgiveness of his sins.


People reacted like this to Jesus because they had no way out of their sins and their guilt.  They had no way to come to God as a gracious Father.  But Jesus opened a way for them.


That’s why Paul calls this a without-law righteousness of God.  It is a righteousness that stands before God, but has nothing to do with our keeping His commandments.  Instead, it is a free gift of God.  For there is no difference, for all have sinned and lack the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace.  As a gift means—for free, for nothing.  While we have nothing to bring to Him except that which would anger Him.  Just as Jesus freely forgave Zacchaeus his debt, just as He ate with the tax collectors, just as He freely forgave the sinful woman who washed his feet after with tears of gratitude.


But still, how can you have a righteousness before God when you haven’t done what He demands?  The answer of the Gospel is—by faith in Jesus Christ.  You don’t accomplish this righteousness.  You believe in the righteousness accomplished by Jesus.  You believe that God gives this righteousness without Law to you as a gift.


  1. [The Redemption in Christ Jesus.]

The without law righteousness God gives us is the righteousness Jesus accomplished.  God the Son did not need to keep the Law to be worthy of the glory of God.  He shared the glory of the Father from eternity.  But to redeem us from the curse the Law pronounces on those who break it, God the Son became flesh and blood and made Himself subject to the Law.  We are those under the Law.  We are obligated to keep it, and when we fall short of it, the Law curses and condemns us.  So though it is good, it makes us conscious of sin and God’s wrath.  It increases our guilt, because when the Law pronounces judgment on us as adulterers or thieves or despisers of God’s Word, we then want to run from God.  We don’t love Him.  We flee from Him.  We are trapped in condemnation.


So God the Son became man to redeem us from this curse and render the Law fulfilled for us.


In the temple, there was a box called the ark of the covenant, in which were the stone tablets on which God wrote the ten commandments.  Then God commanded a cover to be made for the ark out of pure gold.  On each end of the cover were two figures of cherubim—angels, who spread out their wings over the cover and looked toward the center of it.  This cover is called “the mercy seat” in English; and it was here, at the covering of His Law, that God promised to be present on earth among His people, and to speak to Moses.


Paul says in verse 25 that God put forward Jesus as a mercy seat through faith in His blood.  He is referring to the day once a year when the priest would throw a bunch of incense on the fire and a big cloud of smoke would go up so that he could not see God between the cherubim.  Then he would go in, behind the curtain, and sprinkle blood from a sin offering on the mercy seat to atone for his sins and those of his family, and then for those of the people.  The blood of the sacrificial animal covered the transgressions of God’s Law that was underneath the gold mercy seat.  Instead of the people receiving the wages of their sin, the debt was paid with the life of another.  But not forever—the atonement had to be repeated every year.


But Paul is saying that Jesus is the true mercy seat, the covering of the commandments of God that we have broken, now and into eternity.


When Peter and John came into Jesus’ tomb on Easter Morning, they saw two angels sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying wrapped up—one at the head, one at the foot, like the cherubim on the mercy seat.  John had seen when the body of Jesus was laid in the tomb.  He was covered with blood—from His hands, His feet, His side, from the stripes on His back, from the thorns in His brow.  John did not know then what He was looking at, but it says that when he came to the empty tomb he saw and believed (John 20: 8).  When he saw Jesus, he was looking at the mercy-seat sprinkled with the blood that redeems us from the broken Law’s curse.  When he saw Jesus’ body covered with blood, He was seeing the end of the Law, that there may be righteousness to everyone who believes (Rom. 10).


We do not see Jesus’ body in the same way John did.  We see it under the bread, we see his blood under the wine as we come to the altar and eat and drink.  There we see the without law righteousness of God, the mercy-seat.  We approach His table and the one who covers our transgressions makes us whole and sound before God with His body crucified for us and the blood that He poured out for us in great love.


  1. [Put forward by God]


But how do we come to see this?  How do we come to believe in this without law righteousness, that it is for us?  God presents it to us.  He puts forward His Son to us in the preaching and teaching of the Gospel.  He shows us Christ crucified.


In the Old Testament, no one, not even the priest, could see the atonement for their sins.  It was hidden from the people in the temple.  When the priest entered the temple with the blood of the sacrifice, that was all the people saw.  Even the priest could not see God as he sprinkled the atoning blood on the mercy seat.  If he saw God he would die.


But now God presents the covering for our sins to our eyes.  He puts Jesus His Son before our eyes.  He shows us His suffering on the cross, His streaming blood.  And He says, behold your redemption.  Behold the covering of your sins.  Behold your righteousness.  Receive it as a gift from my rich grace.  You who cannot approach me by your works, receive righteousness apart from the Law, solely as a gift.  Receive my Son who covers your sins with His blood.


  1. [We conclude that a man is justified by faith]

Paul concludes this reading by saying: For we reckon that a man is justified by faith without works of Law. 


This teaching did not make sense to the world in Luther’s day, and it doesn’t make sense to the world in our day.  And our cold and foggy hearts often miss the wonder in it.


But what wonderful, joyful, lovely, freeing words these are for us!  God freely counts you righteous, a saint.  He frees you from trying to be righteous on your own, from ongoing condemnation.  He covers your sins with His Son’s blood—not once a year, but now and forever.  And He puts forward this work of His Son before our eyes so that we believe this without law righteousness is ours.


Even if the world is ungrateful for this gift of God, may we never grow cynical about it or tired of it.  May we never become more focused on our own efforts and techniques in trying to make this righteousness known to the world than we are on the gift itself and the God who is making it known through preaching the crucified Christ.


Instead may we, like the cherubim, gaze adoringly at the covering of our sins, Jesus Christ, who gives us the righteousness apart from Law.


The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Salvation in the Blood. All Saints 2014.

November 3, 2014 Leave a comment

All Saints’ Sunday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Revelation 7:9-17

November 2, 2014

“Salvation in the Blood”


Iesu iuva!


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Let us pray:


Nothing have I, Christ, to offer,

You alone my highest good.

Nothing have I, Christ, to proffer,

But Your crimson-colored blood.

Your death on the cross has death wholly defeated

And thereby my righteousness fully completed.

Salvation’s white raiments I there did obtain

And in them in glory with You I shall reign. (LSB 536 st. 4)


Hear the text for today’s sermon a second time:


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, 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.’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God saying, “Amen!  Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever.  Amen.”  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.  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.  Revelation 7:9-17


The first thing I draw your attention to in this word of God is the cry of this great multitude dressed in white robes and carrying palm branches in their hands, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” This great multitude is the congregation of those who are saved.  They are holy.  That is what their white garments mean.  And if they are holy, then they are saints, because that is what “saint” means—it means a holy one, one who is set apart for God.


But to what does this company of saints attribute their victory over devil, world, and sin, over death and hell itself? They don’t credit their works or their suffering.  They say “Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb!”  Salvation does not belong to the saints, as though they had done it.  It is completely the work and gift of God the Father, who sits on the throne, and God the Son, the Lamb, co-equal with the Father and sharing His throne, and the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and Son together and equal with them in majesty and glory.


Salvation belongs to God and the Lamb. That is the song of the saints in heaven.  And to this shout of praise all the angels add their “Amen”!


Salvation is not partly the work of men and their free will. It is all entirely the work of God and the Lamb.  And the saints, who are priests who serve God day and night in His temple, bring no other offering than praise and thanksgiving to God who has given this free gift of salvation that is His alone to give.


They wave the palm branches, the symbols of victory, only to their victorious king who has saved them and given them the victory.


Salvation belongs to God and to the Lamb alone. That is the first point.  It is all His work.


The second point is: how does this salvation, this victory, come to a sinner and make them a saint? One of the elders preaches this to John and to us. He catechizes.  First he asks a question: “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”  John says, “Sir, you know.”  And the elder in his catechesis answers his own question,”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.”


What is the salvation of God that makes sinners saints? How does it come?


The salvation is the blood of the Lamb. The saints have washed their robes in the blood of Jesus.  And instead of coming out crimson they have come out bright white, without any spot.  Clean and pure and holy.


That is what makes a saint—the blood of the Lamb, Jesus, God the Son. His suffering and death alone, His blood, purifies from all sin.


This is why the babies who are brought to baptism come out of the water clean. The blood of the Lamb is poured over them and wipes out the stain of sin.


Sin is a stain so deep that there is no amount of scrubbing and not detergent that can get it out. We cannot scrub ourselves clean by our works and efforts.  And there is no cleansing agent that can remove it except for the blood of the Son of God.


This is a strange way to become victorious. Usually in Jesus’ day they called a king “Savior” when he led the people to victory, and that mean that he shed the blood of enemies.  His followers would come through the battle stained with blood too, but it would be the blood of the enemies that would cover their clothes and speckle their skin.


But this is a different Savior. He leads us out of captivity to the devil, sin, and death.  His victory has been won not by charging into battle on a warhorse and cutting down enemies with a sword.  His victory was won by being stripped and beaten with stripes, nailed to a cross as a criminal and hung up to die.  His blood flowed freely until the spear pierced His heart and ended the battle—in His victory.


The saints receive His victory by washing their clothes in the blood of their Savior and King.


You were plunged into His blood in your baptism. And you wash your clothes in His blood every time you confess your sins and Jesus breathes forgiveness upon you in the absolution.


You come to the altar and eat His body and drink His blood. And the blood that cleanses your garments and your flesh from all defilement also cleanses your heart and conscience and makes them clean.  You have no sin anymore.  You are holy.


The third and final point this morning. The first point was that salvation belongs to God and the Lamb.  The second; salvation is in the blood of Jesus that has been shed for you.  But when does salvation apply to you?  Under what circumstances do you have it?  It applies to you now, during what the text calls “the great tribulation.”


We can’t see the shining blood of Christ in which our robes have been dipped and been made white. We can’t see the glory of God resting on us like a canopy, sheltering us from the heat of the sun.  We also can’t see the Lamb shepherding us from His throne to springs of living water, or the hand of God wiping every tear from our eyes.


What we can see around us and in us is sin, death, corruption. We see the ungodly desires and thoughts of our hearts still raging, overflowing even at times into words and actions.  We see the trouble that lies heavy on us.  We feel and look like sheep to be slaughtered.  We feel the sting of tears in our eyes and do not feel any mighty hand wiping them away.


But the salvation of Jesus which makes us saints does not wait until the last day and the glory of heaven to be applied to us. It applies to us now in the great tribulation.  Already, now, your robes are washed in the blood of the lamb.


Already, now, Jesus has shed His blood for you, blotted out the stain of your sin, cleansed your robes, won the victory.


Already He washes your filthy garments of sin with His blood in Holy Baptism.


Already He satisfies the hunger and thirst of your soul by giving you His body to eat—the bread of life—and His blood to drink—true, thirst-quenching, life-restoring drink.


Already now you are a saint through Christ’s victory. And so, although we do not yet see the rest that His saints have, we join in their praises, singing of glory and salvation not only to come, but accomplished by the victory that Jesus the Lamb won for us in His death.  We sing, “Glory to God in the Highest,” “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.”


And He who is called the Lamb certainly knows how to shepherd His sheep who share His flesh and blood in meekness to springs of living water where there thirst will be quenched forever, where the glory of the eternal God will stretch over His holy ones like a canopy to shield them from the burning heat, where the Lord God will wipe away every tear from the faces of His saints with His own fatherly hand.


Lord, when Your glory I shall see

And taste Your kingdom’s pleasure

Your blood my royal robe shall be

My joy beyond all measure.

When I appear before Your throne

Your righteousness will be my crown:

In these I need not hide me.

And there in garments richly wrought

As Your own bride shall we be brought

To stand in joy beside You. (LSB 438 st. 4)


The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


Soli Deo Gloria

God is Just. Reformation 2014

October 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Reformation Sunday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Romans 3:19-28

October 26, 2014

“God is just”

Iesu Iuva


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


God is just. People fight against this fact in every generation because it is unthinkable [for us as fallen people]. If God is really perfectly just, if He really insists on absolute goodness in people, who can stand before Him?


That makes it unthinkable for people and they reject it. If God is perfectly just and condemns all unrighteous thoughts, words, and deeds, there is no way out for us.


So through the ages people have invented escape routes from God’s justice. They have tried to redefine God’s justice so that it isn’t so unbending, so that an imperfect person could still be righteous before God.  The Jews in Paul’s day told themselves that they were righteous in God’s sight because they knew His commandments and kept them outwardly.  In the time of the Reformation, four hundred ninety seven years ago, some preachers came out and told people that if they bought an indulgence from the Pope they were guaranteed heaven.


If the church is going to be reformed and be what God wants her to be, the continuing task of the church is to shut those escape routes. Every time someone tries to open up a new one the church’s preaching has to show that these escape routes are really traps from the devil. God is just. Because He is just, there are no escape routes.  You are either righteous, in which case you will receive God’s praise, glory, and eternal life.  Otherwise you are a sinner and an enemy of God.


He is just. That means He doesn’t tell us lies to make us feel better.  If you stole something, God doesn’t say, “That’s ok.  You were just a kid, and after all it was just something small.  And now you’re sorry.”  If you stole, you’re a thief in God’s eyes.  If you’ve lied, you’re a liar.  If you’ve slandered you’re a slanderer.  If you’ve fornicated, you’re a fornicator.

Read more…

Sermon–All Saints’ Sunday Revelation 7:9-17

November 5, 2012 5 comments


All Saints Sunday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Revelation 7:9-17 (St. Matthew 5:1-12)

November 4, 2012


Jesu Juva


Dear Congregation:

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


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