Sermon for All Saints Day, AD 2020

Revelation 7:2-17

All Saints Day is the most comprehensive of all commemorations in the church year. While most feast days remember a moment in Jesus’ earthly life, or the people who knew him, All Saints Day remembers all the faithfully departed in the church, that great cloud of witnesses – Christians who have died and are now with Christ. This is a day of great comfort, for we see that Christ our Good Shepherd cares individually for each Christian, and in the end those who are sealed by his Word shall never again face suffering, but worship our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in glory forever.
           
Now we are going to speak about the Book of Revelation here, which for some may be exciting or for some quite intimidating. It is true that Revelation uses many strange images, but there is nothing in it essential to our faith which we don’t already know from other books of the Bible. Rather, it shows a God’s-eye view of many things, a view which we can see only with the eyes of faith. Since faith is increased by the Word of God, the more we read the rest of the Bible the clearer the book of Revelation will come. Therefore, to read Revelation literally we are interpreting the images of faith, the things God sees, into things which are explained by our natural senses.
           
In our reading from Revelation 7, we are given two different images, one of the church militant, the church on earth, and one of the church triumphant, the church of all time, who have come out of this life and are now before God. The first tells us what we can expect in this life as the church, and the second what we can expect in the next life.
           
Whenever people are counted in great numbers it is usually for battle. This is what we see in the first part of our text. There are 144,000 people sealed as the servants of God. It is a great army, and its number is complete. God likes twelves. There were twelve sons of Jacob, who became the twelve tribes of Israel. They were the complete group of God’s people. In the New Testament there were twelve disciples. These were the complete foundation of the new Church, the first to go out to preach the gospel of Christ. With 12 times 12000 people here, we have the complete number of the church on earth, as seen by the eyes of faith. No matter how many Christians are on earth to our eyes, God sees that is the perfect and great number that he has determined.
           
This group is ready to work God’s mission, for it has been sealed. To our human eyes the church is broken, full of sin, division, and strife, unlike anything organized or in good marching order. Yet in God’s eyes the church is in perfect position to complete her mission because she has been sealed. Like a king put his royal seal on a document, or signs off on something that is his, God has identified and marked us, the church, as his own personal property. All Christians, from every tribe and nation, Jew and Gentile alike have been sealed into the completeness of the church. The twelve tribes of Israel traveled in marching orders around the tabernacle, the place of the presence of God, as they fulfilled their mission to take the promise land. So we also are gathered around God’s presence and we fulfill His mission.
           
How are we sealed? We are sealed by the Holy Spirit by the Word of God’s promise. To be sealed is to trust in God’s word of promise of the forgiveness of sins. It is to trust in the very promises given to us because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, who died for our sins and rose again. The Holy Spirit seals us through the Word that we trust in, and in visible signs in the sacraments.

This is a great comfort for all Christians. For we do not see things usually like Revelation, with the eyes of faith. We do not always see the church as perfect and in marching order. We may feel lonely and separated from the church. We may feel like our sin is too great. In the Word of God, we have promises greater than any of our doubts. When God says Christ has died for our sins, we can trust that is for us. When the water is poured on us by God’s command with God’s promise of salvation, we know he does not lie. When we taste the bread, the very body of Christ, on our tongues, we know we are receiving forgiveness, life and salvation. Trust in these promises of God, knowing that you have been sealed in the Holy Spirit by them. God will not allow anyone who is sealed to be lost, no one will snatch them out of His hand.
           
This is necessary because suffering will come. We see the angel holds back the suffering from those who are sealed for a little while. So it is that for Christians in any time God will restrain the suffering so Christians can grow in grace and knowledge so their faith and steadfastness may be increased in order to carry out God’s mission on earth. Yet tribulations will come eventually, and would overwhelm us all if we were not sealed by God. Therefore, it is necessary for all Christians to continually be sealed and receive God’s Word and Sacraments for their strengthening.
           
What are we strengthened to do? What is the mission this great number is sent on? It is to the continue the mission from our first sealing, our baptism. There we pledged and promised to renounce the devil, believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, demonstrate our faith to our neighbor in deed, put away our sinful flesh with its wicked desires and become new men. Here is why we remember the catechism! Therefore, we hold up the Ten Commandments as a mirror for our life, so we may repent of where we sinned and turn to Christ for forgiveness. We look at the Apostles’ Creed to make sure we believe what we should. We pray the Lord’s Prayer from our heart, and we forgive others as it teaches us to do. We remember the great benefits of the Lord’s Supper, and we fulfill our vocation in life according to the Ten Commandments.

As Christians, we build, correct, and sustain the church so we can make it more like how God sees it and how we see it with eyes of faith. As citizens, we further and maintain secular government. We vote for the good of our neighbor, especially the least of these who need the most protection, like the unborn. We also vote and work with the government to protect the church, so that the gospel can be freely preached in our nation. We support the education of our children, both in the faith and in everyday life primarily so they can productively serve in the church. We finally do what we can to support the ministry of preaching, so the gospel can be heard and those Christians may be continually sealed by the Holy Spirit.

For we have much to do, and once Christians are sent into the world they are hit with all kinds of opposition. Thanks be to God for His sealing by the Holy Spirit, which keeps us from being overwhelmed. Christians face tribulations throughout all time, but the Great Tribulation will be in the days immediately before Christ’s second coming. Every tribulation we go through now points to that Great Tribulation, but all Christians have the same comfort of being preserved through it.

For in the second scene, St. John sees the church at the end where all things are completed. No longer is the church merely the great number of 144,000, but it is a number which no one can count. The church triumphant is always growing, and is filled with members of every tribe, race, nation, and tongue. They all wear white robes because they have been given Christ’s purity and righteousness by His blood.

Christ has died for you, taking your sin, and giving you his righteousness. In His Word and sacraments he seals you and preserves you throughout the suffering of this life. Christ has also risen from the dead, and we who believe will also rise with him. What we are sealed for now prepares us for the greater glory when Christ returns. Then what we see now with eyes of faith we will see by sight. We will see the church in all its glory, risen and perfected in Jesus, surrounding and worshiping God on his throne for the salvation he has given us through Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ, the lamb, will be there among us. We get a taste of that now in the Lord’s Supper as he comes in his body and blood. On the last day, we will see him face to face. There will no longer be distancing of any kind, social or otherwise, and we will live intimately in the flesh with Christ in a way knowable to our senses. There he will lead us to green pastures and quiet waters, shepherding us from any pain or tears. Our mission complete, we will be at rest without any of the harshness which comes with this life.

As we face suffering and death in this short life and as we remember and mourn those who have died in the faith, we do so with hope. For Christ is coming soon. He always keeps his promises. We now trust in the sealing by the Holy Spirit he gives us in His Word and Sacraments. Yet this is only the foretaste. This life will end, and we will be taken out of this valley of sorrow and see God face-to-face, worshipping him with the victory hymn, in perfect rest forever. Amen.

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