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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” (Revelation 7:13-14).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Today we observe All Saints’ Day. This day is a little bit different from other saints’ days we might celebrate in the Church. On other days we identify and commemorate one particular saint, such as St. Matthew or St. John. Just who are we commemorating on All Saints’ Day? Well, all the saints; but who are they?
Traditionally, someone is called a saint who has lived an exemplary life of faith. Most of the people we call saints have been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches that saints have lived so well that they have merited a superabundance of grace from God and have earned God’s favor so much that they can transfer a little of that grace and favor to you.
A process of canonization is followed. In the Early Church period, the process was not very well defined. Now, however, there are specific rules to follow before declaring someone a saint. First, the person has to be dead for at least five years. That counts any of you out! Then, once the person has been dead for the requisite period, there are a series of investigations to see just how virtuous the hoped-to-be saint actually was. If these investigations turn out favorably, the documentation is turned over to cardinals and bishops who 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! 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 extraordinary in terms of their faith and life, were also flesh and blood people who were at heart sinners. In addition to showing generosity to children, St. Nicholas was a staunch defender of the doctrine of the Trinity, but that zeal for the faith was carried too far when he reportedly punched an opponent in the nose. As Lutherans, we do look to the saints as examples of faith and Christian living, but we’re careful not to ascribe more to them than is right. None of them merited anything before God but were what they were because of the grace of God toward them.
There is only One who has actually merited the favor of God. There is only One who has earned the right to the title saint. That One is Christ Jesus. And He, had done it for you and me—for all the saints!
Today you heard the Beatitudes. Many teach that the Beatitudes are primarily rules for how you should lead your lives as Christians. Some even teach that if you try really hard, you can actually live up to them. Taken that way, the Beatitudes are pure Law; they condemn and give no hope, for none of us truly live up to such standards. All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And, even if we manage to general keep lesser angels of our nature in check, our mouth has still uttered hurtful and untrue words, our heart is still fill of sinful thoughts.
But the Beatitudes are not so much Law as they are rich Gospel because they properly describe everyone who is incorporated into the One who earned the title saint. They don’t so much give us a roadmap on how to become a saint, but describe who we are, even now, as someone washed in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. The Beatitudes are a description for all the saints!
Let’s review the Beatitudes with this mind.
Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). Who is poor in spirit but the soul incorporated in Him “who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6–8). Christ cried out in poverty of spirit, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4). Who has mourned but the soul incorporated in Him who mourned, not over His own troubles but over the unbelief of His people? Christ 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” (Isaiah 53:3). He grieved over Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matthew 23:37).
Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5). Who is meek but the soul incorporated in Him who as King entered Jerusalem, “Humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9)? Christ said of Himself, “I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). He gained that rest by enduring the Passion, silent before His executioners.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). Who has hungered and thirsted, but the soul incorporated in Him who did all things that righteousness might be fulfilled? Christ endured the cross “so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21). He became, according to St. Paul, “Our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful” (Matthew 5:7). Who has been merciful, but the soul incorporated in Him 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” (2:17)? Christ mercifully healed and forgave all who called upon Him in faith, even from the cross crying out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what to do” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8). Who has been pure in heart, but the soul incorporated in Him so pure that, again from Hebrews, “In every respect [He] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15)? For the pure love of others, Christ sacrificed Himself, as Paul says, “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). Who has made peace, but the soul incorporated in Him who made our peace with God? According to the Benedictus, Christ came “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). He said to the disciples, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you” (John 14:27). According to Paul, “He Himself is our peace… through the cross… He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:14, 16-17).
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:10). Who has endured persecution, but the soul incorporated in Him who was perfectly righteous yet condemned? Because Christ was righteous, 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.
To Christ belong all blessings. And so, to the soul incorporated in Christ also belongs the blessings! To the believer in Christ belongs the kingdom of heaven, the comfort of salvation, the inheritance of the earth, the fullness of righteousness, the mercy of the Father as exhibited in Christ’s righteousness, the mercy of the Father as exhibited in Christ’s resurrection, the right to see God, the right to be called a child of God. Indeed, great is the reward in heaven for the soul incorporated in Him who “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and… upholds the universe by the word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrew 1:3).
Jesus lived the perfect, holy, righteous life you and I could not and would not. Jesus, the Lamb of God, died on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world—yours and mine, included. Jesus sanctified the grave and gave us Sabbath rest with His own three-day rest in the tomb. Jesus rose from the dead, giving us the certain hope of the resurrection of our bodies to eternal life on the Last Day. Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the Father’s right hand interceding for us and reigning over all things the sake of His Church, the communion of saints, even as He is always with us in His means of grace as He promised. One day, Jesus will come back in glory, for all the saints, to bring us to live with Him in His kingdom forever.
Christ’s saintliness is proven by what He has done. (And yes, Jesus even did several miracles after He had died!) And now this One who earned the right to be called saint also calls you holy. Jesus, by His grace, makes you a saint and all of the blessings He has earned He now gives you. They are for all the saints.
We have a description of what it really means to be a saint in today’s First 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 those who led particularly exemplary 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 iniquities in Holy Baptism, and they have been clothed with His own sanctity and righteousness.
Now, having been cleansed, they dwell in the presence of Christ, who provides them with eternal blessing and consolation. These are victorious in Christ. All that was arrayed against them—their sins, death, the devil—are destroyed and removed by Jesus. Now they carry the palm branches of His victory.
This, dear Christians, is a picture not only of heaven but also of you here in the Church on earth. Already our Lord has sanctified you in the waters of Baptism, dwells among you in His Word and Sacrament, and bestows upon you in His Word and Sacrament, and bestows upon you the victory over your enemies. You may not feel like a saint yet, but in God’s eyes you are, for you have faith in Christ Jesus, His Son, who has saved you and made you holy.
Oh, you don’t see it yet—you don’t appear that way. Neither do you see Jesus yet in all His glory—rather, He cloaks Himself in His Word and Supper to give you forgiveness and purity again. For now, this is something that cannot be visibly observed or measured, but only seen through the eyes of faith.
It won’t always be like this. One day Jesus will come back for all the saints. Jesus is coming back in glory for all to see. You haven’t seen Him revealed in His holiness and glory yet. But you will. You will see Him as He is, the glorious Son of God who took on flesh and died for you. And then, as one redeemed and forgiven, you’ll be exposed for who you truly are even now for Jesus’ sake.
You’re a saint.
You’ve washed your robe and made it white in the blood of the Lamb.
You’re one of God’s children, now and forever.
Because you are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.