November 3, 2019
Happy All Saints Day! What is a saint? A saint is a holy person? Well, what does it mean to be holy? Does it mean to be the epitome of good virtue, a hero of the faith? That is usually what we think of. St. Peter, St. Paul, St Mary; these are saints. “I’m no saint.” is a common statement of a humble person, who is all too acquainted with his own sin. And, “She’s such a saint!” is a common way to compliment someone of noble character. Those who do no wrong, who distinguish themselves above all others, who do not sin, perhaps even do a miracle or two, those are the true saints, the true holy ones. Right? But that isn’t actually what it means to be holy. To be holy means to be set apart by God for his own purpose. You do not make yourself holy by your own good works, rather God makes you holy by grace according to his love for you.
The Beatitudes, that is, the nine blessings Jesus proclaims in the opening of his Sermon on the Mount is the traditional Gospel lesson for All Saints Day. The saints are blessed. Yet, just as many misunderstand and think that you become a saint by performing better than others, so many think that this sermon of Jesus is a lesson on how to become a saint. If you do the things listed in the Beatitudes, then you will become a saint and God will bless you! Yet, that is not what Jesus is teaching in this lesson. Jesus is not teaching us how to become saints. Rather, he is describing what saints are like. And Jesus tells us that the saints are blessed forever.
You become a saint when God sets you apart for his own purpose. In our epistle lesson from 1 John chapter 3, the Apostle writes, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” How do we become children of God? It’s by the love of God! God sent his Son into this world to save sinners, to give his life as a ransom for many. The saints dressed in white robes standing before the throne of God in heaven made their robes white with the blood of the Lamb. That is, they were forgiven of all their sins for the sake of Jesus’ bloody death upon the cross. That is how they were washed clean. That is how we are able to be called children of God.
God made you into a saint when you were baptized. Because it was in your baptism that God washed away all your sins in the blood of the Lamb, Christ Jesus. In Baptism you were joined to Christ and he to you. You became a member of the Communion of Saints, a people set apart by God to be his holy people forever. It is through faith in God’s promise of forgiveness and salvation that you become a saint. It is through faith in the blood of Christ that you believe that you are a saint now.
Yes, it is through faith that you believe that you are a saint. Faith, not sight tells you that you are a saint. Because your sainthood does not depend on your actions, but on the loving compassion of our God in Jesus Christ. This again is why St. John says in our epistle lesson, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.” He must tell us that we are God’s children, because if we looked at ourselves, we would not come to that conclusion. It must be believed by faith.
What we will be has not yet appeared. This means that we are not yet perfect and without sin as we will be when we see Jesus Christ as he is in his heavenly splendor. Yet, we are God’s children now. We are saints now. Even here, in this valley of sorrows surrounded by sickness and death and bogged down by our own weaknesses, we are still blessed. This is what Jesus is telling us today.
In the first four blessings, Jesus describes how the saints on earth are blessed, because they receive God’s grace and mercy.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.”
Here Jesus describes us! We are poor in spirit. We don’t have anything to offer God. We come before him empty handed, like beggars. Worse than empty handed! We come to lay before our Lord the words we wish we had not said, our anger and hatred, our deepest regrets. We don’t come as a glorious throng of sinless heroes, but as sinners, who have hurt others by our own actions and careless words, who have sullied our souls with impure thoughts and actions. We mourn our sinful condition and the corruption of the world, and God comforts us here and gives us a heavenly kingdom as our inheritance. We are eternally blessed, because God has had mercy on us for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ.
While we can and should confidently confess to be saints and children of God, we do not boast in ourselves. Saints are meek, humble, lowly creatures. Our boasting is excluded by the law of faith, which teaches that we receive all good things, including our position as children of God through the grace of Jesus Christ. We do not boast in ourselves, but in the Lord, who has saved us from our miserable condition and has laid up treasures for us in heaven by the merits of Christ.
We come to God hungry and thirsty. You hunger when your stomach is empty and you have no food. You thirst when your body needs water. Our souls hunger and thirst. We desire desperately to be fed a righteousness we do not have. Our works are rubbish. We have fallen short of the glory of God. And God bestows on us the righteousness of Christ, so that we are fully satisfied, lacking nothing. We have all we need to enter heaven.
This is not the picture of saints we often paint. But this is how Jesus describes those who are eternally blessed. Saints are sinners who have been rescued from their sins by God’s grace through the suffering and death of Christ. Sinners become saints through faith, not by their works.
Beloved, we are God’s children now. Children imitate their father. Not perfectly. We still sin in this world, but God has set us apart even now to behave as his children in this life. With the next three blessings, Jesus describes the fruits of faith produced by saints in this life.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Saints on earth are merciful, because they have received mercy from God. Holy Scripture exhorts us, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) How can we come before God with penitent hearts, lay our guilt and shame before Jesus with the certain and urgent hope that he will wash it away in his blood and give us refuge from God’s wrath in his wounds, yet then turn to the one who has offended us and refuse to forgive? We have offended God, much greater than we can actually grasp with our minds (He sacrificed his own Son to pay the price of our sins!). And God graciously and willingly forgives us and invites us to come closer to him, to come to him not only for forgiveness but for help in every need. And can any of us say that another has offended us so greatly that we can refuse to forgive? To refuse the mercy to others, which we so freely received from Christ? No, but with the measure you use it will be measured back to you! If you do not forgive the trespasses of others, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses. Saints forgive. Saints are merciful, because saints have received mercy. And whenever a saint on earth forgives and puts away his anger, he confesses that God in heaven has forgiven him.
To be pure in heart means to worship God in truth; to confess pure doctrine and reject what is false. True worship is to receive forgiveness, life, and salvation from God through faith. It is those who have faith in God’s promises, who will later see with their eyes that which they trust in through faith. They shall see the God, who dwells in their heart through faith.
Peacemakers will be called sons of God. This is because God is the ultimate peacemaker. He made peace between us and him through the blood of Jesus’ cross. Even while we were still sinners, before we apologized or turned from our sin, Christ died for us. So, we desire peace with those who sin against us even before they repent. When we seek to become reconciled with our enemies, to willingly apologize when we do wrong and to forgive those who sin against us, we confess that we are God’s children. God is the God of peace. We are his children, who seek peace through Jesus Christ, both between us and God and between one another.
These are the fruits of faith produced by the saints on earth. Saints do good works, because Christ dwells in them through faith. Yet, the flesh is weak. Has your selfish flesh kept you from showing mercy toward your neighbor? Have you refused to forgive others even as you ask God to forgive you? Has your heart been impure, seeking after things that are not gods, such as money, possessions, or leisure, while neglecting true worship? Have you failed to stand up for the truth of God’s word and accepted lies? Have you neglected to work toward peace and rather remained at enmity with others? How strongly the sinful human nature fights against the saints on earth. Repent. Turn back to God empty-handed, meek, and mourning over your sins and let God comfort you and bestow on you eternal blessings for Christ sake. God will satisfy your soul’s desire and strengthen you in faith. This is how it is with the saints on earth.
In the final two blessings Jesus says that saints will suffer here on earth.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The saints often don’t live glamorous lives here on earth. They’re often mocked, ridiculed, and accused of all sorts of evil on account of their faith in Christ. They’re beaten, imprisoned, and killed for Christ’s sake. We see this happen even today around the world. Now, you might not personally face the persecution as strongly as other Christians, although it is likely you’ll be called names and disliked for your faith in the teachings of the Bible. Yet, even if you face little persecution in your day to day life, you still suffer for Christ. Because, the Church is one body, united with Christ. Jesus told Saul that he was persecuting him when Saul was attacking Christians. When our brothers and sisters in Christ are being imprisoned and killed across the world, we must bear that cross with them. When your fellow Christians are attacked when they confess the faith, you are attacked. This is why we regularly pray for the whole church of God. By doing so, we join in their suffering by crying out to our merciful God.
The persecution of the saints in this life reminds us that the saint’s hope is not in this life. Our hope is in the life to come. We look forward to joining those saint who have gone before us, where we will hunger and thirst no more and where God will wipe away the last tear from our eyes. In celebrating All Saints Day, we thank God not only that he has made us saints even now, as we are indeed his children today, but we thank God for the saints who have gone before us, who have set an example for us in faith and good works, and whom we will indeed join in that incalculable throng, clothed in white robes singing praises to our God and redeemer, Jesus Christ.
Beloved, we are saints now. And the glorious day will come when we will see this with our eyes. Amen.