Text: Rev. 7:13-14
Date: All Saints’ Day (Observed) + 11/2/14
Let me draw your attention to the picture on the front of your ordo, your service folder. It is a picture of the worship of the saints in heaven gathered around the throne of the Lamb of God, our Savior Jesus Christ, surrounded by those reported to us in the gospels and from the vision or revelation granted to St. John. There appear to be the prophets and apostles, priests and pastors in the upper left corner; various Christians on the right side and people of the book, that is, believing Jews on the lower left side, and angels around the throne, the altar of God. Notice that appears to be an eight-sided baptismal font in the middle. My question this morning is, can you see yourself in that picture?
As Luther’s Ninety-five Theses were nailed to the church door on the eve of All Saints’ Day little did anyone know how the gospel they contained would transform that church door to be but the very door of heaven. For many the focus of All Saints’ Day was only on those Christians who have gone to heaven before us, especially the ones known for their great good works and merits. That focus became so myopic that the people were even taught to pray to the saints though scripture clearly denies that they can hear us or are even aware of us (Is 63:16). Worse than that, of course, is the whole system of belief that salvation is a matter of building up merits of good works to overcome the demerits of our sins. Though we remember and honor the saints as models of faith and good works the real focus of All Saints’ Day ought to be on you. Can you see yourself in that picture?
St. John writes, “Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?’” The answer? “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.” In other words among this “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,” among this great crowd is you with all the baptized faithful! Do you believe that? How can you believe that?
This Tuesday is Election Day in our country. On that day the most unique feature of our government is displayed as we the people decide who will govern us, not the other way around. We are the electors, electing certain fellow citizens to serve us in various positions and offices of government. Some are elected others are not. Everything depends on your vote!
Well, you can believe and be certain that you are in this picture of that great multitude of the saints because, the scripture says, God has elected you! Our little monthly study group recently read the eleventh article of our Formula of Concord on God’s eternal foreknowledge and election. It is for your comfort, assurance and certainty of salvation that God tells us of the doctrine of election.
The doctrine of election is simply this: that God has from eternity resolved to do for His Christians what He has effected in them in time. This doctrine does not allow us to examine God’s secret, inscrutable counsel by which He, of course, knows who and how many and whether you will be saved or not.
This doctrine is built upon scripture passages like 2 Timothy 1:9 – God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” Ephesians 1:4-6 says God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world…he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.” So this doctrine is all about God’s grace. More than that this doctrine includes the entire way on which God leads Christians to salvation. So, you see, God’s eternal election is not absolute nor identical with God’s eternal foreknowledge. It is the entire working out of His grace in our lives.
The doctrine of election is based upon these Biblical truths. First, God has truly reconciled the human race to Himself through Christ; then God offers and distributes to us the grace purchased by Christ through the means of grace; the Holy Spirit works faith through this offer of grace in the means; God through this faith justifies and sanctifies; He will not forsake us in our great weakness; but will strengthen, increase, and support us to the end; until finally He will eternally save and glorify in life eternal those whom He has elected, called, and justified.
So, are you in this picture, will you be in that number when the saints go marchin’ in? Today the Bible says to us that every Christian may be certain of their election to eternal life if, as and when they keep their faith focused on the Gospel. Election is all about God’s grace working through means or actual words and events spoken and directed by God. Since the grace of God is given us through the means of grace, the preached Word and the sacraments, you can say, “Yes, I see myself in that heavenly picture because I have remained in connection with God’s means of grace here.” That is, it is by our attitude toward Christ and the means of grace that we can tell whether we have been elected from eternity, that we are in that picture.
Can one fall away? Certainly, and especially if they ignore or separate themselves from the means of grace. Those who faithfully hear God’s Word and receive his grace in the sacraments, however, are there built up in saving faith and are thereby assured that, by God’s continued grace, you will certainly be in that picture as one clothed in a white robe, that is, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that robe made white by washing in the blood of the Lamb.
Today we thank God “for all the saints who from their labors rest,” who faithfully confessed the name of Jesus, they who in glory shine even while we still feebly struggle, yet all are one, una sancta, one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. And we remember and thank God today not only for the glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets and the noble army of martyrs, but it is well that we also remember and thank God for our Christian mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, wives, husbands, children, pastors and teachers who have gone before us. But today our chief duty is to see ourselves in that picture before the throne of God, serving him day and night in his temple, sheltered with his presence, where we shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore but be gathered before our shepherd who will forever guide us to springs of living water and wipe away every single little tear from every single saint’s pair of eyes.
Can you see yourself in this picture? Faith in Christ given by God through His Word and Sacraments says, “Yes!” “For I am certain that…nothing in all creation will be able to separate [me] from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus [my] Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).