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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller

from Hope Lutheran Church, Aurora CO, Podcast
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Here is the sermon text:

INJ

Revelation 7:9-17 | “All Saints”
All Saints Day (Transferred) | 6 November 2016

Dear Saints,

The vision put before us in Revelation is almost overwhelming in it beauty. We were preaching about it a few weeks ago, and here it is again for All Saints Day. The Christians have died in this life are now coming into heaven, and they are dressed in rags, worn-out, dirty clothes, made filthy by their sins. And now, as they are to come into the presence of God the Father in His splendor, and God the Son, our Lord Jesus who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and God the Holy Spirit, their tattered, filthy garments are removed, and dipped in blood, the blood of the Lamb, and the garments come out of the blood radiant, fit to stand before the king.

“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.” (Revelation 7:14-15)

This is the vision of All Saints Day, a glimpse at how it is for those who have died in the faith, how they are before the Lord, they behold His face, they are passed all trouble, finished with sin, they are in bliss and at rest as they wait for the resurrection of the dead and the new heaven and new earth, and they have all of this by the Lord’s mercy. It is His blood that washes them and makes them clean.

This is an encouraging vision for us who are not yet there. We consider those who have gone before us, who rest from their labors, who behold the face of God, whose tears have been whiped from their face. This is what is ahead for us, and it encourages us.

Pastor Flamme and I have been talking a lot about encouragement and discouragement. There is a lot of discouragement, in our world, our country, even in our homes and congregation. It’s difficult to put your finger directly on it, and on the cause of it. Perhaps we are all weary of this election cycle. But there is a spiritual weariness, a kind of weight that makes it hard to get us and do anything. Going to work is that much more difficult. Getting out to run errands is daunting. And the spiritually discouragement makes it seem like your Bible weighs 100 pounds, and you have to stretch out before you have the strength to open it. Do you know what I’m talking about? Its not that we don’t want to read our Bible and say our prayers, but discouragement makes it seem that much more difficult. We want to go to church, but there’s something in the way, an excuse, a difficulty, something that we would normally work through, but it doesn’t seem like we have the energy or the will to put up a fight for it. Or, for us who are here, we put up the fight but it was tough, and there is not as much joy and life in our song and learning of the Lord’s Word.

This is subtle, and not true for everyone, but the devil attacks us all, eventually, with discouragement.

And this is one of the beautiful things about All Saints’ Day: It encourages us. It reminds us of the joy set before us.

There is another vision of the saints given to us for our encouragement in Hebrews. Chapter 11 (of Hebrews) reviews some of the saints of God and heroes of faith in the Old Testament. We hear of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and the others. Here’s the summary of their lives (Hebrews 11:35-38):

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two,1 they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

The saints before us, our fathers and mothers in the faith, wandered this world in suffering, and all of this is an encouragement to us. So the next verses say, (Hebrews 12:1-2):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

If we get this picture we will find encouragement. You are running a race, and you are exhausted. You are sure that your legs won’t hold you up for much longer. All you can think about is quitting, lying down, and giving up. Now, the finish line is in a stadium, and the last leg of the race is around this track, and as you come into the stadium you see the seats filled with all those who have run the race before you, all those who have crossed the finish line.

There’s Dottie in the front row, and Lenore and Clara and Ruth, Harvey and Miriam and Alice and Vic, and they are cheering for you, “You can make it!” And there behind them you see your loved ones, your grandparents who gave you your first Bible, your parents who brought you to baptism, the pastors who preached to you, all cheering you on. And behind them are all the great fathers of the faith. There is Walther and Chemnitz and Luther and Cyril and Augustine. And there is John, Peter, Andrew, Paul, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Micah, Joel, Amos, Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah and Elisha, King David and Samuel and Hannah, Joshua and Moses and Aaron, Joseph and Israel and Isaac and Abraham, all there as this great cloud of witnesses, with their life and their death, with their faith in Christ, with their victory, all encouraging us, “You can make it. It’s worth the struggle. It’s worth the wait. It’s worth the pain. Keep the faith. Finish the race.”

The vision is almost overwhelming. And as you look from face to face, all of them point you to the finish line, and there on the other side is Jesus, waiting for you, with joy in His eyes, a smile on His face. And you looking to Him all your weariness seems gone. Your legs are strong. Your lungs are full. You can’t imagine quitting now, in fact, you begin to run faster. You throw off anything that would slow you down. And you run.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

St. Paul says it like this in Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

Or, when he is about to die, he writes to Timothy:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (1 Timothy 4:6-8)

We sang in the hymn this beautiful stanza,

“And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong, Alleluia! Alleluia!”

The fight is fierce. The warfare is long. The race requires endurance. But you are surrounded with a great crowd of witnesses. You are surrounded with saints. And we are encouraged not only by those who have gone before us, but by those who we run alongside. Look around you. See your fellow saints, all racing toward Jesus. And see who is not here, those who have become weary, and remember that you can encourage them as well, and help and strengthen them as we press toward the goal.

For it won’t be long now. Rest will come. The One who began a good work in us will bring it to completion.

One day the bell will toll for us, and we will rejoice in the victory of death, the victory of Jesus, and all those who are left behind will rejoice for us. Death will give way to life, tears will give way to joy, sin with give way to bliss, and, dear saints, until that day, we fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller
Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO