November 6, 2011
TEXTS: Revelation 7:2-17/1 John 3:1-3/Matthew 5:1-12
ROBES WASHED WHITE IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB!
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

Dear saints of God, grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come and from the seven spirits who are before His throne (that is the Holy Spirit), and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead (Rev. 1:1-2).

Which of these statements is true of Christians – “I do not want to die” – or – “I am ready for death?”  Which statement is true for you?  In fact both statements are true for those in Christ. Life is God’s gift. Death is a curse. Christians fight against death and treasure life!  Paradoxically, Christians are also ready for death because the crucified and risen Christ tasted it for us. He has taken its sting away!  Even when they don’t feel ready for it – Christians are under the shadow of His forgiving wings and He will be with them as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And so death is our supreme disgrace and yet the means by which Christ conquered. He drove our fallen parents away from the tree of life for a reason - for our eternal good!  Death is now the means by which Christ calls us home to a life free from sin and its effects.

November 6, 2011
TEXTS: Revelation 7:2-17/1 John 3:1-3/Matthew 5:1-12
ROBES WASHED WHITE IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB!
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

Dear saints of God, grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come and from the seven spirits who are before His throne (that is the Holy Spirit), and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead (Rev. 1:1-2).

Which of these statements is true of Christians – “I do not want to die” – or – “I am ready for death?”  Which statement is true for you?  In fact both statements are true for those in Christ. Life is God’s gift. Death is a curse. Christians fight against death and treasure life!  Paradoxically, Christians are also ready for death because the crucified and risen Christ tasted it for us. He has taken its sting away!  Even when they don’t feel ready for it – Christians are under the shadow of His forgiving wings and He will be with them as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And so death is our supreme disgrace and yet the means by which Christ conquered. He drove our fallen parents away from the tree of life for a reason - for our eternal good!  Death is now the means by which Christ calls us home to a life free from sin and its effects.

Today we recall our brothers and sisters in Christ whose earthly course is done. As we do so it is important not to think of them as the odd ones – as those on the outside - not connected to reality. For in truth, we who temporarily draw breath on earth are the odd ones – the great minority. We are the ones who are not home yet. It is also important to note that the world’s efforts to keep those who have died connected to earthly life are hollow and empty. To that end, remember how easily death is dressed up in deception today. Some expressions for death use earthly objects to make it sound less stark and serious – They are – at room temperature – pushing up daisies – six feet under – or – they bought the farm. Think also of the euphemisms for death – words and phrases meant to make it sound better than it is. They – passed away – crossed over - checked out – went to a better place – completed the circle of life!  To this type of soft pretense talk a man’s protest in Noel Coward’s play “The Happy Breed” speaks volumes. This man’s precious son was killed in war and people continued to speak to him in euphemisms like those just noted. Finally from sorrow and from emptiness of heart he cried out, “He didn’t pass on, pass out, or pass over; he just bloody well died.”

You also will bloody well die – up ahead just a bit!  I also will soon bloody well die!  It is appointed for man once to die and then the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). How do you contemplate life here without you in it – absent from your spouse – your friends – from this weekly gathering – from your house – your favorite chair?  Contemplating one’s funeral and burial arrangements can be a sobering thing and a helpful thing. “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).   We flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more (Psalm 103:15-16). Insult upon insult – all this will be taken from us and we won’t be long remembered by those who follow after. In the frenzied pace of life with so much to see and do and say how is it ever going to work without you?  How are you going to fare without it – with no heart beat, no breath, no life and soon no memory of you on this old earth?  Do you ever chew that over and try to picture it in your mind’s eye?  This – not to be morbid – but in keeping with the Holy Spirit’s counsel to number our days in order to gain a heart of wisdom.

Unless we are alive on Judgment Day we will all experience death!  We are steadily moving toward the grave!  It is punishment for our sin!  While it is now in vogue to describe funerals as “a celebration of life” we must also allow real grief with no pretense. Jesus wept at his friend’s grave!  Death hurts!  Death is ugly!  Death is an enemy!  Death separates and we cannot undo the separation it causes here!  Their voice – their company – their laugh – their love - are removed from us on this earth!  God help us that a true awareness of death not to be euthanized by euphemisms!  But today God help us to also remember with joy and thanksgiving that this real enemy of death is a defeated enemy!

All the saints that have ascended
Age on age, through time extended
There in blissful concert sing    - Hallelujahs to their King


These words from an old funeral hymn speak of all the perfected in heaven – all the saints from the beginning of the world who have died believing in the Redeemer, whether He was yet to come or had come in the flesh – whether they were called from this life millennia ago in Babylonian captivity – or beheaded in Herod’s dungeon – however they ran their course through the ages. Whether they froze and starved to death in a Siberian prison camp or died in loneliness within the secularized churches of our century – whether they died young of age or after many decades – whether their last battle was lengthy or their end came suddenly by accident or bodily failure. They have been removed from every error and sin of the earthly church and stand with us in the seamless fellowship of the body of Christ. They are not the odd ones out of step with reality!  We who still draw breath on this earth are the great minority!  They are home – we are still on the journey!
 
We feebly struggle – they in glory shine!  H
ere there are tests to take and bills to pay and frustrations to face!  Here we put our foot in our mouths and we disappoint people and our consciences are assaulted by Satan. Here we hunger and thirst and shed tears and suffer sickness and struggle with sin!  But not there!  They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Dear Christians - We feebly struggle – they in glory shine!

Your eyes can’t see this, but listen to the voice of the Lamb!  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 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.

These blessings apply directly to you because you are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. Death went too far when it took hold of Jesus. Death lost its claim on humanity through the victory of the God/Man!  Now death is involved in the final answer to our prayer “Deliver us from evil.”  What does this mean?  We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul possessions and reputation and finally when our last hour comes grant us a blessed end and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. Every time you pray the Lord’s Prayer you ask Jesus for a blessed death. Being aware of your total unworthiness to ask for that even as you pray every day is proper and good!  

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In fact those who are poor in spirit and possessing the kingdom of God (that is Christians) are those who are coming out of the great tribulation!  Jesus described a great tribulation immediately before His return (Matthew 24:21-30) and Revelation reveals that Satan will then be loosed for a short time (20:7). But in our text there is a present participle indicating action that is ongoing. That is to say “the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation” are constantly coming out of the great tribulation. This indicates that Christians are continually emerging from this valley of sorrow and adding to the crowd in heaven.

That would mean Theodore, and Louise and Agnes and Jean and Raymond, and Marcella and all Christians called from this life are in that throng. This truth also reminds us of the tribulation every Christian faces. The root word means to be pressed down or hemmed in – to be under pressure. The pressure of Satan’s tempting – the pressure of dark days and suffering that test our faith – the pressure of responsibilities and expectations and the calendar and the clock that keep on turning – and the pressure of sickness and death!  We are journeying through these pressures to a time and a place that St. John described this way, Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

To see Him as He is – is the future of those in the 12 tribes of 12,000 described in Revelation. They are in perfect order – ready to march – ready for mission. They picture the Church throughout the entire New Testament period. You are in that throng at this time in human history.

Please note that the 12 tribes are a new, gospel defined listing. Unlike Old Testament lists, this list is not according to birth order nor is it according to the allotment of the Promised Land. Judah (the fourth born) but the tribe from which the Messiah came is listed first. The tribe of Dan and the tribe of Ephraim (both tainted by idolatry and apostasy) are missing. The tribe of Levi and the tribe of Joseph are added. This new listing therefore bears testimony to the Lamb and His cleansing blood. It shows the Church of Jesus Christ cleansed from all apostasy and idolatry. It shows the Church sealed and ready for action in this world of turmoil and suffering. This sealing is not conversion, but the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament to keep us in the faith and protect us in godly hope.

Beloved, God would have you confident of your inclusion in that throng by looking to Christ. That’s what the Apostle John was doing as he wrote his first epistle. See what kind of love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God, and so we are. The word translated “what kind” expresses astonishment at something far, far beyond expectations. See what kind of love the Father has given us!  That is, take note how wonderful and great is the love the Father has bestowed upon you!  God loved you to such degree as to sacrifice the Holy Lamb of God (His beloved Son) to set you free from death and hell and to clothe you for heaven. God loved you to such degree as to make you His child!  God loved you to such degree as to put His name on you and wash away your sin. In the water of your baptism was the cleansing blood of Christ. God loves you to such degree that He continues to come among you with His sealing, saving gifts of grace.

On this Sunday of All Saints as on every Sunday your hope and your strength is in Him. He doesn’t speak in euphemisms about death. Oh, He does call it sleep but that is only because He will raise up our bodies on the last day. He doesn’t deny that it is an ugly enemy and a curse. He does show how the curse is removed. In Christ God therefore speaks of death as “being gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8), as “being taken from evil” (Isaiah 57:1), as “departing in peace” (Luke 2:29). He even speaks of death as gain and better by far than this life as it is departing to be with Christ (Phil 1:21-23).

And so we read the names this morning trusting in that forgiveness won on Calvary by the Lamb who was slain. The hands that hold them and that hold you are the hands pierced on Calvary. They hold you while your body is in intensive care and when you wrench in pain and when you grow weak and when you waste away and when your mind is aware of nothing. Nothing is outside of His loving hands, even your death!  Nothing is outside of His loving hands, even your loved ones who have died in Him!

Who are these clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” - “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 His Name, Amen.


Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a