Sunday, November 6, 2016
Sermon for the Feast of All Saints - 1 Jn 3:1-3
1 Jn 3:1-3
It seems as if companies that provide website services can never leave things well enough alone. They always have to be changing something. I ran into this recently when my web browser updated. The format they use had changed, and the button that I had always clicked in order to forward an article through email was no longer in the same place. Now I am a creature of habit, so that really annoyed me. More annoying still was the fact that it took me awhile before I figured out how this basic need was done in their new version.
In much the same way, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are always changing. They are always trying to add new features as they seek to get the upper hand for attention, or as they try to catch up with some feature that another company has created.
Sometimes these are annoying and best ignored. But once in awhile the changes actually do make things better. Awhile back, something called “Your memories on Facebook” began to appear each day. Facebook started providing a section where you could see pictures and items that you had posted on that day in previous years.
In particular, Amy and I have enjoyed seeing the pictures of our children. It is remarkable to see pictures from seven years ago. With time you forget how much they have changed. You forget how small they were. You forget … dare I say it … how cute they were.
Seeing these pictures from the past reminds me that I really don’t know that they will be like in the future. I don’t know what they will look like seven years from now. I know for sure what they are like right now, but I simply don’t know what they will be like in the years to come.
On this Feast of All Saints, our text from John’s first epistle tells us that we know what we are right now. The good news is that this means we also know what those who have died in Christ are right now. And though we don’t know exactly what we will be, we know that when Jesus Christ appears on the Last Day we will be like him. John begins our text by saying, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” John begins with the amazing good news of the love that God the Father has shown to us. He has made us the children of God!
Now this is not something you or I had any right to expect. On the contrary when we consider what the holy God has revealed about his will for life, we find that we have no business being called the children of God. Sure, we were created in the image of God. We knew God has God wants to be known and were able to live in perfect harmony with God’s will in thought, word and deed. But all of that went out of the window in the Fall. And since then, we are far more interested in serving ourselves than we are in serving God and our neighbor. We worship the unholy “trinity” of Me, Myself and I.
But see what kind of great love the Father has given to us. God did not abandon us in sin. Instead, he did something incredible. John says about the Son of God in the first chapter of his Gospel, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In the incarnation, God himself entered into our world – into our flesh – in order to deal with our most basic problem. As true God and true man, Jesus Christ came to offer himself as the sacrifice that takes away our sin. When the John the Baptist saw Jesus, he declared, ““Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Jesus did this for you. But the simple fact of the cross was not going to bring you salvation. You were so twisted in on yourself that you could not by your own reason for strength receive it. Instead, John wrote, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
It was God who had to do it because as Jesus said in John chapter 3, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The flesh – sinful, fallen nature, and can only give birth to more of the same, sinful, fallen nature. And the old man in us can’t change himself – he doesn’t want to do so. That is why Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
Instead, Jesus tells us, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And then he goes on to tell us how we are born again – born from above: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Through the water and the Word of Holy Baptism, the Spirit has given you new life. This is the foundational event of your life as a Christian.
It is the reception of God’s Word that continues to nourish and sustain this new life of faith – faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Note that Jesus doesn’t say that you will have this in the future. He says that you have it right now. He repeats the same truth on other occasions such as when he said, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.”
Because of Jesus and the work of his Spirit, you are a child of God now. You have eternal life now. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Yet on this Feast of All Saints we remember and rejoice in the fact that what is true for you is also true for every Christian who has died in the faith. They are still children of God. They still have eternal life. Death has not changed that fact. Jesus proclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Death cannot separate them from the life they have in Christ. They are with the Lord! And that means that they experience a peace that we do not yet know. In our text John goes on to say, “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” We belong to the Lord Jesus. He is our Lord. But the world rejects Jesus. The world wants to hold onto its sin. It wants to hold on to the delusion that there is no such thing as truth; no such thing as right and wrong.
The problem is that we still live in the world. And so the world hates us. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
The saints who are with the Lord no longer face this hardship. For this we give thanks. And it is also a comfort for us, because we know it will be true for us as well. John said, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” We are the children of God now. We have eternal life now. And this will never change. Like the saints who have died in the Lord, nothing can take this away from us.
And in our text this morning we have a reminder that the best is yet to come – both for us and for the saints who have died in the Lord. John says, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
We know what we are. We know what the saints are. But we don’t know exactly what we or the saints will be. However, we know one thing for sure – we will be like Jesus.
Jesus Christ is the risen Lord. And he will give us a share in his resurrection. Our Lord said, “For this is the will of the my Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I myself will raise him up on the last day.” On Easter Jesus Christ defeated death and began the resurrection. Jesus is the beginning of the resurrection of the flesh that will be ours as well. The apostle Paul tells us that Jesus is the model and pattern of what our resurrection will be like. And one thing is certain about the resurrection life we will receive: it will include a material body – a physical body. On Easter Jesus said to the disciples, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
That is the future for us and for the saints who have gone before us. And in a few moments we will be joined together with the saints in a way that speaks directly to that future. We will go to the Sacrament of the Altar. The words of the liturgy will remind us that we sing the Sanctus – we sing “Holy, holy, holy” – with the angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.
And then, through our Lord’s true body and blood we will be joined together with one another and with all the saints as the Body of Christ. St. Paul wrote, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” The One who is still the incarnate Lord will unite us in this miraculous and comforting fashion.
But he will be doing more than that. Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” As we receive the body and blood of the risen Lord into our bodies we receive the guarantee that our bodies will be raised too. It is the same guarantee that the saints have received for two thousand years in Jerusalem and Antioch; in Ephesus and Corinth; in Alexandria and Carthage; in Rome and Wittenberg. Each believer – each saint – has received the true body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. We have received the body and blood of the risen Lord who will raise us up when he returns in glory on the Last Day.
In the epistle for the Feast of All Saints, John says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” We are the children of God who have eternal life. Even in death, the saints are with the Lord – they too are the children of God who have eternal life. We know that when our Lord appears, we will be like him. He will raise up all believers and transform our bodies to be like his. And when that happens we will say along with all the saints, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”