Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Feast of All Saints

The Epistle Revelation vii. 2f.

This day is the feast of All Saints. Be sure to emphasize the word “all”. It as a time to remember a particular aspect of the identity that all Christians share. All believers are saints and we are part of the body of the saints of all time. We are one “communion of saints”. Through our union with Christ by God’s grace, we all share the same divine life, be we saints who have already gone before, those alive today, or those who have yet to be born. And this is the rationale for the Book of Common Prayer setting before us on this day Chapter 7 of the Revelation to St. John. In this chapter, we find insight into what a saint is and what a saint does. After all friends, it does us no good to know that Christians are saints if we don’t know the point of it all. We need to be always growing in our understanding of all the great blessings that are ours in Christ and being a saint is one of those blessings.

So, what is a saint The words for saint in the Bible, and the use of these word in the Bible, teach us that a saint is basically two things – like two sides of a coin: a person set apart for God’s ownership and, inseparably from that, a person who is made holy by God’s grace through His Son, Jesus.
In our passage in Revelation, we learn three things about the saints:
1) They are sealed by God,
2) They stand before the throne of God, and
3) They serve God day and night.

Now let us look at these three descriptions of the saints in their turn as we seek to know just how blessed we are to be Christians. First of all, the sealing of the saints of God. What is that about?

If you will look at the Epistle reading for today, you will see that it begins with a description of an angel with the seal of the living God and it goes on to describe those who were sealed as being 144,000 people out of the tribes of Israel. Now we know that this passage has been misunderstood by people in the past, who have believed that only 144,000 people in the world will be saved. But the people who are sealed are called “the servants of our God” and these same servants are described in the following verses as a great multitude, which no man could number. We must remember that Revelation communicates realities in the spiritual realm by the use of symbols and some of these are numbers. In the Bible, the number 1,000 symbolically represents completeness. We read in the Psalms that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Does that mean that He does not own the cows on hill number 1,001? Of course not. It is symbolic language, meaning that he owns all the cows on earth. Here in Revelation 7, a multiple of 1,000 is symbolic of the fact that all God’s servants, who are His saints, are sealed by Him; all of them. The number is multiplied to 144,000 because it is associated with the tribes of Israel because all the Church is spiritually related to Israel through the faith of Abraham.

So, we learn in this part of Revelation 7, that all God’s servants, all the saints, are sealed. Now what is a seal? It seems that from time immemorable a seal has been used to show ownership. You can dig up a pot in the Middle East and, if it was made to hold anything of value, it will have a stamp on the handle indicating to whom the pot belonged. We all understand what it means for something to have someone’s seal upon it. Well, the saints are here said to be given the seal of the living God upon them. This is easily understood as a sign of ownership. The saints are God’s possession. They are separated unto Him that they might belong to him.

Fellow saints, we are, figuratively speaking, sealed by God. But how is this so? How is it that we belong to him? For two reasons: 1) we are made by him, so that he owns us as our Maker; 2) we have been purchased by him with the blood of His Son, so that He owns us as our Redeemer.

Stephen Olford used to tell the story of a little boy who had built a small sailing boat. He spent hours and hours crafting his little vessel, with excited anticipation of being able one day to sail it on the little river that went through his village. The day finally came when the boy was able to take the boat out, gently placing it into the water, and then, with a string attached to it, with great delight he watched his little boat sail and bobble along on the water. But suddenly, a gust of wind came up, and through some weakness in its attachment, the string came loose and the boy, heartbroken, had to watch his boat sail away until it was out of sight. He had lost his precious boat. Weeks later, however, he and his parents were in the market and in a window of a pawn shop he saw his boat! “My boat!” he cried out. He ran into the shop and told the proprietor, “That’s my boat in the window.” The man said, “It may have been your boat, but it is mine now and you are going to have to pay for it.” The little boy had brought all of his money to the market and put it all on the counter and, though it was much less than what he had hoped to get for it, out of his kindness, the proprietor gave the boat to the little boy. As the boy left the shop, he was heard to say, “Boat! You are mine twice-over! First I made you! Now I’ve bought you! You are mine twice-over!”

Friends in Christ, we are God’s twice-over. We are his because has made us and we are his because he sent His Son Jesus to suffer cruelly on the Cross of Calvary that His life’s blood might be poured out of His body to pay the price for our redemption; that we might be His by purchase. Praise the Lord for his wonderful love for us! Aren’t you glad you are a saint today!

But let us not fail to recognise what knowledge of our being sealed – our being owned – by God brings to us. If we belong to Him, then it is our duty to live like it. We need not fear God remembering that He owns us; it is we who need to remember that we are owned by Him. And we should do so by the way we live each day; in the way we spend our time and our talents, our money and all our resources. Our lives should be a continuous witness: “I belong to Jesus; I am His and He is mine!” It is the least we can do for Him.

But let us now proceed to the second part of our text: The saints are not only sealed by God, but they stand before the throne of God. If you continue in your Epistle reading, you read the verses about the saints who stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands, praising God.

Now this may strike you a little funny. If, as I have said, we are all saints, even those of us here today, then how is it that we living before the throne of God; looks like we are sitting in pews in a building on earth instead! Remember, dear friends, that our salvation is a spiritual thing that has benefits in the present, but there is yet much to be fulfilled. All the saints, at some time or other, do stand before the glory of God’s throne!

But I also want you to recognize how you stand before the throne already. We are told in the book of Hebrews that, as Israel became the people of God by approaching Mt. Sinai with Moses, so we have become the new covenant people of God by approaching the throne of God in heaven through Christ. Here is what he writes:

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.... 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.

Saints of God, by virtue of the blood of Jesus, you have access straight to the heavenly throne of God which we read about in Hebrews and Revelation. Someday we will be there in body, but even now we can come in prayer and join in the worship of our Creator and the Lamb of God Himself. Indeed, the traditional liturgy of the Church is constructed in such a way as to represent an approach to divine royalty. Why do we have a procession at the beginning of the service? That procession represents the people of God as a whole, coming to the throne of God, to worship Him and to hear Him and to commune with Him. People who take away the procession from the service do not realize what is being lost. It is a wonderful, visual presentation of the amazing privilege of the saints of God to come to the throne of God at any time to pour out their love and their prayers to Him and to receive even more benefits from Him than they have ever had before.

But whether we approach God’s throne in prayer at church or at home, we must never forget that the only reason we sinful people can do that without being slain is because of the blood of Jesus. We read that these saints who stand before the throne are clothed in white robes – robes of righteousness – that have been washed white in the blood of the Lamb. A saint is not only someone sealed and set apart to God’s ownership. A saint is a holy person. But a saint is never holy because of anything he or she has ever done; that’s impossible. Saints are washed sinners! Saints are sinners, made righteous and holy by the power of the blood of the Lamb. Never forget that, and rejoice in it and use this wonderful washing every day and every hour, that you may know continual access to the throne of God for everything that troubles your heart, until the day when we will all stand fully, bodily, before the throne.

But let me now close with the third and last description of the saints in Revelation 7. The elder says, 15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple. Oh, there are many more blessings the saints possess in the verses that follow, and I wish I had more time to talk about them, but let us recognize that the saints who are sealed and who stand before the throne are there to serve the Lord.

The saints have always complained about life being busy. It is amusing sometimes to read books written one or two hundred years ago, complaining about the rush and business of their lives. Of course, the saints in Alfred’s day could have complained about the business of life in England, trying to keep out of the path of the Danes! Life has always had its temptations of earthly pressures. Did not Jesus say that the cares of this world can choke out the word of God in our hearts?

It is for this reason that we must remind ourselves that we should never be too busy to worship God. Our worship of God is not something we do primarily for ourselves. It is our duty to God. I’ll never forget how this came home to me one day while I was pastoring in the Caribbean. I was reading Andrew Bonar’s commentary on the book of Leviticus. As he commented on ch. 5, v. 17, he spoke of how serious is the sin of ignorance. God’s people were to be informed in how they worshipped Him so that the worship was performed in a manner pleasing to God. If the people tried to worship God ignorantly, it would be a case, said Bonar, in which “the Lord was defrauded of what was due in His worship.” What hit me between the eyes was the idea of what we owe God in our worship. Worship is the dutiful service of the saints. That is why it is not an option as to whether we should come to church to worship or not. It is our duty, whether we think we are going to get anything out of it or not! That is why we call it a worship service; it is a time for serving the Lord.

Dear saints of God, it is also our amazing privilege to worship our Maker and our Redeemer! Look at all he had done for us. He has taken us miserable sinners and rebels and made us His own, sealing us with His Spirit for eternity. He has opened the way for us to be able to enjoy His personal kindness in our lives every day – forever – by washing us in the most precious thing in the whole universe: the blood of the Lamb. And He gives us the privilege of having the most important purpose for which anyone could possibly live their lives: the service of God. Are we not blessed today?! Is not the truth of Christianity the most joyful and good news this world has ever heard?! Brothers and sister, then seek grace and have grace to live it! By faith in Christ and His promises and His blood, live like those who belong to Jesus. Use your access to the throne for your needs and the needs of the whole world. And serve Him faithfully in all He gives you to do, being sure to especially not neglect your duty to worship Him, the only living and true God.

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