Scriptures: Revelation 7:9-17 ; 1 John 3:1-3 ; Matthew 5:1-12
Becoming like Jesus
For those of you that are hoping I'm going to preach on Revelation, I'm sorry, but you're in for a disappointment. For those of you that feared I was going to preach on Revelation, don't worry, I'm not.
Today is a special day in the church calendar. Today, November 1, is All Saints Day, and it just so happened to fall on a Sunday this year. (I'm kicking myself because I really should have had us sing “For All the Saints” since it is All Saints Day.)
All Saints Day follows All Hallows Eve, which we now treat as Halloween. All Hallows Eve used to be a time where you celebrated (or appeased, depending on your understanding) those who had passed on. All Saints Day, though, is actually supposed to be a recognition and celebration of those who have passed to glory. They're not hanging around, so we don't have to worry about them. They're with Jesus. But we celebrate the impact that they've had, in our lives and throughout the centuries.
Contrary to what some people believe, All Saints Day is not to celebrate all of the Catholic saints. In fact, that brings us to a question: What is a saint? For those that have Catholic ties, there's a specific description that they have of “saint.” (My brother married a Catholic, so even if I hadn't gone to seminary, I would have been exposed to some of this.)
Saints, by their definition. are folks that have led exemplary lives. The can only be declared saints after they have died, and there have been at least two publicly recognized miracles that they have investigated, that have proven to be (by their standards) supernatural acts of God.
So for instance Mother Teresa is a saint. She was considered so holy during her life that the process to declare her a saint was very quick. Many of those declared saints have died martyrs' deaths, shedding their blood for the Lamb, much like what it says in that passage in Revelation.
But Paul, in his letters, calls the people in the congregation “saints.” They aren't dead. Sometimes, he even calls them saints in the process of reproving them for certain sins. So what does he mean when he calls them saints? Why do we, in the Reformed Church, call ourselves saints?
I don't know about you, but my life is not particularly exemplary. I do the best I can, but I know that I have many shortcomings. I could never be a Mother Teresa. Frankly, I wouldn't want to be. I just don't have that temperament.
Like Paul – and I have mentioned before that this is one of my very favorite verses from his writings – “I do what I don't want to do and I don't do what I do want to do.” That struggle lives within me, and it helps me to relate to Paul in his writings. Sometimes when he gets very in-depth and kind of technical, it helps me to get through it.
Yet Paul certainly is considered a saint. And he would consider us saints. So what does it mean to be a saint of God? I think the clues are given to us in the other two passages in the readings today. You don't have to have been martyred during the tribulation to be a saint, though that, again, is what's in Revelation.
Rather, a saint is someone who is an active child of God. By active, I mean actively seeking to model themselves after and serve Jesus Christ. If we look at 1 John 3, John notes “How great a love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and in fact we are.” God said so, so we know it is true.
There's a bumper sticker I've seen, that I just disagree with on a fundamental level, that said, “The Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it.” But I would prefer if it said, “The Bible said it, that settles it, I believe it.” Because whether I believe it or not, if the Bible is the truth of God, the Word of God, then it's settled. And I believe it.
“In fact, we are children of God, and it is for this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know him.” You see, when we are like Christ, we are separate from the world. We are other than the world. The whole idea of sanctification is that it means to be “other than,” to be more like God, who is other.
God is the holiest of holies. He is totally other, totally transcendent. It says many times in the Scriptures, particularly in the psalms, we cannot grasp His thoughts. They are far beyond us. We know He has a plan for us, but we don't necessarily understand it.
The more like Him we become, the less the world, in its worldliness, will be able to relate to us. This doesn't mean that we should pull away into Christian enclaves, and set ourselves apart from the world, because Jesus told us we need to be in the world but not of the world. If we're here to help pass the message of the gospel, we need to be among those who need to hear it. As Jesus himself, said it's the sick that need a doctor, not the well.
We encourage one another. We edify one another, as we become more like Christ. John writes, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be.” So we aren't there yet.
I've mentioned this before, but when I was in junior high school, there was a button I liked to wear that had a huge acronym on it. It was twelve letters long, or something like that, and that was on purpose, so that people would say, “What the heck does that mean?” It meant “Please be patient. God isn't finished with me yet.”
We know that when Christ comes back, when He appears, we will be like Him. We will be transformed, it says, in the twinkling of an eye, and the corruptible will put on the incorruptible, because we will see Him just as He is. Once we see Him fully, we will be able to reflect Him fully. Currently, as Paul says, we see “as through a glass dimly.” And yet, we can see enough to be different, to be someone who can testify to the goodness and greatness of God and the salvation that we get through Him and Him alone in Jesus Christ.
“And everyone who has this hope set on him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” Purity does mean purity of life. You want to slough off those things that you can that are sinful. But more than anything, holiness, or sanctification (which comes from sanctus, the Latin word for holy) means to be “other,” like God, who is also pure.
Now the question comes about, how do we manage that? There are many different descriptions in the Scriptures about how we can begin to work toward that. One of them, I believe, comes in the third passage we had today, in Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount. As the liturgist noted, we have been studying that in Bible Study, for around ten or fifteen weeks, breaking it down into detail. I'm not going to do that for you today. (You don't want to stay that long!)
But I will give you an overview of this, from the perspective, actually, of the book we've been using in Bible Study, by Colin Smith. That perspective is that these Beatitudes cannot be taken in isolation. Each one builds on the other, and the goal of them is to make you like a saint of God, to be one of those whom Paul can call “saints.”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Poor in spirit, being humble, recognizing your desperate need for God at all times. If you don't think you need salvation, then what's the point? You'll never see heaven.
If you think of Christ's salvation as simply an insurance policy or a get-out-of-jail-free ticket, then your attitude is also incorrect, because you still do not recognize your need for God. Instead you think you've manipulated the system to your favor.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” That can be those who mourn the loss of others, but really what it means is blessed are those who mourn your own pitifulness before God. Blessed are those who mourn the fact that they sin. Jesus' first message was “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” If you don't repent, there is no kingdom. And how can you repent if you don't mourn for what you've done?
“Blessed are the meek [or the gentle], for they shall inherit the earth.” We don't understand “meek.” We equate it with “weak,” which is why this particular translation used the word “gentle.” Meekness is actually controlled strength. Someone who is meek is someone who has the strength to actually take the slings and arrows that people are throwing at them, without necessarily lashing out in anger.
It is someone who could do damage but chooses not to. Those are the ones who are meek, the ones who are gentle in heart. And that comes, again, from knowing your place before God, and your gratitude at being a child of God
“Bless are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” If you mourn your sin, if you want to change, then you have a hunger and thirst for the righteousness that Christ gives us. Againd is not our own righteousness, lest we boast, as Paul says, in our works.
We don't want to do that, though we may do good works. That's because that's what God has planned for us and created for us to do, that we might testify to Him. What we hunger and thirst for is that righteousness that comes through Christ. And we learn that. Where do we learn that? We learn that in the Word. We learn that by studying the Word. We learn that in worship.
We hunger and thirst for that righteousness. So if you worship, in person alone in devotions and corporately here on Sunday. If you study the Word – again, on your own or in small groups or here on Sundays with the Koinonia group, you will be satisfied. You will begin to feed on it, chew it up, swallow it, and let it nourish you. That's what it means to be satisfied. Not to eat till you're sick. And not to go hungry.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Once you understand what God's love I,s and the mercy He has shown you, then you turn around and you show that same mercy to others. Does anybody (besides my wife) remember what the definition of mercy is? It's where you don't get what you deserve.
You don't get what you deserve. God has given you mercy, so you give mercy to somebody else. You don't give them what they deserve. You don't necessarily take retribution. “'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord.” you hold back. That doesn't mean that there aren't consequences, that you let let them off. You've had children, all of you, so you know you can't do that. They have to be taught. But you don't take revenge.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Again, think of those who seek to, as Paul says, to think of whatever is lovely, whatever is holy, whatever is just, whatever is noble – he has that whole list. If you do that, then you're thinking like God and you'll see God.
I don't mean like a hologram in front of us. (If you see God in the flesh, I really hope that it's the Rapture, or I'm kind of worried for you.) But you will see God, His Spirit. You will understand Him, and you will see more of Him because you learn more of Him.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” A peacemaker is not someone who avoids conflict. In fact, as we learned in the book Momentum by Colin Smith, most peace makers are usually involved in conflict. But their goal is not to stir it up. Their goal is not to make it worse. Their goal is to bring the peace of God, the assurance of God, the love of God, the understanding of God, into a situation.
If you have two brothers in the church (and I use that word “brothers” generically) that are feuding, that are arguing, you go in to mediate, to help, not to pick sides but to help restore relationships. Sometimes that peacemaking involves arbitration.
Sometimes that peacemaking may actually involve having to sever a relationship of one kind that is negative, in order to make sure that you nurture the one that is positive. But you're not doing it for your own sake, but rather for the peace of God, that passes all understanding.
You do all these things. You're humble. You mourn your own sin. You're meek. You want righteousness. So you study and you worship. You give mercy. You seek purity, a single-mindedness on Christ in your heart and mind. And you insert yourself into people's lives when necessary, in order to bring the perspective of God into a situation. You become a saint of God.
There's a side effect to that, that is the last set of beatitudes. “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” You will be persecuted, it says.
I saw somebody in churchleaders.com, in the comments, that obviously had a point to drive home, I guess, because to every comment, no matter what they said, she said, “There is no religious persecution in the United States today.” She admitted that there was in other countries in the world, but she thought that we were all foolish for for saying such and believing such, that there is no persecution.
It's more subtle than being killed for your faith, but there is persecution. It got to the point where I looked at it and I said, “You know what? I could reply to this, but it would just be a waste of time. She's obviously trying to overwhelm or troll the system.”
Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Blessed! Remember, blessed doesn't necessarily mean happy. That's why I hate those translations that say “happy.”
Happy is a feeling. Blessed is the state of being, a state of being where God is with you and God's hand is upon you and God's presence is in you. That's blessed. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil because of Him. Remember, not just because of your own issues. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” The prophets who forthtold the Word of God.
So your reward, as it notes back in Revelation, is to be in front of the throne, dressed in white robes. And it doesn't require death for persecution. It doesn't require perfection, for there to be enough that people slander, or people take advantage, or try to.
But what we celebrate is those people who have lived a life despite those things of the world, despite all of the attempts to push them down, to lead them astray, to prevent their impact. We celebrate, on All Saints Day, those who have been faithful to the calling to which they've been called.
Now most of those who are in the great cloud of witnesses that surround us, that we speak of during Communion, and have passed on – and in fact that's what that song “For All the Saints” is about, “who from their labors rest.”
But it's also you. So celebrate the lives of those around you. Lift up those things that are good. Encourage them to continue to do good, that they might not tire of it. And may they do the same for you.
In that way, All Saints Day, much like the celebration of the resurrection, can become every day. That's the kind of witness that testifies to who God is, and the wondrous blessings He has given.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.