All Saints 2018
In last Sunday’s sermon I addressed the subject of spiritual maturity teaching you, from the Bible, that a mature Christian is one who loves, honors, and obeys the word of God. The word of God, revealed to Moses and the prophets and to the apostle’s of our Lord Jesus Christ, has been by the grace of God recorded and written for our learning in the Bible. The words of that book is food for our souls every bit as much as meat and vegetables is food for the body. Show me a mature Christian and I’ll show you a man or woman who hungers to learn more about the Bible and about the God who is the primary actor and subject of that book. Show me a person who comes to church but has little interest in the word of God and I’ll show you a soul who has a lot of growing up to do.
God has put us on this earth for a reason: to know Him and love Him, to serve Him in this world faithfully and be in communion with Him eternally in the greater world to come. A spiritually mature person knows this and seeks to fulfill his or her destiny by loving and serving God. But the world is full of many religions worshipping thousands of various deities. Does it matter which one we serve? Yes it matters. It matters absolutely. Faith begins by recognizing that God is not whatever we want God to be. Human beings did not invent God from out of their own imaginations. God created human beings from an act of divine will. And God revealed himself to the first humans. But human beings rebelled against God and invented many deities more to their own liking. And they soon forgot entirely who God was. God could have quit on this project, but because God’s motive in everything is love, God did not abandon his favorite creatures nor give up on winning back our love. Moved by divine pity God called out Abraham and his tribe, those who become known as the Jews, to bear witness to His word. “You shall have no other gods but me,” our Lord said to Moses on Mt. Sinai. By which he meant there is no other God but me, all the various faith traditions of the world other than the one founded on the revelation of God to Abraham and Moses are false (Ps. 96.5).
When it comes to the worship of God, diversity is not our strength. And to make the point even more clear and certain that there is but one true and living God, God came to the Jews in person, in the man Jesus Christ and revealed himself to be not only our Creator and Lord of all but our Savior and Redeemer, as well. The world tells us that a spiritually mature person is one who affirms all faith traditions on the grounds that they all essentially say the same thing and accomplish the same good. But what good is there in worshipping someone other than God’s only begotten Son, who alone guarantees the promise that, “All who believe in him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16)? Contrary to the confusion of the world, a spiritually mature person is one who sees Jesus for who he is, the Word of God incarnate (John 1.1-14)—the world’s Savior, and worships Him exclusively.
If asked, “Who do you think you are to talk like that, buster?” a spiritually mature Christian may reply with certainty, “I am a creature of God, a sinner in God’s sight. I’m the guy Christ died for, buster.” Or when asked, “What do you do?” She may say with passionate conviction, “I live each day to honor Our Lord Jesus Christ by obeying His every word in the hope that on the last day when He judges my soul He will look down upon me and say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Who doesn’t want God to be pleased with him or her? All of us who confess the faith of the Creed implicitly say we want that. But how many of us are willing to do all that God requires? Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus gave his church explicit instructions to “observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28. 20). A mature Christian is one who is all in for Jesus, who does not listen idly to the word of God and give lip service to believing it, but who takes the word of God to heart and really lives it.
The Bible has a name for Christians like that: they are called “saints” (Col.1.1–5; Rev.22.21). Saints are the holy ones of God, those who are dedicated to serving Him by doing what His Word commands. Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day. After Easter, this is the most ancient of the Christian holy days. The early Christians began to keep this day in honor of the martyrs, to remember those who gave up everything rather than betray the faith. Jesus told his church that if you wish to be counted among the saints you must “take up your cross daily and follow me”(Lk.9.23). We each have a cross to bear. We each have others who need us to be there for them but who will not be there for us. We all have undeserved suffering to bear, we all have those who oppose us, torment us, accuse us falsely, and aim to hurt us. We all cry out at times without being heard. We all have friends who when we need them most desert us. We all are attacked by devils that are relentless in their attempts to break our faith. We all are surrounded by unbelievers who want us to join them in their unbelief. We live in a world that hates Jesus Christ and resents no one more than his disciples. His disciples are those who follow him in the way of the cross, who dare to take up the cross he sets before them and carry it to the end no matter what. Jesus has many disciples who are faithful believers on Sunday morning. But when Friday comes with a crown of thorns, many run from the cross and cowardly shout, “I never knew the man!” But those who run to the cross, who dare to die to self so as to rise to the new life of grace, are called, “saints.” And it is to them that the Lord will say on the last day when the trumpet sounds, “Come, O blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25.34).
How I long to be in that number when the saints go marchin’ in. That’s a great joyful spiritual song that’s makes you want to kick up your heels and dance for the Lord. But it raises a serious question. Do you long to be in that number, and if so, are you willing to do what it takes? Some will say, “I’m willing and I know what it takes to be a Christian. Just believe in Jesus, that’s all it takes. All you have to do is confess your sins and accept Jesus as your savior and he takes your sins away and sets you free. As the Bible says, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2.21); and once saved always saved. You can be certain that if you believe in Jesus you are saved. That’s the promise of God. Amen, brother.
But that begs the question, what is belief? Can a person be said to be a believer if he confessed faith in Christ once long ago but never darkened the doors of the church again, not even to say a prayer or surrendered his soul to the socialist cause and then lived his life with his fist in the air? Christ did his part to secure our salvation by giving himself to death on the cross for our sake. But what is our part? Is nothing required of us other than a sincere confession of faith? I take issue with those who say that all you have to do is accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and after that, no matter what you do, you are assured a place in his heavenly kingdom. To the contrary, it’s hard to listen to the Sermon on the Mount without feeling intimidated by the high expectations that Jesus sets for his disciples. After telling them that for the sake of the gospel they must be humble servants of each other, and endure suffering and loss courageously and without regret; that they must learn to love nothing so much as the Word of God, worship, prayer, and the beauty of holiness; that they must be merciful even to their enemies and not give in to sensual lust or lash out in anger but bear every burden and brush off rejection to keep the faith. And in case they didn’t understand what he meant, he made his point absolutely clear: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” he said (Mt. 5.48).
The Sermon on the Mount is Christ’s game plan for Christians. He delivered this sermon to his nascent church on a mountain not far from Capernaum. And you can be sure that after hearing it many of those in the crowd quit following Jesus and never came back to his church, as it were. Most people like religion as long as it doesn’t infringe too much on their lifestyle. Jesus’ message in the Sermon on the Mount is the ultimate alternative lifestyle. The spirit of this world goes one way, Jesus says go another way. The world says do your own thing. Jesus says do God’s thing. When Peter, James, and John were with Jesus on the holy mountain talking idly to themselves while Jesus was transfigured before them, God called them out and said to Peter emphatically, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him!” There are those who pay Christ lip service and there are those who listen to him. Which kind of Christian are you? Believers are those who obey his word and seek the perfection of holiness. If you don’t accept the goal of holiness and seek the perfection that Christ demands of his followers, for all your church attendance and confessions of faith, you aren’t really a believer at all. “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom heaven,” Jesus said, “but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day, many will say to me Lord, Lord did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you, depart from me you evil doers. (Mt. 7.21-23). And again he warned them who were confident in their salvation without suffering for the sake of keeping the faith, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits” (Mt. 7.19–20). Saint Paul, the great expositor of Christ’s teaching put it like this, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Gal. 6.7-8). In other words, salvation is more than saying, “I believe in Christ, I believe in the cross”. Salvation is God’s reward to those who prove their faith by seeking the spiritual perfection of the Beatitudes. Faith begins for each us in baptism with a confession but faith is infantile until it becomes a way of life that seeks the perfection of holiness.
The saints are those who do not run from the challenge of the Sermon on the Mount but embrace the high calling to which Christ has called us. That calling to the perfection of holiness he summed up for us in these few words, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you”( Mt. 6.33). In modern English that means put God first in your life and prove it by seeking to be a saint. A common saying is that wisdom comes with age. But that is humanistic nonsense. Wisdom begins in a fear of the Lord, in an awesome respect for God’s word and those at any age who have not yet determined on this are not even in the game. The kingdom of God that we are called to seek is not a feeling of inner peace nor is it found by looking into your center. The church is the visible body of the kingdom of God on earth and all who would be saved must enter it faithfully to receive the forgiveness of sins and be in Holy Communion with God. The Sermon on the Mount is a call to sinful humanity to come out of one’s self and live for God in the community of Christ’s body the church, the institution he founded to be the ark of our salvation.
Christianity is not a do-it-yourself religion. We either do it Christ’s way or we lose our way. Don’t be one of those who hides behind the excuse, “I don’t need organized religion. God loves me just the way I am.” Well yes, God loves each of us; his arms outstretched on the cross embrace us all. But remember also what he said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men” (Mt. 5.13). Just as salt can lose its taste so a Christian can lose his or her faith. Don’t let that be you. And it won’t be you if you do one thing: take the Beatitudes to heart and make it your goal in life to become a saint. In the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us how to do it. A saint is an ordinary man or woman who becomes extraordinary by trusting Jesus enough to begin to live for him and then having begun to live for him never quits trying, every hour of every day, to honor his every word.