This Is For All The Lonely People

All Saints Sunday A, November 1, 2014
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114

Click here for audio of this message.

That song by America, “Lonely People”, which you just heard also brings us both the title and the theme of our message this morning: This is for all the  lonely people.  What is?  The message, God’s message, which proclaims that very soon, God Himself will comfort you; He will dry every tear and you will  finally be home in that place that He has prepared for you; a place where you will never again know disappointment, pain, illness, suffering, nor disease.   But you will also never again feel grief.

Isn’t it true that we all grieve for someone, or perhaps for several someones; people who made a mark in our lives; modeled the Christian faith and taught us  what it means to fight the good fight of faith?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just sit down with them for 20 minutes and just listen to them once  again, or feel the warmth of their embrace?  Well our message, in a sense allows us a glimpse of them as it gives us a certain hope in God’s certainty that one day, perhaps sooner than we think, we will join them for eternity.

In our lesson from the book of Revelation (Revelation 7:2-17), God gives to John and through John us, a dual vision which are separate yet one vision.  It is a  vision of two simultaneous realities; one is in our time and the other is set in eternity.  It is the picture of the church carrying out it’s mission, which we will  call the church militant, and the church at rest with its mission accomplished, which we will call the church triumphant.

In verse 2 through 8, we are given a vision of a multitude of persons numbered at 144,000 who have been sealed by God; marked as His very own.  What  shall we make of this 144,000 and the seal that is placed upon their foreheads?  Much has been made of both this seal and the number over the years, and  most of it has only caused confusion and sometimes fear in the hearts of Jesus little lambs.  And that fear is not in keeping with the Gospel of our Lord, a  message of Good News, which is meant both to take away fear and create faith and a clean heart within Jesus little lambs.  Didn’t our Lord say this very thing with these Words: “Have no fear little flock.  For the Father has chosen to give you the Kingdom”?  In other words, God Himself through the work of Jesus Christ has both sealed you as His very own and marked you as one of the 144,000.

The Seal. St. Paul speaks this very message in this way, “The firm foundation of God stands, having this seal: the Lord knows those who are His.” [2 Timothy 2:19]  And, “the foundation of God” is certain because it has this “seal: the Lord knows those who belong to Him.  That is, you dear Christians can be absolutely certain and sure of his salvation and faith because it rests on the truth of God’s Word and God’s seal within that Word: “the Lord knows those who are his.” So, it is through his Word that God seals his people, assures them by his Spirit that they belong to him and that he will protect them in their faith. Paul says that Christians are “sealed” by the Holy Spirit, given to them as God’s “pledge” or “guarantee” of the inheritance that He has promised. [Ephesians 1:13–14; 2 Corinthians 1:22]

In the ministry of the holy Apostles as in our ministry of the church today, the proclamation of the gospel is accompanied by “sign(s)”—or perceivable activities of the Spirit—activities which confirmed that their ministry of preaching the Gospel (Acts 2:14–35), baptizing (Acts 2:38, 41), and the breaking of the bread (Acts 2:42) was of God.  The Church today still administers these Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as visible signs with tangible elements (water, bread and wine) empowered by the Word of God, as God’s means of forgiving sin and strengthening faith. [Matthew 26:28; Acts 2:38] Through these means of grace, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the Spirit still works sealing God’s people and confirming to them that they are indeed his people.  So, the Spirit of God, in his gracious activity through God’s Word and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, seals you little flock, so that you may know that you belong to God and that He will protect you through faith, even in the middle of the worst of tribulations.

So then what are we to make of the 144,000? Well, the best and most historic answer is that the number is symbolic, and it represents the full number of saints who are continuously being drawn out of the church militant, that is the church that is on mission to seek and save the lost.  But why is the number made up of 12,000 from each of the Old Testament Tribes of Israel?  Well, it is not uncommon for the writings of the New Testament to refer to the church of Jesus Christ, both Jews and Gentiles, in Old Testament language. Didn’t Jesus promise His disciples that they would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:28–30)? Paul says that the believers in Jesus, Jews and Gentiles, are in fact the true Israel of God and the true sons of Abraham. In James 1:1, the introductory statement makes it clear that the epistle is addressed to “the twelve tribes in the diaspora”, that is, those Christians who are scattered throughout the Graeco-Roman world. Since the very beginning, the New Testament church has quite naturally assumed the continuation of the twelve tribes, because that was part of the assignment given to the Messiah, [Jeremiah 3:18; Ezekiel 37:19–24] and Christians recognized themselves as the true heirs of the Jewish faith (Romans 4; Galatians 4:21–31; Phil. 3:3).”

So since we have established that “every tribe of the sons of Israel” is to be understood as a description of all the followers of Jesus Christ, what does the number 144,000 mean?  Well, the number is simply a multiple of twelve: twelve times twelve thousand. It suggests a total completeness. It gives a numerical picture of God’s people on earth in perfect marching order, in perfect step. It suggests that God’s Israel, the church of Jesus Christ, as it advances to battle in the mission given it, is a perfect and complete army, fully equipped and ready to do God’s work.  But what is most important for you this morning, is the fact that the number includes YOU!  You have been sealed and are being sealed every time you are in the Word, every time you come to church and receive God’s gift of forgiving love through His means of grace!

Now we have another scene or vision to look at before we close our message this morning, and this is the very vision that is meant for those of us who are lonely because of the loss of loved ones who have died sealed in the faith of Jesus Christ.  In contrast to the smaller crowd of saints on earth still fulfilling their mission, the crowd shown to us in Heaven is vast and uncountable.  This host of saints in Heaven stand before the throne of God and they are at rest and in peace, celebrating the results of the mission of the church on earth.  Just as we, as part of the 144,000 stand ready to be launched out into a world of sin and suffering to accomplish our mission, so too, the vast array of saints have been utilized in that way before us.  But they, who make up the church triumphant, are at rest and at peace awaiting the final act of God’s sealing protection, which is the end of days and the time of judgment and reward.  They who make up that vast host will never again experience tribulation and persecution.  For them, Paul’s promise in Romans has been fulfilled by God, “I reckon that the sufferings of this preset time cannot be compared to the glory that shall be revealed to us.” [Romans 8:18]

This vast crowd that is called countless, reminds us of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that their descendants would be beyond counting—as numerous as the sand of the seashore and as the stars in the heavens.  And this crowd we are told is not only from the ethnic people who made up the 12 tribes of Israel, but from every ethnicity found upon the face of the earth.  And this entire vast host of people is arrayed in white robes.  Their white robes symbolize a reality that we within the church militant hold onto by faith here on earth: We have been washed through the water and the word, cleansed with the blood of Jesus, and through Christ we are pure and righteous because of His blood!

So what does all of this mean for us below who are still clinging to Jesus and being built up in the gift of faith? It means we are not alone… we are part of the vast array of saints that have gone before us, Saints that will very soon be joining in the feast of victory for our God.  But perhaps the most amazing truth that God would like you to receive from His perspective and the perspective of those who have gone before us is this: You have already taken your place next to them before His throne and at His table and the feast of victory.

Just as they are before God’s throne of Victory, so too, you are before His throne of grace.  Just as they serve God day and night, so too, you serve Him as you live your life of faith in Him and service to His church and to your neighbor.  Just as God’s divine service shelters them from harm so too, His divine service here in our church shelters you from anything that could separate you from the love of God and His seal, which is yours through Christ Jesus.

As a vast heavenly chorus, the saints who have gone before us, including your loved ones that you miss, agree with Jesus when He calls you blessed!  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of 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.”

If that vast host could call out to us this morning, they would probably repeat the promise of Jesus to us in this way.  “Amen, yes Amen!  Rejoice and be glad little ones.  You are as we were and always shall be… you are blessed.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so we too were maintained by God’s means of grace, and now we are sheltered by His eternal presence, standing before His very throne, never again to know hunger nor thirst, sickness nor disease, violence nor war.  For the lamb in the midst of us, Jesus the crucified, resurrected, and now ascended Son of God is our Good Shepherd and He will guide you as He guides us, to springs of living water, and one day soon, He will do for you what He has done for us; He WILL wipe away every tear from your eyes.

As we prepare to approach God’s table of mercy, by faith allow Him to assure you that your loved ones are there as well.  See in your mind’s eye that they too, are seated across from you on the other side of the communion rail.  Therefore with angels and archangels and with the vast array of saints in glory we can not help but laud and magnify God’s glorious name, evermore praising Him and saying: Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabbath adored, Heaven and earth will full acclaim shout the glory of Your name.  Sing hosanna in the highest, sing hosanna to the Lord; truly blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  AMEN!

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