Who Are These?
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
A Comforting Vision
While the Apostle John was exiled on the island of Patmos, the Lord gave him a vision of heaven. During that vision John saw “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages standing before the Lamb, clothed in white robes.”
“Then one of the elders addressed [John], saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”” The elder answer his own question by telling John that, “these are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation.”
This vision was intended to give comfort and strength to John as he suffered in exile because of his faith in Jesus Christ. John had seen fellow apostles martyred and was witnessing others suffering for that same faith. It was a truly a time of great tribulation and of a need for strengthen of faith.
For the sake of John and those who would read or hear his words, heaven was opened up so that John could see the great multitude of believers who had come out of the great tribulation. The church has set aside a day each year for us to remember all those who have gone before us in the faith, those who are now at rest with their savior Jesus Christ so that our faith may be strengthened.
“Who are these?” What an interesting question that John was asked. Why do we call them saints? What great things did they do to be freed from the tribulation of this life? What must we do to join the saints triumphant? Certainly these questions should be considered on a day like today.
“Who are these?” Certainly Abraham, Moses, Ruth and her grandson David are there. Mary the mother of Jesus, Peter, James, John and Paul must be there. There are many others who rather than deny their faith in Jesus Christ were martyred. This is just a small number of the great multitude that John saw.
“Who are these?” Perhaps the question we need to answer is “What is a saint?” In our world, if someone is called a saint, it generally means that person is respected and admired because of the way they live their life. To call someone a saint is a way of honoring that person for living a moral life. This is a worldview of the word “saint.”
In the kingdom of God the definition of a saint is turned upside down. “Who are these?” this “great multitude that no one could number?” They are redeemed sinners. They were born with a sinful nature and that sinful nature lead them to sin in thought, word and deed.
Those people I mentioned, Abraham, David, Peter, Paul and all the rest were sinners. Scripture pulls no punches in telling us about the sins these people committed. All the martyrs of the past and the present can not claim lives worthy of being called saints.
Our loved ones who have fallen asleep are not worthy on their own to be standing with the great multitude. Not one of those who is gathered around the throne of God today is there because of their own righteousness.
Yet They Are There
All those people that John saw and that we remember today are not worthy on their own to be their yet they are all wearing white robes. They are not dirty and unclean robes stained by years of sin, but white robes. They are holding palm branches in their hands as a sign of victory, victory won by the Lamb of God for them.
They are crying out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” There it is, the answer to all our questions about saints and the great tribulation, the answer to our hopelessness. The answer to how this multitude of people from every nation and tribe became saints. How your loved ones became saints, how Christian martyrs became saints, and how Abraham, David, and Paul became saints is answered by God’s grace.
That multitude of saints standing before the throne of the Lamb, are there not because they had some secrete manual on “How to Become a Saint.” They were there because God “set them apart.” That’s literally what the word “saint” means “to be set apart.”
That multitude of saints was set apart from their sins. Their dirty and unclean robes stained by sin were washed in the blood of Jesus Christ who came into the world to take away the sin of the world. They were made saints by the One to whom salvation belongs.
“Salvation belongs to our God,” they sing. Forgiveness and a new life were given to the multitude of saints as a gift from God’s grace. That is how they became saints. The pure and spotless Lamb of God took upon himself their sins and was sacrificed for them.
What a beautiful sight for John to see while he was still experiencing the tribulation here on earth. In addition, what a beautiful sound came out of their mouths, what a beautiful phrase, a summary of the Good News, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
They worship God because it is by His grace that they are there. It is because of the Lamb who shed his blood that they are forever in the presence of the Most High. Salvation is God’s to give and he gives it as a gift for the sake of His Son the Lamb.
What a great sight for you to see. What a great song for you to hear on this All Saints Day. As the Holy Spirit lets you gaze into heaven through the eyes of Saint John you see what God has prepared for you.
This vision was meant to comfort John as he sat there in exile. He saw his brothers and sisters in Christ triumphant and in glory. John was reassured that by God’s grace he too would someday be with the saints in glory.
This vision is meant to comfort you as you observe All Saints Day. These words are God’s way of showing you the church triumphant, while you are still in the church militant. While we fight against the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh the Lord wants us to know that the victory has been one.
This view of heaven and the saints is meant to encourage you as you live in this time of great tribulation and as you serve those around you in love. It is meant to help you console others in their times of trial and sorrow with the message of God’s love and forgiveness for them.
It is meant to encourage you in your lives with the words “Salvation belongs to God.” You are not given the task of saving yourself so that you can be called a saint. Christ has already done that for you.
You are already a saint. Through his Word and Sacraments God has set you apart from your sins. God’s love for you is the same as his love for the saints who have gone before you.
He has placed his name on you with water and his promise. He feeds you with his meal of bread and wine, body and blood. His Word of salvation is meant for you. You are not called to earn forgiveness but to live by faith and you are called to proclaim the message of the Lamb.
Celebrate All Saints Day. Remember the reasons that it is good to hear about the saints who have gone before you. Most importantly remember that for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, you are already saints in the eyes of God.
You are different in only one way from those that we remember today, you are still part of the church militant. You are no less saved, no less redeemed, no less a child of the Heavenly Father, no less a brother or sister of Christ.
Saint Paul tell us, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” And so you are. You are set apart from your sins and made a child of God or in other words you are a saint. We make no mistake, we confess that we are sinners, but by God’s grace we are also saints, children of the heavenly Father.
By God’s grace you believe, you hope, you trust, you wait. While no one can count the multitude of saints gathered around the throne of grace, the God of mercy and grace has counted you among that great multitude. Your robe has been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria