In Jesus Holy Name November 1, 2020
Text: Isaiah 26:19, Philippians 3:20 All Saints Day, Redeemer
“The Saints Belong to the Soul Keeper”
Have you ever wondered by Martin Luther chose to post his 95 Thesis on October 31st? It was not by calendar accident that Martin Luther posted his 95 Thesis on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517.
He knew that the next day November 1st All Saints Day would be one of the most attended days of worship. November 1st had become a day of “holy obligation” by Papal decree in 1484. The Papal Decree told people that when they entered the church for worship on All Saints Day a soul would be released from purgatory. Attendance sored. Even this holy practice became corrupted. Eventually people would walk in the door, walk out again, then in again, then out, then in… each time, believing they would release a soul from purgatory.
The celebration of All Saints Day is not new. The early Christian believers, as far back as the 3rd and 4th Century set aside one day a year to remember and honor all Christian martyrs.
In the 2nd century, Polycarp, the Bishop of the church at Smyrna was burned at the stake because he refused to call Caesar “God”. Before the fire was lit, his captors said: “Come now, bishop, where is the harm in just saying ‘Caesar is Lord’ and offering incense, when it will save your life?”
Polycarp replied: “eighty-six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How can I then blaspheme my King and my Savior?”
Through the centuries countless others have made the same confession. The Apostle Paul was put to death by Nero. One of Martin Luther’s fellow monks was captured in the Netherlands and burned at the stake. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and shot in 1945. Rachel Scott, a devout Christian teen, active in her youth group at Orchard Road Christian Church, was the first student killed in the Columbine High School Massacre, April 20th 1999.
These and all who have been martyred because of their faith in Jesus now rest under the altar of God in Heaven until Jesus returns. John writes in Revelation 6 “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God.” “They were given a white robe and told to wait a little longer…”
This is why, on this All Saints Day, the church stops to remember the cloud of witnesses, family members, brothers and sisters in the faith who have died holding to the secure promises of forgiveness and salvation, guaranteed by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Rich or poor. Famous or forgotten. Respected or reviled, your life’s situation makes not difference. Death is not a respecter of persons; it will come for everyone you love. It will not select according to logic, or love or fairness. All that can be said with certainty is this: Death is going to come to every person.
This is reality, but too many of us live our days as if we have some special one-of-a-kind immunity from the word “terminal”.
Some like William Saroyan, a well-known writer of plays and short stories thought he had a one-of-a-kind immunity from the reality of death. From his deathbed he contacted the associated Press and said, we all know that, “Every body has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.”
In spite of an overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary, many people seem to think death will come for billions of strangers, but leave them untouched. Let me lay it on the line. Every human being has sinned and the penalty for sin is death. (Romans 3:26) Because you have broken God’s commadments you will not be untouched, nor will I. (from a sermon by Rev. Ken Klaas November 1 2009)
The cemetery is not the dominion of the Grim Reaper, but the domain of the Soul Keeper, Jesus. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed: “O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!” Jesus came to Bethlehem to implement the prophet’s words. Jesus said, “Trust in God, trust in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s house.” “He who believes in me will live.” This is the promise of Jesus.
The Gospel of Matthew tells of a confrontation Jesus had with the Sadducees over a question about resurrection. Yes, they knew about the
daughter of Jarius, the boy at the village of Nain and Lazarus.
Traditional Judaism was divided on the topic of the resurrection. The Sadducees were an aristocratic group made up of the families from which the chief priests were chosen. They rejected the oral traditions of the Pharisees and they rejected belief in the resurrection. The Pharisees believed in a “spiritual resurrection” and in angels. The Sadducees believed in neither… much like Woody Allen, and other Atheists.
The Sadducees pose the question of seven brothers who had the same wife. They want to know whose wife this woman will be in heaven after she has been widowed seven times. It’s a trick question. The Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection. “That’s why they are so ‘sad u see’. They want to embarrass Jesus. Jesus gives an answer that confronts the belief of both the Sadducees and Pharisees.
The words of Jesus confronts these religious leaders with the prophecy of Isaiah. “Your dead will live, their bodies will rise, you who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.” “Jesus said…”for I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus said, “I am here to tell you the words of the prophet are true.” What is the guarantee that the words of Jesus are true? The answer rests in the Jerusalem graveyard. The tomb of Jesus was left empty, except for the deflated linen shroud left behind. He rose from death and left the grave empty.
The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians, who lived in a culture that laughed at the possibility of a resurrected physical body: “Jesus was raised from death on the third day…he presented himself alive to Peter, and to more
than 500 hundred followers, James… and finally to me.” (I Cor. 15:4-8) Here is Paul’s challenge: Line up the witnesses. Call them out one by one.
Do you see Paul’s logic? If one person claimed a post cross encounter with Jesus, people could disregard it. If a dozen people offered depositions, chalk it up to mob hysteria. But fifty? A hundred? Five hundred? They saw him physically. They touched him. They did not see a phantom.
Because we human beings have rebelled against God and His perfection, the day will come when you and I will say an earthly farewell to a friend or family member. On that day as you walk away from the gravesite, you will leave behind a part of yourself and your life will never be the same. You will find friends feel uncomfortable talking to you about, you know, death.
You will be forced to make decisions for which you feel ill-equipped. (I remember Nancy Gross telling me she had to learn how to put gas in her car, because Bob always did it.) When you are sure you have mastered your grief and cried your tears, out of nowhere, a song will play on the radio, a familiar smell, some food, a perfume, a cologne, some old clothes will trigger a memory and your feelings of loss with come flooding back. Your mind will be filled with things which once were but will never be again. On that day you will know what it is to mourn.
This sadness has a solution. Once, long ago, Jesus said: Mourners can be comforted.” No, that’s not quite right. He said it far more forcefully than that. Jesus removed all doubt and declared, “mourners will be comforted.”
Christianity and Christianity alone claims, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Christianity is the only faith that can state: “by God’s grace and mercy we are forgiven our broken commandments and given the gift of eternal life.”
In contrast to every other religion, every other faith, Christianity alone can offer forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus died the death our sins deserved; He paid the punishment price of our disobedience. Jesus took our place. Jesus offered His perfect, sinless life on the cross in our place, so that our Creator could transfer all His righteousness to all who acknowledge Jesus as God’s Son and Savior.
In contrast to every other faith, every other religion, Christianity is alone in promising a resurrected glorified body, because Jesus rose, physically from the grave. That’s why Paul could write: “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
I told our Thursday Bible class this past week that Colleen and I had our stone grave markers made and placed in their location in the cemetery at Zion Lutheran, Lone Elm Missouri. On the back side of the tombstone I had the Stone Masson inscribe the words of Paul in Philippians 3:20-21. “Our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await our Savior from there who when He returns in all His glory, He will bring with Him all the angels and all the saints who have gone before. Then as He promised Jesus will give to each believer the same glorified resurrected body fashioned like His glorious body.”
The words of Jesus are true. He is my “soul keeper”. He has planted His words in my heart. I belong to the “soul keeper”, Jesus. If by chance you are afraid or unsure of your eternal address…. Listen too and accept the promise of Jesus: “In My Father’s house are many rooms and I will prepare them for your arrival… I my self will come and take you to be where I am.”
“Behold a host, arrayed in white; like thousand snow clad mountains bright. With palms they stand…before the throne of light. They sing their songs in endless light. O blessed saints in bright array now safely home in the endless day….His word sustained them on their way.