Sermon for Reformation/All Saints Day
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I'm going to do something that I don't normally do. I'm going to preach on a text that I didn't read earlier. The text for meditation is John 5:24 where Jesus says,
“Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears my voice and believes Him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
This is the word of the Lord.
Dear friend in Christ Jesus.
That’s an appropriate verse for us to consider today, as we observe All Saints Day, as we commemorate the faithful departed. We all have someone we love who is among the faithful departed. Some of us have more, some of us have many people, people who were near and dear to us. People that are no longer with us. People that we miss.
But our celebration of All Saints Day is the fact that those who hear the Word of God and believe, have eternal life. Those who have departed in the faith have crossed over from death, to life.
And while we miss having them with us here and now, there is no doubt that their enjoyment of eternal life is much better than anything they could enjoy here. And they are looking forward to the day when we will join them.
The Bible passage we just read from John 5 also is appropriate for us as we observe the Reformation. Think about it. The year was 1517. That right away tells you something, doesn't it? That tells you they were in the Middle Ages. And I don't know about you, but when I think about the Middle Ages, I think of things as being dark, and gloomy, and dreary.
I showed the kids in my Zion school religion class the Martin Luther movie here last week, the old black and white version from 1953. There are more recent films of Martin Luther. But I think the old one really helps to bring out the gloominess of the time.
Things were gloomy at that time for a number of reasons. Maybe it was the corruption of the government. Maybe it was the economy. But chief among the reasons for the gloominess of the Middle Ages was the absence of the Gospel in the church.
The church without the Gospel? The church without good news? What a terrible thought! But that’s the way things were. People were burdened with the responsibility of taking care of their own salvation. People were being told that in order to be saved that they had to perform certain duties. And the notion was going around that if you had enough money, you could buy your way into heaven.
Talk about gloominess. Talk about darkness. Talk about death! That's exactly what we're talking about here: death, eternal death for those who thought they could buy their way into heaven. Eternal death for those who thought they could work their way into heaven. Eternal death for those who could not make peace with God by themselves.
God used Martin Luther to bring the people of those Middle Ages back from death to life, as he rediscovered the wonderful truth of the gospel, the fact that no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law, rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ, and we are justified freely by His grace.
And so our text from John 5, talking about crossing over from death to life, is very appropriate as we consider those olden days of the Reformation in which the death of a corrupt church was replaced by the life of the gospel.
But what about for us today? Does that Bible passage say anything for us here and now? When Jesus talks about crossing over from death to life, could he be talking to you? Could he be talking to me?
Certainly one of those words used in the text is used quite a bit in our world: Death. There is death all around us.
And let's face it, we’re all going to die. Some of us will die sooner than others. Some might have relatively long lives, others might have relatively short lives. But the fact is that all of us will die, sooner or later... unless, of course, Jesus returns before that.
But the reality is we’re all dying. It's an indisputable fact. And why is that? Well the reason we're all dying is because we’re sinners. And the wages of sin is death. So as we sojourn on this earth, and as we occupy our time, and as we make our living, we are preparing to receive one day the very thing we deserve the most, death. Because if there's one thing we're good at… it’s sinning.
But, wasn't there another part to that Bible passage? Wasn't there something about life? Yes, indeed there was. Jesus’ main point in our text is not about death! It's about life! It's about crossing over from death to life.
And that life is for those who hear the words of Jesus, and believe the one who sent him. And who’s the one who sent him? God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, who, we confess in Luther’s explanation to the 1st Article, richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body in life, only out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy.
And what else does God the Father Almighty do out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy? Well, he sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, to give us His word so that we might hear that word, and believe it.
And that word is Jesus Christ himself, as John called him, the word made flesh, who dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; The word spoken by God at the creation of the world that when he pronounced, “Let there be”, and there was; The word that was not recognized by the world when He came full of grace and truth.
Yes, to all who received him, to those who believed on his name he gave the right to be called the children of God, children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, or a husband's will, but born of God.
When we talk about crossing over from death to life, in essence we're talking about being born… really, being born again. What did Jesus say to Nicodemus in John 3? “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
And as Jesus goes on to explain in John 3, that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the spirit, I'm reminded of Saint Paul, and Romans 6 where he says,3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
We have crossed over from death to life. I mentioned before the fact that the reason we're all dying is because we’re all sinners, and the wages of sin is death. But I left off a part of that quote from Romans 6:23. Yes, the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Please note that it's a gift, given by God out of the goodness of his heart, no strings attached. And also please note that the gift is life, the exact opposite of death; life for us to share eternally with God.
This gift is made possible for you because Jesus took your sin upon himself. He became guilty of your sin, instead of you. He was punished for your sin, not you. He died, instead of you, so that you would be able to cross over from death to life.
Crossing over from death to life means having your sins forgiven. So when penitent sinners come before God and say “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess to you all my sins and inequities”… the Word of God, through the church, says, “ Yes, I forgive you all your sins.”
And all of your sins are forgiven, blotted out, forgotten, for Jesus’ sake. As we profess in Luther's explanation to the 3rd article of the Apostles Creed “In this Christian Church he daily and richly forgives all my sins, and the sins of all believers. And on the last day he will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me, and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
This is most certainly true. We have Jesus’ on word on it. He begins our text (John 5:24) by saying, “Truly, truly I say to you. If look it up in the King James Version it will say, “Verily, verily I say unto You. And if you look it up in the original Greek, it says “Amen, amen.” And as Luther explains what Amen means, he says, “Amen, amen, that is yes, yes it shall be so.”
But not only SHALL it be so, it IS so. Jesus says in our text that whoever hears his word and believes him who sent him has eternal life, he has crossed over from death to life. It's a done deal. You are among those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. You are among the Blessed that Jesus talks about in our gospel Reading. You are among those who have crossed over from death to life as Jesus proclaims to you, “Your sins are forgiven.” Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.