All Saint’s Day Observed – 11/06/2022
"The baby's first cries echoed from wall to wall, warming the whole house on that cold November day in 1483." Hans Luther, a copper miner in little Eisleben, Germany, smiled nervously at his wife Margaret. Her tired eyes returned his smile, even as they mirrored her prayer of thanks for having safely given birth to a second child—a son, no less.
On the very next day, Hans carefully bundled his newborn boy in the warmest blankets he could find. Closing the door of his house behind him, he quickly walked the two windy blocks to St. Peter's Church. Here, on November 11, the festival of St. Martin of Tours, the proud father handed his son to the priest. "Martin Luther," chanted the priest as he three times poured water on the child's wrinkled forehead, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Ghost."
The baptism over, Hans headed for home, snugly cradling little Martin in his brawny arms. Urged on by the biting wind, Hans arrived home in short order. Walking to his wife's bedside, he gently handed her the whimpering baby. "Here, Margaret, take our Martin and care for him." and pray that no evil will come to him. "For who knows what plans God has for him?" Frederick Nohl, Luther: Biography of a Reformer, CPH, 2003, pp.
So begins Frederick Nohl's biography of a saint, the 16th-century Reformer Martin Luther, named after the church's designated patron saint, Martin of Tours. Today we observe the Commemoration of All Saints, even though this coming Thursday is the anniversary of Martin Luther's birth, November 10.
Why are we Lutherans commemorating saints anyway? Isn't that a Roman Catholic thing? Wasn't the worship of saints done away with by Martin Luther himself and many of the other Reformers?
For starters, no one can "do away with" saints, or for that matter, even the commemoration of the saints. God is the one who has come up with that designation for certain people, and even in His Holy Scriptures, He commends to us certain of these saints for our consideration. The holy apostle of the Lord states: "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Eph. 2:19).
The question is: who are the saints? It is certainly true that there have been times when this festival of All Saints was held to venerate and even pray to those deceased individuals whom the church had decreed to have the status of saints. The criteria established for such a designation as a saint included such things as how much and what kind of good works that person had done in life and the clear attestation that some miracle had been associated with the person. Two of the latest individuals to be elevated to sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church are the late Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II.
It is still common in some circles to advocate praying to the saints or invoking the saints to help you in some way. Such a practice, however, is contrary to Holy Scripture. It obscures who the true saints are. It is also idolatry, profaning our Savior, Jesus Christ, to whom alone we are to pray and seek our every help.
But I guarantee you there are saints! But saints are not made by some decree of the church, and one does not become a saint by something he has done. Luther himself taught in his Large Catechism: "God's Word is the treasure that sanctifies everything, and by it, even all the saints themselves were sanctified." "At whatever hour then, God's Word is taught, preached, heard, read, or meditated upon, the person, day, and work are sanctified thereby, not because of the external work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all" (Concordia Triglotta, p. 607).
Biblically speaking, the term "saints" is a divine and Biblical designation for all those "set apart" for God. What sets them apart from all other people in this world is that they have faith in Jesus Christ, faith created in them by the Word of God. In other words, according to the Bible's use of the term, all true believers in Jesus Christ are saints; they are God's holy people (I Pet. 2:9), set apart to God by His Word.
In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul exhorts his readers not to pray to the saints but rather to pray for the saints (6:18). In his greeting, Paul had already identified the saints. He wrote: "To the saints in Ephesus, and who are faithful in Christ Jesus" (1:1).
You know what this means, then, don't you? There are saints of God right here in this sanctuary today! All is not as it might appear! As we look around us this morning, all we can see with our worldly eyes are ordinary, sinful, hassled, and afflicted people just like us. But God sees the holy ones, the saints—those who, through faith in Jesus Christ, have been declared by His proclaimed Word to be righteous and holy in His sight. They are just as holy as those who have already passed through the portal of death and into the holy, heavenly presence of God. Whether dead or alive, saints are always with Christ. All is not as it might appear to human eyes and minds.
For generations, the appointed gospel reading for the Day of All Saints has been the one before us, Matthew 5:2–12. It comprises the opening verses of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. These verses are famous in their own right and are often referred to as the Beatitudes.
Beatitude is from the Latin for the term Jesus uses nine times in these verses: "blessed" or "happy." He says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed is the one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness; blessed is the one who is persecuted for my sake." First spoken to Jesus' apostles, these beatitudes speak of the blessedness of all the saints (holy ones) of God.
But truly, all is not as it might appear from a worldly perspective when it comes to the blessedness, or happiness, of the saints. This blessedness is the state enjoyed by those in a right relationship with God, something not always visible to the world.
The saints of the Lord and their state of blessedness in the world defy conventional wisdom. There is no court of public opinion anywhere in this world that would label the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, or, especially, those who are persecuted, as blessed!
As such, Jesus' beatitudes defy conventional wisdom. Many seem to preach or teach these beatitudes as some kind of code of morals that we are to try to measure ourselves against or as goals to shoot for to be truly Christian. But these beatitudes are not imperatives or commands. They are, rather, pronouncements of something the world cannot see yet but truly is the present possession of God's saints.
Let us take a closer look by first analyzing the structure of these statements. There are a total of nine, each beginning with the expression "Blessed are the..." Next, the blessed ones are described, along with the reason they are considered blessed. For example, the first beatitude states: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
What is especially noteworthy is that the first eight statements form a complete unit, while the ninth one seems to be an elaboration of the eighth, which provides a link between the Beatitudes and the rest of Jesus' sermon. (Scaer) The unity is formed because the first and eighth beatitudes each contain the same description of blessedness. In the first, the poor in spirit are said to be blessed because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. In the eighth, the blessedness of those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake is also that of the kingdom of heaven.
This repetition of blessing signals that we should take all eight beatitudes as one unit. In other words, they all apply to the same person. The one poor in spirit is the same one who is persecuted for righteousness sake, the same one who mourns, and the same one who is merciful. This symmetry between the first and eighth also tells us that, although Jesus notes different blessings in all the others—being comforted, being filled, receiving mercy, and seeing God—each of the various blessings is part and parcel of the blessing of having the kingdom of heaven. The one who is blessed with the kingdom of God is the one being comforted, the one being filled, the one receiving mercy, and the one serving God.
On the other hand, with the ninth beatitude, Jesus takes the blessedness of the persecuted, spoken of in the eighth beatitude, and brings it personally home to all who hear him. For in the first eight beatitudes, Jesus speaks in the third person, but in the ninth, He speaks in the second person. No longer does He say, "Blessed are they," but in this final one He says, "Blessed are YOU when others revile you, persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account." He makes the blessing personal to you, the hearer.
What, then, are these Beatitudes saying to you? We can't deny that, from a completely worldly perspective, these people whom Jesus describes as blessed would seem anything but blessed. Some might even consider them cursed.
But all is not as it might appear to the human mind. We must think as God thinks. To truly understand these Beatitudes, we must first see them as they apply to the Son of God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ! They only secondarily apply to all who are joined to Jesus by faith. After all, no true Christian can employ these terms for himself or herself. The person who would say, "Oh, yes, I see myself here. I'm merciful. I'm a peacemaker." has, with this very claim, violated being "poor in spirit... meek... pure in heart."
Rather, in these descriptions of the blessed, we see Jesus Christ. To be poor in spirit is to make no claims on God. It is to empty oneself of all that one holds to be precious in himself so that he can embrace as his real wealth that which is in God. Of Jesus, the apostle Paul wrote: "Who, being in the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death--even death on the cross" (Phil. 2:6–8).
This quality of being poor in spirit is truly the basis for all the other descriptions. The one poor in spirit humbly seeks everything from God. The one poor in spirit is mournful over the depravity of the human spirit—the wickedness, idolatries, and lusts that consume the human heart and cause the world to be such an evil and pitiful place. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and lamented her lack of repentance and faith. The one poor in spirit is meek and makes no claims to be superior to anyone else or to be deserving of anything, especially from God. Jesus said, "Learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart" (Mt. 11:29). The one poor in spirit looks not at his righteousness but hungers and thirsts for God's righteousness. Jesus said, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." And again, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me."
The one who is poor in spirit is merciful. Jesus is the very embodiment of God's mercy—mercy that moved Him to die for sinners. mercy that caused him to feed, clothe, and heal the wicked as well as the righteous.
The one poor in spirit is clean of heart and shall see God. No one else has seen God except Jesus. His heart alone is free of evil motives, lusts, and idolatries. The one who is poor in spirit is a peacemaker. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He is your peace, reconciling you and me as sinners back to God through his atoning sacrifice. The poor in spirit are also the ones who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. When John tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized, Jesus said, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness" (Matt. 3:15). Jesus' very suffering and death at the hands of His persecuting enemies were to fulfill God's righteous plan to save you and me from our unrighteousness.
Yes, in these beatitudes, we must first see Jesus and His cross if we are to make any sense of them and truly see what the blessedness of God's saints is. Accordingly, one Lutheran scholar has noted that the Beatitudes act as the Christological prism through which the followers of Jesus are described and their true blessing made comprehensible (Scaer). Those who cling to the cross of Jesus for their salvation... their hope... their very lives are like their Lord of the cross: poor in spirit, mournful of sin in the world, humble before God, hungry and thirsting for what God gives them in Christ. They do not look to their self-worth or merits, nor are they dependent upon their good deeds to make them righteous. Neither can the one who clings to Christ be unmerciful. A beggar will help another beggar.
The one poor in spirit knows the motives and thoughts of his heart are evil continually, just as God has said, and so he prays with David of old, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me."
The one who sees his reconciliation with God through Christ seeks to become an instrument of God's reconciliation to bring peace to others. And, yes, the one who is in Christ Jesus is persecuted for Jesus' sake. What was right for his master is right for him.
You see, all is not as it might appear to the world. It is you, dear baptized believers in Jesus Christ, as those who are truly in Christ Jesus, who experience the true blessings of God. The Kingdom of Heaven is gifted to you! Accordingly, you can be truly happy (blessed) even in the direst of earthly circumstances. The Kingdom of Heaven has come to you, His saints, imparting to you the true comfort of forgiveness of sins and eternal victory over death... Making you heirs of the true enjoyment of life even on this earth; applying Christ's righteousness to you as your own; making you partakers of God's mercy; enabling you to see God by faith now and with your own eyes in eternity, and bringing you the heavenly status of sons of God.
Not even persecution will thwart this state of blessedness. The light that emanates from the cross of Jesus reveals that even when evil attacks to maim and kill, God brings forth victory and life. As Jesus says, when you are persecuted for Jesus' sake, you can rejoice and be glad! Your reward has already been laid up for you in heaven. It is a reward that you have neither earned nor deserved, but one that comes as a gift to the one who believes in Jesus Christ. On top of this, if someone makes fun of you, speaks evil of you, or even physically abuses you because you are Christian or have spoken up in Christ's defense, you can still rejoice. For you see, this persecution places you in the blessed company of our Lord Himself and all His prophets and apostles, all of whom were persecuted before you. They say that misery loves company. But in this case, there can be no greater company to be in than that of the Saints of the Lord!
Have a blessed day, all you saints of the Lord! Amen.