In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
497 years and 2 days ago (October 31, All Hallows Eve, 1517) a monk and doctor of theology nailed some theses on the door of All Saints Church in the town of Wittenberg. The next day, All Hallows or All Saints Day, was a day of commemorating your loved ones who had died in the faith. Not just commemorating them, but trying to get them so good mojo in the afterlife. That monk went to that church door because in that church was the biggest collection of relics of saints in all of Europe. This is important because All Saints Day was like Christmas for your dead relatives who still owed God goodies. And by paying to view the 19,000some relics—including milk from the blessed Virgin Mary, and straw from the manger, all of it authenticated by churchly authorities—it was thought that you could get all sorts of time off of purgatory for yourself or someone else. If you loved your deceased grandma wouldn’t you make the trip, and pay the price to go do this for granny?
But you and I, modern day Protestant types, we rightly believe as the Bible teaches: “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27), i.e., THE Judgement of the living and the dead, at end of time. God’s judgement will be proclaimed to all creation and all souls on that great and final Judgment Day. But the judgement of God is carried out at death (Luke 23:43; 16:22). Therefore, there is no need to pray for the dead, for those who die trusting in the Lord, are carried to heaven by His angels (Luke 16:22). Because Christ was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4:25) precious in sight of Lord is the death of His saints! (Psalm 116:15)
So who is a saint? That’s the real question. Our world thinks its someone who is really, really, really good. Someone who is long-suffering, turns the other cheek, does what is right even in really tough circumstances. And that is good. For where would our world be without a few people doing what is right even when it is hard? And thus, this world, your neighbour, your fellow man need your good works, your saintly deeds! But that’s not what a saint is! According to Holy Scripture a saint, a holy one, is not someone who is holy in all their works and all their ways. For there is no one who does not sin (1 Kings 8:46; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10)! ALL have sinned and fallen short (Romans 3:23).
So who is a saint? It is those who are freely justified by Christ Jesus on the cross and receive that justification in faith (Romans 3:24-26).
That’s justification—that you have been declared righteous. But what about right here and now where you still live in a world where things are not right, not even your own deeds or heart?
That’s where faith comes in. God freely justifies and by that declaration imparts to you His Spirit to believe His promise. When He says you are free of your guilt, His Word performs it. I.e., Jesus the Word made flesh (John 1:14) performed your salvation on the cross. But not only that. God’s Words give you what they promise (Isaiah 53:10-11; Romans 1:16; 10:17, etc.). When God says you are forgiven you are holy. Holy before Him. A saint. For His own Holy Spirit comes into you and cleanses you (Hebrews 4:12-13; Ephesians 6:17; Galatians 4:16; Romans 8:15; 10:13-17).
Thus the saints of God—those who trust in God’s promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation through Jesus Christ—are His blessed ones.
It is much more acceptable to believe in a Santa Claus “god” who knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. For we like the idea that we can be good. That we can earn rewards. Gifts for good little girls and boys. The problem is our idea of what is good is pathetic. It shifts like the sands. Always trying to get out from underneath God’s righteous standards for no one on earth can live up to it except Him who is God in our flesh, come to save we hopeless ones.
Moments after describing how blessed His saints are who believe in His justification He then laid into this idea that you can be good enough on your own for God to let you into His realms of light. “I haven’t come to abolish law but to fulfill it,” (Matthew 5:17) He says, “to complete righteousness in such a way that I can give it out to those who have none of their own. Let me show me you how you lack any goodness in yourself whatsoever.”
He carried on saying, “You’ve heard it said you shall not murder, but I tell you whoever is angry with His brother will be judged by God a murderer fit for hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22) Guess what? That means I’m looking at a room full of respectable, well-dressed murderers. This is the saintly standard God uses. Your works have a snow flakes chance in hell of saving you for the thoughts of your own heart condemn you. You depend upon God’s blessing and His blessing alone for your salvation.
These are the saints. You who trust in Jesus. Who mourn your sin turning to Him Whose gentle forgiveness of you declares you a saint and carries you when you are too weak into Zion His Holy City.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON