These are great words for this day, as we celebrate the Festival of All Saints this morning. The Apostle John says that: “We will be like God, for we will see Him as He is.” What a promise that we are given! It is a miraculous thing, indeed, that we poor, miserable sinners will be like God. We will be like God for real, not the lie that the serpent in the Garden spoke to Eve when she took the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. No, we will be changed, made like God Himself.
This day’s significance is based upon that fact. For we remember those who have gone before us, the saints in heaven above, who were like us, but now have been made like God. They see Him face to face, seeing God as He is, as the Apostle John recorded for us in his Revelation: “There was a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
What we focus on today is the change in fate, the change in status that Christ Jesus gave to His people through His death and resurrection. Through His actions and having their merits applied to us through Holy Baptism, the preached Word, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper, we have been made God’s children. The Eternal Father has made us like Christ Jesus, bestowing blessing upon blessing to us and to those who have gone before us in the faith.
We heard a lot about blessing on this day in the readings. Already, we reviewed the promised blessing that the Apostle John spoke in his letters to the Church. And the Gospel Reading for this morning spoke all about blessing. The teaching of Christ recorded by St. Matthew is called The Beatitudes, because they speak all about blessing. Jesus says: “Blessed are” all sorts of categories of people.
What’s interesting about all those statements of blessing that Jesus makes is that none of them would apply to us. Think about all the people He calls “blessed”: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. These people Jesus calls blessed, but we don’t fit into those categories of people. The prerequisites to blessing, being called blessed by Christ, we don’t meet.
No, we are the opposite. We are proud. We revel in the things of the world. We are quick to find pleasure in sinful deeds. Extracting revenge is our typical reaction to being wronged. Our hearts are full of iniquity and plotting schemes. Arguments and brawling become our standard practice and ways of entertaining ourselves. And when faced with opposition from others, we are quick to cave and not stand up against them. In fact, we can be quick to join in their attacks.
Consider Christ’s stated categories of blessedness, and we fall woefully short of them. We deserve to be called cursed, anathema. And in truth, we receive such condemnation when the Lord God looks upon on our thoughts, words, and deeds that run contrary to His will. Every time that we meet the opposite of these categories of blessedness, we fall into the areas of cursed and condemnation. The Lord God’s words of Law—just as clear as the words of promise we heard today—are spoken against us.
But as mentioned above, we have our fate changed. We ourselves are changed. The divine promise given to us is: “We will be like God, for we will see Him as He is.” We will be like Him. And if that is so, then we will be blessed, since the Lord God is the source of blessing. Those categories of blessedness will describe us, just as they described those who went before us in the faith, because we are made to meet them. Not our efforts to conform to the Lord God’s image and character, but His work done in us make us that way.
All those categories of blessedness that Jesus spoke about in our Gospel Reading, they apply to Him. What our Lord does in that portion of the Sermon on the Mount is give us a depiction of Himself. Christ is saying to us: “I am the Blessed One. And not only am I the Blessed One, I am He who brings blessing to those under divine curse.” Jesus’ words are to direct us away from ourselves and focus on Him.
Think you can be poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers? Can you change who you are by nature? Jesus says, “Think again.” The leopard can’t change its spots. No matter how much we try, how much effort we put into it, we will never meet those descriptions of blessedness that Christ outlines for us. And lest we think otherwise, not even the saints before us were able to do so, either.
And yet, those descriptions of blessedness apply to us. They are made to apply to us. That is what underlies the statements the Apostle John made to all Christ’s people, even us, this morning: “What we do know is this: when He is revealed, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.” The blessing is not obtained by us, not taken by force or effort. No, it is given to us by the Blessed One Himself.
Remember what we especially focus on today: the change in status that Christ Jesus gave to His people through His death and resurrection. We have been made God’s children, made like Christ, by having Christ’s merits applied to us through Holy Baptism, the preached Word, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. The central thought of this day is that the Blessed One Jesus Christ has made us blessed by connecting us to Him and applying Himself to us.
But this isn’t anything that we came up with or that someone in the Church a thousand of years ago invented. No, this is what has been revealed to us by Christ Himself. Remember the vision of heaven that Jesus gave to the Apostle John? There was that great depiction of innumerable people in white worshiping the Lamb of God before the throne of heaven. In that vision, there was an explanation of why that crowd was there, what got them to that point. And it had nothing to do with what that group of people achieved, but what was given to them.
The Apostle John was asked about the identity of that group of thousands. And he was told exactly who and what they were: “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship Him day and night within His temple, and the One who is seated on the throne will shelter them.” The depiction is exactly what was mentioned before: they are blessed because of what was done for them and given to them, how they were connected to Christ’s death and resurrection.
So it is for us, also. “We have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” That’s what we see at every baptism. It’s what happened to us as we ourselves were brought to the holy font. And it happens repeatedly as we are absolved and as we partake of the blood of the Lamb in His heavenly banquet here on earth. This is what numbers us among the countless thousands who have gone before us in the faith. Their story is the same as ours.
Since we are connected to Christ’s death and resurrection, and more importantly, connected to Christ Himself, we are blessed. We fit the categories that Christ described in the Beatitudes. Or more precisely, we have been fit into them by our Lord’s actions. That’s what the Apostle John was talking about, both in his vision of paradise and his first epistle to the Church. It’s a matter of reality now and a reality yet to come: “Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when He is revealed, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.”
So we will be, when we are united with the countless number of those in white robes in the presence of the Lord God’s throne. May the Blessed One who has granted this privilege to those who went before us fulfill the same promise made to us.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.