To This You’ve Been Called

Text: 1 Peter 2:21-25

For about six years a wildly popular show ran on the BBC over in England, and it was also broadcast over here for American audiences on PBS. The show was called Downton Abbey. Even though it had the word “abbey,” in the title, it had nothing to do with nuns. It did have everything to do with Lord Richard Crawley, the earl of Grantham, his family, and the servants who work for them. The show spans a decade or so, beginning just before the first world war. It follows the family as they administrate and care for the county, as well as the servants who care for them.

On the show, the servants have their own lives apart from their work and the twenty-or-so of them generally get along well, and their work goes smoothly. They generally get along, except for two: a man named Thomas and a woman named Miss O’Brien. These two both dislike everyone, and they bond over their common disdain for others. That is, until Miss O’Brien’s nephew comes to work at the house. Thomas, at the time, had been working in a midlevel position for a decade and, when the next rung on the ladder opened, proceeded to vie for that position. However, Miss O’Brien had another idea. As a personal favor, she asked if Thomas would help her nephew – brand new to the business – get the same one position that he had been working a decade to get. He refused, she took offense, and the two them spend the rest of the series trying to get each other fired.

Was she justified in her actions? She felt she had been wronged and sought to get even. Thomas, for his part, felt he had been wronged and tried to get even with her; was he wrong? According to the world, no. According the Apostle of our Lord in the text: they were both wrong. It is not within our place to seek revenge or the right the wrongs that have been done to us. Instead, Christ left us His example, St. Peter said, that we might follow in His footsteps. He did not curse or revile in return for the wrongs done to Him, but instead bore all our sins in His body on the tree. By His wounds, He has healed us of ours. He has brought us wandering sheep back into the fold. In this life to which we’ve been called, there is no place for revenge, only patience and forgiveness.

I.

In our text today, St. Peter discusses a topic that is on or has crossed every human heart: revenge. We have all, at one point or another, desired to get back at those who’ve done us wrong. St. Peter’s original audience was the scattering of Christians throughout the area we’d call northern Turkey. A great thing about Christianity is that the Gospel has nothing to do with personal wealth; Jesus died for the sins of rich and poor, alike. That said, many of St. Peter’s hearers were household or civil servants. They worked low paying jobs and they did them well; yet they were treated poorly. They were commonly mistreated because being a Christian at the time was a scandalous thing. In a time where many “gods” were worshiped, family life was frowned upon, and where human sexuality knew no bounds, the Christians worshiped one God, they cared for their families, and Christian husbands and wives remained faithful to each other alone.

Their beliefs led to the Christians in St. Peter’s society being marginalized. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. However, some of the Christians had had enough of being mistreated. They were going to get back. They were going to take their revenge on those who had done them wrong. St. Peter starts addressing them just before our text. He said, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”[1] Then, he said, that some of them were being treated harshly because, well, they deserved it. But, after that, he said to those who were genuinely being mistreated for the sake of their faith, “if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.”[2]

Rather than directing those who had been wronged – whether justly or not – to take revenge, St. Peter directed them to Christ. Now, we may not have received the same treatment as these early Christians (though that time may return) but the principle stands: we are not to seek vengeance on those who’ve done us wrong. But, oh, how we’ve wanted to. I would wager in this matter that we are all guilty. Who hasn’t decided at one point that you are tired of how that other person has treated you, and wondered how you’ll get back? Maybe you’ll have a fight on the playground. Maybe you’ll spread a lie about them. Maybe you’ll give them the cold shoulder. Maybe you’ll be just unkind enough toward them that they’ll know you’re angry – that’s popular in North Dakota. In all these ways, we have sinned. Our place is not to take revenge, or to hold grudges. Our place is to follow in Christ’s footsteps, Peter said.

II.

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”[3] St. Peter has in mind the prophecies of Isaiah, of the Suffering Servant who would bear all human griefs and sorrows, who would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, who – by His wounds – would heal us. These Gospel promises of God (which are in the Old Testament, even) are fulfilled in Christ.

While we were wandering like sheep, content to be lost in our own sinfulness, Christ took upon Himself our human flesh. He became our Good Shepherd. He was reviled, cursed, struck, spit upon, beat, whipped, flogged, killed. At no point did He return evil for evil. At no point did He hold a grudge. At no point did He seek revenge or to get back but, He continually entrusted Himself to the Just Judge – our Father in heaven above. He did and suffered all these things to bring us wandering sheep back into the fold. Though we were prone to wander in sin, including desiring to and, sometimes, indeed getting back at others, Jesus paid for our sins with His own body. He has brought us back into God’s fold by His own blood.

III.

St. Peter said, “If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.”[4] These words are meant primarily, to comfort us when we suffer unjustly for the sake of Christ. Those times may return when faithful Christians are not just marginalized, but truly mistreated for no other reason than for our trust in Christ’s Word. Peter would also remind us of our Lord’s Word, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”[5]

But these words today also stand for us in this way – just as Christ did not seek vengeance on those who wronged Him, but bore it all while trusting in God, so also are we called. A student is not above his master, nor a servant his Lord. Neither is it within our place to do wrong to those who’ve wronged us. We have sinned in this way, yet, we are reminded by St. Peter, that even those sins were borne by Christ on the cross. Though we were prone to wander, and have wandered in sin, Christ has secured for us forgiveness by His cross.

This past Lent we went through the Lord’s Prayer again. We read these words, the meaning of the Fifth Petition,

We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.

May the Lord grant by His Holy Spirit that we remember these words, endure our suffering with patience, and do good to those who’ve done us wrong.


[1] 1 Peter 2:18-19, English Standard Version.

[2] 1 Pet. 2:20-21.

[3] 1 Pet. 2:22-24.

[4] 1 Pet. 2:20-21.

[5] Mt. 5:11-12.

Wrestling with God

Text: Genesis 32:22-32

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives…[The Lord] disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.”[1] These words of King Solomon were shared with the congregation in the letter to the Hebrews. They were meant to encourage the congregation in their life together, even as they faced suffering in their lives. Their suffering was not a sign that God had abandoned them. Rather, though their suffering, God was at work, discipling them as sons and conforming them to the image of His Son. The result would be an increase in the fruits of righteousness among them and a share in God’s holiness.

Though the patriarch Jacob lived some ten generations even before Solomon, he also believed this. On the eve of meeting with his brother Esau, just when he thought things couldn’t get any worse – they did. A man came and wrestled with him until the break of morning. Jacob wrestled and prevailed against the man, whom we now know to have been the Lord. Jacob wrestled with God, and prevailed over his suffering, by trusting in God’s Word and holding Him to it.

I.

When we heard these texts last year, I pointed out that Luther thought this lesson from Genesis was just about as hard as they come. No one, at least by Luther’s reckoning, seemed to know how to make heads or tails of it. It kind of comes out of nowhere and isn’t explicitly mentioned again really anywhere other than the prophet Hosea. You’d think it’d come up at least in Hebrews 11, the great “faith,” chapter. Jacob is mentioned there, but not for this event. Thematically though, it definitely is connected to the account of the Canaanite woman from Matthew 15, which was the Gospel reading this week.

We find Jacob, as we said, on the night before he was to meet with his brother. Some time has passed since Jacob stole his brother’s birthright, and he was hopeful that the time would’ve healed some of the wound. When Jacob crossed into Edom – his brother’s land – he sent message seeking his favor. Jacob’s servants came back and told him that Esau was coming to meet him…with 400 men. Fearfully, Jacob divided up his camp so that Esau couldn’t raid all of it. He sent gifts ahead of him to curry his brother’s favor. He sent everyone he could ahead of him and stayed behind by himself. He prayed that night, “[O Lord] Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”[2]

Still, Jacob was filled with fear. And, just when he thought things couldn’t get worse – they did. “Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.”[3] The Hebrew for wrestling here is related to the word for dust and gives the sense that the dust or dirt was being kicked up as they wrestled. This was a serious battle, and Jacob must have truly felt that, not only would Esau certainly kill him the next day, but this guy might even take him down first. Perhaps, God had given up on him. But, even though his heart was telling him these things, he didn’t give up. He remembered that God had promised his offspring would be like the sand of the sea. Though his hip was put out of its socket, Jacob remembered God’s promise and prevailed.

II.

Jacob wrestled against the Lord and prevailed. He prevailed because, even though doubts assaulted him, he trusted the Lord’s promise. Even though everything appeared the opposite – God cannot lie. Indeed, Jacob’s offspring have become as numerous as the sand of sea; all who share Jacob’s faith are his offspring. The Lord said to Jacob, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”[4] Jacob was disciplined by the Lord and the result was righteousness and strengthened faith within Jacob, now Israel.

I think it’s fair to say that we also struggle and suffer in this life. Sometimes, our trials seem to be more than we can bear. And, sometimes, it feels as if God had set Himself against us. After all, why else would so many bad things happen to us? St. Paul also sometimes felt that way. He quoted this passage from the Psalms to the Romans, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”[5] Then he said that, no, nothing in all creation – whether suffering or tribulation or distress of any sort – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

St. Paul, and Jacob and the Canaanite woman before him, knew that God has made a sure and certain promise to us – that He forgives our sins and will forever watch over us. Or else, why would He have sent His Son? God our heavenly Father sent His only-begotten Son, to bear our sin and be our savior. He give His own Son into death for us, so that we might not die eternally, but live in with Him in His eternal kingdom. If God has so loved us, would He then turn and abandon us? I think not. No, God our Lord and Father is our ever-faithful guide and protector. He never will abandon us or allow us to suffer harm unjustly.

Knowing that God will never abandon us gives us hope and confidence, but the fact remains that we do suffer in this life. It would be a vain and false promise for me to tell you that you will not suffer in this life. However, I can tell you that your suffering is not without purpose. Hear again the words to the Hebrews, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives…[The Lord] disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.” In our times of suffering, God is at work within us, training us in righteousness. Through suffering we learn patience and endurance, and we grow mature in the faith.

Still, in times of suffering we feel awful. Often, our suffering persists for some time. It sometimes feels as if God is against us – as Jacob certainly felt. However, God is most certainly not against us. He is for us, even at the cost of His only Son. Jacob wrestled and prevailed by trusting in God’s promises, and so do we. As St. Paul also said, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”[6]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Heb. 12:5–6, 9.

[2] Gen. 32:11-12.

[3] Gen. 32:24.

[4] Gen. 32:28.

[5] Rom. 8:36.

[6] Rom. 8:37.

Faith and the Theology of the Cross

Text: Genesis 15:1-6

30 years ago, this March, Irish rock band U2 released its fifth studio album. The Joshua Tree. The album’s theme was based off the wide-open spaces of the American west. The album, which has gone on to sell more than 25 million copies, truly does bring out a sense of vast openness throughout its 50-minute length – particularly in the second track, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” It’s still up in the air what exactly the song is about. There are references to the devil, to Jesus, and heaven. But, we’ll leave it to song critics to discuss it more. Whatever it means, the song brings out this idea of searching; of longing for something you know is there…but you haven’t found it yet.

Our text today from Genesis finds Abram in a similar situation. In the Bible, three chapters pass between when God first came to Abram and called him out of idolatry, promising to bless him and make a great nation out of him. Three chapters pass, but in time it’s about a decade between these chapters, maybe a little more. It’ll be more than that, still, before Isaac is born. Isaac, the child promised in our text. As we’ll see, Abram was a little fearful about his situation, about whether the things God had promised would actually come to pass. Then God appeared to him. He reassured Abram that the promise was not forgotten. Abram believed God, and the Lord counted his faith as righteousness. St. Paul said that these things were written not for Abram’s sake alone, but for ours. Today, we confess that, like Abram, the righteous live by faith in God’s promises – and they are not disappointed.

I.

We should all know the story of Abraham, but let’s recap it for a moment. The Flood happened in Genesis 6. Noah entered the ark with his wife, his sons, and their wives. 8 souls in all. Noah’s sons were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. After the Flood, the three sons all spread out and had children. Abram is a distant descendant of Shem. Abram and his family lived in a place called Haran and they had become pagans. They were unbelievers who worshipped idols. Then, in Genesis 12, God called Abram. He called him out of idolatry to worship the one true God and to go where the Lord would lead him. The Lord promised to bless Abram and make of him a great nation. So, Abram went.

Abram went as the Lord said, but it maybe wasn’t as straightforward and easy as he might’ve liked. There was a famine, so they went down to Egypt. While they were there, Abram did do somethings that were sinful. He doubted God’s promise; yet God forgave him. God also kept His promise and blessed Abram, who came up from Egypt a rich man. He amassed a large household and many servants – but no children. Abram rightly understood God’s promise to make him into a great nation required a son. But, as time went on, no son came. Abram started getting into trouble with neighboring nations, and with no son to inherit if he were to die, Abram began to fear and doubt whether this promise would pan out. In other words, Abram still hadn’t found what he was looking for.

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’”[1] As Abram began fearing for his future and doubting the promises of God, the Lord spoke to him in a vision. The Lord told Abram not to fear. For, despite appearances, the Lord was with him. Abram was sure that the Lord had reneged, or at least was second-guessing His promise. Abram said to God, “‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus…Behold, You have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’”[2] What Abram meant was: God promised to make him a great nation, and so far, that hadn’t happened. Sure, Abram was wealthy; but with no son by birth, that wealth would pass from his name to someone else. No great nation.

Then the Lord said, “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”[3] Abram was misled by his own conscience and felt that God wouldn’t make good. Things appeared to be the opposite of what God had promised. Abram felt abandoned. Then God made Abram another solemn promise. It wouldn’t be Eliezer of Damascus who would inherit him, but a son from Abram’s own body. Then God took him outside, and told Abram to number the stars. So, would his offspring be. Our text concludes with one of the most important verses in the whole Bible, “He believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.”[4]

II.

The readings this week direct our minds to this idea: Even when it appears to the contrary, God doesn’t go back on His promises. God promised to make of Abram a great nation, and this nation would come from a son of his own flesh. The rest of Scripture – and history – tells us that, of course, this promise came true. Isaac was born when Abram was 99 years old. Isaac fathered Jacob, from whom is descended – according to the flesh – Jesus. St. Paul tells us that God’s promise to Abram was ultimately fulfilled in Christ and the great nation, now of billions, who have believed in His name. Abram believed God’s promise, even when it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. God counted his faith as righteousness. Eventually, Abram did find what he was looking for.

If Abram, that great patriarch of our faith, was fearful and doubting God’s promises, we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves suffering the same temptations. Like Abram, we have each been called out of pagan idolatry. We were all by nature born sinful and unclean, desiring to be our own “God.” But we were called out of that in the washing of Baptism. At our Baptism, the name of the Triune God was spoken over us and we were made heirs of the promise of Christ. Namely, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that are found through faith in Him. At our Baptism, we were made heirs of the promise, and we are continually reminded of it through God’s Word – yet we are filled with doubts and fears.

Luther, considering this passage, failed to come up with an answer as to why God orders our lives in such a way. At times, we say that our suffering we endure teach us to rely on God or another lesson. Sometimes, we plumb the depths of reason and empathy to find a reason for our suffering. We know that suffering comes as a result of sin. But, more often than not, we fail to find an answer to, “Why me?” Then we begin to doubt, to fear, and to be angry that we also still haven’t found what we’re looking for.

Dear brothers and sisters, St. Paul did write, “The words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.”[5] Meaning, this passage of Scripture wasn’t written for Abram’s sake alone, but for our benefit, also. We are meant to look at Abram’s suffering and fear, and Lazarus’, and find in them fellowship. Abram suffered, Lazarus suffered, our Lord suffered, we suffer. Abram suffered, at times thinking the Lord would not fulfill His promise; then He did. So, will He also fulfill His promise to us. What promise? The promise to remove our sins from us, which He has done in Christ. The promise to bring us to a land flowing with milk and honey, foreshadowed by the Promised Land and fulfilled in the New Creation. The promise to bring us through this valley of the shadow of death, and feed us beside still waters. The Lord spoke these things and others to Abram. Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted that faith as righteousness.

God grant that we also, by that same faith, would continue to be counted righteous. Scripture does say that the afflictions of the righteous are many, but also that the Lord delivers them out of them all. At times, it does feel like we aren’t finding what we’re looking for. But, God’s promises are sure and will ever stand true – even for us. Abram believed the Lord’s promise of deliverance, God counted His faith as righteousness and did deliver Him. He will deliver us, too. Amen.


[1] Gen. 15:1, English Standard Version.

[2] Gen. 15:2-3.

[3] Gen. 15:4.

[4] Gen. 15:6.

[5] Rom. 4:23-24.

“Love Bears All Things,” Luke 18:31-43

Text: Luke 18:31-43

“If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind…[it] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 

Since ancient times this epistle reading has been paired with our Gospel reading from Luke 18. Already from St. Augustine, who died in 430, we have sermons combining these texts, demonstrating the depth of Christ’s love for us. In the Gospel, Christ demonstrates a love beyond comprehension, that defies understanding – a love that endures all things.

These past weeks leading up to our Lord’s Lent, we’ve been looking at grace and salvation from a few different angles. First, we had the parable of the Vineyard, where all the workers received the same wage. Second, last week we heard the parable of the Sower. In it Christ sows His Word like a seed. Where it takes root, it bears fruit a hundredfold – the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This week, as Jesus nears the final week of His earthly life, He again teaches what will soon happen to Him. He will be betrayed, mocked, humiliated, spit upon, flogged, and killed – all to accomplish what was written in the prophets concerning our salvation. But, as we read, the Disciples didn’t understand. This is our focus this week.

The grace of our Lord is given freely to all who believe in Him. It comes through the preaching of the Word. And, this week, we confess that – apart from the Holy Spirit – our minds cannot understand or believe it. Despite our sinful flesh, Jesus willingly went to endure suffering, so that all that was written concerning our salvation might be accomplished.

I.   

Our text this week comes from Luke 18. Here we find Jesus nearing His final ascent to Jerusalem. It’s been a long journey. He began this journey in Luke 9, where it says, “When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This whole time He’s been preaching and teaching and healing and raising the dead, but with this end in sight – He is going to Jerusalem to die and rise. This is what Scripture has always been about, and it’s where the forgiveness of sins comes from. And, this is exactly what Jesus preaches in the text.

St. Luke writes, “Taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.’” If you look at this text in the Bible, you’ll find that this is now the third time that Jesus has predicted His death. Each time He’s mentioned that He’s going to die, and before that be betrayed. This time, though, He opens it up and teaches just what is going to happen to Him before He dies. Again, He’ll be handed over. But, also, He’ll be mocked and treated shamefully. He’ll be spit upon. He’ll be flogged. And then, then they’ll kill Him.

I was reading in a book not too long ago about the concept of crucifixion. Crucifixion was a barbaric practice – quite painful – but also, humiliating. It was meant to be a humiliating death. That’s why people were crucified in public places with signs above their heads. It’s also why it was against the law to crucify Roman citizens. But, what I learned is this: In every picture I’ve ever seen of Jesus on the cross, He had has some sort of cloth on Him. You know, covering His private parts. However, considering that crucifixion was purposefully humiliating, and that Scripture tells us that they gambled for His clothing, it’s most likely that Jesus was crucified totally naked.

I bring this up because Jesus knew this full-well. He knew entirely what would happen to Him, indeed, what must happen to Him. He knew how shamefully He would be treated, and He did it anyway. All so that Scripture would be fulfilled and we be saved. Jesus died exposed so that our sins might be covered. Jesus didn’t just allow this to happen to Him, but He willingly did it for us. Luther wrote on this passage, “Whoever looks at His suffering without seeing His will and heart in them must be terrified at it rather than rejoice in it. But if we see His heart and will in [His suffering], this produces true comfort, confidence, and joy in Christ.” “Love is patient and kind…love bears all things…endures all things.”

II.   

Here we have our Lord pouring out His heart, telling how much He loves us and what He is willing to endure, so that we might be reconciled to God. But, how is it received by those nearest to Him? “But they,” the twelve, “understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Jesus demonstrated the depth of His great love for us, the vastness of His mercy and grace, while the disciples showed the Holy Spirit to be right when He caused St. Paul to write, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law.”

It still had not set in for the disciples that Jesus’ suffering is absolutely necessary for our salvation. Without it we cannot be saved, and apart from faith in Christ’s suffering there is no salvation. Even though, in this same chapter, Jesus welcomed the little children, called the rich young ruler to follow Him, and healed the blind beggar, they still didn’t quite get it. Neither do we. 

By that, I mean that we are all by nature Pharisees. We all by nature try to center our salvation on something inside of us, something we do. Whether it’s feeling that we are saved because we go to church, or because we consider ourselves good people, or because we do some good things – our sinful nature doesn’t understand that relying on those things is like going up to the cross and pulling Jesus down. Our sinful nature rather not look at the cross.

But look to the cross, we must. We must look to our dear Jesus, naked and dying on the cross, because that is where salvation comes from. All of Scripture leads us there. It is there that we see how much, how deeply, how seriously God loves us. Though it is hard, no, impossible, for our sinful flesh to understand, Jesus’ suffering is the prime demonstration of His love for us. By His suffering He accomplished what was written in the prophets and secured our salvation.

III.  

St. Paul did write that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. Then he wrote, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” Thanks be to God for the great gifts that He bestowed on us in our Baptism. We were all by nature Pharisees and children of wrath. We were unable to see in our Lord’s sufferings the fulfillment of Scripture and our salvation. We were mired in sin. But now, all of that has been washed away. Instead of leaving Adam and Eve naked, God clothed them in flesh. Instead of exposing our secret and shameful sins, Jesus has covered them up by His suffering in our place. By our Baptism, the Holy Spirit has given us faith to believe and eyes to see in our Lord’s blessed wounds the fulfillment of the Scripture and the source of our salvation.

As our Lord continued His journey toward Jerusalem to suffer and die for us, He was met on the road by a blind beggar. He cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus stopped, spoke, and the man’s sight was restored. Immediately, he began praising God. Thanks be to God for the great love with which He has loved us. Jesus Christ suffered humiliation on the cross so that Scripture might be fulfilled and we be saved. In Baptism He opened our eyes to see and believe the same. 

Sola Gratia: Sealed and Delivered

Text: Revelation 7:(2-8) 9-17

“Oh, how blest are they whose toils are ended, who through death have unto God ascended! They have arisen from the cares which keep us in prison. We are still in a dungeon living, still oppressed with sorrow and misgiving; our undertakings are but toils and troubles and heart-breakings.”[1] These are the first two stanzas of the hymn “Oh, How Blest Are They,” #679 in our hymnal. Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints. This day was set aside by the Church many centuries ago to commemorate those who have preceded us in the faith. We do so not by invoking them, but by giving thanks God for the faith that He gave to them and to us and for the grace that we have all received in Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God for their great example in the faith and the forgiveness they received, but we would be remiss if we ignored one major thing.

One thing we can’t ignore today is that all the saints that have gone before us have done exactly that – they’ve all died. Though they were forgiven their sins and covered in the robes of Christ’s righteousness, they still died as a consequence of the sinful condition which we’ve all inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve. But now they have been freed from all that. As the elder says in St. John’s vision of the throne room, they have come out of the great tribulation. Those who have passed from death to life stand before the throne where there is no hunger or thirst, no death, for the Lamb of God is in their midst and wipes every tear from their eyes. But what about us? We live amidst a culture of death; what about us? When will we get what the saints now enjoy? The answer to that is now, actually. At Holy Baptism God signed and sealed you as His, and He continues to keep you until, by His grace alone, He delivers you into His eternal kingdom.

I.

We have in our text a vision of the heavenly throne room. We’re in an interlude in the outpouring of God’s wrath, as if to see how the saints are doing while the world is in tribulation. The period described in the text relates to us now. The 144,000 in the first part of the text are those who are coming out of the tribulation of the times, but are still in it. Those in the throne room are those who now rest from their labors. They are in the presence of Christ continually as they await His second coming and the resurrection of their bodies. The camera pans and we see four angels with the authority to pour out God’s wrath on the earth and sea. Then we see another angel, who says to the first four, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”[2]

This is where we fit into the text. The 144,000 put before St. John and us is not a literal number of the elect, but a signifier of the completeness of the Church that will enter into eternal life. In Scripture the number 12 signifies wholeness or perfection. You multiple that by twelve and you get a number of completeness. Then multiply that by 1,000 – and you get the picture. Those who are sealed upon their foreheads are those marked as redeemed by Christ the crucified. Though they are now in the midst of trial and tribulation, they have received upon their forehead and heart the mark Christ, which signifies them as inheritors of eternal life.

The Church has long understood this passage, this sealing of the elect, as a reference to Baptism. The word for seal in the Greek is σφραγίζω (sphragizo), and it means to mark as a means of identification or to certify something for delivery. This is our connection to Baptism. In the ancient Church, at Baptism the pastor would take some olive oil, the sphragis, and make the sign of the cross upon your forehead and heart. This would be a sign to you and others that you have been claimed by Christ. In the same way we might put a seal on the back of an envelope, certifying that what’s inside comes from us. We carry on this practice today, though usually without the oil. When you were baptized the pastor made the sign of the cross on your head and heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ.

It doesn’t always feel like it, though, does it? In Holy Baptism you are marked by the blood of Christ. You were given the gift of faith and the forgiveness of sins. You received eternal life and salvation in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And yet it doesn’t look like it. All around us we see death. We see the death of loved ones. We see long, protracted, painful illnesses. We live through the loss of jobs and closing of businesses, even the closing of churches. It says right here in Scripture the saints of God are before His throne and neither hunger or thirst, nor cry or suffer pain. When do we get that?

II.

The painful reality we live in is that, because of the Fall, we who are baptized into Christ are not only marked on our forehead and heart for redemption, but also with a target on our back. This is what St. Paul preached to the Christians at Iconium and Antioch. He taught them to continue steadfast in the faith, for, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”[3] You see, the devil hates you. This is why we suffer so many things. Ills of body and mind, broken relationships and lives, persecutions of various kinds – especially when we confess the pure Gospel of Christ against all false doctrine – these are all the result of the Fall into sin and the instigation of the devil.

Jesus promised that in this world we will have tribulation. But, “take heart,” Jesus says. “I have overcome the world.”[4] When we look at our text from Revelation, and see those saints and the rest they’ve entered, where there is no suffering of any kind, and then we look at our lives, it’s easy to feel short-changed. We look at the pagans and atheists who prosper and cry out to God, when we will have what they (seemingly) have. When will we have eternal life and rest from our labors, when will we be free from the effects of sin? When we will come out of the great tribulation? Now. St. John wrote, “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”[5]

By God’s grace alone, you were marked as one redeemed by Christ the crucified and now share in the inheritance of the saints in heaven. One of the meanings that I shared with you for the word seal is to certify something for delivery. In Baptism you were marked as Christ’s, and by that mark He promises to you that you will enter eternal life. He promises that He will guard and keep you until the time when we all feast together in the new creation. How does He do that? Through the preaching of His Word and in His Sacraments. In Baptism He washes you and makes you clean, and daily you rise before Him in righteousness and purity. Through the preaching of the Word He reminds you of your sinfulness, but also comforts you with the fact that He died for you. In the supper of His own body and blood, He gives, again, the forgiveness of your sins and the faith and love to serve Him and each other. Through these things He guards and protects you as His own redeemed and inheritors of eternal life until we become the saints who’ve gone before.

Today we celebrate All Saints Day. We celebrate not because they were better than us or more perfect examples of the faith. We celebrate because of the grace and forgiveness that they received, as we do, through faith in Jesus Christ. They have passed from death to life and rest from their labors. Some from among us are there now, too. May Christ keep us ever steadfast in the one true faith, and may He always remind us that we are marked by His blood for the redemption of our souls until these words are said of us:

They are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”[6]


[1] “Oh, How Blest Are They,” Lutheran Service Book, 679.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Re 7:3.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ac 14:22.

[4] Jn. 16:33.

[5] 1 Jn 5:4–5.

[6] Rev. 7:15-17