The Church: Militant and Triumphant
All Saints’ Day – 2014 LSB #662
Text – Revelation 7:4
And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
The Church: Militant & Triumphant!
The custodian of a church in Buffalo, NY, each week would place a quotation on the sign in front of the church. One week he had the line, “This church is for sinners only.”
Several days later the pastor received an anonymous letter which read, “I am shocked to learn that our church is for sinners only. I’ve been a member of this congregation for 24 years & never realized I was out of place & not welcome.”
It’s a myth that the church should be a place for holy people, & the devil has been quite successful in keeping that fable alive. It goes to show how much work is left for God’s children to do here on earth. There’s a tremendous need among our neighbors & co-workers to understand why Jesus created the Christian Church.
You’ve probably heard people say, “I can be a Christian without going to church.” You’d have a difficult time trying to convince me you’ve never once thought that yourself. As with all the initial lies of the Satan, there is some truth in that statement.
For those who were Christians, when Joseph Stalin took over Russia, there often was no option of going to church, because he had the pastors executed or sent to labor camps. The church buildings were closed or converted to other uses. In their case, it was true; they could be, & had to be, Christians without going to church. They had no choice in the matter.
For healthy people in a country with religious freedom to make that claim is a totally different matter. It is never the saintly nature in us, which God created, that says, “I can be a Christian without going to church.” Those are always the words of our sinful nature. They are the words of Satan himself. On Mt. Sinai our Lord gave us the 3rd commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” When Martin Luther was alive & well he wrote this explanation for what God’s commandment means: “We should fear & love God so that we do not despise preaching & His Word, but hold it sacred & gladly hear & learn it.” That is how a Christian’s saintly nature views going to church.
The church, as a building, is space a congregation dedicates to the glory of God, & God’s glory is greatest when He is serving His people. As Jesus said, He came not to be served, but to serve others, & to give His life as a ransom for many. His life, death & resurrection are still serving people today. That’s what a church building is dedicated to.
Yet, a building alone doesn’t serve anyone. It takes Christian men, women & children to serve people here in this place. It takes pastors & musicians, acolytes & ushers, altar guild & custodians. Chiefly, it takes humble & open hearts, souls who are willing to turn away from their sin & trust their heavenly Father with every aspect of their lives.
That is flat out warfare, between the saintly nature & the sinful, between the devil’s word & God’s Word. The devil says, “You can be a Christian without going to church.”
Jesus says, “And let us considers how to stir up one another to love & good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, & all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24 ESV)
In the daily warfare, between our saintly & sinful natures, we need the encouragement of our fellow believers as we battle together against a common, outward foe. Among other things, God calls us together specifically for the purpose of speaking Words of God to each other for strength & reassurance.
Then, sometimes, the battles we face seem to arise because of our fellow believers. In those circumstances, it goes back to an inner battle between our saintly & sinful natures. On the one hand, we know we should love & encourage them. On the other hand, something about them irritates & tortures us so that we find it impossible, with our own strength, to love & care for them. Thus, if we are striving to follow God’s will, He uses our sinful weakness in order to force us to lean upon His strength once we realize that our own power is a total failure.
In our country, with religious freedom, Lone Ranger Christians miss out on so many of the blessings that our Savior delivers through a congregation of fellow believers. However, it doesn’t mean that reaping those blessings is an effortless process. Living a Christian life is still warfare, because the devil will not give up the battle until he is cast into hell.
Thus St. John was inspired to write of the Christians before the heavenly throne, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.” The church on earth is often referred to as The Church Militant because it is always at war. That’s not a politically correct picture, yet the gates of hell shall not prevail. Satan cannot keep anyone prisoner against our Savior’s will.
That is gloriously good news no matter how much the liberal elite of our nation despises the very thought of the Church as the army of God. They despise it for two reasons, one because it talks of armies & two because it speaks well of Christianity.
You see, Jesus’ army fights to bring life & freedom to those imprisoned by sin. Satan’s army fights in order to bring death & to keep people trapped in their sin. Jesus wants us to warn people that they are sinners so they will allow themselves to be rescued. The devil wants Christians to scream at the sinners so they’ll despair of ever being saved.
There’s a fine line between the two. On the outside, it may look much the same, but the motive in our heart, as we warn others, makes all the difference in the world. So we need to be aware of what’s going on in our heart & discern the presence of either attitude. Are we speaking the truth in love? Are we speaking the truth in anger, or from hatred? Unfortunately, as sinful beings, even our love for others is often contaminated by hatred & anger. That does not prevent us from speaking the truth in love, but it does make it complicated, & often very difficult to do. Of course, dying on the cross wasn’t exactly a piece of cake even for Jesus… Our love for Jesus, because of what He did to rescue us, is what motivates us to warn people of their sin.
But good motives aren’t enough. We also, desperately need God’s strength to accomplish our mission, & we need it each hour of each day for every decision. For that reason, Revelation 7 gives us a picture, not only of the Church Militant, but also of the Church Triumphant. The 1st is the Church here on earth. The 2nd is the Church in heaven.
In the previous chapter of Revelation, Jesus is opening 6 of the 7 seals, & they are frightening judgments upon the unbelief of mankind. Chapter 7 opens with four of the devil’s agents waiting to wreak havoc upon the earth. An angel with the seal of the living God upon him prohibits this until the total number of God’s elect has been sealed:
“And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali…” And on it goes as John sounds the drumbeat of salvation.
By listing the 12,000, twelve times, John is driving home the completeness & the perfection of God’s saving work. Not a single child of our heavenly Father shall be overlooked. Not one lamb who believes shall be lost. The promises to Abraham, beginning way back in Genesis 12, are being fulfilled. That is the final picture of the Church Militant, here on earth.
Now we move on to the Church Triumphant: “After this I looked, & behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes & peoples & languages, standing before the throne & before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, & crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, & to the Lamb!’” One day all God’s children will be called out of the grave! What a glorious & triumphant vision! And they are standing in order to honor the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Their robes that were tattered & torn, horribly defiled even, by the sin & by the tribulations of life, have been plunged into the bath of the Lamb’s blood & are now a dazzling white. This is the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints & the life everlasting.
If there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents how unbelievably great will be the joyful adoration of the heavenly host when all the redeemed stand before their Lord & Savior! The question that applies directly to us, “Is there any fellowship left for us today, with the saints we love, who’ve already gone on to be with our heavenly Father?”
In a cemetery near the southwestern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem, a tombstone marks the resting place of a young British soldier who died there in 1939. He was only 27 years old & the epitaph inscribed on that stone is a message from his parents in far off Britain. It reads, “Ever loving memory of our dear son, Ron, always in our thoughts.” Mum & Dad.
Love will not allow us to forget the saints in our families. Faith still unites us even though we are very much conscious of the great divide between time & death. There’s a bond that draws us close to them & that bond is our common Lord – Jesus Christ.
O, we wish to be near the saints, the loved ones we yet cherish. To hear their voices, to know again the touch of their hands, to be sitting across the table, to step out & share our lives with them, how we would plan our days filled with important adventures.
Such longing on our part draws us to the place of their rest, to the cemetery or wherever their ashes have been scattered. In God’s plan, if we wish to be close to our loved ones who died in the Lord, the place for that is not where the physical remains lie at rest. The place to have communion with them, to be near them, is here at the Lord’s Table. The Holy Communion of Christ is the Sacrament that links us to Jesus & through Him to the saints who in heaven are celebrating & praising Him even now.
Revelation 7 tells us that the Lamb is in the midst of the throne, & He is their Shepherd, caring for them in every way. This morning, this same Lamb is truly present here, giving us His Body & Blood in, with & under the bread & wine. He is cleansing us of our sins & uniting us to the Church Militant here on earth as well as to the Church Triumphant there in heaven.
In Christ we have a closeness of fellowship & a unity with our departed loved ones that in some ways exceeds what we had here on earth, because in Christ our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west. Let us be at this altar without fail for whatever ails us, whether sin or persecution, illness or the death of one we love.
Now, in that same cemetery in Jerusalem, there’s yet another epitaph on the tombstone of another British soldier, also 27 years old. This one expresses what you may be feeling this All Saints’ Day about your loved ones, as it reads, “We will meet again at God’s right hand then we will understand.” Amen.
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ the royal master, leads against the foe; forward into battle see His banners go! Like a mighty army moves the Church of God; brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod. We are not divided, all one body we, one in hope & doctrine, one in charity. Crowns & thrones may perish, kingdoms rise & wane, but the Church of Jesus constant will remain. Gates of hell can never ’gainst that Church prevail; we have Christ’s own promise & that cannot fail. Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet