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The Unchanging Promise of Change

November 6th 2011 by Joshua Simons

We at times do not care for change, however on this All Saints Sunday, we celebrate change. We who were born in sin and enemies of God by nature have been changed by His grace through the death and resurrection of Jewsus. We have been changed from "sinner" to "saint" and have been made children of God. Read to find out more...

All Saints Sunday, Series A - "THE UNCHANGING PROMISE OF CHANGE" - Matthew 5:1-12 - November 6, 2011

It has been said that the only thing constant in life is change. An ironical statement reminding us that change is inevitable, even as we sometimes long for things to remain the same. Change is most definitely constant. We have no more power to stop it than then we have the power to stop a freight train by standing firm on the tracks.

Change can be frightening. It means that we should never become too comfortable with the way things are . . . because it won’t last. How many of us have ever complained, “Things just aren’t the way they use to be.”?

Yet change can also be exciting. It promises that life will continue to present us with new adventures, even for those of us who aren’t all that adventurous. Old or young we can all look back and reflect on good changes that have occurred in our lives.

So what can we conclude about change? Don’t know. Let’s just leave it as it is . . . change is . . . inevitable.

As Christians, we are blessed to celebrate change, but you know we also celebrate what doesn’t change. We’ll talk about that today – celebrating what changes and what doesn’t. Today is All Saints Sunday. On this day, we most certainly celebrate change. And it’s a matter of terminology.

In Lutheranism, All Saints Day is a celebration of all faithful Christians, all those who have been baptized and believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, those who are known or unknown, those living and those who have died in the faith and now live in the presence of Almighty God. So we are all saints; we are all holy.

But does that make you at all uncomfortable to call yourself a saint? Let’s try a little experiment . . . altogether now, say “I am a saint.” . . . I am a saint . . . Ok, now let’s think about our actions the past couple days, this past week, perhaps even this morning. Ok, let’s say it again . . . I am a saint . . . kinda lost some flavor, huh? Well let’s try something else. Let’s say, “I am a sinner” . . . I am a sinner . . . which one felt more accurate?

We’re sinners. As David wrote in the 51st Psalm, Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Or as Paul cited the scriptures in his letter to the Romans, None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. These scriptures don’t talk about others, you know those “bad” people. No, they talk about everyone, and that includes us. So how can a bunch of sinners call themselves saints? How can a bunch of sinners dedicate a festival to the communion of saints?

One reason. One Way. One Word. One Baptism. One Savior. One cross. Only by the blood of the Lamb can we sinners call ourselves saints. Only by the grace of God and the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ do we sinners celebrate as saints.

From sinner to saint – the epitome of change – and Christ is the catalyst. In Colossians 1:21-22, Paul describes us as alienated, hostile in mind, doing evil deeds but then uses words such as holy, blameless, above reproach. Quite a change, but how? It’s what Paul says between these, speaking of what Christ does for us, now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death. Change . . . by the blood of Jesus . . . from doing evil deeds to above reproach.

That’s an astounding difference. It’s almost unbelievable. Point of fact . . . It actually would be unbelievable if not for the Holy Spirit creating faith in our hearts. He makes it possible to believe what, by human reason, is an impossible change. In the Beatitudes, which serve as our text today, Jesus was really setting the stage for this amazing change that believers count on and look forward to. We really hear the promise of change in these verses. Jesus was describing, for his disciples, how Blessed the new life of a Christian will be. Even when some of the descriptions don’t sound so favorable . . . poor in spirit, mourners, hunger and thirst for righteousness, persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Yet he describes the Christian as Blessed.

To make sense of this, we need to understand what is meant by the word “blessed” in these verses. “Blessed” in this context isn’t limited to temporal blessings, those that are material or those that have no bearing beyond this life. By “blessed”, Jesus means finding favor with God. Now we’re back to our sinner/saint issue. As sinners we do evil deeds and can’t find favor with God. We only become saints . . . holy and above reproach . . . by our faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. For the Beatitudes to offer us any true peace as they speak of change we must first see that the context of these statements is faith first. The blessings and changes listed in these Beatitudes, summarized by theirs is the kingdom of heaven, come by grace alone, by faith alone. And we only trust that reward of heaven because it comes by grace alone, not by our works.

See, it’s easy to read the Beatitudes the wrong way. It’s easy to read them as Law rather than Gospel. Either way, these words speak of change, but the difference is in who is responsible for the changing.

Let us note the Gospel in each . . . Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Think about our experiment earlier . . . the “poor in spirit” are all of us who feel that “sinner” is a more accurate description of ourselves than “saint”. But through Christ reconciling us to God, we are made righteous by his blood and are now heirs with him, gaining the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. We mourn death. We mourn over the cause of death, sin. But God grants life, eternal life. Our full comfort is in the knowledge of forgiveness and the promise of victory over death.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. We are to be humble, lowly, considering others first. So does that mean if we work really hard at those things, we will “inherit the earth”? No – that’s Law. We can only be humble and serve others because Christ is our example.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. In our sin, we act against God; we are enemies of him. But having been called through the Gospel, we now seek righteousness with the help of the Holy Spirit. Complete satisfaction only comes when we are fully sanctified on the Last day.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. We do not receive God’s mercy because we are merciful to others. Rather, we have the ability to be merciful to others only because God has shown his mercy to us by giving his Son to die for us.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Without faith in Christ, sinful man seeks false Gods, false philosophies and ideologies. Only by faith in Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life will we enter heaven and see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. We cannot achieve full peace in this sinful world. Only Christ offers complete peace through the forgiveness of sins. And those who are children of God share that peace with others.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. As the Apostle Peter said, But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:13). Suffering offers no rejoicing if it were not for our victory over it. We don’t suffer in Christ’s name unless we have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No persecution can take that away. And we have strength against our present sufferings because of the promise of the life to come.

In the final Beatitude, Jesus again speaks of persecution and reminds his disciples to Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, summarizing the change . . . tribulation in this life becomes a heavenly reward.

He then offers them encouragement with these words for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. We see something worthy of celebration in these words. At the beginning of my message I said Christians celebrate those things that change and those things that don’t change. What were the prophets persecuted for if not for the unchanging promise of the Gospel?

God doesn’t change. His Word doesn’t change. His promise doesn’t change, I will redeem you (Exodus 6:6). So we celebrate the unchanging promise of change.
On this All Saints Sunday we celebrate how God has changed us by the Gospel from sinner to saint. From sinners, those who do wrong – doing evil deeds – to saints, those who are not held accountable for what we do wrong . . . because Christ paid the price – above reproach.

We celebrate the changes Jesus spoke of in the Beatitudes. We celebrate how we have been changed, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand (Ephesians 2:10). We celebrate how [ours] is the kingdom of heaven.

And we celebrate the promise of our ultimate change on the last day. We still live in sin; we still contend with a sinful world, but we are redeemed. Simul iustus et peccator – at once justified and sinner. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit works in us to sanctify us through good works, coming to completion when Christ returns. We celebrate that this sinful world will pass away and we will enjoy eternal life with our Lord.

And through it all, we celebrate faith – the 100% assurance of things to come. In his unchanging Word, God has given us the unchanging promise of change. So in regard to our world, our life, and as we look to our inheritance, we celebrate that, with our unchanging God, change is . . . inevitable. Amen.

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