Walking through a cemetery and looking at gravestones can be an educational experience. The things etched into the gravestones can tell you a little about the person. You know for sure when it was when they were born as well as they day they passed away. You can tell if they were married and sometimes you can find the date of their marriage. Sometimes you can learn who the deceased was parent and/or grandparent too. By the markings or the style of the gravestone, you can tell if the person was a Christian. If the deceased served in the military, there is usually a separate marker to indicate what branch of the military they served, their rank, and when they served.
Gravestones have become more elaborate over time and because of that, you can learn a little bit more about an individual. Take this gravestone for instance. You not knowing who she is, what could you learn about her? … You can tell that Sunni was a daughter, a sister, and an aunt. She died young, at the age of 26. She probably had a love for theater, for drama … also a love for softball and four-wheelers. I can tell you from knowing Sunni personally, from graduating high school with her, and being friends with her … that is all true.
As the saying goes, the dead may tell no tales. If you go to Sunni’s grave, you aren’t going to hear her tell you about her love for cheerleading and the time she spent in New York City. Instead you’ll hear only the birds chirping and the squirrels rustling in the leaves. When we visit the graves of those we know, we don’t hear their voice beyond the grave. But on All Saints Day, as we remember those who have died in the faith … their names, they remind us of the lives they lived.
You know, to speak ill of the dead is usually considered to be distasteful … but the cold hard truth is that those who have gone before us were wretched sinners. Every single gravestone marks the place where a wretched sinner lies. The fact that they were a sinner is the very reason why they died. Paul tells us in Romans 6:23, “for the wages of sin is death.” And unless Christ comes before we die, someday a cold stone with etchings in it will mark the place where our wretched sinful body will lie.
Their names, the names of those who died with their faith in Jesus … they cause to recall, to remember God’s promise of where it is they are now in eternity. Their present reality, as hard as it may be not to have them with us because they have died, their present reality proclaims good news to you and me. Those who are dead preach the gospel. You and me, we will be like them … we will be sainted sinners living in God’s heavenly kingdom.
John writes, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9). Standing before the throne of God, those who have died in the faith are living, worshipping, and celebrating the victory won for them through the Lamb of God, through Jesus who sits on the throne of God.
John is asked by one of the elders, “These in white robes – who are they and where did they come from?” “These are the they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:13-4). These in white robes are the sinners who have died in faith and now stand, forgiven, cleansed, in the presence of their Savior.
These forgiven and redeemed saints remind us that we are sinner saints living in God’s kingdom here on earth. All Saints’ Day is a reminder that God’s kingdom isn’t just where those who died are, it is also here among us now … just not in a fullness which we can see.
When we talk about kingdoms, there’s an image which comes to mind. An image of a king and queen on a throne with subjects and lords ruling over the people. We need to understand something though. You see, God’s kingdom is not a kingdom as we would define it. Yes, God is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and God’s kingdom is on earth, it is just not of this world. It isn’t tied to any one location nor does its power structure work like ours. Unlike earthly kingdoms, where the king commands and demands those who live in his kingdom to provide for him, to defend him, and to do whatever else he may ask … God does not apply direct force on us to achieve some sort of desired result.
Despite our blatant sinful rebellion of not wanting to be subject to God … God still desires to have a relationship with us, with you and me, with people which He created in His own image. Like the relationships which we have with each other, God’s relationship with us cannot be one of forced power. Love which is forced onto another is not a love which can make them respond kindly. God does not rule over us as if we were robots programed to do only what He says. God’s kingdom is not one of force where you and I are exploited for His personal gain. Instead, God’s kingdom is one of patience and of long-suffering which is for our benefit. This very easily makes God’s kingdom appear to be weak.
God’s kingdom is not some massive empire which is visible to the naked eye. You can’t just walk up to a building and say “That’s God’s kingdom.” It doesn’t work like that. God’s kingdom comes to us by another means. God through His Holy Spirit living and dwelling within us, allows us to believe His holy Word. Believing in His Holy Word allows us to lead godly lives here in time and then there in eternity.
God’s kingdom comes to us through the lips of another speaking His Holy Word into our ears. This holy word is nothing other than the declared forgiveness of all of your sins on account of Christ, on account of Christ being raised up on high for all to see, by the shedding His blood on the cross of Mt. Calvary, which washes all of your sins away, which makes you clean and pure before God. By the holy word of Christ, our heavenly Father gives to you and me His Holy Spirit who brings to you and me the gift of faith. By this gift of faith … you are able to truly believe in your heart God’s holy word which declares you to be totally and completely forgiven.
As a pure gift, God gives us access to His glorious kingdom. We don’t attack it, we don’t storm in, we don’t raise up a coup from within and occupy His kingdom for ourselves. If it was up to us, we would never even get to the gate. We don’t possess God’s kingdom … instead it possesses us. By the blood of Christ, God washes away and breaks down the fortified walls of sin, of pride, and arrogance.
God’s kingdom is Jesus. Not Jesus the moral example of this is how you need to life your life or else, but Jesus, mocked, beaten, and crucified for you. Jesus risen from the dead for you. To “lead godly lives,” both “here in time and there in eternity,” is not an act of human will or the outcome of our human actions. It’s a result of Christ’s saving work for us, which the Holy Spirit delivers to us through God’s word. By His word … the greatest exchange ever takes place … Christ gets our sin and we get his righteousness and a place around his heavenly throne in his kingdom.
On All Saints’ Day, we remember more than those sainted sinners who have gone before us. As we remember them, we recall the gospel, the good news they preach from their graves. We remember the gospel which made them righteous. And we recall the promise of God that holds true in our lives … the promise that by Jesus Christ given for the forgiveness of your sins … you and I are sainted citizens of God’s eternal kingdom for sinners.
We too will one day come out of this great tribulation, have our robes washed in the blood of the Lamb and stand before Him. You and I will be with those who’s graves we visit standing before the throne of God and we will serve him day and night. Never again will we hunger, never again will we thirst. The sun will not beat upon us nor any scorching heat. The Lamb, our Savior Jesus Christ will be our shepherd and he will lead you, me, and all the sainted sinners before us to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
This is the gospel the dead preach to you and me and which we preach to others. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.