Based on: John 5:25-29
Today is “Saints Triumphant” Sunday. No, I’m not talking about the New Orleans Saints football team, even though they are undefeated so far this season. If you are a Saints fan, that might make you feel “triumphant”, but if you are a fan of another football team without a perfect record, you might feel not quite as triumphant. However we are here to talk about an even greater triumph than winning football games. We are here to remind ourselves that Christ’s death was our victory over death. We are here to focus on the victorious life we have and the triumph we will enjoy when God calls us home to eternal life.
Before we talk about our life, let us look at death. It will help us appreciate our life. What does it mean to be dead?
Some of this makes common sense. If you are alive you are free to move around and do certain things, but if you are dead you are trapped. You are not free to do as you want. You can not eat and drink. You can not do the things that normally maintain life. When you are dead you don’t even realize you are dead.
You know from your own experience that death also separates. Death divides. It separates loved ones from one another. Friends, relatives, coworkers – it doesn’t matter. Death separates. It severs relationships and divides the whole human race into two categories – those who are alive and those who are dead.
The worst thing about being dead is the separation from God. Even though that person may breathe air, go to work, interact with others, and so on – even though he or she seems to be alive to the rest of the world – sin has separated that person from God who is the only source of life.
Oh, perhaps some of you were confused. Perhaps you thought up until a few moments ago that I was talking about the death of the body! No, I have been talking about the death of the soul, a spiritual death. The death of the body is actually a blessing from God. Of far greater concern to us is the death of the soul.
So, as I was saying, Someone who is spiritually dead can not take in the spiritual food and drink that brings life, is trapped and can only to offend God, and can not change his state of spiritual death. The spiritually dead are separated from God and divided from the living. They do not share in the blessings enjoyed by the spiritually alive. Remember what Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” Jesus promises that spiritual death will divide even family members.
If you thought I have been talking about physical death then I encourage you to not look at the world the way others look at the world. Look at the world with the eyes of faith. Look at people the way Jesus looks at them and your view of the world will change. Jesus looked at Jairus’ daughter and said, “She is not dead, but asleep.” Jesus knew that even though the breathe had left her body and her heart had stopped beating, she was alive. Yet, when Jesus talked to the rich young ruler, Jesus knew this man standing before him was dead because he valued his wealth more than eternal life.
This applies to the way we look at ourselves. We do not start out alive and then eventually die – quite the opposite. From the very beginning of our existence we were dead and by God’s grace we were brought to life. In Ephesians chapter 2, Paul tells us, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” But then he says, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”
How does this happen? Jesus tells us, “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” At this point Jesus is not talking about that day in the future when earthly bodies will come back to life. Jesus said the time “has now come.” Even as Jesus walked this earth told people about himself, dead people were coming to life. Even greater than the raising of Lazarus from the tomb was the resurrection Lazarus experienced when Jesus shared the Gospel with him.
Open your eyes to see what was happening spiritually as Jesus walked the earth. With his preaching and teaching, Jesus performed resurrection after resurrection – as he called disciples, as he forgave the adulterous woman, as he called Zacchaeus down from the tree. These were resurrections from death to life! Over and over again, the voice of the Son of God was heard and the dead and decaying souls of men were made alive.
These resurrections did not stop when Jesus ascended into heaven. The voice of the Son of God is still heard as believers tell others that Christ’s blood covers their sin, that their debt to God has been paid in full. This Word of Christ still makes dead people alive. That’s how you came to life. In fact, for most of you I can tell you the very words through which you heard the voice of the Son of God and crossed from death to life – “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus Christ also speaks through us. The powerful voice of the Son of God is heard as I proclaim the Gospel from this pulpit and as you point people to their Savior through your words and actions. Still today the dead hear the voice of the Son of God and live, and we are the instruments of that miracle.
The power for these miraculous resurrections come from Christ’s own death and resurrection. There on the cross he took on himself all of the sins that separated us from God, all of the sins that caused our spiritual death. Our sins have been taken from us and so death has been taken from us. In Christ’s resurrection we see the assurance of our own resurrection. Now, whenever we tell of Christ’s death for our sin and his resurrection for our life, the voice of the Son of God is heard.
But we can not speak only of our spiritual death and resurrection. What about those who have had a spiritual resurrection but whose body has died – like the members of St. John’s whom the Lord has called home this past year? I will tell you their names: Elmer Lehnert, Gene Lochner, Shorty Schmidt, Anna Petermann, Verna Painter, Elaine Keim, Norma Siegmann, and Wally Trebesch. What about them?
Look at them the way Jesus looks at them. They are alive. Even though their bodies are buried in the ground, they are alive. We call them Saints Triumphant because they are no longer surrounded by death as we are. They no longer are tempted by the sins that cause death or by Satan, who wants to rob us of our life. These things can not touch them. One day the same will be true of us. Even after the death of our bodies, we will still be alive.
But wait, there is more. Jesus says, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
Again, on the last day, the voice of the Son of God will work a miraculous resurrection. When our Savior returns, with a word he will cause every physically dead body to come back to life – from Cain’s brother, Abel, to the last death on earth. Then he will judge. Those who by their words and actions show their own spiritual resurrection to life will continue their life with God. Those who by their words and actions show only that they have remained dead and apart from God – they will be forever condemned and separated from God.
That is brief summary of our life as a Christian – life comes to us as we hear the voice of Jesus in the Gospel, the power for that life comes from Christ’s own death on the cross, the result of that life will be even more life. The first time Jesus came he died to give us life forever. The second time he comes he will come to take away death forever. We will forever be “Saints Triumphant”.