Think of them – husbands, brothers, mothers, grandfathers, friends. All those you know who have died in the Lord. Think of them on the basis of his promises. Think of them in his glory. …Where there are no more tears – not from pain, not of sadness, nor of fear. …With a glorious being, though not yet reunited bodily, being present with the Lord, able to perfectly praise. …Where they shout and sing hallelujahs, where they rejoice in gladness and give glory, where they are “the blessed”. Think of them – those sinners you have known washed clean in the blood of the Lamb: saints; those who have fought the good fight and now are alive to the Lord: triumphant. They are “invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb” and robed in white. They are at the party and dressed to the nines.
In that way in the past, we’ve listed the names of those who died in the Lord in the last year, remembering together the victory they now share (we’ll do that again in future years). And, whether it’s here or elsewhere, isn’t that how you like to think of them? It’s comforting to know, if those who died once suffered, that now they suffer no more. Likewise, in this year or others, perhaps you’ve said, “Well, I’m glad so and so didn’t have to see this…” It’s comforting to know that those who have died don’t have to continue to experience these terrible things, isn’t it? There’s comfort in knowing that those who die in the Lord have his victory and none of this losing; that they’re enjoying the party, even if we’re not.
But perhaps we have that wrong. Is that the right way to frame it? I mean that sometimes we look toward that golden glory as though it’s some distant star, far off and out of reach lightyears away, then we turn back to trudge through all this ashen gray. Sometimes we really emphasize, don’t we, that we’re the church militant? That we’re fighting? That it’s a struggle here, yet? And that isn’t wrong. God warns us that the devil is our enemy and he’s on the prowl and he’s hungry (1 Peter 5:8). Last week Paul reminded us that we’re children of the light and to not live like those in the dark, where wickedness reigns. That’s true, but it can also be false… If, say, our recognition that all of this is terrible begins to be the measure of what’s true: that there might be a party somewhere, but it isn’t ours.
For instance, if you haven’t caught that in America we’re in a culture war, you gotta get out a little bit. Take your pick – you wanna talk about post-birth abortions which states wish to legalize; or maybe whether 8yr olds should be able to choose their gender, which some believe; or whether you and I can preach God’s law against “protected groups”, because some would like to throw me in jail if I did. If you look around, in many ways, it seems like we’re losing – God’s will is ignored, often repressed, sometimes declared illegal. Some people who call themselves Christians don’t get that or think it’s all fine. Others are at a loss and mute. And that’s depressing. And it’s only going to get worse, Jesus himself says. (Matthew 13:13)
And we almost shouldn’t even do that – take the measure of the “out there”. There’s enough “in here”. Just think how bad you know it is daily. Paul had to talk about the darkness because he and you and me we’ve been there. We have our own deeds of darkness we’ve done – each one. They’re ones we know are abhorrent to the Lord but our greedy hearts need them and seek them and give in when they come tempting. They’re those things we know God’s clearly said, but we doubt they’re true or we just think they’re inconvenient. And if we measure our track record – how well we actually keep the law – US law, Wisconsin law, God’s law – it’s terrible. If you think you’re fine, you’re either ignorant or a liar. And that’s depressing too, isn’t it? We know our guilts. Sometimes we feel like these things here are punishment for those guilts. Maybe like we ought to suffer through stuff like this, this here and now, instead of being there. Losers, not triumphant. The guilty, not saints.
Israel of old, they were guilty too. They knew garbage culture shifts, personal/national failure, depression. Isaiah, when he prophesied in ch.52 was talking ahead about where Israel would go. That they would be failures of faith and not trust the Lord and would face his judgment and finally find themselves in Babylon, exiled. But things would change finally. You might say that ch.52 is about whether Israel would see that change and know it and own it.
In the chs. previous, Isaiah prophesied how God would turn back Babylon whom he’d allowed to take his people. He would punish them and shame them and, in his grace, exercise his insurmountable love for his own. Two verses this morning is all we’ll take. Listen to how the Lord calls his people in their seemingly terrible situation:
Awake, awake, O Zion,
clothe yourself with strength.
Put on your garments of splendor,
O Jerusalem, the holy city.
The uncircumcised and defiled
will not enter you again.
Shake off your dust;
rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck,
O captive Daughter of Zion.
He’s speaking to you too. You are the people of God, the Israel of faith. From the exile of sin, he has set you free. Things are different now, by his work. You are not chained by the devil or any guilt. No one has paid a price to own you, none except God’s Son. With his own blood he bought you at his cross and set you free by his death. So that as you live, sin does not defile you. Rising to life, he justified you; you are not unclean. In fact, though you appear weak, he gives you strength to take up: his promises of forgiveness and love and coming judgment, of heaven your home. He calls us each, by faith in his royal holiness, kings and queens, priests to God our Father. Rather than sitting in the dust, depressed, he calls us to this freedom – to be kings and queens, seated enthroned – some day, yes, but even now. “Wake up!” he says. He holds out the garments of his righteousness, of holy splendor that he’s prepared and says, “Put these on! Wear this. Where you’re going you’re gonna need them.”
Because…we will be with the Lord forever. When we meet him with those who have gone before, it will be blessed. But also because the victory has been won, the party’s already started. Its hallelujahs we hear pouring out the windows of the Word and through the doorway of God’s Son. Its amens and shouts of praise bring a smile to our faces. For we are saints triumphant in Jesus Christ. We’re invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! We’re not trudging through this… we’re waiting in line for that. “Wake up,” Jesus says. “And dress like it’s time to party…