All Saints’ Day
November 6, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church – New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
I spent a chunk of time this week searching the internet on how to remove blood stains, and you wouldn’t believe the conflicting advice you can find. Some sources say vinegar, some say ammonia, one said use cola, still others recommend various cleaning aids like enzyme soap or meat tenderizer. The Lifehacker website couldn’t decide if you should use warm water, or shouldn’t use warm water. Most suggested a multi-prong approach of scrubbing, soaking, and using various solutions. All of them agreed that the quicker you can get to it, the better, because blood stains will set in about 24 hours. And then good luck.
It’s probably good to know how to remove blood stains from clothing if you shave or are prone to bloody noses and are in the habit of wearing white. If you wear dark colors, especially reds and browns, you might be able to get away with hiding some stains with only minimal cleaning (though be careful to test to make sure the dye holds). But if you get blood on white clothes, your only recourse might be to throw the clothes away and go shopping for more.
But despite the stubborn mess blood can make of good clothes, blood plays an important function if you have an accident. In addition to all the other functions blood plays in your body—like transporting nutrients and oxygen, heating and cooling your body—blood helps to clean wounds. If blood is flowing out, then dangerous infections have a harder time getting in.
But, of course, a little blood may not be a big deal—except if you get it on your clothes—but a lot of blood can be deadly. In Leviticus God declares, For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life (Lev 17:14 ESV). If you lose too much blood you’ll lose your life.
But blood can also be unclean. It can carry disease and death as much as it does life. So there was also a Levitical prohibition to eating blood, and if you did, it was necessary to go through ritual cleansing.
In John’s Apocalypse (apocalypse is simply a technical term for “revelation”), he is given a vision first of the Church militant—the Christians here on earth—and of the battle and the struggle in which they are engaged. But then the vision changes gears: After this I looked, and behold, a great crowd, which no one is able to count, from every ethnicity and tribe and people and language, that have stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and palm branches in their hand. And they called out with a great voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb. And all the angels had stood around the throne and the elders and the four living ones, they fell down before the throne upon their faces and worshiped God, saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength to our God forever and ever. Amen.” And one of the elders asked me, saying, “These ones dressed in white robes, who are they and from where do they come?” (vv 9-13).
It’s a peculiar host arrayed in white. They hold palm branches like on Palm Sunday, like a victor’s parade. They sing and ascribe salvation to God on the throne and to the Lamb. They ascribe to Him blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and strength. But it’s their clothes by which they are identified. Who are these, dressed in white? It’s a rhetorical question, of course. You already know who they are. But the way they are described is a bit surprising.
And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation and they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v 14). Blood…that makes white. That is curious. It’s an inversion of the Levitical Law. You don’t need to cleanse yourself after coming into contact with blood, but this particular blood—the blood of the Lamb—is itself what cleanses and washes the robes and makes them white.
Furthermore, Because of this they are before the throne of God and worship Him day and night in His temple, and the One who is seated on the throne in His tabernacle. They will not be hungry anymore, neither will they be thirsty anymore, neither will the sun burn them with any heat. Because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them, and will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes (vv 15-17).
Another inversion. Instead of a man shepherding a flock of sheep, it’s a Lamb shepherding a flock of people. He leads them out of the great tribulation—this world of pain and grief and suffering—and through the cleansing flood of the blood, He leads them to springs of living water.
The Lamb, whose blood stains robes white, is none other than Jesus Christ. The same John who received the apocalyptic vision also writes to the churches, The blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7). The blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, has an altogether different quality from other blood. It’s not necessary to scrub it out or to use soaps or solutions, because the blood itself is what cleanses. The point of John’s vision of the host in white is to show that this cleansing is not like Levitical cleansing of washing filth from the body with water—or like doing laundry—but it’s an altogether cleansing. Inside and out, body and soul.
After being cleansed by His blood, the Lamb leads His people dressed in white to water. Not just any water, but springs of living water. No need to wash in this pool. It’s water for a refreshing drink. Jesus spoke of this water to a Samaritan woman whom He met at Jacob’s Well. He said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked and He would have giving you living water…All who drink this water [in the well] will be thirsty again. But anyone who drinks from the water that I will give to him, he will never be thirsty forever. But the water that I will give to him will become in him a spring of water bubbling up for eternal life (Jn 4:10, 13-14).
The water of Jesus quenches all thirst. But not because it’s physically hydrating. The water of which Jesus speaks is the water of the Spirit. And the water and the Spirit are always connected to the blood. When Jesus had completed all things, He gave up His Spirit on the cross. And a soldier pierced His side and immediately there came from that wound not only blood, but also water.
This is He who came through water and blood, writes St. John, Jesus Christ. Not in water only, but in the water and in the blood. And the Spirit is the witness because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that bear witness—the Spirit and the water and the blood—and these three are for one thing (1 Jn 5:6-8). What is this thing to which they witness? The death of the Son of God, which is what gives you life.
This is what it means to be a saint—to be washed clean in the blood of the Lamb, to have your sins brought to the cross by this Lamb who suffers and dies for them. It means to believe the witness of the Spirit and the blood and the water, and to drink deeply of the springs of living water.
Who Are the Saints? They Are Those Washed in the Blood of the Lamb
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard