All Saints Sunday – God’s saints live and reign with him
Sunday, November 7, 2021
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What Are We Waiting For?
Family trips require patience. There is the time that you have to arrive as a family at a place. But the challenge is that seemingly, each family member has to take care of so many details before you can leave. And so, there can be the situation where we wait for each other. Months ago this took a bad turn in our family. We had to go somewhere. And each of us had gotten our supplies together. And the time came to leave and even went past the time to leave. And finally I asked the question, “What are we waiting for?” And we quickly realized that each of us was assuming that the other person was not ready yet. We were all ready. But we didn’t know it. Today we celebrate All Saints Day. On this day, in a more focused and full way, we look to what awaits us there in heaven. And in the prophet Isaiah, we see heaven, just waiting for us. In Isaiah 25, we read: “On this mountain, the Lord of Armies will prepare for all the peoples a feast of choice meat, a feast with aged wine, prime cuts of choice meat, fine vintage wine.” (Is. 25:6 CSB17)
What are we waiting for? We are waiting for a feast. In order to understand what is being pictured here we have to know the diet in ancient times. Most people, for most of the year age grain. And that was supplemented by fruits and vegetables when they were in season. Rarely did they get meat. And when they did, it was usually lean meat. And that’s why what the Lord says here would have been amazing for the people to hear. How is heaven pictured? It’s the picture of meat marbeled and dripping with fat.1 But there’s more at this banquet. There is also wine. And, again, it’s good to look at what sort of wine they drank back in the day. Water was not pure in ancient times. So they mixed it with wine to kill the bacteria. Rarely though they got to have wine. But when they did, it usually wasn’t what we would call “top shelf” wine. It wasn’t aged wine—filtered and refined. Here, in these words there is a feast waiting for these ancient believers. And there at that feast is the good stuff—the top shelf wine.2
And on this Sunday we have the privilige of looking ahead. For that feast that is pictured and promised to them is also pictured and promised to us. There’s a problem, though. So very often we have the temptation, that when we are given a brochure to a banquet, we like the brochure better than the banquet. We go to a family dinner at Thanksgiving or Christmas, and it’s easy to sit back in satisfaction and say, “It doesn’t get any better than that.’” It’s easy to go out fishing or hunting or snowmobiling and say the same. It’s easy to watch a really good movie with amazing landscapes and soundscapes. And when the movie is all done, we say, “It doesn’t get any better than that.’” But my Christian family, it does. On the one hand, we have to admit that there is nothing wrong with a good feast, or outing, or movie. But when these earthly gifts make us forget about the great feast waiting for us in heaven—that’s where the problem enters. What is shows and proves in us is that there is this active, living death inside of each of us. By faith we know that there is this feast provided for and promised to us. But we think about, plan and prepare for the earthly pursuits instead of the promised feast. Again, it’s like treasuring the brochure to the banquet more than the banquet itself. And that’s why, what the Lord says to us next is so meaningful: “7 On this mountain he will swallow up the burial shroud, the shroud over all the peoples, the sheet covering all the nations. 8 When he has swallowed up death once and for all, the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face and remove his people’s disgrace from the whole earth, for the Lord has spoken.” (Is. 25:7–8 CSB17)
What are we waiting for? We are waiting for a feast. But what we are also waiting for is a finish. Notice the picture that the Lord paints through Isaiah. Death is pictured as a burdening blanket; a smothering shroud. There is this living death inside of us every day, that even though we know the good is promised to us in heaven, we spend most of our time planning for the frail and fleeting joys of the present. And we have to admit, that there are times we do this so thoroughly, we forget about the feast there in heaven.
There is this continual spiritual death inside of us. But there is this final death too. We all know that if Jesus delays in coming death is just sitting there waiting for each of us. And what is our response to this fact? We have the temptation, like the rest of the world on Halloween, to deal with death by wallowing in it. Or, as has become popular and prevalent today, we can wish it away. So, it has become popular, that when grandma dies, the parents do not bring the kids to the funeral, because, according to the parents, they aren’t ready for that. And even though there are great blessings to having assisted living centers and nursing homes, the difficulty with them is that they can take the aging and the suffering out of our sight.
And so, we either wallow in death, or we have the temptation to, in a certain sense, wish it away. But not so in these words. It’s the blanket that burdens us. It’s the shroud that smothers us. And in such an amazing reaction to this threat, what does our good and gracious Lord do to deal with the constant death inside of us and the final death at the end of our lives? He swallows it finally and fully.3 What an amazing picture this is for what happens on Good Friday. There, on Golgatha, we do not see a cold and distant god who does not know and does not care. No, there on Golgatha, we see a God who knows perfectly and cares deeply. He cares for us so much that it wasn’t enough to wish away our sin that leads to death. Instead, he swallows death. And in doing this, he ends it. And notice then the beautiful results: First, there are no more tears. Heaven will be this feast and banquet. But it will be one where there are no tears or sadness. Second, There will be no taunting. Our sinful natures who get us to focus on the temporary and fleeting gifts instead of this lasting banquet will be taunting us no more. That’s what we are waiting for. We are waiting for a feast. We are waiting for a finish to sin and death; and the tears and taunting they bring to our lives. And in Christ we have that. And in our closing verse we have one more gift that we are waiting for: “On that day it will be said, “Look, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he has saved us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him. Let’s rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”” (Is. 25:9 CSB17)
What are we waiting for? We are waiting for a feast and a finish. But we are also waiting for our family. Notice that word, “we” being repeated again and again. The saints in heaven—when they got there, what did they say? We waited for you.4 And there’s some weight and beauty to that word, “wait.” It has with it this picture of being stretched and strained, like the wool that you pull out to make yarn. The stretching is tolerable, but if you pull to much it will break. The people here are saying the same: “O Lord, you were pulling us to the breaking point. But you saved us.” They waited for him. And he saved them. And my family in Christ, the same invitation and promise is there for us too. Our lives are ones of stretching and straining. We can be like that line from the movie, The Hobbit, that we are like too little butter stretched over too much bread. But our good and gracious Lord knows and sees. He will preserve us each day. And at the last he will save us and bring us into heaven. He will be there at the finish line. And not just our Savior, Jesus. So also will be there all those who have gone before us.
So my dear family in Christ, what are we waiting for? These are the days that fill us with hope and meaning. For on these days we get to lift our eyes above to look to what is waiting for us there in heaven. And what we see when we lift our eyes is that a feast is waiting for us; a final finish to tears and taunting is waiting for us; and a family is there waiting for us too. Amen.
1 ”שְׁמָנִ֖ים“ (Is. 25:6 BHS-T)
2 ”שְׁמָרִ֑ים“ (Is. 25:6 BHS-T)
3 ”בִּלַּ֤ע הַמָּ֙וֶת֙ לָנֶ֔צַח“ (Is. 25:8 HMT-W4)