All Saints’ Day: A Celebration and Encouragement

fullsizeoutput_ae3.jpegToday, is the celebration of All Saints’ Day. What is All Saints’ Day and why should we celebrate it?

Since the 4th century, Christians have celebrated the lives of saints and martyrs. However, it was not until AD 609 that Pope Boniface IV dedicated one day of remembrance for all martyrs. Since that time, and after a broadening by Pope Gregory IV in 837 into a celebration of all past saints, All Saints’ Day has been a solemn holy day in the Roman Catholic Church, often connected with reverence for past Christians and relics.  While often criticized for idolatrous veneration of departed Christians, even after the Reformation, most Protestants continued to celebrate All Saints’ Day as a way to connect God’s faithfulness to His people in times past with God’s faithfulness to His people now.

In Hebrews, chapter 11, the writer takes us through what is sometimes called the “Hall of Faith.” We hear of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Joseph, Moses and Rahab — all of whom faithfully walked through their ups-and-downs with God. The first words of chapter 12 take a sudden turn to the present: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The lives of great heroes of the faith are celebrated as an inspiration for the Christians listening in the present moment, that they too might live with God faithfully in their everyday lives.

I love that phrase: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” Those witnesses are the believers in God that have gone before us. They bear witness to us that there is a way to live faithfully with God upon earth now even as they also bear witness that there is future hope with God beyond our earthly lives. Although it may sound strange to our ears, all past believers are ‘saints’ in that they are ‘holy ones’ (the literal translation of the Greek word hagioi) through Jesus Christ. All Saints’ Day brings to the foreground the spiritual bond that exists between believers from all times and in all places. More specifically, All Saints’ Day highlights the connection between the saints who have gone ahead of us into God’s presence (sometimes called “the Church triumphant”) and the saints still upon this earthly plane (sometimes called “the Church militant”). We celebrate those who have gone before us so that we might be encouraged to run the race before us with our eyes fixed on Jesus.

In a culture dominated by the ever-pressing latest and greatest that is new and now, All Saints’ Day is a powerful corrective. It reminds that we are an important part of God’s story, but we are not the only part of the story. When we celebrate the saints of previous times we realize that we would not be here were it not for Abraham, Jacob, Ruth, David, Esther, Isaiah, Mary, and so many more.

In a culture that is obsessed with our present opinions about our present matters, All Saints’ Day offers us perspective. It helps us grow beyond “the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about,” to steal a phrase from G. K. Chesterton. We reconnect with Catherine of Siena and Augustine of Hippo, with Perpetua of Carthage and Janani Luwum of Uganda, with Sojourner Truth and Blaise Pascal. We need them; perhaps even more than we know.

In a culture that has forgotten how to think about the future, All Saints’ Day reminds us to have hope of a future day. Since there are saints who have gone before us, we can persevere now as saints upon earth. Jesus Himself told us that He is preparing a place for us and, as John testifies, there will be a great company there of saints from every tribe, tongue, and nation around God’s throne celebrating in God’s eternal kingdom.

By God’s grace, we, too, will join that great company. But until we do, we celebrate God’s faithfulness in their lives as a means to lean into God’s faithfulness in our own lives as persevering pilgrims in this land that is not our home.

The One Who is to Come: Jesus Like Isaiah

Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. (Isaiah 49:1)

Isaiah the prophet was raised up for a purpose: to speak the words of God and to glorify God before all the nations. But this passage is not about Isaiah, but about Israel. Israel was called from the womb by God as the infant Jacob, renamed Israel after wrestling with God. Israel was also a a people set apart since the calling of Abraham to be birthed into the world for the blessing of the nations. This people would strive with God and glorify God before all people. Ultimately, however, this people would falter in their calling.

Yet out of the womb of Israel would come the true Servant of the Lord, “one who is to be the ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old” (Micah 5:2). “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him…and his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2, 3). This One, set aside by God from the womb of Abraham and Sarah, from the womb of Jacob and Rachel, from the womb of the Virgin Mary, will come to bring good news of God’s kingdom, manifest the power of God, and bring blessing to the nations. He is a prophet like Isaiah, but more than a prophet. He is God’s servant but faithfully, even to the end. He is a son of David, but also the One before whom very knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. He is the Word made flesh and Immanuel. He is Jesus the Messiah, and we worship Him.

The Heart of God’s Deliverance: a word from John Oswalt on Isaiah 9

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7)

I came across this eye-catching word from John Oswalt while studying for an upcoming message from Isaiah 9:6-7:

How will God deliver from arrogance, war, oppression, and coercion? By being more arrogant, more warlike, more oppressive, and more coercive? Surely, the book of Isaiah indicates frequently that God was powerful enough to destroy his enemies in an instant, yet again and again, when the prophet comes to the heart of the means of deliverance, a childlike face peers out at us. God is strong enough to overcome his enemies by becoming vulnerable, transparent, and humble—the only hope, in fact, for turning enmity into friendship.

John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, chapters 1-39, NICOT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), 245.

God is King: Tracing the Kingdom of God through the Old Testament

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church we began a new series, “The Kingdom of God.” This first weekend I explored the theme of the kingdom of God through the Old Testament, touching on the creation in Genesis, Abraham’s calling, the Exodus with Moses and Joshua, the entrance of the kings, exile, and two prophets, Isaiah and Daniel. It was a lot in a short time, but was my attempt to help us gain clarity on the big themes of God’s kingdom in the Hebrew Scriptures. Next week we will take a similar journey through the New Testament.

You can view the message video and outline for the message is below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty.” (Psalm 24:8)

God is King over all (Genesis 1-2)

  • He has made and rules over everything
  • Humanity is made in God’s image and serves as God’s representative upon earth

God is King and His people play a part (Genesis, Exodus, Joshua)

  • God promises Abraham to raise up a new people (Genesis 12:1-3)
  • God delivers Israel at the Exodus and brings them to the Promised Land (Exodus 6:1-8)
  • God’s kingdom is different; He’s on His own “side” (Joshua 5:13-15)

God is King but Israel wanted another king  (1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings)

  • Samuel and Israel’s rejection of God (1 Samuel 8)
  • Saul the first and faulty king (1 Samuel 9)
  • David the new, but imperfect, king (1 Samuel 16; 2 Samuel 5)
  • Solomon and the decline of the kingship toward exile (1 Kings 11)

God is King and His kingdom is coming (Isaiah)

  • A day will come when the nations will stream to Jerusalem (Isaiah 2)
  • A messianic king will reign on David’s throne and bring God’s kingdom (Isaiah 9 & 11)
  • He will restore Zion’s glory, rebuild the exiled ruins, and bless the nations (Isaiah 60 & 61)

God is King and no other kingdom will endure (Daniel)

  • God’s kingdom will overwhelm and supplant the kingdoms of earth (Daniel 2:29-45)
  • God’s kingdom will break through the beastly kingdoms of earth when the Son of Man appears (Daniel 7:1-28)

Key themes of the kingdom of God in the Old Testament

  • God is King
  • God’s kingdom is different than and superior to all other kingdoms
  • God’s kingdom will come when the Messiah arrives
  • God’s people play a part in His kingdom
  • God’s kingdom brings blessing to the nations