1st Sunday in Advent – B LSB #’s 331, 332, 354
Text – Mark 13:35 NIV
Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.
IS THE ROOSTER CROWING?
My childhood was spent growing up in the countryside of Michigan. My parents built our home on the farm of my father’s parents, & yet no one, within earshot of our house, raised chickens. So, the first several summers that I spent a week or two at an uncle’s farm, it took some getting used to, waking up at 5 or 6 am, as the roosters were crowing.
After a few years, however, I got used to it & learned to look forward to it. The sound of the roosters foretold the end of the night, & the coming of another day, a day of hard manual labor, but also of good times. For me the crowing of a rooster sets in motion the fond memories I have of those weeks of summer vacation on my uncle’s farm.
Are there sounds like that in your life, in your memory bank, sounds that foretell something to come, whether good or bad? Are there sounds that have the power to remind you of something, or bring back very clearly certain emotions?
Maybe it’s the sound of the train coming into town, or the familiar musical theme of a radio or TV program; the sound of children laughing & playing in the yard; the sound of a particular Christmas song, or in today’s culture a popular video game.
Sounds are able to remind us of what used to follow, or what is still soon to come. Have you heard any of your roosters crowing lately?
In the verses from today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is foretelling of things to come: “Keep watch!” That’s what should be forthcoming from our attitudes. Watchfulness! This is the 4th time He uses that phrase in the 13th chapter, all four of them in response to two initial questions from His disciples: “Tell us, when will these things be, & what will be the sign when all these things are to be fulfilled?” The disciples were concerned about the future just as we are.
This 13th chapter marks a transition, from the conclusion of Jesus’ ministry on earth, to the beginning of Passion Week – His suffering, death & resurrection. No doubt the disciples noticed a change in Jesus’ mood & outlook. They were concerned about what the future would bring, & where it would lead.
But, rather than answering the questions directly, Jesus tells them what they should be asking in the 1st place. The disciples were looking for an answer to when? Jesus told them no one knows that except the Father. Rather, they should be asking the question, “What?” What should they do in order to be prepared for the “when”?
The disciples were asking when the Jewish Temple would be destroyed, & they were connecting that event to the end of the world. They were correct in that connection, but were at least several thousand years off the time schedule.
Jesus teaches that the destruction of the Temple would happen during that very generation, but it was only the beginning of the end times, & not even He nor the angels knew when the final end would come.
You & I & our world are in those end times even now, & have been ever since the year 70 AD. That’s when the Romans set fire to the Jewish Temple, & not one stone was left upon another, just as Jesus predicted at the beginning of the chapter. The Wailing Wall, that is famous in our day, is merely one foundation upon which the Temple courts used to sit.
Our focus is not to be on the end times. That’s one reason why God did not reveal the day or the hour to us. How could we help but obsess & worry over it? Look at how people stress out over a wedding & all its plans. Now, imagine what it would be like if we knew the date of the end of time? Our attention is to be applied to Jesus Christ, & Him alone. One of the historical teachings of the Advent season is preparation for His arrival. As long as we are prepared, it matters not when the end comes. What if the roosters are crowing? The answer is not for us to know. Anyone predicting the date of the world’s end is dealing in false prophecy.
Jesus’ answer to the disciples is consistently the same, “Be on guard! Watch!” Watch for false prophets that you will not be deceived. Watch for complacency in your faith, watch for worldly things taking 1st place in your life. Watch for the temptations of Satan, who would lead you astray from the Way, the Truth & the Life. Watch for your friends & watch for your family, that they too are not misled or deceived.
All those admonitions are things for us to do, & history shows that whenever we are required to do something we will not do it well enough. The OT is a continuous record of the failure of God’s chosen people, their failure to keep God’s covenants. We are no better than Israel. We all shrivel up like a leaf, & like the wind our sins sweep us away.
And thus the reason for the season of Advent, the season of Christmas & Lent & Easter. We fail… Jesus succeeds. That’s why our focus is to be on Him & not on the end. Jesus is whom we are to watch for. Advent is meant to help us watch for the Christ child; for it’s through Him that you & I are made ready. That’s why He came.
Whether the end is far or near, it is possible to lose our faith. Satan never sleeps. He’s constantly at work, cajoling, teasing & tempting us to take our eyes off of that insignificant looking baby in the manger. He’ll lead us to focus upon anything else, be it the end of time, our career, our illness, our national elections. If it isn’t Christ Jesus, it does not save you.
What is your focus as this Christmas arrives? What are you alert for? Are you ready with anticipation for the arrival of Christ, or are you ready with the hope that all the hoopla will soon be over with? Don’t the parties & the shopping become the focus, & often a negative one at that? Is the Advent season, as it was designed to, really preparing your heart for the Son of God to live there? Through your baptism, Christ took up residence there. Through your baptism He is actually coming to you every single day.
The Son of God is born anew every morning in the hearts of those who trust in Him. Have you been welcoming Him? Have you been talking with Him? He is the One making your heart ready to be His eternal residence. As His brothers & sisters we live in Christ, & Christ lives in us. Jesus is the owner of the house & He will come back.
He’s put us in charge & assigned our tasks. As we love Him we diligently go about the work He has given us. As His brothers & sisters we desire to be actively engaged in His service. It’s an honor & privilege, & brings many blessings with it. But the responsibility is there as well – the responsibility to keep watch because we don’t know when Christ will return.
Throughout the 13th chapter Jesus emphasizes vigilance. That suggests that the final call to watchfulness, in v. 37, is not focused exclusively upon that last day, but also has in mind the continuing life of your spiritual nature. That spiritual life is actually in more danger now, during these days of complacency & false teaching, than it will be on the day when Jesus comes again.
That’s why the Advent season is so important. It affords us an opportunity to examine our lives in light of the approaching celebration of our Messiah’s birth.
What is there in your life for which God would send His Son to die? Was it merely to solve your day-to-day problems & overthrow your earthly enemies? Or did God’s Son need to die for your sins? Did He live, & die, & live again – so that you could truly live & live forever? Do you hear the rooster crowing? Amen.
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive &
bear a son, & shall call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14 ESV) The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Thanksgiving – 2020 LSB #’s 892, 785, 895
Text – Matthew 20:10-12
Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, & you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day & the scorching heat.’
BEARING THE BURDEN & THE HEAT
There are times in life when you have an awareness of something without really comprehending it. I saw it, but only in my peripheral vision. I saw it there, but wasn’t really comprehending what I saw. When I turned to look, at what my peripheral vision was seeing, then I realized what it was. In that moment it hid under the blanket that was lying on the floor.
So I ran upstairs looking for our cat. When I found him, I picked him, ran back downstairs & placed him facing the blanket. He made zero effort at all even to approach the blanket, but instantly spun 180 degrees – now facing into the downstairs bedroom.
From experience I have learned not to doubt our cat, so I too turned 180 degrees & saw him flying into the bedroom in hot pursuit. For a mere instant I saw the creature as it flashed under the bed & our cat flew under with it. Some of the furniture took a beating from our 18 pound feline, but he returned in about 30 seconds with the mouse.
There are times in life when you have an awareness of something without really comprehending it. Upon hearing this parable you may be experiencing one of those times. Isn’t there something in Jesus’ words that strike you as unfair? Here’s how the workers who were hired first responded:
‘These last worked only one hour, & you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day & the scorching heat.’ If you’ve had the opportunity to work outdoors for a full day in the blazing sun you can sympathize with these poor guys. If they had a union this would never fly – paying the guys with the least seniority just as much as the guys with the most seniority. This business owner is not treating the workers fairly & everyone knows it. And this is where the opening illustration comes into play. Do you remember the point of it?
There are times in life when you have an awareness of something without really comprehending it. When I first saw the mouse, I knew something was there, but I didn’t know what. I had to ‘tune in” & pay closer attention to figure out what it was that was bothering me.
What the owner does in the parable is not fair, but to learn from Jesus we need to ‘tune in’ & pay closer attention to figure out what it is that’s bothering us. If the story of this parable seems to you, in any way, to be unfair, then it’s your sin that is out there in your spiritual peripheral vision. Your own sinful nature is sneaking up on you! Are you tuning in?
Remember, this is Jesus talking to you through the parable, & it’s your sinful nature that is recognizing what Yahweh is doing as unfair. He is, this very moment, actively at work here on earth. In a general way God is weaving together the details of your own life, & in a specific way He is confronting you through the words of this evening’s service.
Like our cat is hyper-alert to any sort of mouse activity, our sinful nature is hyper-alert to God’s activity. “These last worked only one hour, & you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day & the scorching heat.” (Matthew 20:10-12 ESV) Our sinful nature has hunted down the generosity of God & labeled it, “This is not fair!”
In Genesis 4, Cain hunted down his brother Abel & killed him because Abel’s generosity made Cain look bad. It’s quite a dramatic story too – short & to the point.
Moses writes of the birth of Cain in verse 1, & the birth of Abel in verse 2. In verse 3 Cain brings an offering to God. In verse 4 Abel brings his, & Moses specifically mentions that Abel brought “the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock.” (NLT) The 5th verse shares that Cain became very angry. So in verse 6 the Lord speaks to Cain to encourage him, & to warn him that sin is crouching at his door. Nevertheless, by the end of verse 8, Abel is dead because his offering to the Lord properly reflected the generosity of God while Cain’s did not.
The sinful nature of Cain hunted down the generosity of Abel & labeled it, “This is not fair!” It wasn’t fair that his little brother should receive God’s approval while he did not. But our Creator offers His gift of generosity to all of us equally. Sometimes we refuse that gift. All of us have, at one time or another, gotten hung up on expecting life to be fair.
When we bear the burden of the day & the scorching heat we expect to be compensated for it. The previous section of the Gospel of Matthew recounted the rich young man who came to Jesus asking, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 ESV) In other words, he saw eternal life as something to be earned by our efforts.
When we feel that something in life is unfair, that feeling is often related to our innate desire to be compensated for our efforts. Eventually, the rich young man leaves, because he could not bear to sell what he possessed in order to follow Jesus. Then Jesus says:
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24 ESV) The disciples of Jesus are astonished because they believe that a person becomes wealthy through God compensating them for some great good deed. And if a person who does great & good things cannot enter heaven, then who can?
Eventually Jesus replies, “But many who are 1st will be last, & the last 1st.” (Matthew 19:30 ESV) And that is where the Gospel reading for this evening begins. Since the disciples have a complete misunderstanding of God’s kingdom, Jesus tells them what the reign of God is really like. It is totally unfair if you think it’s about who is important or who works the hardest.
As this parable is read we have an awareness of something without really comprehending
it. Unless we actively look for it, unless the Holy Spirit works in us to search it out, we can totally miss the fact that we too have an expectation of being compensated for our good deeds. We also function as if we deserve the blessings we receive from God. As this parable is read your sinful nature, & mine, sits up & takes notice by objecting to God’s design.
That is a dangerous place to be. This parable is a warning to us not to be envious or jealous of our Lord’s generosity. The heavenly Father treats us with unconditional love. As we find our life in Him we treat others in the same way. As we find our life in reputation or money or possessions we end up alienating ourselves from the source of life.
Satan hates everything that is morally good, & so does our own sinful nature. That the owner of the vineyard is generous & that some of the workers are angry indicates that those workers are not actually members of the kingdom of God. They may have appeared, to the culture, to be first, but in truth they will be last.
What Jesus intends is for us to examine ourselves now, lest we lose our souls in the Great Judgment. As the result of the parable seems unfair to us, we should actively seek the counsel & guidance of the Holy Spirit to repent of our sins. As Jesus taught in the 6th chapter of Matthew:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth & rust destroy & where thieves break in & steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys & where thieves do not break in & steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20 ESV)
The Gospel aspect of this parable is that while workers are standing around idle, Jesus goes to them. He seeks them out & offers them life. Then, when the day’s labors are done He generously offers them the kingdom of God. That is how God reigns in this world even now. The generosity of God was perfectly demonstrated by His Son hanging dead on the cross.
That He freely offers life to anyone who will receive it is something for which we should
not be angry & grumble, but thankful, & we should respond by saying, “By grace I’m saved, grace free & boundless!” This is what the reign of God is like! This is what heaven will be like. Amen.
We worship You, God of our fathers, we bless You; through trial & tempest our guide You have been. When perils overtake us, You will not forsake us, & with Your help, O Lord, our struggles we win. With voices united our praises we offer & gladly our songs of thanksgiving we raise. With You, Lord, beside us, Your strong arm will guide us. To You, our great Redeemer, forever be praise! Amen. LSB 785:2-3.
Last Sunday of the Church Year – A (Proper 29) LSB #’s 345 (tune LW 18), 747 (solo), 697
Text – 1 Corinthians 15:26
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
WHAT IS DEATH?
It sounds like a simple question to answer... until someone begins to question your reply; to dig deeper into the realm of something that all human beings instinctively fear. Death speaks to the very core of everything that is wrong with us, of everything that we cannot control. It’s easy to think we know what death is until someone challenges our answer.
What is death? The medical community would answer – when your heart stops beating, or when there are no more brain waves to detect.
People suffering with Alzheimer’s disease become disoriented with respect to time, place, function & person. With this terrible affliction come depression, personality change & sometimes the inability to remember loved ones. Though technically still alive, to the person whom the family once knew & loved, in a very real sense death has already come.
Maybe you’ve heard or read this verse from Revelation 21: “But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, & all liars – their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (21:8 NLT)
From that, it’s clear that God’s Word teaches there is more than one death. In the 2nd chapter of Revelation it seems to refer to two deaths:
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, & for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, & I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” (2:10-11 ESV)
Then, we can look at the Gospel of John chapter 5: “I tell you the truth, those who listen
to my message & believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.” (5:24 NLT) There, God teaches that people who are yet alive on this earth have already died & passed into eternal life even though they have not yet suffered physical death.
Physical death, spiritual death, 1st death, 2nd death, dead while alive & alive while dead; the question, “What is death?” is a lot more complicated to answer than people realize. “Of the tree of the knowledge of good & evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17 ESV)
Sin has made such a mess of God’s creation that His highest creatures struggle even to explain what death is. Paul makes it clear in his letter to the church at Corinth that death is our enemy. In fact it’s the enemy of all God’s creation, & it will be the last enemy to be destroyed.
Some of our confusion comes from viewing life & death as mere biological facts. Paul’s proclamation echoes with the OT distinction between “life” & “death.” As Kathryn Tanner points out, the OT views life & death as metaphors for entire ways of living:
“…life refers to fruitfulness & abundance, longevity, communal flourishing & individual well-being, …death is a catch-all for such things as suffering, poverty, barrenness, oppression, social divisiveness & isolation” (Jesus, Humanity & the Trinity, p. 104-105).
Before the people of God are finally about to enter the Promised Land, Moses gives one last speech before God calls him to heaven. He encourages Israel to walk in the ways of God, “…then you shall live & multiply, & the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” (Deuteronomy 30:16 ESV)
Moses there equates life with walking in the ways of God. Then Moses warns them what will happen if they do not walk in the ways of God, “But if your heart turns away, & you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods & serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish.” (Deuteronomy 30:17-18a ESV) In setting before the people of God the choice between life & death, he equates life with walking in the ways of God, & He equates death with not walking in the ways of God.
“Therefore choose life that you & your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice & holding fast to Him, for He is your life & length of days…” (Deuteronomy 30:19b-20 ESV) Knowing the OT inside & out, this way of understanding life & death stands in the shadows of Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 15.
What is death? It’s much more than lacking brain waves or a heartbeat. To be dead is to be separated from the source of life. Jesus is the Way & the Truth & the Life. Sin created a division between us & our Creator. The purpose of God is victory over everything that is against God, the last of which is death itself (15:26).
Standing at the edge of another Promised Land, the resurrected Christ pronounces the final victory of life over death. No more will we be faced with choosing life or death. Now, we endure all the “deaths” we suffer in our daily living knowing that they’ve already been “swallowed up” in the victory of Messiah, the holy Son of God (1 Cor 15:54).
In his letter to the church at Rome Paul wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4 ESV)
That newness of life is so much more than just having brain waves or a heartbeat, even when it appears totally otherwise on the outside. In the Book of 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote the classic verse addressing this issue: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor 4:16-18 ESV)
Those are perfect words to address a disease like Alzheimer’s where the physical body, even the brain waves, are wasting away, yet the inner self, the soul, is being renewed day by day.
All our living & dying is wrapped up within the daily dying & rising of our baptism; the waters that make His victory ours, right here, right now, whether you were baptized 80 years ago, or less than 28 minutes ago. The resurrection from the dead is built into Baptism. There we are united to The Resurrected One, & what is true of Messiah is true of those united to Him.
Even if you have Alzheimer’s disease & your mind is wasting away, as a child of God, that disease is not your identity. As the Lord God said to Ezekiel in the OT lesson, “I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered. …I will bring them into their own land.” (Ezekiel 34: ESV) He’s talking of the final Promised Land – the paradise of heaven.
That is how God has planned the assault on death. It will be destroyed, & will no longer have power or opportunity to destroy our minds & bodies as death does so powerfully today. The final defeat of Death at the general resurrection will constitute the collapse of all resistance to Christ’s power.
Life can be grim, dreary & even brutal. But the guarantee of the resurrection of the body & life everlasting in Christ Jesus cheers the child of God, the one who lives his life by the faith in the Son of God Who loved him & gave His life for him.
Paul, in the final verses of the Epistle reading, envisions the Last Day as the moment when Christ’s reign will be complete. It’s the day when His selfless ministry of mercy will be vindicated, & those of us who, like Him, were ready & willing to lose their lives for the sake of the Gospel will be declared alive – forever! Amen.
No saint on earth lives life to self alone or dies alone, for we with Christ are one. So if we live, for alone we live, & if we die, to Christ our dying give. In living & in dying this confess: We are the Lord’s, safe in God’s faithfulness. For to this end our Lord by death was slain, that to new life He might rise again. Through sorrow on to triumph Christ has led, & reigns over all: the living & the dead. In living & in dying, Him we bless; we are the Lord’s, safe in God’s faithfulness. Amen. LSB 747.
24th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 28) LSB #’s 508:1-4, 6-7, 832, 708
Text – 1 Thessalonians 5:1
Now concerning the times & the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.
TIMES & SEASONS
As Lutheran children of God, we’ve been taught, over & over again, that we cannot know the day when Jesus will return. So I ask, do you believe that Jesus will return in glory before you & your generation will die? If you don’t believe that will happen, the next question is this: Do you expect that Jesus will return in glory before you & your generation will die?
You’ve said it solemnly, right here in this place, over & over again, publicly for all the world to hear, especially now that we are live streaming our services, that you are expecting Christ to return. You have told me & all the world that you are waiting for the Day of the Lord.
Do you recognize these words? “I look for the resurrection of the dead & the life of the world to come.” Aren’t those words familiar? They should be, because we speak them at least two Sundays of each month as we confess our Christian faith with the words of the Nicene Creed.
So, unless you’ve been speaking lies here in God’s house, those words declare that you are already looking for Jesus to return in glory before you & your generation will die. The Day of the Lord will be that occasion when God puts down every evil, eliminating all injustice, sin & even death itself. After that day there’ll be no more shame & nothing to hide ever again.
I know in my own life, it’s something I’ve been thinking about more & more the older I get, & the more I am looking for it: “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!” And if you agree with me, know this, in that expectation you & I are not alone. Almost 2000 years ago the congregation in Thessalonica also was looking for the return of Jesus. As typical of sinful human beings, they had some misunderstandings, so Paul gives instruction regarding the 2nd coming of Christ & the proper behavior of God’s children in light of this coming Day. Given how corrupted by sin all of us are, it’s not easy to grasp how big a deal that Day is going to be. The consequences of getting it wrong will never ever come to an end.
But this is how the sinful mind that you & I have looks at things:
“Generations come & generations go, but the earth never changes. The sun rises & the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south, & then turns north. Around & around it goes, blowing in circles. Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers & flows out again to the sea… History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, ‘Here is something new!’ But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. We don’t remember what happened in the past, & in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.” (Ecclesiastes 1:4-7, 9-11 NLT)
Those are words of the wisest sinful being to ever have walked this earth. He completely understood what sin has done to this world. “‘Absolutely pointless!’ says the preacher. ‘Absolutely pointless! Everything is pointless.’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 AAT) That’s only the 2nd verse of the Book of Ecclesiastes.
If that was the opinion of King Solomon, is it a wonder that you & I struggle to grasp just how big a deal the last day of time is going to be? When you’re buying another car, you make sure you’re ready & there on time. When you have a hair appointment, you make sure you’re ready & there on time.
Concerning the Last Day, are you ready? Because God Himself is going to see to it that you are there on time! In the OT reading, the prophet Zephaniah spoke about that Day:
“The great day of the Lord is near, near & hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress & anguish, a day of ruin & devastation, a day of darkness & gloom, a day of clouds & thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast & battle cry against the fortified cities & against the lofty battlements.” (Zephaniah 1:14-16 ESV) Zephaniah may not have been as wise as King Solomon, but Zephaniah trusted in the Lord & believed in His Words, & took them to heart. Likewise for St. Paul, as he writes to the church at Thessalonica – words that also apply to us: “Now concerning the times & the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.”
Indeed, we do not need to be told that our world is in crisis. Global & national events cascade upon us, each bringing a series of actions & reactions. The Covid pandemic & associated lockdowns, combined with local & national political campaigns, have brought a great deal of fear in our “times & seasons.” They’ve brought us to the verge of an unknown future.
At least, that is what we are being tempted to believe. Yet, as King Solomon wrote, “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, ‘Here is something new!’ But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 NLT)
The truth is we never know what the next moment will bring, let alone the next day or the next year. Twelve months ago, no one had a clue what this year would bring. And in spite of that, nothing is ever new under the sun. Sin destroyed this creation long ago, & our heavenly Creator has been working ever since to rescue His creation from its evil condition.
Our world is in a predicament where everything is pointless, unless there is some kind of rescue plan in play. King Solomon had fallen away from believing in Jesus as his Savior & in that condition there was no hope. You & I can get sucked into that same mindset.
Just listen to the news here in our nation. The commentators cry for justice, but they deliver none. In fact, if justice were served, the commentators would be out of a job. There’d be nothing to rant & rave about on television, & I seriously doubt that anyone will be watching the six o’clock news in heaven. News commentators today, at all networks, are not much more than leeches who feed off of the worst things in our society. They have nothing to offer in the way of hope or healing. “History merely repeats itself. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” Human beings are hopelessly lost in our sinful condition if left to ourselves. Our nation, not the Covid pandemic, has brought itself to the verge of an unknown future.
Americans increasingly are turning their backs on the heavenly Father, casually blowing off the religion He gave us as irrelevant to their lives. The very 1st child, born into this world of sin, took that approach. His offerings to God were half-hearted at best. When younger brother Abel gave the first & best portion of his flock, it made Cain look bad – so he killed Abel.
People are still being murdered today for similar reasons, & that will only stop on the Day of the Lord. Every other kind of sin & injustice will also continue, stopping only on the Day of the Lord. It is then that Jesus will return to separate the sheep from the goats, & He has warned us that the Day will arrive as unexpectedly as a thief in the night.
The twist I’d never noticed before comes right after the sermon text: “Now concerning the times & the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.” Now comes verse 2: “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
What that means is that people who are trusting in Jesus to make themselves right before God, those people know that He is returning & they are looking for it! They “…look for the resurrection of the dead & the life of the world to come.” Their saintly nature, created in them by the Holy Spirit, sees the signs of the times & the seasons.
They don’t need to be told that this world is reaching its end. They feel it in the heartache & suffering this sinful world brings into their lives & into the entirety of God’s creation. Think of the current pandemic! Think of all the jobs lost in connection with it. Think of the death of George Floyd & of all the police officers killed or injured since then. Think of all the shootings that go on any given night in all the large cities across our land. Think of all the Christians in other lands being locked up, or tortured & beaten just for daring to believe in the name of Jesus. The list of terror & heartache & suffering is endless.
Our world is in a predicament where everything is pointless, unless there is some kind of rescue plan in play. I hope you realize that neither the Democrats nor the Republican can put into action that rescue plan. The only plan that can save anyone in this creation is already accomplished, & you know the Author. He is Jesus Christ, the Son of the eternal God.
Since you are expecting Him to return & recreate all of creation, St. Paul encourages us in 1 Thessalonians to remember who you are, & whose you are. Then let that guide your daily decisions. Moment by moment, day by day, keep on watching. Keep on being ready. We do not know what day Christ will return, but do know that He will & we expect Him to.
And when Jesus returns He will judge all evil & restore complete & perfect justice to all who have ever existed. Heaven is that perfect justice for all who trust in Jesus. Hell is that perfect justice for anyone who does not. For unbelievers, God will come like a thief in the night, totally unexpected! That’s because they don’t believe His Words.
That does not apply to us if you believe what we say in the Nicene Creed. If you believe this, then live it out! Be alive! Be encouraged! To be alive is to be joyful while seeing clearly & with discernment. Even when life brings us to what seems like the unknown, such as the pandemic has done, Jesus will meet us there because He is with us always, to the end of the age.
The times & seasons may belong to crisis, but the Day belongs to the Lord! And because that Day belongs to the scar-healed hands of the crucified & risen One, even that unknown Day becomes a source not of fear, but of hope. We do not need some politician to tell us that our government is bringing peace & security” (v. 3). We already have that by faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior from any crisis that may arise. “Christ has already died & risen again. Christ will come again.” Our end, in more ways than one, is in Christ, & that is all we need to know for our peace of mind & eternal security, no matter what the times & the seasons of life may be. Amen.
Jesus shall reign where ever the sun does its successive journeys run: His kingdom stretch from shore to shore till moons shall wax & wane no more. Blessings abound where ever He reigns: the prisoners leap, unloose their chains, the weary find eternal rest, & all who suffer want are blest. Amen. LSB 832:1, 4.
All Saints Day – 2020 LSB #’s 664, 706, 673
Text – Revelation 7:14b-15
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes & made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God & serve Him day & night in His temple; & He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence.
RECONCILIATION OUT OF TRIBULATION
Is there anyone out there like me? When reading a book, or watching a movie – especially one that might hold my attention – I am always tempted to skip ahead & find out first how the story ends.
The sermon text for this All Saints’ Day tends to do what I like: it gives me at least a glimpse of what is at the end! When all the battles, adjustments, trials, tribulations, sorrows & despair have been endured – it shows how the story ends. When all our efforts & divisions seem to have failed or fallen short – what happens when all is said & done?
For many, it will be a time filled with surprises & shockers. Surprises because of what might happen as we tried to live life among the most diverse situations we encounter. And shockers because it may not turn out the way we tried to work it.
In our confession of faith there’s that portion we speak asking God to forgive our sins of commission & omission; things we have done & left undone. The irony is that we will want to cast it all on Jesus to save us from eternal damnation. Not being held accountable, but like little children, saying “Jesus did it. I was always in the right! Jesus did it so lay it on Him.”
But let me be as honest & direct as I can be – even to the point of offending some – so that you might be saved! The opportunity to enter eternal bliss is laid on each one according to how he or she has believed in Jesus; how he or she responded in their life’s journey to the love Jesus gives to everyone! And there is One who knows all that you have done. For that reason He stands in your place assuring your redemption. Your guaranteed deliverance is not the result of your plans; yet the salvation of your soul is guaranteed right now! It’s not something you can merit on your own, but it will be laid upon you by God’s amazing grace! In Revelation 7:2–17, that is taking place: 144,000 will be sealed to eternal life.
Some denominations believe that will be all, yet reading at verse 9: “After this I looked, & behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes & peoples & languages, standing before the throne & before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”
That means you & me standing in the grace of God! No one will have been sinless. Not all will have escaped the struggle with doubt or wanting to give in & give up. Not all will have been those who lived with unwavering courage, never uttered a bad word or never had some ugly thought about their neighbor.
Not all will have thought well of their neighbor who looked different. Not all will have acted with compassion when they saw someone in need regardless of their ethnicity or skin color. As Jesus looks upon our brokenness, our inconsistent love, our prejudices, He cries out “… Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing …” (Luke 23:34)
That is exactly what he does every time you & I sin. So, here’s the real deal: all of us are sinners. As Paul made it clear in his letter to the Christians at Rome, “…all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God.” (3:23) “There is no one righteous, not even one!” (3:10) With that, beloved, what will be our plight at the end?
When you get the opportunity, go back & read Revelation 7:2–17 again. Then ask yourself how it will be at the end of your life. Sinners receive mediation, even when we did not provide mediation for someone else. When we had our knee on their neck & would not let them breathe, or even catch a life-sustaining breath – we need a mediator to approach the throne of God. Each of us needs a mediator clothed with the robes of justification & holiness, One able to bring us victory over this world of sinfulness, hate, bigotry, malice & the places of privilege we have etched out for ourselves to the detriment of others.
We need to come with palms in our hands just like those times when conquerors would appear in triumph! What a glorious appearance the faithful servants of God will make at that last great day & hour. After fighting the good fight of faith & finishing our course, with a thunderous voice we will give to God & the Lamb praise for the great salvation won for us.
Knowing that, we long for heaven where our praises & our joy will be perfect. There won’t be any two-faced examples of faith, but there will be that multitude from every tribe & nation enjoying eternal bliss while blessing both Father & Son publicly & with fervor!
What we will see is the work that only heaven can do – which we ought to begin right now filled with joy that we are in God’s kingdom. This is why: When we have messed up, given up, charted our own course, thus deserving God’s disdain & His unmerciful, unrelenting wrath, God remembers mercy as written in Habakkuk 3:2,
“O Lord, I have heard the report of You, & Your work, O Lord, do I fear. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” As we experience trials, we should pray that God would use us then to win others to the Savior, because in the hour of trouble, in the time of darkness, that’s when God works His best!
Just at the moment when those who thought their place of privilege & hard-heartedness would keep others out, at that moment when many thought having their knee on someone’s neck would stop their entering in, it is then that God stirs up & steps in to bring reconciliation to end systematic racist tactics, that we might be able to say like John: “After this I looked, & behold, a great multitude … from every nation, from all tribes & peoples & languages, standing before the throne & before the Lamb … crying out with a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, & to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10)
I’ll go as far as to say what they were singing, the same thing we will sing, “We have overcome this day! Thank the Lord for being so good to us!!” Trials do not last forever. One day you will come out of the tribulation & experience the gracious comforts of God. Wait & be faithful & He will see you through.
One day you will be standing with the great multitude. Standing around the throne holding palm branches & singing praises with a loud voice, because despite your past sins, God has forgiven you, He has reconciled you to Himself, & He has brought you through any & all the tribulations of this broken world.
Sometimes, when you’re struggling, especially how our nation is struggling, you just have to skip ahead & hear again how the story, your story & God’s story, how it will end. Amen.
Love in Christ is strong & living, binding faithful hearts in one; love in Christ is true & giving. May His will in us be done. Love is patient & forbearing, clothed in Christ’s humility, gentle, selfless, kind & caring, reaching out in charity. Love in Christ abides forever, fainting not when ills attend; love, forgiving & forgiven, shall endure until life’s end. Amen. LSB 706:1-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet