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Be Ready

36[Jesus said:] “Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:36-44)

Today’s text from St. Matthew gives us opportunity to talk about such things the when of our Lord’s Coming, and to clarify what God reveals from what He has not.

As to the when of Christ’s Advent, Jesus doesn’t give us the time or day when He will return.  But this hasn’t stopped some from trying.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

1843/1844: Mr. Miller (Adventist movement) Mr. Miller, from whom the Adventist movement originated, calculated the date of 1843 or 1844, when the “cleansing of the entire earth” would take place.[1]

1847: Charles Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses); Charles T. Russell, influenced by the Adventists, calculated the date of 1847 as the date which Christ invisibly returned.[2]

2011 (May 21 & October 21): Harold Camping; Predicted Jesus’ return and the rapture (May); the final destruction of the world (October)

The belief that Christ’s return can be “fixed with actual definiteness” is foolishness and contrary to God’s Word.  In other places, too, in addition to today’s Gospel reading, does the Lord indicate this truth (i.e. Christ’s Ascension, Acts 1; Mark 1:15; 13:33ff; John 7:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; James 4:13-16; 2 Peter 3:10)

1 Thessalonians 5:2 “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.”

And, from today’s Gospel, Matthew 24: 37-39 “37As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Our Lord binds us to His Word and to nowhere else.  In this Word, He reveals Jesus—the Word become flesh (John 1:14)—to be our Savior.  God doesn’t answer all of our questions or satisfy our curiosity, but what He does give us is sufficient for our salvation.election

Let the Words of the Lord stand on their own.  Do not add to them or subtract from them.  Doing either is to make yourself the master of the Biblical text and the Biblical text your servant (see Proverbs 30:5-6; Revelation 22:18-19).

This is nothing but usurping God and His Word according to arrogance and pride.  It is presumptuous of sinners to think that they know better than God Himself, or to think that they can figure out knowledge that God has denied us, like the particular day of Christ’s coming.

St. Paul writes, “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.   For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

We ought not be like the five foolish virgins who did not have enough oil when the bridegroom arrived (Matthew 25:2).  Nor ought we to be as those who squander what they’ve been given because of false notion that things will always remain as they are.  A day of reckoning is soon approaching, and woe to those who aren’t prepared for it, who procrastinate in their belief that they have time to spare, that God’s Word can wait, and that when the day does arrive, they’ll prepare what needs to be done.

So our Lord says, “43But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

How easy it would be if the Lord did give us the time and the date of His arrival.  Like the approaching day of Christmas, we could buy gifts for Him, put on our best behavior, set everything in order.

If we knew the when of Christ’s return, we could really put on our Sunday best, reconcile with our enemies and those who trouble us and those by whom we are troubled.  We could forgive12th-hour others their debts and sins against us, give up our grudges and discontentments before He comes, because we would know when the Lord is coming.

We could do good to others, without any hope for thanks or appreciation in return, and be content with the promises of our Lord.  We could do what is right and not worry about what the result might or might not be, because we would know that the result of Christ’s death, our sins taken care of, means eternal life, which we would enjoy first hand at the return of the Lord.  We would know that the troubles in this life are almost done and nothing but joy and bliss and heaven await us.

If we only knew…If we only knew, we could be really ready, at just the right time before He comes, believing the Lord’s Word and following His Word, trusting in His promises, and taking seriously His Word before it is too late.  If we only knew…

The thing is, we do know – not the exact time, but how the Lord would have us be even now.

We have Jesus’ Word, that we be ready now, today.  He is coming, at an hour and in a day which we do not expect.

God is the kind of God that speaks to you in your ears that you hear and trust His Word to you as He speaks it.  He speaks to you of your distractions from hearing His Word and following what He says that you turn from these things and look to Jesus for mercy and help and hope.  He reveals to you your sin that you see clearly your Savior, He who is coming again, that you be ready and waiting when He does return.

Therefore, arise from your sleep and your slumber, your laziness and your misguided assumptions.  “Lift up your heads.”  Your “redemption” is drawing nigh (Psalm 24:7, 9; Luke 21:28).  Believe now what your Lord says.  Take His Word preached to you and spoken to you as from God Himself.  Don’t doubt, but take it to heart.  Take Him at His Word—at this moment—and everyday of your life.

Do not doubt the Lord’s kindness to you in Jesus Christ, who on the cross shed His blood in sacrifice for you that you be found clean before the Father.  Hold as your own the forgiveness of your sins given to you in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, for there, Christ gives His true body and His true blood for you to eat and to drink for your salvation.

Believe that God is the one who absolves your sins as the pastor declares to you the forgiveness of sins as a called and ordained servant of the Word, even as we believe concerningblessing-absolution confession, that:

Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”

On the cross, Jesus finished all that was needed for your salvation, and in Him, you are ready for His return.  Being baptized into the Name of the Triune God and believing His grace to you by such means as water and word, you are His, having been washed clean of all your sin.

Having been baptized, no longer live for yourselves, but to God—and for others, thinking not first for yourselves, but the needs of your neighbor.  Love God and love your neighbor, attend to what the Lord says and serve those in need around you.  Don’t wait for a better time.  Do it now.  Don’t wait for a later time to do what is to be done today, but do it today, while it’s still today and before the night comes (John 9:5).

Being ready for the Lord’s return does not mean doing all the right things, but believing rightly, believing rightly in Him who alone saves you from your distractions and procrastinations, from the world’s pull, and from your fleshly wants and desires.  Being ready has to do with believing He who did all the right things for you that you live, and that none of your wrong things can separate you from God (Romans 8).  Thus being reading and prepared, so you will be busy and active in love, waiting expectantly for the Lord’s return.

Being ready doesn’t mean neglecting what God would have you do, but doing it all the more zealously (2 Peter 3:10-15).

Being ready, being prepared, being watchful for the Lord’s return means being in the state of readiness, like the soldier on the battlefield or the sprinter ready to run or the family waiting for the guests to arrive at any time.

jesus-with-word-and-sacramentBeing vigilant for the Lord’s return means being serious about the Word of our Lord, clinging to Christ and Him alone for salvation, and believing God’s promises and the gifts God gives to you in Word and Sacrament.  Being ready, being in the state of readiness, has to do with resting and taking comfort in Him who is coming again, and what is ours because of Him:

We should learn to bring our eyes, our hearts, and souls to bear upon yonder life in heaven and in a lively hope await it with joy.  For if we would be Christians, the ultimate objects of our quest should not be marrying, giving in marriage, buying, selling, planting, building—activities that Christ says (Matt. 24:37ff; Luke 17:26ff.) the wicked will be engaged in especially before the Last Day.  To be sure, we, too, must use these things in order to satisfy the needs of the body.  But our ultimate quest should be something better and higher: the blessed inheritance in heaven that does not pass away.[3] 

Amen.

[1]              J.L. Neve, Churches and Sects of Christendom, (Blaire, Nebraska: Lutheran Publishing House, 1944), 461.

[2]              F.E. Mayer, Religious Bodies of America, (St. Louis: CPH, 1961), 474.

[3] Ewald Plass, What Luther Says, (St. Louis: CPH, 1959), 619.

The Hope and the Comfort of the Resurrection

13 I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Dear Family, friends, and loved ones.

The words of the Lord that draw our attention this day are those from 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, read just a few moments ago, where Paul, an apostle of the Lord Jesus, writes of those who have died in the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, of those who have fallen asleep. Here, he encourages Christians of their hope, even in the midst of sorrow and grief, that they do not sorrow and grieve as others do who have no hope. Christians have such hope on account of Christ’s death and resurrection. Because Jesus rose from the dead, so too do those who sorrow have confidence that the deceased in the Lord will also, with Christ, rise from the dead when Jesus comes again.

I was able to share these encouraging words from Thessalonians with the V. before he went into the hospital. We were talking about All Saints’ Day and how the word “saint” includes believers in Christ who continue to struggle with their sin, as well as those whose race has been won, who now rest from their labors, and enjoy God’s presence apart from sin.

On that day, V. was missing G. greatly. He was grieving her death and longed for her presence.

Even as he grieved, sorrowed, and perhaps felt lonely, it is just in that place that the news of Christ’s resurrection, that death does not have the last word, also for us, takes root and gives comfort. Like rays of light breaking through the darkness, not a “quick fix,” here the moment, gone the next, but a sure Word from the Lord, the resurrection sustains and strengthens. It gives the certainty of God’s favor. Through the good days and the days of trouble, which both come, Jesus is our hope and our peace.

V.’s struggle is now over. No more visits to the doctor. No more disappointments about possible remedies. No more contending with his own sins or the sins of others.

V. is at peace. We can be sure of this, not because of how good V. was in life, but because of the promises of God in Christ, which V. believed.

V. confessed and did not deny what Christians everywhere confess and do not deny, that he was a sinner, a sinner before a just God, a sinner who does not deserve God’s kindness, but rather, his condemnation. V. confessed this, as all Christians will do.

The Bible teaches that we are not as God wants us to be. V. understood this. He also believed that our keeping of the Law doesn’t save. Jesus does, Jesus, and Jesus alone.

There is salvation in no other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NKJ).

Though we are not perfect and holy, Jesus was. He had not come “To destroy the Law or the Prophets” but “to fulfill” them (Matt. 5:17, NKJ). He did not do these things because He needed to do them for Himself. He fulfilled them for us, as our proxy, our substitute, in order that we not be judged as guilty, but innocent before our Creator.

And this we are, Jesus Christ having died our death on the cross and being raised on the third day.

In addition to confessing Himself to be a sinner, V. confessed Jesus Christ to be His Savior. He heard the words of God’s absolution, God’s forgiveness of his sins, and declared this to be his own by the words, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the T life everlasting.”

V. believed these words, confessing them to be so. This is what Christians do. Words have meaning. It is with confidence that the Christian can say and does say, “I am Christ’s and He is mine.” Even in the midst of death, the Christian is sure and certain of the resurrection to come.

Before us is V.’s body in the casket. His death we cannot deny. It is a consequence of the Fall (Genesis 3). Before the first sin, all was good, “very good” and there was no death, only life (Genesis 1:31). Now, there is death.

The troubles that we face in the world, the unrest, the struggles, sicknesses, death—all these are the effects of sin. They show us that the world is not as it’s supposed to be, that something is not right.

As much as we might try to “fix” it or find ways to avoid the inevitable, we will always fall short. Salvation doesn’t rest with us. It comes from God through His Son. Try to go another way and you will only deceive yourself.

The Psalmist says, “What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave?” (Ps. 89:48 NKJ). The answer to the first question is “none,” and “no” to the second.

Today reminds us of our own mortality, a truth that we are not able to escape. You can run, but you can’t hide. We have our limits, and running from the truth is one of them. We can only do so for so long. It will catch up with us.

This is why today is not a “celebration of” V.’s “life.” For V. and his 94 years , we do indeed give thanks. These are blessed gifts of God, not at all to be despised or taken for granted.

Today is, though, the recognition that life in this world has an end. We might not want it to be so, but such is the way that it is.

But as Paul the apostle reminds us, this day is not only one of grief and sorrow. It is also a day of hope and confidence, not in the life that V. had lived, but in the life that Christ Jesus had lived, for V. and for you, and the death that He died, for V. and for you, and the resurrection on the third day, for V. and for you.

We also have confidence and hope this day concerning V.’s body. In time to come, just as God has said, so it will be, “The dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Even as the Holy Scriptures reveal that Jesus rose from the dead on day three following His death by crucifixion on Good Friday, so too will those who have died in Christ also rise from the dead, dead no more.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (Jn. 11:25 NKJ).

The “die” in “never die” that Jesus speaks about is eternal death, hell. Like the resurrection, many deny this teaching, too. Jesus didn’t. He speaks the truth, because He is the Truth, the Truth through whom one comes to the Heavenly Father and lives (John 14:6).

Whoever lives and believes in Me”, Jesus says, will never suffer eternal death. “Though he may” physically “die, he shall live.” These are the very promises of God’s Son, Savior, and these are for you.

V. believed these words, too. He believed that death does not have the last word. Christ has conquered death. Jesus has overcome the grave. The last word is not death and hell, but life and heaven.

In the resurrection, “When this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57 NKJ).

Baptized “in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), V.’s identity was as a child of God. Feeding on Christ’s body and blood in the Supper of our Lord, V. regularly received the forgiveness of sins. He did not sustain his own life. It was God that did. And now, V. awaits the resurrection of His body, but even “today,” He is with the Lord, “in paradise” (Luke 23:43)

Even as you did so much for V. in caring for him to the end, so the Lord took care of his greatest need—“Peace with God” (Romans 5:1). And this peace, V. had, in Christ.

This peace is also yours, in Christ, resting on and in Him who “was crucified, died, and buried,” who rose from the dead, and who lives and reigns to all eternity. Because of Him, your death, too, will not have the last word. You have no need to fear it, because the death of Jesus means that your sin no longer has the final say.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Romans 8:31-35) And the answer—No one and nothing! (Romans 8:38-39).

Do not grieve as those who have no hope. The hope of the world is fading and will not last. Lasting hope and true comfort that remains is that which God promises through His Son. Amen.

Jesus, Remember Me

27There followed [Jesus] a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:27-43)

Introduction

Today’s Gospel reading from St. Luke seems far removed from ‘The Last Day of the Church Year’. Where we would expect to hear of God’s Coming Judgment, of signs in heaven and growing tribulation on earth, and of Christ’s return in the clouds (Acts 1:9-11), instead we hear jesus-remembermeof Christ on Calvary’s cross, of women weeping after Him, of people mocking Him as He’s dying, and one of the two criminals crucified with Him saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

An account such as Jesus’ crucifixion does not seem to ‘fit in’ to this time of the church year. It seems like it would be better suited for Lent and Good Friday than today. However, taking a closer look at the text, we find that it is indeed fitting: first, with regard to Jesus’ words to the women who were mourning and lamenting after Him as He is on His way to the cross and death. Second, concerning the proper way to be prepared for our Lord’s return. And third, with reference to Jesus’ words to the criminal on the cross, to whom He said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

First: Jesus’ words to the women

First, Jesus’ Words to the women who had followed Jesus. They were mourning and lamenting because of what was happening. Jesus was going to His crucifixion and death. But to them He says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for jesuswomen4your children” (Luke 23:28). Then He proceeds to tell them what is to come, “29For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:29-31).

Here our Lord is not talking specifically about the Day when He will return. Rather, He is talking about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, of which Jesus spoke of earlier when He wept over it and said,If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:42-44).

The destruction of Jerusalem was in 70 A.D.. It was a foreshadowing of the destruction of the world to come.

The words of Jesus, “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves,” are words also for our years.

We comfort in the ways of the world than in the ways of God. We seek help and remedy from men and not exclusively from God. We look to the here and now and neglect that which is to come according to the very promises of God in Christ. We sorrow over what could be and rejoice little in what is. Yes—indeed—we are sinners.

On these words of our Lord, Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves,” Luther writes…

confession-cross1Such admonition we should accept as addressed to us. For we must all confess that we, on account of sin, are like an unfruitful, dry tree, in which there is nothing good, nor can any good come out therefrom. What will it, then, behoove us to do? Nothing but to weep and to cry to God for forgiveness, and to resist the evil, sinful nature earnestly, and not to give it free reign. For there the sentence stands: Since the fruitful tree is thus treated and God permits such severe sufferings to come upon His dear Son, we should certainly not feel secure, but acknowledge our sin, fear the wrath of God, and pray for forgiveness.1

When it comes to Christ’s death on the cross, many pity the Lord and His suffering, but go no further. They only hear of a man in pain and dying a slow death. But if that’s all that Christ is, Jesus is not Savior.

To pity and to be sorry for Jesus on the cross is not yet to recognize the why of His suffering and of His dying. Jesus willingly chose to go to death on Calvary for you…to pay the penalty for your sins…to suffer in your stead…and to die your death. You deserved all that He received. Willingly He suffered His passion and death, in order to save you from you sins.

Second, The Cross

Second, the cross. St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Later, he wrote, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

It is through Christ and Him crucified by which your sin is no more held against you, Jesus having put to death that which is rightfully yours, that is, death and hell. Because of Christ, you no longer bear the curse of the Law. Christ did that for you.

3crossesThe curse of the law is that curse which says that unless you keep the law’s demands entirely and perfectly, you are judged a sinner and deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment.

Paul says again, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them” (Galatians 3:10).

On account of God’s law, you all fall short, for “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). None is righteous, perfect, or holy (Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; 143:2; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10).

This none, the all who have sinned, includes you. You have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. You are not righteous. You are not perfect. You are not holy.

Jesus went to the cross that you not die in your sin, but that you live, no longer bearing the curse of the Law because of Adam’s sin and your own. On the cross, Christ took that curse upon Himself, and there, He did away with it.

Jesus died as a criminal—as a sinner—yet He had no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Indeed, Jesus “Was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12)

As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:19-21).

Christ crucified means that your sins are no more held against you, nor can they remain to be. They cannot condemn you before the Holy God because they were already put to death when Christ died. “By the blood of His cross” you have peace with God (Colossians 1:20; Romans 5:1).

Third: Jesus’ Word to the Criminal

Lastly, in today’s Gospel text, is conversation between the two criminals and Jesus while on the cross. The one mocks and blasphemes our Lord. The other defends Him, and says to Him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Then, Jesus says to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

By those words, “Remember me,” that one criminal wasn’t asking Jesus to simply not forget him. He was placing himself into the mercy of the Lord Jesus, whom he had come to recognize as One Who did not deserve to be lifted up on a tree, but Who did have the honor of God’s very Son. The man was confessing His faith in the Lord Jesus, and his desire to be with Him. And to him, Jesus promised eternal life.

kingdom-of-god2As you, too, call upon the Lord to remember you, placing yourselves into the Lord’s hands, trusting in Him for deliverance from this body of death, so too does He promise you paradise. When He comes again, this is where all who believe in His Name will be. This is the certain hope that all Christians possess, because God is faithful in all that He declares through His Son.

This is a present hope, but a future reality. It is not a question of “if” you have eternal life. The question is when. And that question is answered even for you, as it was for that thief on the cross, TODAY.

Kretzmann writes, “For all sinners in the whole world the Lord has opened the doors of paradise by His life, suffering, and death, and whosever believeth on Him has complete salvation as soon as he dies. That is the glorious fruit of the Passion of Christ: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.”2

Said another way, “Do not receive the grace of God in vain. Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:1, 2).

Conclusion

Though at first, a Lenten text having to do with Christ’s crucifixion might not seem to ‘fit’ very well as a reading for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, there is plenty there for us to consider with reference to the Lord’s Second Coming.

With His precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death”, Jesus “purchased and won you from all sins, death, and the power of the devil” (Explanation to 2nd Article). Rather than weep and sorrow for He who through suffering and death delivered you from hell, sorrow over your own sin. Find comfort in Christ, who died in your stead. Take Jesus’ words of forgiveness, peace, and eternal life to heart, for in and through Him, these are yours. Amen.

1 Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, New Testament, Vol 1, (St. Louis: CPH), 393.

2 Ibid., 395.

 

“Your Redemption is Drawing Near”

5While some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, [Jesus] said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 7And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” 8And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. 9And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

      10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your lives.

      20“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

      25“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

      29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:5-36)

Apostles’ Creed

apostlescreedIn the Apostles’ Creed, Christians everywhere confess that Jesus Christ “will come to judge the living and the dead.”  This confession is true because so say the Holy Scriptures, as heard in today’s Gospel reading.  The Lord Jesus will one day return, not in humility, but in glory.

He who “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross…God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-11, NKJ)

Christ’s Coming—Good News for Christians, Fearful Day for all others

As we approach the end of this church year, which concludes next Sunday, news of Christ’s second Advent—His Second Coming—is good news indeed for all who long to be without sin, for all who desire God’s mercy in Jesus.

But for all others, for those without Christ, the day of Christ’s return will not be a welcome day.  It will be a day of fear and dread.  It will be a day of fear and dread because for those who do not have Christ, to those who ignore His calling now to repent and believe the Gospel, they will be called to account for their sins.  For them, Christ’s return is not for salvation.  It is for their judgment.

But for the Christian, for the one who calls upon the Name of the Lord, who seeks God’s favor through the obedience of His Son, Christ comes to bring them to Himself, to take home all who belong to Him.

Be Ready12th-hour

 “The day is surely drawing near” (LSB 508).  We know not when.  Our Lord therefore says “Watch,” “Stay awake,” “Do not be weighed down with anxiety and the cares of this world” (Luke 21:34).

The Lord’s Return-The when we don’t know; That He is we Do

When it comes to our Lord’s His Second Coming, we know that He’s coming, we just don’t know when.  Some speculate that we have plenty of time.  After all, things have been going as they have been.

But in the words of Peter, “Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation”” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

To those who hold such ideas, Peter says, “This they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.  But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?   Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (2 Peter 3:5-15).

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise…” He “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Signs of Jesus’ Coming

From today’s Gospel text, Jesus reveals that the time is near.  He tells us that there will be false prophets and teachers, they who would deceive from the truth (Luke 21:8).  There will be wars, and nations fighting against nations.  There will be disasters such as earthquakes, and famines, and plagues.  There will be persecutions and betrayals and even martyrdom for the name of Christ.

All of these things that Jesus told His disciples, He told them that they might know that the end is near, and it is nearer than before.

Reason for hope—Your Redemption is drawing near

Nevertheless, instead of worrying and becoming anxious, instead of despairing over what is in the world and the church today, instead of losing heart and giving in and giving up, Jesus says “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

For the Christian, and for the Christian only, the increasing days of trouble both inside and outside the church are not reason to loseResurrection hope.  Christ continues to be her head.  Jesus gives nothing but the sure expectation of life everlasting to all who wait on Him!

The Lord will judge your oppressors with righteous judgment.  He will deliver you from the evil foe.  Indeed, He already has.  Sin and death no longer have their stronghold over you.  God the Father sent His Son to fulfill and satisfy God’s will for you on the cross by willingly shedding His precious blood.  His blood cleanses you of all your sin.

“If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:1-2, NKJ).

Sins Forgiven—Eternal Salvation

Now—in Christ–your debt of sin no longer remains.  You have no reason to fear the coming of the Lord.  You have reason to rejoice!  The judgment of God was met on Jesus, all of it, and none remains.

Straighten up and raise your heads!  The coming of the Lord Jesus means your redemption.  The coming of the Lord Jesus is your salvation.

Don’t Despair—Take Courage

Do not Despair!  Take courage! Be of good cheer (Matthew 9:2)!

In Jesus you have peace with God and need not fear Christ’s return at all.

Therefore, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory”(Colossians 3:2-4).

Instead of fretting and complaining because of how things are and despairing or worrying because of what you see around you, hope1turn to Christ, pray, and wait upon Him.

Believe His Word and His promise!  Trust in the Lord!  Seek first His Kingdom, His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), and watch; watch and stay awake, that you be ready for the coming of Your Lord.

Continue to hear His Word.  Continue to partake of the Sacrament, the very body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, by which you are ready for Lord’s appearance.

Jesus comes to deliver you from this veil of tears.  Your redemption is near.  Rejoice and be glad!  You are Christ’s, and He is yours!  Amen.

Christ is Risen!

ChristIsRisen.Matthew28.6

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope2  in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:12-22)

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

We face a similar challenge to what St. Paul faced in the early church.  Note who Paul is writing to.  He’s not writing to nonbelievers, but to Christians, Christians in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), yet Christians who deny “that there is a resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:12).  In Paul’s day, as recorded in the text, there were those who denied that a resurrection of the dead existed.  This would also include the denial, and consequence, of Christ’s resurrection.

Today, there are those in Christendom who deny that Christ bodily rose from the dead.  These will indeed speak of a resurrection, but not a bodily, physical resurrection of our Lord.  As other parts of Holy Scripture are allegorized and considered “not real,” “mythical,” or merely “symbolical,” so it has come to be with the resurrection of Christ.

An examination of even one text, that of St. Luke, however, reveals a far different conclusion.  In Luke 24, Jesus appears to His disciples (after speaking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus (13-35).  In Luke’s account, Jesus says to His disciples, “See my hands and my feet, that I am He; touch and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bone as you see me having” (39).  In addition, Jesus also eats fish in front of them (41-43).  By saying and doing these things, Jesus confirmed what the disciples saw (and had heard), that He was bodily alive, physically risen from the dead; not a ghost, not a phantasm, but truly and really the risen Lord and Christ in flesh and blood.

According to the text of Scripture, one cannot deny the bodily resurrection of our Lord.  To say that Jesus only has “risen in our hearts” or is alive somehow in a metaphysical or non-corporal way is really, to deny what the text says, and to reject the Christian faith, for as Paul states, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor. 15:17-18).

To deny that there is a resurrection of the dead is to deny Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  And to deny Christ’s resurrection is deny the work of God for our salvation.  Faith in Christ would only be delusional and without any foundation whatsoever.  And if this were the case, we would still be lost in our sins, having no hope.  Christians would then be the most foolish of people, believing in something that didn’t happen as if it did.

Yet, as Paul, Peter, and the Evangelists reveal, Christ is risen (bodily) from the dead!  The tomb is empty, only because God the Father raised His Son from the grave (Acts 2:32).  This means that the message of our Lord is true!  Your faith in Christ is not in vain.  It is not useless, nor is it meaningless.  Nor do you remain in your sin.  Christ’s resurrection means that your sin no longer has any say over you (Romans 6:1-14; 8:32-34).  Christ’s resurrection also means that the resurrection of the dead is true.  This also means, your own to come.

Let others say what they will about the resurrection of our Lord, but we declare with Scripture, with the Apostles and Evangelists, and with the whole household of God, that God raised His Son from the dead.  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!

Prayer: Gracious Lord, grant us faith not to doubt, but to firmly believe in Your resurrection, which means also our own, from the dead.  Raise us to new life in You, that we deny ourselves, forsake our sin, and follow you.  Amen.

Signs and Promises of God

 

 

Of the sign of the rainbow, Lutheran reminds us that:

“This sign should remind us to give thanks to God. For as often as the rainbow appears, it preaches to the entire world with a loud voice about the wrath which once moved God to destroy the whole world. It also gives comfort, that we may have the conviction that God is kindly inclined toward us again and will never again make use of so horrible a punishment. Thus it teaches the fear of God and faith at the same time, the greatest virtues… Let us, therefore, be reminded by this sign to fear God and to trust Him, in order that, just as we have escaped the punishment of the Flood, we may also be able to escape the punishment by fire.” [Luther’s Works, Vol. 2: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 6-14, (Genesis 9:20)]

The Church’s One Foundation

19 So then, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22 (NKJ)

Dear brothers and sisters in the one true faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The practice of playing down sin & God’s Word, and playing up acceptance of even the most grievous types of sins and man’s notions is becoming the norm.  But God speaks differently.  And lest some say that churches still holding firmly to the teachings of our blessed Savior Jesus Christ are immune to such atrocities, one only has to consider that what’s going on in Christendom today did not happen overnight.  Just as illness often remains unnoticed until the symptoms bear themselves out, so the disease of false doctrine often creeps into the church unnoticed, and damage is done even before any acknowledgment of a problem exists.

Therefore, it is necessary for God’s people to be ever vigilant in the Word of their Lord.  This is so in order that “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Ephesians 4:14).   “Nor should we be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds in the doctrine of Christ Jesus (Romans 12:2).

“As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.”  And, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:6-8).

The proclamation of God’s church throughout the ages that distinguishes Christians from nonChristians is the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s death on the cross.  But this cornerstone of the Christian faith is being molded and formed into an entirely different message, even a different Gospel, one which falls under God’s anathema (Galatians 1:6-9).

The church today is seen more as a place for man’s activity over and above God’s and more emphasis is placed on man’s endeavors and actions rather than on what God is doing in Christ through the blessed Word and Sacraments of our Lord.  God’s Word has become less important than man’s determination and will power to do.  It’s no longer Christ that unites God’s people into one body through faith, but man’s efforts which unify under the same cause.

Christ is preached as example, not as Savior.  Lip service is given to the Word of Christ, but hearts are far from Him (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8).  Ambiguity of speech is the common practice.  What is said is not what is meant and what is meant is not what is said.  Words are given different meanings and cause greater confusion rather than drawing together to Him who is the Head of His body.  Hearers are motivated and even encouraged only to hear what they want to hear rather than fight sinful temptations and listen to God’s law which condemns sin and God’s grace which forgives it.

The gospel in today’s church has not to do with God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness for Christ’s sake.  That doesn’t work.  That kind of message doesn’t have a place in today’s world where results and what is seen run the show.  Thus, a new kind of gospel has been established.  In the place of the historic gospel of the Christian faith of God’s love in Christ, tolerance and acceptance of anything and everything, as well as whatever works, is the proclamation that liberates and frees from the tyranny of oppression.

Houses of God have become houses of man, going the way of the world, having left their first love (Revelation 2:4).  The state of visible Christendom is in disarray, to say the least.  It appears broken, disunited, and worldly.  Regardless of the attempts to bind together, unify, and sanctify, of ourselves we have no ability to accomplish these worthy, but unattainable, goals.

The church of Christ, contrary to popular belief, is not bound together because of common activities and agendas.  Instead, according to Holy Scripture, it’s not what we do that unifies in the true and godly sense, but what God has done and continues to do in Christ Jesus.  This is the glue that binds God’s people as one.  Christ and Christ alone is our peace that breaks down the wall of hostility between us.

It is the unity of a common faith in the Lord Jesus as Savior, Him and no other.  This is what brings God’s people together and joins them together into the living body of the living Christ.  There, no one who believes is a stranger or foreigner, whether Jew or Gentile, for all are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

For this reason, visible Christendom remains divided – because not all hold to the clear teachings of Scripture.  Though Christ is not divided, there are dissensions and schisms among the visible churches and congregations of Christendom because not all believe and confess what God has given to believe and confess.  Some simply flat out deny the very Words of God, even rejoicing with pride in their sinfulness.

But what a different and true picture St. Paul paints of the true church in His letter to the saints in Ephesus!  Just as Christ is not divided, so His beloved Bride, the Church, is not divided, “for there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

In Christ Jesus, those who were strangers and foreigners to one another are no longer these, but members of God’s household, “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).  They who were far off are brought near by the blood of Christ.  Those having no hope and without God in the world now are hopeful and with God in the world, they with Him and He with them, having faith in Him whom God sent and believing that Christ is where He promises to be in His Means of Grace.

The reality of what is visible in churches and church bodies across the nation cannot be ignored, but neither can God’s inspired Word given through St. Paul.  What we see is not always what we get and what we get is not always what we see.

There is another church that is completely unified, not at all broken, disjointed, or worldly.  It is a glorious church, not having blemish or wrinkle.  It is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the cornerstone.  This church we confess in the creed as we say, “I believe in the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints.”

This church we do not see with the eyes.  But God’s true church is as much as a reality as the churches that we do see.  The hidden church which is confessed among us is Holy because of Him who sanctifies.  It is Christian because of Him who is its head.  It is Church because it is the assembly of all who believe in Him who died and rose from the dead according to the Scriptures.  They who belong to this Church are strangers to the world, but not to Christ.  Nor is He a stranger to them.  They are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God by adoption into God’s kingdom through water and the Word, even the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).

This Communion of Saints, the fellowship of God’s people who believe Christ to be their Savior, who hope in the Lord and wait upon Him, these are all united in Christ Jesus by faith.  Here there is no denominational demarcation or Christian classification in the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church.

Only one thing distinguishes members from nonmembers in this Church – belief in the Lord Jesus.  Those who call upon the Lord for mercy and trust in God’s beloved Son are already members.  Those who do not, though they be members of local congregations and be affiliated with this or that denomination, are not.

As we believe in the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, so we will also rejoice on account of God’s kindness and favor.  His Holy church will not waver nor will if fail, nor can it be destroyed.  It is eternal, not temporary as earthly and worldly churches are.  It is built on the foundation that has already been laid and that cannot be unlaid.

It continues to grow, even though it appear not to grow according to human perception and recognition.  It’s growth is not observable by statistical figures and demonstration of numerical strength because it does not grow in ways that we see, but according to God’s Word that “shall not return to Him void, But shall accomplish what He pleases, And prosper in thething for which He sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

This article of faith concerning the Holy Christian Church will not be a visible physical reality seen in our day, as if it is a goal for which we are to strive.  But it is a present reality.  Though unseen, God has revealed this teaching of Christ’s Holy Church in Scripture.  And what a blessed comfort and assurance it gives to all who grow weary with the reality of church struggles and its spots and blemishes before its members and in the sight of the world!

There is one church, true and faithful, which will endure for all eternity.  This church is not affected by the world or its ways.  It is founded only on God’s Word and united in the faith of her Lord Jesus.  Though hidden, wherever God’s Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered according to their institution, there you will find members of this Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints.  This we believe and this we confess.  Amen.

The Book of Concord

(Tappert Edition)

The Augsburg Confession,  VII. The Church

1 It is also taught among us that one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among who the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. 2 For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word. 3 It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church that ceremonies, instituted by men, should be observed uniformly in all places. 4 It is as Paul says in Eph. 4:4, 5, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

The Smalcald Articles, XII. The Church

2… a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd. 3 So children pray, “I believe in one holy Christian church.” Its holiness does not consist of surplices, tonsures, albs, or other ceremonies… invented over and above the Holy Scriptures, but it consists of the Word of God and true faith.

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