Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Last Sunday in the Church Year

Last Sunday in the Church Year (B)
November 22, 2009
Text: Mark 13:24-37

Dear Christians, stay awake! For the Lord is coming again. He is coming to judge the living and the dead. “Be on your guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33; ESV). But that the time will come you can know with absolute certainty, for it is not just any prophet who has predicted this, nor is it simply my word as a pastor, but it is the very Word of Jesus Christ, who is the Truth incarnate. His Word is absolutely trustworthy. The Day is coming, says Jesus, when every eye “will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (vv. 26-27). St. Paul gives us a little more information about how this Day will proceed in his first letter to the Thessalonians (4:16-17): “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” St. Peter tells us in his second letter (3:10): “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” Finally, Jesus Himself says of that Day (Matt. 25:31-33): “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left.” The sheep, those who are in Christ Jesus by faith, will inherit the Kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world (v. 34). The goats, those who did not believe in Christ, will be told to depart into eternal hell fire with the devil and the evil angels (v. 41).

Notice that the Last Day, the Day of the Lord’s returning, is a great blessing to those who are in Christ, and a great curse to those who have rejected Him. All the dead will be raised on that Day, believers and unbelievers alike. All those who are still alive will likewise be gathered from the four winds, which is to say, every corner of the earth. Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh, appointed by the Father as Judge of the living and the dead, will sit upon His throne and divide believers from unbelievers. The believers will receive eternal joy with Christ in a new heavens and a new earth, their souls being reunited to their new resurrection bodies. The unbelievers will receive eternal punishment with the devil and his demons in the Lake of Fire that is hell. And they will go into this hell, body and soul. And understand, the unbelievers have no second chance on this Day. There is no second chance to believe once Jesus returns. Now is the time of grace. The only reason the Lord Jesus has not returned yet is so that the full number of those appointed to eternal life will come to believe. But once He returns, or once the unbeliever dies, there are no second chances. Yes, death is also the end of the time of grace for the unbeliever. It is appointed for man to die once, and after that, the judgment (Heb. 9:27). Therefore now is the time to repent. Now is the time to believe. Don’t put it off until tomorrow. The point of today’s readings is this: Tomorrow may never come! You may die before tomorrow. Jesus may return before tomorrow. Stay awake, which is to say, not literally don’t sleep, but do not allow yourself, by your sin and carelessness, to fall into the sleep of unbelief. For the Lord is returning on a Day and at an Hour you do not expect.

No one knows the Day or the Hour. Not even the angels of heaven. In fact, Jesus, in His state of humiliation, when He speaks this prophecy, does not know that Day or Hour either (Mark 13:32). He knows now, in His state of exaltation, as he always and fully uses His divine powers, but not then, at the speaking of these words. Only God knows the Day and Hour. He has not revealed it to us. And this is for good reason. Why does the man who goes on the journey in Jesus’ parable not tell the servants when he is returning? What do you suppose they would do if they knew the day or hour when he would come back? They would be tempted to let things slip until the day before the master’s return, would they not? You know what happens at work when the boss is away. But if there is the continual possibility that the master may return at any moment, the servants will keep the house in good order the whole time, for they never know when he will appear and evaluate their work. Knowing our sinful, fallen flesh, what do you suppose we would do if we knew the exact time of Jesus’ return? We would undoubtedly allow our faith in Christ to waver. In fact, we would toss it aside, giving in to the desires of the sinful flesh. After all, we have tomorrow to repent. Now, we’ll live for ourselves. Let’s eat, drink, and be merry. No holds barred. We’ll take care of the God-stuff later. The fact that Jesus has not told us the Day or Hour of His return is actually a great grace to us. It keeps us alert. There is the continual possibility that He could return today. And of course, there is the continual possibility that you or I could die today. Therefore we must stay awake, not fall into the sleep of unbelief, but stay alert, remain in the one true faith of Jesus Christ, watch.

No one knows the Day or the Hour. This also puts to rest all the 2012 nonsense going around, the idea, based not on anything in the Holy Scriptures, but on an ancient Mayan calendar that ends on December 21, 2012, that the world will come to an end on that day. Even many so-called Christians are capitalizing on this lunacy, leading weak Christians astray. No one who predicts the Day or Hour, even if they claim to have a special revelation from God, has any clue what they are talking about. They are either lying or deluded themselves. Jesus says it. No one knows the Day or Hour. But it is soon. The signs are ripe. Therefore we must be ready. Remember the lesson from the fig tree. When the branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, summer is near. Read the signs of the end of t he age. We heard about many of them last week: false christs, the falling away of the faithful, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines, betrayal, persecution, martyrdom. Every human conflict, every act of violence, every natural disaster, every tribulation is a warning that the end is near. Stay awake. Watch.

How does one stay awake? Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:31). In the midst of things temporal, hold on to what is eternal. In the midst of that which is passing away, hold on to that which never passes away: the Word of God, the Word of Jesus Christ. For in so doing you stay in constant connection with the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, your Savior, who is also coming as your Judge. And here is the good news: This Judge, Jesus Christ, is also your Advocate, your divine Defense Attorney. His defense on your behalf is this: “It is true, the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). But I have paid those wages in my own death on behalf of all humanity. I have taken the punishment for sin upon myself. I took the punishment into my body on the cross. I suffered hell on behalf of every person, the payment for all sin. I buried all sin in my tomb, and now even as I am risen, sin lies dead forever. Therefore, I pronounce the whole world innocent. And for all who believe in me, for everyone who looks to my death and resurrection for the full and free forgiveness of all sins, eternal life, and salvation, there can be no other verdict than innocent, nay, more than that, righteous, for I have given them my righteousness, received not by works but by faith alone.” Beloved in the Lord, to believe this, to know this, to trust in this, is to stay awake. And the way you come to believe this and trust this, the way your faith is strengthened in this truth, is by abiding in the Word, abiding in Scripture and preaching, Baptism and Absolution, abiding in the Supper of Jesus’ own body and blood. Receiving the gifts of Christ, you stay awake and watch for His returning. And receiving the gifts of Christ, His return will not be a day of terror for you, but a day of great rejoicing. For He will say to you on that Day: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared from you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). It is actually God who keeps you by His Spirit in this grace until that Day. It is all His gift. You simply receive. You simply trust. It is all His work on your behalf. He preserves you. He alone is able. And He is faithful. He promises to do so, and He always makes good on His promises.

The Day is surely drawing near when heaven and earth as we know them will pass away, burned up with fire, as St. Peter says. But let not your hearts be troubled. You are baptized into Christ. You are fed by His Word and Supper. The Word of the Lord abides forever. Therefore you can go into that Day confidently, knowing whose you are. You belong to Christ. He will not forsake you on that Day. He will raise you from the dead and give you, body and soul, life eternal. And so, “to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever” (Jude 24-25). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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