Monday, November 26, 2018

“Keep Your Eyes on the Road to Eternity” Mark 13.24-37, Last Sunday of Church Year Nov. ‘18

1.                Please pray with me.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.  The message from God’s Word this Last Sunday of the Church Year is taken from Mark 13:24-37, it’s entitled, “Keep Your Eyes on the Road to Eternity,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.                Most of you have taken part in a surprise party for someone. You know the excitement and the anticipation that usually accompanies such an event. Everyone gathers at a certain place to wait for the arrival of the guest of honor. Family and friends stand quietly near the door. Some even peek out the window, ready to pass the word, “He’s here!” A certain tension fills the air. All attention is focused on the moment of arrival.
3.                This same type of anticipation is what the text speaks about concerning the arrival of Jesus. God’s Word reveals that at the Second Coming of Christ, all of his promises to his people will be completed. The celebration will begin. God will usher in the unending feast in celebration of his tremendous love for us. As his redeemed people, then, we are called to anticipate Christ’s coming and watch for his arrival.  Jesus wants us to keep our eyes on the road to eternity.
4.                Back in the late 1980s, some Christian leaders predicted the very day of Christ’s return, the day on which, all the planets came into alignment. Obviously, they were wrong. Apparently, they had forgotten the Lord’s words: “No one knows about that day or hour” (Mk 13:32). Jesus tells us about signs of the end, but not so that we can calculate the exact day of his coming. He informs us about the signs to keep us from being spiritually lazy. When we see a false teacher arise, or an earthquake take place, or a war or a famine, Jesus is saying, “Wake up! Repent! I’m about to bring all my words to fulfillment! Get yourself ready for my coming!” Let us be warned against those who might lead us astray, those who make predictions about the end of time beyond what the Scriptures say.
5.                “Be on guard!” the Lord tells his disciples, “Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mk 13:33). All too often we completely forget about Christ’s Second Coming. We’re too caught up in our day-to-day lives. How often do you think of his return? Back in college, I would occasionally think of it right before a big test that I wasn’t ready for. “Now would be a great time to come back, Lord!” Usually, though, too many days go by when we don’t even give it a thought. I’m convinced that our perspective on life would be changed if the prospect of Christ’s return was constantly at the front of our minds.
6.                Maybe you are tempted to say with the scoffers. St. Peter quotes in his second letter, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? . . . Everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Pet 3:4). Maybe we’re tempted to think, “Maybe all this stuff about Jesus returning is just a fairy tale.” But Peter reminds us that God isn’t slow in keeping his promise, and he certainly hasn’t forgotten it. Peter specifically says in his second epistle, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to parish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8–9). The Scriptures are quite clear on that.
7.                While it’s true that we are to watch for the time of Christ’s return, it isn’t necessarily true that his Second Coming is something everyone is looking forward to. After all, coming face to face with the  almighty God isn’t something many people eagerly desire, because we know that we’ve fallen short of what he wants of us, not only in the present but also in the past. Time may heal all wounds, but time does not erase sin. Youthful sins aren’t pardoned just because we were young. The sins of years ago are no less damning because some time has now passed. We may drag some burdens on longer chains, others on shorter chains, but in any event we can’t look forward to the future and to Christ’s Second Coming when past or present sins still pull us down.
8.                The phrase “Second Coming” implies that this won’t be the first time that Christ has come to this earth. What makes Christ’s Second Advent a joyous time for us is what happened at his First Coming. Gal 4:4–5 says, “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under law.” The first time that Christ came, he wrapped himself in the chains that enslaved us, then broke them for us. He paid the price for humanity’s fall into sin so that we could stand before him, deemed perfect and without blemish, ready for his Second Coming. The eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, entered into human history, and became a helpless infant. He grew up and lived a sinless life to fulfill the Law for us. He did all of this in order to rescue you and me from unending time under judgment.
9.                In John 17 Jesus prayed, “Father, the hour has come.” The hour Jesus referred to there was the time be was about to spend on the cross. Because he suffered and died in our place, we won’t receive the judgment we deserve at his Second Coming. Our judgment day—in the sense of punishment for our sin—already took place at the cross. Our condemnation was experienced by Christ at Calvary. So God’s anger has been appeased. In Christ, we have nothing to fear about the Last Day. At Jesus’ Second Coming we will stand before God robed with the righteousness of Christ himself. As the Scriptures say, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” (Gal 3:27). Trusting that Jesus has done all this for us, we will spend eternity in the new creation with him.
10.             It’s only when we consider both Christ’s First and Second Comings together that the Good News of the Gospel Lesson becomes fully clear. At his First Coming Jesus put us right with God, and at his Second Coming, all that Christ accomplished at his First Coming will reach its final culmination. Both advents together make our salvation complete and sure.
11.             So what do we do between now and Christ’s Second Coming? Jesus wants us to keep our eyes on the road to eternity and that calls for two responses. First, he asks you to receive the time he’s given you as a precious gift, using it wisely in faith toward him and in service toward others. Knowing that Christ may return at any time gives us perspective in life, an end toward which to work with whatever time we may have.
12.             Think of some important event in your life—a marriage, a graduation, the birth of a child. Then think how the time immediately preceding that event was spent in focused preparation. Our awareness of Christ’s Second Coming does the same thing. Christ gives us a positive end to anticipate—a goal to define for us the value of time and the true explanation of what life is all about. Living the life God has given to us in Christ, we use whatever time he’s given us to glorify him in our lives, to love our neighbor, and to carry out his mission. Whether it’s service in some capacity here at this congregation, at your job, with your family, or somewhere else, God calls you to use the time he has given you wisely and faithfully.
13.             Second, as we are good stewards of our time, God also calls us to watch for the time of his return. Jesus even gives an illustration: The time of his return will be like “a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch” (13:34). Our Master has gone away, ready to return at any time. But he has entrusted his important work to us, each with an assigned task (Eph 4:11). We live and work and witness, knowing that he will be coming soon. In his grace, he equips us to be faithful servants. The signs of the end have been fulfilled. Christ’s coming may be today or it may be 100 years from now. Our task is to watch for it, keeping it at the front of our minds, letting it guide the way we use the time we’ve been given.
14.             I was reading a story the other day about a little boy who wanted a wristwatch. Day in and day out he pestered his parents, but they continually put him off. Finally, he drove them to the breaking point. The father told the youngster that he didn’t want to hear another word from him about a watch. So, for the rest of the week the lad said nothing about it. He knew that to do so would only invite punishment. But, Sunday soon rolled around and in the evening the family was gathered for devotions. It was a custom in the family for each member to learn a new verse of Scripture and recite it during the devotion. Every other member of the family had said his Scripture verse when it came time for the small boy to quote his. Looking up with a very solemn face, he quoted the final verse of our text perfectly: “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
15.             Now I’m not sure if that little boy got his watch or not. But I do know that he was persistent. And it is that same sort of persistence and single-mindedness that God desires of us when it comes to watching for Christ’s return. “Whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn” (13:35), Christ will return. Washed with his mercy and forgiveness in Baptism, and reassured by his Word, we are constantly vigilant for that glorious day when he appears. Then sin, death, and the devil will be banished from our lives forever; what we know by faith will be confirmed with sight; time will be brought to its fulfillment; and the joys of the new heavens and new earth will be ours eternally. “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”  Keep Your eyes on the road to eternity.  Amen.

“Christians, Consider the End of Time!” Daniel 12.1-3, Pentecost 26B Nov. ‘18

1.   Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The message from God’s Word today comes from Daniel 12:1-3 and is entitled, “Christians, Consider the End of Time!”  Today Daniel the Prophet from the Old Testament tells us:  God’s time of reckoning will surely come (vv. 1, 2).  God’s Word of wisdom will surely prevail (vv. 3, 4)  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.   One day, a young boy sat in the pew at church, listening attentively as the pastor preached a strong sermon on the realities of the fall into sin. His eyes grew wide as the pastor’s voice rose while he quoted from the Book of Genesis: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). An impression was made. Later that same day, this child’s mother heard a yell from her son’s bedroom. She went running up the stairs and he met her halfway. “Mom,” he said with great concern, “Do you remember that the pastor said that we are dust and to dust we will return? I just looked under my bed and someone is either coming or going!”  Cute! But which is it? Coming or going?
3.   “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). Genesis 2 tells us that “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (2:7), a perfect creature. God breathes life into him and bestows his image upon him. It was a beautiful act of love that united God and man together in a perfect relationship. It was very good.
4.   It was too good to last. Man and woman disobey God’s command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve are convinced by Satan that God is holding something back from them. There are other blessings, more information that God has reserved for himself, and man is being cut out of something good. “Did God actually say . . . ?” (3:1). “You will not surely die . . .” (3:4). Eve was convinced, and Adam along with her, that there was something desirable that God was not sharing—so they took it—so they ate. And their eyes were opened wide—in terror.
5.   Now they knew, now they understood, but what they learned was not the knowledge they sought. They learned about death, and they would know the curse. They learned that the image of God has been forfeited and the breath of life is fleeting. They will suffer death; they will return to the dust from which they came. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (3:19). The tragedy rivals any tragedy that is yet to come in their young world. Nothing could be worse, nothing could be more devastating, nothing could be more final, for they have lost the image of God and destroyed their relationship with him—they will die. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
6.   But God is gracious, and God is merciful, and God is love, and because of who he is, he promises. God promises to raise up from the dust once again. God promises to restore life and restore the image. God promises that a champion, a Messiah, will be delivered to mankind through the woman’s seed. God promises that this Messiah will do battle with the evil one and Satan will be condemned to the dust of defeat. God promises—and the great battle begins.
7.   Welcome to the war—the pain and suffering of this battle take their toll on us. Every living being since the days of Adam and Eve has toiled with the reality of sin and the devastation it brings. Every day we feel the knife of mortality as it cuts through our body with sickness and disease. Every day we experience the gnawing of sin as its tears at our hearts and souls. Every day we feel the darkness as it chokes us off from our God. Satan, the world, and our sinful flesh separate us from God and intend that this division becomes permanent.
8.   As Daniel tells us, this is a time of trouble like no other. This is the greatest distress, the most devastating reality, and even though man is responsible for this environment, there is nothing we can do to withstand the attacks. In fact, Scripture tells us that if God had not cut this time short, no one would survive. This is our life; this is the reality to which we have been brought by sin. Look around: war, hunger, genocide, homicide, infanticide, hatred, anger, broken relationships, behavior that shows no sign of a relationship once shared with God. A time of trouble such as has never been seen before.  The end times will be a time of distress (Daniel 12:1).  There will be rebellion on the earth. People will have total disregard for God and for each other.  Their attitude will be similar to the T-shirt that states, “If you don’t like my attitude dial 1-800-who-cares.”
9.   All created things will be shaken (Heb 12:26). The destruction will be phenomenal and indescribable. Two brothers (8 and 10 years old) were always playing pranks and getting into mischief. Their parents were frustrated and worried. They asked the pastor, who had a Bible-thumping, God-fearing, pulpit-pounding style, to talk to the boys. The eight-year-old had the first appointment. The pastor approached with a scowl and said, “Young man, where is God?” The boy remained silent and the pastor raised his voice a bit, “Young man, I said, “Where is God?” The boy remained quiet, but his eyes widened and swallowed hard. A third time the pastor bellowed, “Young man, I asked you a question! Now, where is God?” In terror, the boy fled the church, ran home, and hid in a closet. His brother, hearing the door slam, ran in and asked, “What happened?” The younger boy answered, “Oh, man, we are in big trouble. God’s missing, and everyone thinks we did it.” In the end, everyone will feel the guilt that is theirs.
10. But, thanks be to God that He isn’t missing in our battle against sin, death, and the power of the devil.  Into the midst of this battle, into the midst of our need, God sends his Son. God sends his only-begotten Son into our flesh that he might do battle on our behalf. Jesus has come to deliver us from sin, death, and Satan. He comes into our world, to walk in the dust of our destruction, to do that which we cannot do. Christ fights for us—not with us—for us, in our place. Christ fights for us, taking the battle to the cross of Calvary. There he shed his blood as a holy sacrifice for our sin. There he pours out his life. There he dies.
10. Christ is taken from the cross and placed into the tomb. He is interred into the dust of this earth in death—a death that is our doing. Christ is buried in death, but not for long! After three days, he wins the victory by rising from the dead. He is the firstfruits of those who rise from the dead, for truly, he is the one who overcomes the curse. Out of the dust he brings life.
11. And the grace-filled reality for us is this: because he has risen from the dead so shall we! Christ’s victory is our victory for he has fulfilled God’s promise and delivered us from sin and death and has written our names in the Book of Life. Daniel tells us that indeed our names are recorded, we who are wise by faith, we who have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness.
12. This is the promise fulfilled as told in the Book of Daniel. Out of the dust will God raise the dead. Those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake on the Last Day—God’s promise of a bodily resurrection. Believers, those who have been written into the Book of Life, shall awake to everlasting life—to shine like stars forever with Christ. Unbelievers, those who reject him who saves, shall awake to shame and contempt—to suffer everlasting death with Satan and his evil angels.
13. A return to Eden will be accomplished. On the Last Day, God finishes his work of re-creating this fallen world. Out of the dust of death he brings forth life, and we, his new creation, live in this life from everlasting to everlasting. For On the Last Day, He Who Created Us out of the Dust Will Re-create Us, Raising Us from the Dust.
14. We live forever, united with God as he intended from the beginning.  Thomas Jefferson once produced an edition of the Bible from which he had edited out all reference to miracles and other “unbelievable” occurrences. He ends his book with “There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed.” That’s it. That’s it? No, thank God! The tomb was empty, and he who has risen from the dust of death will raise us up to everlasting life with him to shine like stars. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting.  Amen.