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Blessed is He Who is Not Offended Because of Me

Matthew 11:2-11

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist has his disciples ask the Lord Jesus, “Are you the Coming One?  Or do we look for another?”  You can understand why John might ask that question.  After all, John is now in prison.  John had come as a mighty preacher, preparing the way of the Lord, calling people to repentance, baptizing them for the forgiveness of sins.  Everyone was coming out to John at the Jordan River to hear him.  John spoke of a Messiah who was mightier than he was, who would clean out the threshing floor and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.  All of this carried with it images of power and glory.

But now John is in King Herod’s dungeon.  He had been put there for condemning the sin of King.  Herod had taken his brother’s wife for himself and was therefore committing adultery.  Talk about speaking truth to power–John wasn’t afraid to tell people what they needed to hear and call them to repentance, even if it made them angry.  Truth was more important than people’s feelings and how much they liked him. It’s not a preacher’s job to be popular but to be a truth-teller.  That’s the way it is really for all Christians, to care more about the salvation of people’s souls and what they’ll think of you in eternity than what they think of you right now.

That’s how it was with John.  His first allegiance was to the Lord.  And for that, Herod’s new “wife” wanted John killed immediately.  But oddly enough, the king had some respect for John and what he said.  And so the king had John thrown into prison instead.  In the end, though, the scheming of Herod’s wife would win the day.  John would eventually be beheaded.  

As John sat in his dark cell, the thought may well have crossed his mind, at least for a moment: Did I get it wrong in saying that Jesus is the Messiah?  If He is the Christ, then why is this happening to me?  If the Messiah comes to bring God’s righteousness, why is this unrighteous king Herod being permitted to rule unchecked and go unpunished?  Why am I the one who is suffering?  “Are you the Coming One?  Or do we look for another?”

I would guess that there have also been moments like that in your own life.  In your own times of suffering or difficulty, when you feel it in your bones that you’re withering like a flower, when a child or grandchild has a fearsome disease, when you’ve been victimized or treated unjustly, you may have wondered: Is Jesus really the One?  Is Christianity the right way?  Is all of this real?  Or should I be looking for someone or something else that maybe works a little better?  How easily doubts can creep into our fallen minds.  And then we’re tempted to question God’s ways and give up on church and God’s Word when things don’t go the way we planned or expected, when God doesn’t come through for us the way we hoped or make us feel the way we want.  Is Jesus really the One?

Even though John may have had his questions, He knew all along that Jesus was the Messiah.  For when does John send two of his disciples to Jesus to ask this question?  It is when he hears in prison about the works of Christ, the works that are the evidence that Jesus really is the Coming One.  John sends his disciples to focus on that, to see for themselves the One whom John had been preaching.  John’s disciples, and every Christian to this day needs to go to where Jesus is, to hear His words and take in His works.  Only that divine service of Christ can overcome our doubts.  Apart from church and the words and works of Jesus, we’re left in the darkness of our own dungeons.

Consider also what Jesus Himself says about John: “Among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.”  What tremendous honor Jesus there bestows on John!  That means that John is greater even than Abraham, than Moses, than Elijah, than all the prophets.  Above all others, John is a picture of great faithfulness and zeal and love for God.  

Jesus says, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?”  No, not at all.  John the Baptist didn’t bend to the prevailing breezes of the day, like a reed in a marsh, in order to become more well-liked.  He wasn’t a preacher who told people what their itching ears wanted to hear, compromising with the culture around him.  “Oh, you want more sermons on how to achieve all your dreams and find self-fulfillment?  Sure, whatever keeps the money coming.”  Instead, John preached the truth which God had given him to preach.  He said things like, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  That’s how he prepared the way of the Lord Jesus. He said to the multitudes that came out to him, “Brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits worthy of repentance. . .  Every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  That may not have been the best way to win friends and influence people.  But John knew that until the people had confronted the reality of their fallen condition, they would not be ready for the One who came to deliver and save them from their bondage to sin and death.

The same thing is true for you still today.  You too must hear that message of John, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Jesus is near.  Turn away from your sin.  Stop justifying it and becoming comfortable with it.  Seek to bear the fruit of faithfulness and love.  Take refuge in Christ alone.

For though you are a fading flower, Jesus is Himself “the word of our God (that) stands forever.”  Though the grass withers, the everlasting Word of God declares that there is full, free forgiveness and real, enduring life for you in Him.  For the Son of God took your wilting and withering condition upon Himself in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary.  Though He was without sin, He took the curse of your sin into His own body and He broke the curse, putting it to death on the cross.  All the power of the devil to drag you down to hell, all the power of sin to condemn you was completely destroyed and abolished there at Calvary.  Now, through faith in Jesus, you are released, you are free, you are holy.  St. Peter writes, “You have been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.”  You have been baptized into Jesus, the Word made flesh, and so you will live and abide forever in Him.  Just as a lily dies in the winter but comes forth to life again from the bulb in the spring, so also you will rise again to an everlasting spring when the risen Jesus returns.

So even though the message of John the Baptist doesn’t seem particularly Christmassy, all warmth and happiness, He gives you the only way to really be ready for Christmas.  He tells you the truth, not ultimately to condemn you but to comfort you, as the Old Testament reading said, “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”  The Messiah whom John proclaims and points to doesn’t give you just the bare minimum forgiveness required.  Rather, the Lord gives you overflowing mercy and forgiveness, so that you may be absolutely certain that all of your sins, the big and the small, have all been covered and answered for and taken away.

John sends His disciples and points His disciples to Jesus.  That’s where it’s at.  Not in the tragic events that would surround the ending of John’s life, but in the life and ministry of Jesus, in His suffering and death and resurrection.  John said, “He must increase, I must decrease.”  So also John points us to Jesus as well, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  Whoever would be a disciple of Jesus must deny himself like John and take up the cross of Jesus and follow Him.

And finally, don’t forget that Jesus sent John’s disciples back to him to report to him in prison.  For they needed to confess the truth of Jesus; and even though John believed, the Lord still was at work to strengthen John.  Jesus said to John’s disciples, “Report to John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”  That’s another reason why John sent his disciples.  John needed to hear the message that they brought back from the Lord.  And if he did, so do we, week by week, in the midst of our own struggles.  “Lord, I believe; help My unbelief!”

Never forget that these are the kind of people that Jesus came for–not those who are proud in their own righteousness and self-sufficiency, but the weak and the helpless and the unrighteous.  Are you beginning to lose your sight or your hearing?  Are your legs and your arms not working like they used to?  Are you contending with some nagging ailment or disease?  Are you living from paycheck to paycheck?  Do you feel unclean?  Do you sense the death in you that sin brings?  Then Jesus is for you.  He took on your flesh and blood in order to redeem your humanity and cleanse you and restore you in both body and soul to the fullness of His resurrection life.  Jesus doesn’t save you by immediately taking away all your troubles; He saves you through those troubles and even through death itself for the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.

Jesus says to John and to us all, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”  Blessed are you who are not scandalized by My suffering and cross, who are not offended by your need to repent and to trust in Me alone to save you.  Blessed are you who, like John in prison, are not caused to fall from faith by the difficulties and the crosses you must yet experience, but who continue to cling to Me and hope in Me.  For yours in the kingdom of heaven.

Fellow saints of Mt. Zion, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  It is at hand not only because Christmas is near, not only because the second coming is near, but because the King Himself is near.  His body and blood are at hand, given from this very altar for you for the forgiveness of sins.  Here is your Comfort in life.  Here “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Signs of Christ's Advent in Creation

Luke 21:25-36
Advent 2

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

More and more on the news and in the media, our attention is being drawn to unusual weather phenomena and natural disasters and the like–hurricanes and floods, droughts and fires, earthquakes and volcanoes and abnormal temperatures.  When these things occur, the focus is usually on trying to find a scientific explanation of why these things happened and what the human role in it may have been.  “Climate change” is the big mantra you’ll often hear.  The presence of human beings is the problem.

But today’s Gospel teaches us to look at abnormal phenomena in creation from a completely different perspective.  It teaches us to see upheavals in creation not only as scientifically significant but also spiritually significant, to see them not merely as the result of man’s presence but of God’s presence.  And I’m not talking about the punishing of sin.  Rather, Jesus teaches that disruptions in the physical order of things are to be viewed by Christians as signs of His coming.  When the world seems to be coming unglued, that is a sign that the Creator of the world is drawing near.

And really this is the way it has always been.  Throughout the entire Old Testament, as God intervened in the life of His people Israel and entered into this world, there were accompanying signs in the physical order of things.  Creation reacts, often strongly and violently to the real presence of her Creator.  For instance, when Israel came out of Egypt, the Red Sea was parted, not merely because Moses raised His staff, but because of the awesome presence of the Lord from which the sea shrank back.  Psalm 114 says, “The sea looked and fled . . . Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord.”  Likewise, when the Lord descended on Mount Sinai it is written that “the mountain quaked greatly.”  And the prophet Micah predicted a similar reaction to the presence of the Lord: “For behold, the Lord is coming out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.  Then the mountains will melt under him and the valleys will burst open like wax near the fire, like waters poured down a steep place."

Signs in creation continued in the New Testament with the coming of the Son of God to this earth to become true man.  Not only were there signs in the heavens in the special star that led the Wise Men to the infant Jesus, not only did the sea and the waves roar at Christ’s presence in the boat, but there were also more fearful signs at Jesus’ crucifixion.  At the time of Jesus’ death there were earthquakes in the land which caused many graves to be opened.  And it is written that for the last three hours of Jesus’ life, from noon until three p.m. on Good Friday, darkness covered the land.  Luke specifically says that the sun was darkened.  This was a miraculous event, a sign in creation marking the real presence of God on the cross, suffering at the hands of the powers of darkness in order to win our salvation.  Even as the sun, moon, and stars bowed down to Joseph figuratively in the Old Testament, so at Calvary, the sun bowed down to Jesus literally in His sacrificial death to redeem this fallen world.

Until the close of this age, throughout these last days which Christ has ushered in, there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then finally Christ will come, and this old creation will pass away as the new creation is revealed.

The Scriptures say in Romans 8, “All creation groans.”  Creation in its present state is compared to a woman in labor pains moaning with increasingly severe birth pangs until all of creation itself is reborn and recreated.   The physical order of things is in tumult until the old gives way to the new.  

That is so for two reasons.  First of all, this creation is under the curse of sin and is therefore in bondage to decay and disintegration.  It’s just plain wearing out.  Sin has brought death not only to humanity but also to the whole universe, and so this old order is expiring.  In this sense, the presence of fallen human beings is indeed the problem.

But there is another reason, too.  This creation groans and convulses because already now the Creator is entering into His creation.  Just as the earth did in the past, so now it reacts to the fact that the Lord is coming to His people, particularly in the Sacrament of the Altar.  The physical order shrinks back and trembles and responds to His real presence in the church throughout the world.  Signs in the sun, moon, and stars, and tumultuous events in the earth and the sea are to be interpreted by Christians not only that Jesus will come, but that He is coming even now.  The Gospel says, “When you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.”  And the kingdom of God draws near whenever the risen King Himself draws near in His true body and blood. 

So when you see or hear about unusual astronomical occurrences or earthquakes or volcanoes or hurricanes or tornadoes or floods or storms or droughts, let them be a sign and a reminder to you that Jesus will come again to bring in the new creation and the kingdom of God, and that in fact the kingdom and the new creation are already here in the church, hidden under lowly elements of the old creation, until those elements finally fly apart and give way on the Last Day.

It’s not just that the old is perishing under the curse but also that, in a sense, it’s being demolished by the new.  Slowly and methodically Christ’s sacramental presence among His people is causing the universe to come apart at the seams.   The end of the age will occur when this creation reacts for the last time and literally falls apart and collapses with a final groan in complete exhaustion, and He who makes all things new is revealed.  Isaiah 51 prophesies, “The heavens will vanish away like smoke, the earth will grow old like a garment, . . . but My salvation will be forever, and My righteousness will not be abolished.”

As we live in the midst of an unstable world that is progressing from a state of order to disorder–not only in the physical realm but also often in the realm of society and culture and politics and even in our own lives–Jesus bids us to take the posture of faith rather than unbelief.  When it seems like all hell is breaking loose, don’t lose heart; for heaven is about to break in.  When life is being shaken, trust that the Lord of life is near. 

While unbelievers cower and hide their faces in fear from the turbulent signs of Christ’s coming, Jesus’ disciples are to straighten up and lift up their eyes in faith to see Him coming to liberate them.  What is a cause of apprehension and uncertainty to the world is a cause of confidence and hope for believers.  For these signs tell you that the Lord for whom you wait is about to return, at the very gates to deliver you.  Jesus says, “When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

The ungodly, in their bent over state, can do nothing but hunch and burden themselves even further.  Therefore, Jesus warns us not to follow their ways: “Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.”  When your heart is all wrapped up in this passing world, all you can do is either worry yourself to death or else eat, drink, and be merry and try to ignore reality.  Either way, the final Day will come as a snare and a trap on such people.

And so our Lord exhorts you, “Watch therefore!”  Don’t let your heart and mind and sight be weighed down by earthly things, but look up and open your eyes to the coming heavenly King!  Be on guard!  Be alert, so that Day won’t catch you by surprise.  Call upon God’s name for strength to endure and persevere in the faith.  “Pray always that you may be able to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

On your own, you are unable to stand before the Son of Man.  Psalm 1 says, “Sinners [shall not stand] in the congregation of the righteous.”  And Psalm 130 prays, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?”  Not one of us.  However, the Psalm continues, “But with you, [Lord,] there is forgiveness; therefore you are revered.  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope. . .  For with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.  He Himself will redeem (His people) from all their sins.”

Your redemption draws near, for your Jesus draws near.  That’s why you may stand before the Son of Man on the Last Day.  Jesus Himself makes you worthy to stand tall in His presence, not by virtue of your own merits but by virtue of His cleansing forgiveness.  Jesus was weighed down with the fallenness of mankind, bowed low in the humiliation of the cross.  He experienced in His own body the full judgment against sin in your place.  Jesus has already weathered that for you; it’s in the past.  Now all that remains is the revealing of your redemption in the return of Christ the King, who was raised from the dead in the flesh in order to give you a standing in heaven.

That’s why, for the believer, the end of the world is not a reason to fear, but a reason to stand and look up, because the Eternal Savior is about to be revealed.  So it is that in the Communion liturgy I say, “Lift up your hearts.”  And you respond, “We lift them to the Lord.”  For your redemption draws near to you and comes to you in this very place.  It is written, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  This same Jesus who comes to you hiddenly with His body and blood for your forgiveness will indeed come again visibly on the clouds with power and great glory.  And as the fallen creation passes away, He will bring into being the new creation, incorruptible and glorious which, like His words, will never pass away–all this, for you.

So do not fear; do not be downcast and hunched over.  You have every reason to throw your shoulders back, look up, and lift up your heads.  For your redemption, your Redeemer, your Jesus draws near.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

(With thanks to Dr. Thomas Winger, whose article in Logia was the seed for several of the above thoughts)

He Brought Him to Jesus

John 1:35-42
St. Andrew

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Sibling rivalries are fairly common in families.  But sometimes it’s not just the normal squabbling of brothers and sisters, but jealousies that are involved.  One of the children does better at sports or in school or in music or in their career, and so he or she gets most of the recognition and approval.  The other children never get quite as much attention.  They may even get introduced as “so-and-so’s brother or sister.”  It can be a challenge sometimes to live more in the background like that.    

It must have been that way for Andrew.  For he was the brother of Simon Peter.  Andrew lived in his brother’s shadow.  Out of the dozen or so times his name occurs in Scripture, only once does it appear without Peter’s name being mentioned, too.  In fact Andrew is most often referred to as “Simon’s Peter’s brother,” as he is in today’s Gospel.  Andrew was the first one to follow Jesus; but it was his brother who would become first among the apostles and be in Jesus’ inner circle–Peter, James, and John.  In fact that name, “Peter” or “Cephas” was a special name given by Jesus, meaning “a rock.”  Andrew would simply be one of the twelve.

But in this case we don’t have any evidence at all that Andrew was jealous of his brother; nor should we feel badly for Andrew, as if he was being treated unfairly.  For he had his own special, God-given place and role as an apostle.  Not everyone is called to be the prominent one.  And in fact it is a uniquely Christian virtue not to seek glory and honor and the first place, but to be humble and lowly, considering others better than yourself (Philippians 2:3). 

This was the way of Andrew, even as it was the way of Andrew’s first teacher and rabbi, John the Baptizer.  John’s task was to prepare the way of the Lord, to point to Jesus and say, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  John’s purpose was not to gain permanent disciples for himself but to lose his disciples to Jesus, to lead people to Him who is the Christ.  Later John would say of Jesus, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30, NKJV).  It was time for John to fade from the scene and for Jesus to become the focus, so that all may know that He is the One to follow, the fulfillment of prophecy, the promised Messiah.

“He must increase, I must decrease.”  That is true not only for John or Andrew but for all of us as well, especially during this penitential season of Advent.  You are to decrease, to die to yourself and your own desires, so that Jesus might come forth and be magnified in you with His abounding mercy and life.  It is written in Galatians 2, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me.  And the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved Me and gave Himself for Me.”  Having been baptized into Jesus’ death, your old Adam is to fade from the scene and be drowned through repentance, so that the new man, Christ may arise in you to live by faith toward the Father and by love toward your neighbor.

“He must increase, I must decrease.”  This saying showed itself in Andrew’s life in the way that he directed others not to himself but to Christ.  He brought people to Jesus.  For instance, in John 6, when the disciples were trying to figure out how to feed the 5000, Andrew brought a young boy to Jesus and said, “Here is a lad with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”  Andrew didn’t know if what he did would help, but he brought the boy and his food to Jesus anyway, so that the Lord might do His work.  And indeed the Lord did miraculous things with that boy’s food.  Also, in John 12 some Greeks wanted to see Jesus.  Andrew, along with Philip, brought this request to Jesus, so that the Greeks might have an audience with Him and hear His Word.  For the Gospel of Christ is the power of God for the salvation of both Jew and Greek.  And in today’s Gospel, it is written that Andrew brought Peter to Jesus.  Andrew believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and that faith immediately led him to seek out his brother and tell him.  It was the first thing that he did, the Gospel says.  Andrew may not have been the most prominent of the apostles, but he was the one who saw to it that Peter came to know Jesus.  

You also get to be like Andrew.  You may not be the most prominent one in the congregation.  But you can do things to help lead people to Jesus.  When you see to it that a child is brought to church to be baptized, you are being like Andrew; for Jesus is present at the font to do His miraculous, saving work for that little one.  When you invite or give someone a ride to divine service or a Bible study, you are being like Andrew.  For Jesus is the Word made flesh; He is living and active in the proclamation of His words to save those who hear and believe.  Just as Andrew led Peter to the place where Jesus was staying, so also you get to welcome others to come and see where Jesus abides for us with His life-giving gifts.  We decrease and Christ increases as we direct people away from ourselves to Him, the only Savior.

It is fitting that Jesus became your Savior by taking the least and the lowest place for Himself.  He humbled Himself to be born of a virgin, subjecting Himself to the curse of our self-exalting sin.  He decreased to the point of death on a cross for you so that you might increase with the riches of His forgiveness and grace.  Jesus is truly the Lamb of God, whose shed blood causes death to pass over you.  The Blessed Virgin Mary had a little Lamb who makes your crimson sins as white as snow.  You are covered with the pure fleece of Jesus’ righteousness.  He who was humbled is now risen and exalted to the highest place and given the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.

Andrew was called and sent to preach that name of Jesus, so that many more might confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Tradition has it that Andrew, a former fisherman, became a fisher of men in Greece.  Even as he had previously told Jesus of the Greeks’ request to see Him, so now He would preach the Gospel to the Greeks that they might truly see Jesus and be saved.  

Andrew made converts of many in a town called Patras.  This angered the pagan proconsul of the town.  Andrew ended up being jailed.  The Christian citizenry became enraged at this, and a riot would have broken out had not Andrew urged the people to imitate the patience and humility of the Savior.  Eventually Andrew’s death was decreed.  He would be crucified on a cross in the shape of an X.  It is said that Andrew greeted his cross with these words: “Hail, precious cross, that has been consecrated by the body of my Lord, and adorned with His limbs as with rich jewels.  I come to you exulting and glad.  O good cross, that has received beauty from our Lord’s limbs: receive me into your arms, taking me from among men, and present me to my Master, that He who redeemed me on you, may receive me by you.”  Andrew preached Christ for two days on that cross, continuing to point people to Him, before his suffering finally ended and he died.

In this way Andrew’s life as a disciple came full circle.  For when Andrew first met Jesus, our Lord said to him, “Come and you will see (the place where I am staying).”  Now at the last, Andrew again went to where our Lord was.  For Jesus said, “I am going to prepare a place for you.  And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:2-3).”  Andrew is with Christ.  We join together with Andrew, along with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, in lauding and magnifying the glorious name of our Redeemer.  For we know and believe that Jesus will surely also come back for us who have been marked with the holy cross.  He will take us to be with Himself–in soul at our death and in body at the resurrection on the Last Day.  

Since we have this sure hope in Christ, let us learn from the example of Andrew’s humility this Advent tide.  Let us humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift us up in due time (I Peter 5:6).  

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Behold, Your King is Coming to You

Zechariah 9:9
Advent 1

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

A lot of your friends and neighbors and co-workers are agnostics.  The word agnostic literally means “one who doesn't know.”  They don’t know for sure what to believe when it comes to God and spiritual things or whether or not they will have eternal life or even if there is an eternal life.  They’re undecided, open to considering various positions, but they don’t fully embrace or practice any particular belief.  They see all the hundreds of religions in the world and say, “How do I know for sure which one is right?”  Usually such people will end up concluding one of two things: They’ll say either that no religion is right; they’re all just myths made up to deal with life and maybe even to control people.  Others, however, will conclude that all religions are right, or at least partially right; they all contain the truth and are just expressing themselves in different ways.  

C.S. Lewis once addressed this situation by using the example of a hallway in a big house that led to many different rooms. You don’t live in the hallway, he said.  You can wait in the hallway; the hallway gets you where you want to go.  But you need to actually enter a particular room to live your life.  Agnostics are those who try to live in the hallway.  They can’t decide which religion, which room is the right one to enter.  Persisting in that, though, is little more than spiritual laziness.  Saying that you’re spiritual but not religious, staying in the hallway doesn’t take much effort.  In the end, staying in the hallway is just the coward’s way; it may appear wise and thoughtful, but in truth it is fearful, frozen in uncertainty.  And besides, no one who has ever actually taken the time to compare the claims of Christianity and those of other religions could ever conclude that all religions are basically the same.

What do we say to those with an agnostic perspective on life?   To start with, it’s helpful for us to understand why there are so many religions in the world in the first place.  The reason is that all people know by nature that God exists and that He is to be worshiped.  It is written in Romans 1 that God’s existence is evident and known in what He has made.  We have a built-in instinct about this that must be suppressed is someone is going to be non-religious.  (And, of course, what generally happens is that they just become religious about something else.  Atheists are often the most “religious” of all about espousing their viewpoint, aren’t they.)  The Scriptures also say that the working of God’s law is written on our heart; in other words, everyone is created with a conscience, which tells us that there is such a thing as right and wrong, and that we’re accountable for that.

The problem is that our knowledge of God has been thoroughly corrupted by sin.  It is darkened and twisted and broken.  Therefore, human beings at various times and in various places have created false religions based on faulty knowledge of God and His will.  In ignorance and foolishness they have made up gods that really are more a reflection of themselves, a god made in man’s image, just a higher version of themselves.  Or instead of worshiping the Creator, they have worshiped the creation through idolatry or through giving homage to the supposed “spirits” of the trees or of animals or of their ancestors.

One helpful way to get at the truth, which religion is the right one, is to ask which religion is unique, different from the others.  If there are a bunch that are more or less the same but one that is unique at its core, that is likely the one that is true.  Christianity is that one; for if you take all the beliefs and all the spiritualities out there and boil them down to their basic elements, you’ll find that there are really only two religions: the religion of the Law and the religion of the Gospel.

The religion of the Law states that you must in some way reconcile yourself to God or find God by what you do.  In order to make contact with God you must discover Him with the wisdom of your mind or experience Him with the feelings of your heart or make yourself acceptable to Him with the work of your hands.  Once you’ve done that, then you supposedly enter into a connection with Him.  The religion of the Law is focused on man and his goodness and what he does to bring himself to God.  All false religions, from Islam to Judaism to Hinduism to the tribal spiritualities, are really only different versions of this single religion.

The religion of the Gospel, on the other hand, states that you are not able to find God or to reconcile yourself to Him by anything that you do.  Instead, the religion of the Gospel proclaims that you are reconciled to God entirely through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus on the cross.  Christ found you, He came into contact with you by sharing fully in your human life, and He did everything that was necessary to save you by taking your judgment on Himself.  You are redeemed by His good works, His wisdom, His love–not because you have deserved it but because He is merciful and compassionate toward you.  Trusting in Christ alone, you are put right with God.  The religion of the Gospel is focused on the goodness of God and what He does to bring Himself to you to rescue and restore you.

The religion of the Law is very appealing, but it inevitably fails, whether you’re trying to get to God with your head or your heart or your hands.  Your own intelligence and thinking can’t do it, for it is written, “How unsearchable are (God’s) judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33).  “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Your own morality and good living can’t do it, for it is written in James 2, “Whoever keeps the whole Law, yet fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” And you can’t find God through your feelings and experiences, either.  For your emotions are changing and uncertain, and your experiences can be misleading and deceiving.  Jesus said the wise man builds his house on the rock, not on such shifting sands.  And it is written that we walk by faith and not by sight or experience.  (II Corinthians 5:7)

And so that’s why the new church year begins with the good news that the true God comes to you in the person of Jesus Christ.  That is the glad announcement of Advent.  “Behold, your King is coming to you; He is righteous and having salvation.”

Our God and Savior Jesus came into full contact with you in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary.  For there He took on your humanity, your skin and bones, body and soul.  He came to us and literally became one of us in order that He might unite us with Himself and make us holy.  We didn’t find God, He found us in the infant in the manger.  He entered into our earthly lives in order that we might enter with Him into His heavenly life.

And He did this in utter humility.  In the Gospel, when Jesus enters into capital city of Jerusalem, He comes on a donkey colt.  Even today’s politicians who are trying to identify with the common man still do it in such a way that exalts themselves, that makes them seem especially smart or cool or strong.  Their attempts at humility are usually not so subtle attempts to glorify themselves.  But not so with Jesus.  He doesn’t come in the way of the kings of His day, with a strong display of a force to be reckoned with.  He doesn’t come in the way of a candidate at a political convention with a sappy video to make Him seem likable.  He comes in lowliness and meekness, on a borrowed animal.  For He rides into Jerusalem not to receive honor for Himself but to give honor to us by His holy suffering and death.  He comes to pour out His life for us so that we might get our life back.

That is why Christ rides on a beast of burden; He comes to bear the burden of the sin of the whole world.  He carries that load to the cross where it is put to death in His body.  This King’s glory is to wear a crown of thorns.  For by His blood and sweat and agony, Jesus takes away the sin that once separated you from God.  By His atoning sacrifice, you are reconciled to the heavenly Father.  Through Jesus the warfare is over; peace with God is restored, the peace of sins forgiven, the calm certainty that you are held within the Father’s love.  That’s why Christ is called in Jeremiah “The Lord our Righteousness.”  For by His life and death and resurrection, He has become for you what you could not become yourselves.  In Him you are declared righteous; in Him you are put right with our Father in heaven.  There is no other God, there is no other religion like this, faith in a God of pure grace.

And just as Jesus came in meekness and humility in the past, so also He continues to come to you without pretense or fanfare.  He is still meekly and humbly riding to you on the common baptismal waters, on the preached words of the Gospel, on the bread and wine of the Sacrament. Especially in Holy Communion, Jesus is carried along in lowly state, and He Himself brings to you His own precious body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  It is in the Lord’s Supper that the words of Scripture become very concrete: “Behold, your King is coming to you; He is righteous and having salvation.”  And so we join in with the people who sang to our Lord on the road outside Jerusalem, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.  Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest!”  Believe that Jesus enters into this place just as literally as He entered into Jerusalem.  Receive your King who comes to you in love.

For the time is fast approaching when Jesus will no longer come in humility but in all His  strength and majesty on the Last Day.  He who rode on a lowly donkey will ride on clouds of light with power and great glory.  He who was judged a criminal will come in judgment as Lord.  He who taught with gentle persuasion about the kingdom of heaven will powerfully reveal those who received His teaching in simple faith and those who rejected it in unbelief, those who are given to share in the Kingdom and those who are cursed and cast out from it forever.

So let us cast aside any agnosticism and cowardice that remains in our hearts, let us get out of the hallway, and let us stake our lives entirely on the One riding on the donkey and live in Him, the One who comes to us to rescue us.  God grant you penitent and believing hearts to receive this Jesus.  For behold, your King is coming to you.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Plentiful Ground

Luke 12:13-32
Thanksgiving/Harvest Festival

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

The question that Jesus asks at the beginning of the Gospel seems a little strange at first: “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?”  Isn’t this the Lord of all speaking, the One who later would say, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me?”  Certainly Jesus had the right to settle this dispute about an inheritance if He chose to.  

When Jesus speaks these words, then, He is making two points, first about vocation–“Man, go to the judge who has the God-given office to deal with this matter.  Don’t try to go around the earthly authorities I’ve established.”  But secondly, Jesus is especially making a point about how this man was seeking to misuse Him–“Man, the Father did not send me to be a pawn in your pursuit of mammon.  I am not a means to an end.  I am the end.” 

How often we ourselves can be tempted to do that with Jesus, to make Him the way to some supposedly greater goal rather than the goal itself--to be with Him, to share in the fellowship of His presence.  How easy it is to be lured at least to some degree into believing the Gospel of prosperity, that if we just live right and believe the right way, God will then give us the worldly honor or the material treasures or the easy life that we want and that we set our hearts on.  It’s a misuse of Jesus to participate in church in order to get blessed with earthly stuff, to seek the kingdom of God so that all these things will be added to you.  What’s the real motivation and priority in that equation?  When we engage in spirituality in order simply to gain some temporal, earthly benefit, it’s just the same as the man in the Gospel saying to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Beware of covetousness, Jesus says.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  And if moth or rust or flood or drought can destroy your treasure, you will go down with it.  If mere death can separate you from your treasure–and death often comes much more quickly than expected–then what a fool you are!  Repent.  Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth which fail, but treasures in heaven which do not fail or pass away.  

That is what it means to be rich toward God, to treasure life with Him above all else, to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness for its own sake, to trust in the heavenly Father as the One who is the Giver of every good and perfect gift and who knows what you need even before you ask Him.  This faith, this richness toward God, is shown and revealed in letting go of your surplus, freely giving away what God has freely given you for the good of others and for the good of His church, clinging not to mammon but to the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.

The parable Jesus tells makes it clear that all we have is a gift.  For notice it says that “the ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.”  In other words the man didn’t produce it for himself.  The Creator produced it from His own creation.  The man may well have worked the ground, but without God’s giving, he would have had nothing.  So also for us as we observe this thanksgiving harvest festival today–we are reminded that even though we may work hard and faithfully perform our tasks, without God’s giving, we would still have nothing, in body or soul.   The fruits of the earth, the possessions we own, our family and friends are all a pure gift from Him.  We pray “Give us this day our daily bread” so that we might realize this and receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.  The gifts of creation are meant to lead us back to their Source.  That’s the whole point of thanksgiving, so that we remember where the credit and the glory really belongs.  All praise belongs to God for granting us the food and clothing and shelter and whatever we need through Jesus Christ His Son, through whom all things were created and in whom all things hold together.  The rich man spoke greedily to his soul, but we are given to say with the Psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”  

The Lord does indeed satisfy your mouth with good things–not only with bread of the earth, but with the Living Bread from heaven.  For listen again to the Gospel, “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.”  Was not Jesus buried in the tomb of a certain rich man?  This ground most definitely did yield plentifully.  Christ the holy Seed was cast into the earth.  For unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone.  But if it dies, it produces much grain.  The Seed of the woman sprouted forth to new life from the rich man’s ground, producing a  limitless harvest of the finest wheat, the Bread which one may eat of and live forever.  This bread is the flesh of Jesus, which He gave into death on the cross, and which He continues to give out in the Sacrament for the life of the world.  As Joseph of Arimathea freely gave of His property for Jesus’ burial, much more so our Lord does not hoard His abundance but freely bestows it in limitless measure.  Your cup overflows with goodness and mercy.  We have the Lord’s sure promise that we who eat His flesh and drink His blood in faith have eternal life, and that we will be bodily raised up with Him on the last day.  Have no fear, little flock, for the Father has chosen to give you the kingdom.

Our greatest treasure, then, for which we give thanks today is not a full barn or a full bank account or a full house for the holiday, but Christ Himself.  He is our inheritance, our goal, our life, whose poverty has made us truly rich.  The Father did not send His Son into the world to be judge and arbitrator, a minister of fairness, but a minister of mercy, that the world through Him might be saved.  His lovingkindness continues to give you all that you need, both for this world and the one to come.  “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Wake, Awake!

Matthew 25:1-13

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Parents will use various techniques to try to get sleepy children awake and moving in the morning.  Some may try to gently coax their offspring into a state of alertness.  For me when I was young, I recall a combination of my Dad singing annoying morning songs and my Mom pulling the covers off of my bed.  

The parable in today’s Gospel probably more closely resembles the latter approach.  This parable is used by our Lord to disturb and unsettle and wake us up.  He wants to rip off the covers and rouse us from our spiritual slumber. It is appropriate then that this parable comes around on the Last Sunday of the church year. Today’s readings direct us to the fulfillment of all history at the return of Jesus Christ. That day will come like a thief in the night, suddenly, unexpectedly.  No one knows the day or the hour. Since that is so, we should not be lethargic or sleepy.  We need to be ready and alert.  In the words of St. Paul, “Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.”  Or in the words of Philipp Nicolai’s beautiful chorale that we just sang, “Wake, awake, for night is flying.”  This is no time for our souls to be sleepy.

It is important for us to be shaken awake. As the church year ends today, we should be mindful not only that the church calendar is about to be turned to Advent, but especially that our Lord’s return is closer now than it has ever been.  Our own death is closer than it has ever been. Time moves so quickly. The night of this life flies by rapidly. As the Psalmist reminds us, even at our best state, we are but vapor.  

Yet even though we know this, still it is so easy for us to become drowsy and distracted in this world.  It is so easy for us to live as if there will always be a tomorrow. We can sleep walk our way through this life, without taking seriously what it means to live by faith in God and by love toward our neighbor.  There are so many distractions and diversions that can keep us from focusing on the one thing needful, the Lord’s Word and the Lord’s Supper.  Our work and family commitments, our hobbies, our screens anesthetize our souls and put us into a blissful apathy when it comes to the things of God.  As we drift off, we say to ourselves, “No need to go overboard on this Christianity stuff.  You’ve got this covered well enough.  Just do what makes you happy.”  Our generally comfortable lives have the effect of a spiritual Benadryl or melatonin on us.  The things of this world hypnotize us and put our souls in a fog. They lay us down in a soft, comfortable bed.  So our Lord speaks this parable to wake us up.  Repent!   Are you ready for His arrival? Are you awake and prepared?  We do not want to be like those who are satisfied with their own good living, or content with their disordered desires. We do not want to be foolish, saying, “peace and security,” when we know that the Lord will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  Notice that all ten virgins are waiting for the bridegroom and expect to be with him for the reception.  They all assume they will be at the wedding feast.  Yet Jesus also tells us that five of them were wise and five were foolish.  The foolish virgins were foolish precisely because they were not truly ready for his arrival. They had failed to prepare fully and properly. They did not bring enough oil with them and so, when they fell asleep, they did not have enough time to find more oil for their lamps. The wise virgins, however, were wise precisely because they were well-prepared. They made sure that they had plenty of oil; no matter how long the wait they would still be ready.  At midnight came the cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” “The reception is about to begin. Get your lamps and come into light of the feast.”

The ten virgins in today’s Gospel are symbolic of the Church.  They all have a lamp.  The lamp is the Word of God, as it is written, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  The oil within the lamps stands for the Holy Spirit, who keeps the flame of faith in Christ burning brightly.

The foolish do not give proper attention to the Word and the working of the Holy Spirit.  They forget who they are in baptism; they ignore the Lord’s preaching and the Lord’s Supper, or merely go through the motions, and so the flame of faith dies.  The wise, however, are those who attend to these gifts of the Spirit, and who therefore have an abundance of oil.  Faith’s flame glows.

To live for the arrival of the Bridegroom and the joy that will come at Christ’s return is to be truly wise.  To refuse to view things according to the illusions of this world and instead to look at everything according to the reality of God’s Word, that is wisdom–even when the foolish at first appear to be smarter and happier.  That’s something we need to be prepared for–for the world to look down on us and even mock us for our focus on Jesus and His return.  It’s not always going to be easy.  But when the call comes at midnight, the foolish will be left in a panic, scrambling to get oil, banging on a locked door saying “Lord, lord, open to us!” and hearing the harsh words, “I don’t know you.”  “Depart from Me” (Matthew 7:23)

Let us, then, learn the lesson of today’s Gospel well.  Jesus puts it very simply and clearly, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”  Let us persevere in the faith and in prayer even when the bridegroom is delayed.  Let us hold fast to God’s Word, hear it, learn it, take it to heart, live from it.

For the One who is coming is that true, heavenly Groom who is perfect love in the flesh, the One who “gave Himself up for His beloved church, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water and the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26-27).  He is coming for His bride to take her unto Himself.

The good news in today’s Gospel is that God has granted you to be the wise in this parable.  For the Holy Spirit has made you wise unto salvation through the Gospel of Christ the crucified.  “Assuredly,” the Lord says, “I know you in your baptism.  More than you have watched for me, I have watched out for you.  My eyes are on you to save you.  I have redeemed you and claimed you as my own.”  You are made ready for the wedding feast on the Last Day because Christ prepares you for it by giving you a foretaste of the feast each week in Holy Communion.  He comes to you even here and now to comfort you with His love and fill you with His life.  The Gospel cry rings out in this place today, “Behold, the bridegroom is coming!  Go out to meet Him at His holy altar!”  You won’t be surprised or caught off guard at Jesus’ second coming because you’re already in the habit of going out to meet him in His divine service.

So, brothers and sisters of Christ, look to Jesus and His gifts, and the oil in your lamp will never run out.  He gives it to you in abundance; there is never a shortage of supply with Him.  Look to Jesus Christ and know that the door to the feast is open for you. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep, we might live with him.” Be encouraged that Jesus Christ has taken away your sin and death by His cross. He has taken away your punishment and condemnation. He has given you His holiness and righteousness. He has forgiven you all your sins; He has cleansed you of every evil done to you.  On the day when all things are fulfilled at His return, Jesus Christ will speak to all the faithful who have fallen asleep in Him, “Wake, awake.” And they will be bodily resurrected.  This includes you. On the final Day of Fulfillment, the risen and ascended Christ will say to you, like a parent waking a child in the morning “Get up, arise.”  And you, and all the faithful, will rise from your grave-beds to enjoy the new heavens and the new earth forever.

“You do not know the day or the hour of His coming.” But you don’t need to know.  You only need to know that it is Jesus, your Bridegroom, who is coming, and that your times are in His merciful hands.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit ✠

Thy Kingdom Come

Luke 17:20-30
Trinity 25

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

We don’t think in terms of kingdoms much any more since we’ve long ago dispensed with the idea of kings.  But we do certainly think in terms of government and politics and power, don’t we.  In the aftermath of the recent elections, that’s at the forefront of everyone’s minds.  Who will be in charge?  Who will govern?  Who will have the power?  

So when the Pharisees ask about when the kingdom of God is going to come, what they’re really asking is “When is God going to show that He’s in charge?  When will we see His power?  When will He be the one who governs us as King?”  And this question is understandable from ones who were living under the domination of the Roman Empire, under the governorship of Pontius Pilate.  The Pharisees wanted some visible sign of God’s kingdom and God’s reign.

But Jesus reminds both them and us that the kingdom of God in this world is not about politics and worldly power.  It’s not something you can necessarily see on a map or in government.  Instead, Romans 14 says, the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  It is the Lord Jesus graciously ruling our hearts through His Word.  Until the Last Day, the kingdom of God is a hidden reality, perceived by faith, not with the eyes but with the ears.  For it is written, “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.” 

So Jesus’ first point here is that we shouldn’t think of the kingdom of God as only a future thing, when God’s power will become visible to our eyes.  When we pray “Thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer, we’re not only praying for Jesus to come again in glory at the end of the age.  We’re asking for His kingdom to come among us right now.  And how does that happen?  The Catechism confesses, “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”  So the kingdom of God has, in fact, already arrived.  It’s a present reality.  Jesus says, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’  For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

The kingdom of God was already among the Pharisees, for Christ the King was among them.  And He is the kingdom of God Himself in the flesh.  Hidden beneath and within His true humanity, all the fullness of God dwells, and the entire content of the kingdom is present with all of its blessings.  So wherever the flesh-and-blood Christ is–wherever He is speaking His words to His people and giving us His forgiveness and life–there is the kingdom of God.  Even though Christ is unseen to our eyes, all who are joined to Him through faith have entrance already here on earth into the heavenly kingdom of God.

The old Adam in us, though, doesn’t like to think of the kingdom in those terms.  Our fallen nature prefers to have something that it can see and experience rather than simply trusting in the Word of God.  In that way we are very much like the Israelites at Mt. Sinai.  Moses was gone for a long time on the mountain, 40 days, not visible to them.  The people grew impatient.  That’s how it with us, too, isn’t it?  We grow impatient, waiting for the Lord to come through for us, waiting for some sign of His power and His help.  And that’s when we can be sorely tempted to turn away from Him and follow the ways of the world, to go after worldly ideologies and practices that promise to give us the power or the pleasure which we seek right now.  Having just come out of pagan Egypt, the Israelites were familiar with idols like the golden calf.  It brought them immediate gratification.  A golden calf was a fertility symbol.  When the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play, you can imagine what that involved.  Aaron gave the people what they wanted; he would have been much more likely to win election than Moses.

The golden calf event was written down for our warning and our learning.  When Moses came down from the mountain and saw the idolatry and the immorality, he became hot with anger.  Moses ground the calf to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the children of Israel drink it.  In the same way all the modern idols of our day will be crushed in the end, and those who serve them will be forced to absorb the judgment for such false worship.  All who trust not in God-given words but in worldly spirituality and power will be brought to ruin with those idols which they serve.

Let us repent, then.  For just as Moses came down the mountain unexpectedly to judge Israel, so the Lord will come down unexpectedly on the Last Day to judge the fallen world.  Those who rely only on what they can see and observe will have no idea what is about to come upon them.  For as they look around, they will think that, for the most part, all is well.  Sure there may be violence and corruption like in the days of Noah.  Sure there may be self-indulgence and immorality like in the days of Lot, whose home city of Sodom inspired the name for a perverted sexual act.  But people will still be eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building and getting married just like usual.  However, as it was in the days of Noah, when the flood suddenly deluged the world, and as it was in the days of Lot, when the Lord suddenly consumed Sodom with fire, so it will be when the Son of Man is revealed.  Those who care only about visible power and glory will then be granted their wish.  They will see the power and wrath of a holy God in all its fury.

However, for those who repent and believe, for us who walk as yet by faith and not by sight, the Last Day is not a day for us to dread but to eagerly anticipate.  For our judgment day has already taken place on the holy cross of our Lord Jesus.  There God poured out on Him all the fury of hell.  The full judgment for our sin that stood against us pummeled Him as He hung there.  He received it all in our place, as our stand-in.  

Moses actually foreshadowed that in the Old Testament reading.  God was about to destroy Israel because of their faithlessness and rebellion.  But Moses spoke up and interceded on their behalf.  He got in between Israel and God’s wrath and saved them from a fiery judgment.  Our Lord Jesus did that in the ultimate way for us at Calvary, out of immeasurable love for us.  That’s why Jesus said in the Gospel that “He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”  His love compelled Him to do it in order to redeem us from our idols and purchase us as His own and win for us the entire forgiveness of all our sins.  Your judgment day is in the past, Good Friday.  It’s over and done with and finished.  Just as the Lord provided deliverance for His people Noah and Lot, so also He has provided eternal deliverance for you in His Son.

The kingdom of God comes to you only in the king who wears a thorny crown.  And notice that in the cross the kingdom cannot be seen but must be believed.  All one can see is a bloody execution.  No one can literally view the eternal triumph over sin and death and the devil which took place there.  It must be trusted on the basis of the words of the Lord who declares it to be so–words spoken into your ears and poured onto you with the water and fed into you under the bread and wine.  By faith in those words, we receive the kingdom of God as it comes to us.  For through those things Christ Himself is among us.  In the end the kingdom of God will be revealed in all its glory.  But for now it remains hidden under the cross.  The church lives under a veil, until the fullness of time comes.

So believe the words of God spoken into your ears.  Looking at yourselves, you may see nothing but sin and sickness and trouble.  But listening to the Lord, you hear of the hidden reality that you are His chosen, righteous people and royal inheritors of eternal life.  Looking at the church, you may see nothing but imperfection and struggles and disunity.  But listening to and trusting in the Lord’s words, you hear of the hidden reality that the church is His holy bride, and even the very gates of hell shall not prevail against her.  That is why we say in the creed not “I see,” but, “I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church.”

The kingdoms of the world are in turmoil and always will be; it’s a never ending battle.  Things are never settled; there’s always the next election, the next threat, the next conflict.  But take heart, for in Christ the victory has been won.  You are citizens of the kingdom of heaven.  In Him you have peace and certainty about who you are and where you are going.  As it was with Noah and His family, you have been placed in the ark of this Church.  And when the waters subside on the day of our Lord’s return, you will enter into a new and imperishable creation, the everlasting kingdom of God unveiled in all its majesty.  And you will always be with the Lord.  “Therefore, comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠