Sunday, November 22, 2015
Matthew 25:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Isaiah 65:17-25
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Last Sunday, you were a sheep. This Sunday, you are a virgin. Yes, once again, your Lord Jesus is speaking to you in a parable. However, the truth is that you are not a virgin, are you. Truth be told, you are more like that woman Jesus met at the well who had had seven husbands, and the man she was presently with was not her husband. You are a spiritual adulterer and idolater; You give your fear, your love, and your trust to foreign idols and false gods. And, yet, you have repented, and you have been baptized. And, even though you were a spiritual adulterer, your Lord looks upon you as His virgin bride. In fact, He has suffered for your betrayal and your wandering eyes and hearts, and He has died for your transgressions, paying the penalty for your sins in His flesh, and He has washed you clean in His holy, innocent shed blood and has called you His beloved, His bride. This is the Lord’s work, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
Yes, you are a virgin, and you are a bride in the eyes of the Lord. And, you are waiting, even now, for the arrival of your Bridegroom. But, your Bridegroom is delayed. He has been delayed for almost 2,000 years, and it may be another 2,000 years before He returns. Or, He may return today, or tomorrow, or next month. For, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Therefore, you must watch, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Ah, but, what does that mean? How do you watch? And, what are you watching for? Well, you are watching for the coming of the Bridegroom, Jesus. That’s simple enough. However, these past few weeks you have heard warnings about false Christs that will arise in the last days. The only way to distinguish the teaching of a false Christ is by checking it against the Word of the true Christ, the Holy Scriptures. And, how do you watch? Well, the best kind of watching is done, not with your eyes, but with your ears. Blessed are the eyes that see what you see, and the ears that hear what you hear. Once again, being a regular hearer of the Lord’s Word and being a regular recipient of His gifts will equip you and sustain you with eyes that see and with ears that hear. All of this is to say that, in order to be well prepared for the Bridegroom’s return, in order to be found watching when He comes, you do not need to be found doing anything, but, rather, you need to be found receiving. What must you be found receiving? Well, your Lord Jesus describes it in The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins as oil, oil in your lamps. Thus, the ultimate question that must be answered in this parable is, “What is the oil, and where can you get it?”
But first, let us consider why the oil is the all-important factor. As all ten of the maidens were virgins, it was not their virginity alone that made them more or less prepared to enter the marriage feast. Likewise, as they each, at least initially, had their own lamps burning with oil, having a lamp and oil at some time was not decisive either. Additionally, all ten virgins fell asleep, and, thus, it was not even their wakeful watching that made them well-prepared for the Bridegroom’s arrival. So then, the necessary thing that counted for preparedness when the Bridegroom arrived was the oil, and the oil alone. When the cry went out at midnight that the Bridegroom had arrived, all ten sleeping virgins awoke and began to tend to their lamps. However, five of the virgins, whom Jesus calls foolish, had run out of oil. They had not brought extra along with them and were not prepared for the Bridegroom’s delay. The other five virgins, who also slumbered, nevertheless brought extra oil with them. Because of this, Jesus calls them wise. They filled their lamps and lit them and prepared to enter the wedding feast.
Now, what is the oil? Where do you get it? How do you keep it over the course of your life? These are the questions you should be asking. What is the oil? The oil represents faith continually sustained by the means of grace, thus able to endure until Chris’s return. Where do you get it? Plainly, in the Church, for the Church is the Bride of Christ in which He is present with His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. In the Church is the womb of the baptismal font from which new Christians are born. In the Church is absolution and the forgiveness of sins. In the Church is the proclaimed Word of the Lord, the Gospel, which comforts and strengthens faith, and equips for good works to the glory of the Lord. In the Church is the body and blood of Jesus for the faithful to eat and to drink that they may persevere in this little while in which our Bridegroom is delayed. The oil is faith, and the Word and Sacraments in the Church, the means of grace, sustain faith until the Bridegroom comes. Thus, how do you keep the oil of faith over the course of your life? You come regularly and frequently to the Church to have your oil replenished and to be forgiven, comforted, and strengthened that you may persevere until He comes and be found well prepared.
That is where the five foolish virgins made haste when they awoke and realized that their lamps had gone out and that they had no more oil. Sure, they hoped to borrow some from the others, but that will not do. No one can believe for another, but each must believe for herself, each must have the oil of faith to fill her own lamp. Thus, they made haste to go and buy from the oil merchants. “Go and buy?” you protest. “But, pastor, you are always teaching us that we cannot buy, earn, or merit our justification by our works or money.” You are right, of course! Then, what does Jesus mean to say? Well, think of it this way: The time between Jesus’ Ascension and His Parousia, that is His return on the Last Day – the time of the Bridegroom’s delay – is the time of the Church. It is the time in which the faithful are gathered by the Holy Spirit around the means of grace, God’s Word and His Blessed Sacraments, that new Christians may be born, that faith may be created, strengthened, and sustained, and that sins may be forgiven. However, when the Lord returns on the Last Day, when the Bridegroom arrives, the time of the Church will be over. Thus, the five foolish virgins rushed out seeking to buy oil only to find that all the vendors were closed, not only for the night, but forever. The time in which to buy oil and to keep your lamp full with oil to spare is now. When the Lord returns, it will be to late. This is what it means to be prepared: You are prepared if you have oil in your lamp. You are prepared if your faith is being nurtured, strengthened, and preserved in the means of grace, through Word and Sacrament, in the body of Christ, the Church, His Bride.
“Ok,” you say, “but still, why does Jesus say that the virgins should go to the dealers and buy oil for themselves? You can’t buy or earn faith, right?” Right! You are absolutely right! But, what does the Prophet Isaiah say? “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” If you have oil, if you believe, if you trust in Jesus Christ and Him alone for your forgiveness, life, and salvation, then your God-given, Holy Spirit-created faith is credited to you as righteousness. Likewise, as St. Paul writes in today’s Epistle, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.” And, “since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” You did not buy this defensive armor, but they are yours and they cover you and protect you because you have faith in Christ. The oil of faith is replenished and sustained in the same way, but you have to have it. You can’t borrow it. You can’t earn it. You can’t buy it. But, you must have your faith replenished through the Words and Wounds of Jesus, in the Church, through Word and Sacrament.
Therefore, if you absent yourself from the means of grace for a prolonged period of time, you are putting yourself in grave peril. No, you will not surely die, immediately, – remember who used that little trick on our First Parents – but you will die, spiritually, in time. This reminds me of the story of a pastor’s visit to a member who had stopped attending church. The pastor was welcomed in and was seated in a chair by the fire. Neither the pastor nor the parishioner spoke a word. After a while, the pastor reached out with tongs and removed an ember from the fire and placed it upon the hearth. As the silence continued, the ember grew steadily colder until it was stone cold dead. After a few moments’ silence, the pastor returned the cold, dead ember to the fire, and immediately it began to glow once more with the light and warmth of the coals burning around it. As the pastor reached the door to leave, the parishioner said, “Thank you so much for your visit, Pastor, and especially for the fiery sermon. I shall be back in church next Sunday.” The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is just such a story. Here Jesus teaches you to keep yourself glowing with His light by remaining in His gifts where He gives them and where He has promised to be until He returns. Having oil in your lamp is not something you have to go and seek for yourself, but your Lord, your Bridegroom Jesus suffered and died and rose again to keep your lamps full through His Word and Sacraments until He returns to take you to Himself to be His Holy Bride. Until then, He provides this feast for you today, which is but a foretaste of that great wedding feast that is to come.
If you remain in Him, He has promised to remain in you. He will never leave you or forsake you. And, nothing can separate you from His love. If you remain in Him and His gifts, it matters not should He return when you are awake or when you are sleeping, for your life is in Him throughout this little while until He comes. And, your Lord Jesus exhorts you to encourage one another and build one another up in this truth. If you see that a brother or sister is missing out on the gifts, that his or her faith is growing weak, or cold, is dying, or is already dead, encourage them to come and receive the true oil of faith and be replenished. For, the time is coming when the Church will be closed and will be no more, and then it will be too late. However, today the Church is open and Jesus’ gifts are free for you to buy without cost or price. Come, and fill your lamps with the precious, life-giving oil of faith in Jesus Christ, and fear not the day and hour of His coming. Join your voice with the voice of Christ’s Church of all times and all places saying, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! Come, quickly come!” Behold! He has come. He comes. And, He is coming on the clouds. “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! Come, quickly come!”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, November 15, 2015
Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Peter 3:3-14; Daniel 7:9-14
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Take note of how Jesus describes the Judgment on the Last Day: “He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” You see, the people are already either sheep or goats. In a very real sense, they have been judged already. For, as the preacher to the Hebrews proclaims, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Therefore, what Jesus describes in Matthew 25 is, in actuality, the sorting and the rendering of the sentence – eternal life in heaven, or eternal damnation in hell. For, as St. John proclaims, the Good Shepherd knows His sheep, and His sheep know Him. He gives them eternal life, and no one can snatch them out of His hand.
Now, to be sure, with just a casual hearing, it may sound as though, on the Last Day, that you will be judged on account of your works. Truly, we confess as much in the Athanasian Creed, which I know brings many of you consternation each year when we confess it together on Trinity Sunday saying, “And those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire.” However, you must understand that there is only one hope for your works to be counted as good, and that hope is that God the Father views your works through the purifying lens of Jesus’ holy, innocent shed blood. For, good works do not, and cannot, justify, for they are produced, only and always, by fallen, sin-corrupted men and women. Thus, even the Prophet Isaiah confessed of himself saying that the very best of his works were but filthy rags.
And so it is that the goats will stand before the Lord on the Last Day with only the filthy rags of their sin-corrupted works. And, because of this, the Lord will judge them cursed and will sentence them to “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” However, the sheep, too, will stand before the Lord on the Last Day with only the filthy rags of their sin-corrupted works. And, yet, they will be judged “blessed by [the] Father” and they will “inherit the kingdom prepared for [them] from the foundation of the world.” So, if both the sheep and the goats stand before the Lord with their sin-corrupted, filthy-rag-like works, then why are the sheep judged blessed and why are the goats judged cursed? Well, it’s not the works, but it’s the way in which the Lord looks upon the works and upon those who perform them. For, they are, both the sheep and the goats, fallen, corrupted sinners. And, if they were to be judged by their works alone, naked, in and of themselves, then they would all be damned. However, the sheep have something that the goats don’t have; the sheep have the sprinkled, purifying blood of Jesus, which speaks a better Word than the accusing blood of Abel. The holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus does not make their works to be good or holy, and neither does it make the person to be righteous or holy, but it does change the way God the Father looks at you and at your works. For, in the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus, the Lord looks at your sin-corrupted, filthy-rag-like works and He sees only goodness and holiness and righteousness. And, in the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus, the Lord looks at your goatish self and He sees only His precious, holy, righteous, and beloved sheep. Therefore, on the Last Day, if you are a sheep, you are a sheep, not because of your works, but you are a sheep because of the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus. You are counted as a righteous sheep because you trust not in your works for justification before the Lord, but your faith and your trust is in Jesus Christ and in His meritorious work alone. The goats will be those whose fear, love, and trust for justification before the Lord is in something, or someone else, most typically in themselves.
Still, you do not suddenly become a sheep or a goat on the Last Day, but you are a sheep or a goat now. Yet, you are a sheep or a goat now in the same way, and by the same means, that you will be recognized as a sheep or a goat on the Last Day – by the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus. You see, we all start out as goats. The Holy Spirit calls you to be His sheep by the Gospel, gathers you and enlightens you with His gifts, and sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith. Thus, your being a sheep is objective. It comes from outside of you. While you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. However, once you became the Lord’s sheep, then you began to do truly sheepy things. In your God-given sheepishness, you began to desire to do the sheepy things your Lord desires and commands you to do. You began to do works that are truly good – good, not because they are good in themselves, for no filthy-rag-like work of a corrupted sinner is good in itself, – but good before the Lord because of the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus. This, the Church calls sanctification, and it flows out of, and is the fruit of, your justification. When the Holy Spirit called you by the Gospel, and gathered and enlightened you with His gifts, He also sanctified you – He declared you to be holy in the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus. But then, the Holy Spirit continued, and He continues still, to actually make you to be holy.
The Holy Spirit makes you to actually be holy, not all at once mind you, for you could not endure such a thing, but gradually, over the entire time of your life. He makes you holy through the trials and tribulations you face and endure. He makes you holy through the selfless acts of love and mercy and compassion with which you serve others as you have received the same from the Lord yourself. He makes you holy when you suffer and endure ridicule and persecution for the sake of Jesus. In all these ways, and in many more, the Holy Spirit sanctifies you, He makes you to be holy, even as He has already declared to you be holy in the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus. However, you will not be fully holy, perfectly holy, until the Lord raises you from death on the Last Day. Therefore, throughout your life, from its new beginning in Holy Baptism until your death, you live in the grace of being declared holy before the Lord by the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus in which you trust solely and completely for justification before the Lord. That is what makes you sheep, even if you are far from a perfect sheep and sometimes, even frequently, do goaty, rather than sheepy, things.
The truth is that, when you are doing the sheepy things you have been called to do, you typically are not aware that you are doing them. You are unaware because you are simply doing what sheep do – eating, drinking, following your Shepherd, lying down and resting, etc. More than that, however, you are doing what you have been called and given to do in all the relationships you have with other people. The Church calls this your vocation. Are you a husband or a wife, a father or a mother, a son or a daughter, an employer or an employee, a teacher, a preacher, a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker? Your vocation(s) is where your Lord has called you to live and serve as His sheep, to do the sheepy things He has called you to do. And, on the Last Day, the Lord’s sheep do not recall serving Him when He was hungry and thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or imprisoned because they were simply doing what they were given to do, to those whom the Lord had given them to do them to. Moreover, they did not keep a tally of their good works, for they knew that their works were not good enough to merit anything, but that the Lord counted them as His sheep, not because of their works, but because of the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus.
In contrast, the goats were busy doing what goats do – and, frankly, that often doesn’t look a whole lot different than the sheep! – foraging for food, wandering off on their own, seeking to satisfy their every desire and amusement, etc. While they may still serve their neighbor in various ways, they do not do it with the awareness and intentionality of their God-given vocations, but they do it for the praise they receive from men, with the expectation of a return, or perhaps from a purely humanitarian sense of what is right to do towards one’s fellow man. However, the reason that they are goats is not because of their works, but it is because they have refused, or failed to receive, the Lord’s gracious gift in Jesus’ holy, innocent shed blood.
So, what is the point of today’s Gospel? Very simply, it is this: You are justified, you are a sheep, by faith and trust in the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus – period. If your faith and your trust are in Jesus, if you are baptized into His death and resurrection, if you regularly receive His gifts in Word and Sacrament, then you are a holy and righteous sheep before the Lord and you can take comfort and be secure in your justification and salvation, for it is not by your works that you are justified and saved, but it is by Christ’s work for you in which you trust. And, because you are a sheep, you will do sheepy things – period. Don’t bother to count them, and most certainly do not succumb to the temptation to put your trust in them. Don’t boast about them, but give thanks to God for them, that He has given them to you to perform for the sake of others to the glory of His Name.
And, because you are the Lord’s sheep, continue to follow your Good Shepherd and to receive from Him the good things He gives you to forgive yours sin, to strengthen your faith, and to sustain and equip you for the sheepy good works He has called and given you to perform. That is to say, continue to gather here on the Lord’s Day and on each and every Feast Day, with the rest of the flock the Spirit has called, gathered, sanctified, and kept in this place around the Holy Word and the Blessed Sacraments of Christ. The Spirit gathers you here as He gathered Noah and his family in the ark to save you from the destroying flood of God’s wrath against sin. That Ark was Jesus in whom you have died and have been raised. Remain in Him, and He will remain in you, and you will bear much, and sheepy, fruit to the glory of His Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, November 8, 2015
Matthew 24:15-28 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18; Exodus 32:1-20
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In today’s Gospel, our Lord Jesus speaks of “the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel.” I use that phrase frequently in reference to my daughters’ bedrooms. Indeed, as it is used in the Holy Scriptures in both the Old and the New Testaments, the word abomination means a detestable or a hated thing. That certainly stands in line with my usage in regard to the bedrooms. However, in the Scriptures, the detestable or hatted thing is linked, particularly, with idolatry.
That is how the word is used in Daniel, where the phrase abomination of desolation first appears. In the second century B.C., the Syrian king Antiochus IV assumed the title “Theos Epiphanes” (god manifest) and desecrated the temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing a pig, the most ceremonially unclean of all animals, on the altar and forcing the priests to eat its flesh. Antiochus slaughtered thousands of Jews and attempted to obliterate the Jewish religion. He then set up in the temple an idol of Zeus, the pagan deity he believed himself to be. Antiochus set himself up in the place of God as an idol to be worshipped – That was the detestable and hated thing, an abomination. This abomination in turn caused the desolation in that offerings, sacrifices, and true worship could no longer be offered there to the true and only God. That was what Daniel prophesied of in the near future. However, Daniel’s prophecy was also for ages to come, fulfilled in the sacrifice of God’s Son Jesus Christ.
The history of Israel up until and including Jesus’ crucifixion is a continual up and down cycle of faithfulness and apostasy. In the time of Daniel, the Jews adulterated themselves by incorporating the worship of false gods and idols into their worship of the one true God. They performed sacrifices and made unholy alliances with pagans in order to secure power, wealth, and security for themselves. Because of their apostasy, God gave them over to their enemies, even those with whom they had made alliances. The result being that all the false things in which they had put their fear, their love, and their trust were proven to be worthless and useless, and some even were used against them to punish them.
The Jewish sacrifices had to come to an end, because they were misunderstood as man’s work instead of God’s mercy and grace. The Jews looked at their sacrifices and thought, “Look at how great is our obedience, O LORD!” instead of giving thanks in humility and repentance that the LORD had provided them a temporary way for their sins to be passed over. The sacrifices were never meant to take away sin, but only to point to the sacrificial offering the LORD Himself would make in the offering of His Son as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. Even the temple was not meant to last forever, but its purpose was to point to the Temple made without hands, Jesus Christ, in whom the Spirit of God dwells bodily, uniting God and man once again in a one-flesh union. And so, the LORD used the abomination committed by the idolatrous Jews and the pagan Antiochus to bring the Jews to the desolation of no longer being able to offer their sacrifices in the temple. If they could not offer their sacrifices, then they could not be reconciled with God. Now the LORD could show them how He would reconcile them to Himself, not by the works of their hands or their obedience under the Law, but by His own grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness poured out in the true sacrifice of Jesus, for all people of all times and all places.
And so, Jesus reminded the people of His day, and you too, that “when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Jesus, here, interprets Daniel’s prophecy both in terms of events in the prophet’s day and in terms of events that will soon come to pass. Though the prophecy had a historical fulfillment in Daniel’s time in the apostasy of the Jews and the abominable and desolating actions of Antiochus IV, Jesus warns His hearers to remember and to watch for the signs of a similar abomination in their own time.
Would a foreign king once again sacrifice a pig on the altar of the LORD and force the priests of Israel eat its flesh? No, not exactly. However, in the years following Jesus’ Ascension, the hubris of the Jews rose again and rebel leaders rose up to lead the people in revolt against their Roman oppressors that they might free themselves from heavy taxation and oppression and make a name for themselves among the nations of men once again. Once again, the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, sought greatness for themselves in their achievements, power, and renown, just like our First Parents before us. It may seem a subtle thing, but such is the way of idolatry, when God’s gifts become our gods, those things in which we place our fear, love, and trust before and above the LORD Himself. Idolatry is a detestable and hateful thing before the LORD, an abomination that leads only and always to desolation. Therefore, once again, the LORD gave them over to their enemies and oppressors.
Emperor Nero dispatched the Roman governor of Syria, Cestius Gallus, to quell the Jewish revolt. Despite initial advances and conquest, the Syrian Legion was ambushed and defeated by Jewish rebels and 6,000 Romans were massacred, a result that shocked the Roman leadership. Then General Vespasian, later elected Emperor, appointed his son Titus the task of putting down the Jewish rebels. Titus laid siege to Jerusalem in 67 A.D., permitting no food or supplies to enter the city and no waste or the sick or dead to leave. Moreover, there was infighting within the city between Jewish zealots and moderates. When the Roman armies finally breached Jerusalem’s third wall and entered the city in 70 A.D., they found only horror and devastation in the numbers of the dead and the diseased, the starved and emaciated, and even evidence of cannibalism. Some commentators and historians identify the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place as the Roman Standard, the Eagle, which was carried by the Roman armies and was worshipped as a symbol of the emperor as a god. Others place the abomination earlier when Emperor Gaius (Caligula) erected a statue of himself as a god in the temple. Either way, the true abomination was and is idolatry – the idolatry of the Jews who placed their fear, their love, and their trust in someone or something other than in the LORD.
Yet, our Lord’s warning is something you must continue to heed to this very day. For, wherever and whenever the abomination of idolatry is identified, it must be rooted out lest desolation come upon you. Every generation of man raises up its own idols. For our First Parents it was knowledge and wisdom and pride. For the Israelites while Moses met with the LORD on Sinai it was fear, uncertainty, and impatience, the fruits of unbelief. For the Jews of Daniel’s and Jesus’ days it was political, military, and economic might and the esteem of the nations. But, what it is it for you and for your generation? Is it your desire for a god who is tolerant and accepting of all of your sinful inclinations? Is it your desire for a god who shows himself and who works in the ways you think good and wise? Is it your desire for a god who will establish peace among the nations and eliminate poverty, hunger, and sickness? Or, is it that science and psychology have explained away God for you, and that you and each and everyone else has, at last, become their own gods, judging what is good and what is evil by your own personal standard and measure? Any of these desires, and countless others, are a detestable and hateful thing, an abomination, before the LORD. Take heed and repent, before the desolation comes and it is too late.
Your Lord exhorts you to get out of Dodge and to waste no time to collect your possessions. Whatever it is that gets between you and God, whatever your idols may be, leave them behind and flee to the mountain of the LORD and His Temple, Jesus. Further, He continues, beware of false prophets and false Christ’s, for the Deceiver will be attractive in the ways of the world and the flesh and he will tell lies that are appealing to fallen human reason and wisdom and he will lead many astray. But, those who cling to the Lord and His Word will not be moved, for His Truth is not hidden or unclear, but flashes like lightning across the heavens from the east to the west. Such abominations will continue to be raised up for seventy weeks, for a time, times, and half a time, for forty-two months, for 1,260 days, or, in other words, until the appointed time the LORD has set which even the Son of Man according to His flesh does not know.
But, in the meantime, in this little while until your Lord returns, He calls you to gather here around His body and His blood as vultures gather around a corpse. For, Jesus has suffered and died for all your idolatries and adulteries, and He offers you His precious body and His innocent shed blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of your sins. Do not be deceived by His delay and turn once again to making your golden calves or to fear, love, and trust in your works, but fear, love, and trust in God above all things. He has purged your sins in the sacrifice of His Son, and He offers Him to you now that you might eat and drink and live.
The Lord has come, and He is coming, and even now He comes. For those who hide themselves in the cleft of His Rock, the LORD’s holiness and righteousness will not consume. For those who are washed in the holy water and bathed in the innocent blood of His pierced side, God’s wrath against sin passes over. For those who eat His sacrificed and resurrected flesh and drink His blood as vultures a corpse, death cannot harm you, but you will pass through it victorious even as His corpse saw not decay, but was raised glorified never to die again. For, you must die to this life and to all meritorious works. And, that is why, on the day of His coming, those who are alive will not precede those who have fallen asleep, but the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. For, those who have died in faith in the Lord cannot be tempted by idolatries and abominations, to put their fear, love, and trust in anyone or anything other than the Lord alone. Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. They are with the Lord and, if you do not let go and give up, you will always be with the Lord as well. Hide yourself in Him now, every day of your life, and especially on the Lord’s Day, and encourage one another with these words.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Matthew 5:1-12; 1 Johns 3:1-3; Revelation 7:2-17
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Feast of All Saints is not what you think it is. Let me rephrase that: The Feast of All Saints is not merely what you think it is. For, you think that the Feast of All Saints is about those who have died in the Lord and are with Him now. Well, you are right! It most certainly is about that! However, that is not all that The Feast of All Saints is about, nor even, I would posit, the most important thing. For, The Feast of All Saints is about you, also. This Feast is your Feast. For, you are among the saints in the Lord that the Church celebrates and gives thanks and praise for to our Triune God for this day.
You know this because of the present blessedness that Jesus calls you to through faith in Him and His Word. For, the blessings of the Beatitudes are all in the present tense. They read, “Blessed are,” not “Blessed were,” or even “Blessed will be.” Jesus teaches that there is blessedness, right now, for those who are poor in spirit, for those who mourn, for those who are meek, for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, etc. Now, it is not natural for our fallen world, our fallen flesh, and our fallen reason to count such things as blessedness. But, your Lord Jesus calls you through these Beatitudes, through His Word, to see and to hear things differently.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This first beatitude has absolutely nothing to do with material wealth and possessions. It is addressed to the spiritually poor, to those who acknowledge and confess their moral bankruptcy. Blessed are those who confess that they are poor, miserable sinners and that they cannot help themselves out of their derelict condition. The spiritually poor are blessed now, in their spiritual poverty, for their treasure is not on earth, but in heaven. Their treasure is not in their works and their merit, but their treausure is God’s gift of Jesus Christ. They are blessed, they are forgiven, in His holy, innocent shed blood for them. Likewise, those who mourn over their sin and the damage it has caused in their relationships with both God and with their neighbor are blessed, and they are comforted in the knowledge that their sins are forgiven, that the breach has been healed, and that even death, which they truly merit, has been defeated, its sting taken away. And, this blessedness results in the blessed state of meekness for the spiritually poor – meekness which is truly humility and gentleness and consideration for your neighbor, and especially for those who are poor in spirit, mourning, and humble themselves.
And so, the first three beatitudes describe the repentant life of the Christian now. All that you experience in your life now is truly preparation for the life that is to come. And yet, you must not strike a harsh distinction between the two, for the life you live now in Jesus Christ will never end. Though your body will die and perish, your born again spirit will not. Your spirit, indeed, knows the blessedness Jesus describes in the beatitudes, the blessedness of poverty of spirit, of mourning over sin, and of meekness and humility, for this is the blessedness of the saints who have come out from the great tribulation that is life in this world, having washed their robes, making them white in the blood of the Lamb.
St. John reemphasizes Jesus’ teaching concerning the present reality of the blessedness of His saints saying, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.” Moreover, in this passage, St. John speaks of the now / not yet tension in which the Church Militant exists and lives on earth. Truly, the Church of Jesus Christ is victorious in Him and is blessed now, but this reality has not yet been fully revealed. And so, the world looks upon the Church and Her members and sees only weakness and hypocrisy, brokenness, infighting, and irrelevancy, even while Jesus looks upon Her and proclaims, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” My Bride.
And so, Jesus continues to proclaim the blessed state of His faithful, now, saying, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for ritheousness,” “Blessed are the merciful,” “Blessed are the pure in heart,” “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” and “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” “Rejoice and be glad,” Jesus says, “for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Each of these beatitudes make it clear that unbelievers will not see your blessedness, that even the faithful will be tempted to view these blessed traits as anything but blessed. For, the LORD’s ways are not man’s ways, and the foolishness of the LORD is wiser than man’s wisdom. Your Lord Jesus did not come to establish a kingdom of glory on earth, but He came to ransom you out of this world that is passing away because of sin and death. Even now, He is making all things new, even you, by turning your hearts and minds by His Spirit through His Word that you might see and hear differently.
Therefore, the Lord granted John, and you, His Church, this revelation of the Church Triumphant in heaven – 144,000 saints, representing the Old Testament and the New Testament Church together as one fellowship in Jesus Christ. And, beyond them, “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” Combined, these two images represent the Church catholic, both in heaven and on earth, both triumphant and militant, of all times and of all places. This Church is revealed for St. John and for you so that you might have hope as you continue your pilgrimage through this valley of the shadow of death, surrounded by enemies – hope that the victory is already yours in Christ Jesus, and comfort that your victorious Lord walks with you, even now, through that valley as your Good Shepherd, your Reedeemer, your Lord, and your God. You tend to look at this revelation as if it were something far off and yet to come, but the truth is that it is something that is very real for you right now. In fact, the English word Revelation is a translation of the Greek word ἀποκάλυψις, which means unveiling. Thus, this vision of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church of all times and of all places is but an unveiling, a revealing, of the Church that exists even now, but is seen in the fullness of Her glory not yet.
The Feast of All Saints is your feast, for you are numbered among that “great multitude that no one could number” who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” When did you do this? Well, you didn’t, but it was something that was done to you when you were baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then, you were claimed, spiritually, out of this Great Tribulation as was Noah and his family from the flood of God’s wrath, and you were sealed in the promise by faith that your body will be raised up from death too that you may join that countless host in your glorified flesh and blood body and serve God day and night where you shall hunger and thirst no more, where the sun and scorching heat shall strike you no more, where there is no more sorrow or tears, for God Himself will have wiped every tear from your eyes and taken away every reason for tears and sorrow.
The Feast of All Saints is your Feast, for God has knit together His faithful people of all times and of all places into one Holy Communion, the mystical body of His Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, you are invited to come to this foretaste of that Great Feast in heaven in order that you might be refreshed, renewed, and sustained that you might persevere during your pilgrimage through this life, through death, into eternal life and the Great Feast itself, the Wedding Feast of the Bridegroom Jesus Christ and His Holy Bride, the Church. This is not merely a meal of remembrance, but this is your spiritual food and drink in the wilderness on which you abide until you are delivered into the Promised Land of heaven.
More than that, your Lord and Bridegroom Jesus Christ Himself is present at this Festal Board as both gracious Host and life-giving Meal, “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.” That “company of heaven” includes all the saints of the Lord who have died in faith in Him, who are with Him now, with whom you will stand in the resurrection, not yet, in your glorified flesh and blood bodies and holy souls. This is His gracious gift to you now, that you, who cannot ascend to heaven, might join with heaven in this Feast as heaven graciously descends to you. Thus, you are invited to come and join in the heavenly chorus around the throne of God and the Lamb singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth art full of Thy glory! Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He, blessed is He, blessed is He who cometh in the Name of the LORD! Hosanna in the highest!”
Because God has reconciled Himself with all humanity in the holy innocent shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, St. Paul exhorts you to no longer regard anyone according to the flesh. Indeed, you must regard each and every human being as a soul created by God and redeemed and reconciled to Him in Jesus Christ. Thus, no man or woman is your enemy, but we each and all have but one enemy, God’s enemy, the devil, Satan, the Great Deceiver and Accuser of men.
Therefore, I exhort you to see this Feast of All Saints differently – to see yourself among the saints of God, but also to see your brother and sister and your neighbor as saints, or would-be saints needing only to hear and believe the Good News that God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself. This is the Good News, the Gospel, that you have been rescued from death to proclaim in your words, life, and deeds. This Feast of All Saints, let the unveiling of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church of all times and of all places enable you to see with new eyes your life and purpose in Christ and in His Body the Church. You are not alone, but you are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses! And, your very life is bound up with Christ and all His saints as a witness to the world of God’s boundless love and mercy, and His desire that all men be saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. You are not alone, but you are part of God’s mission to the world in Christ Jesus. Come to the feast and be forgiven, nourished, and strengthened in faith. Then, go, as He sends you, into the world in your vocations and let Christ’s light and love shine in all you say and do, to the glory of God the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, through the gracious workings of His Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.