Stay Awake

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year based on Mark 13:24-37

Dear people who are awake: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Stay awake. Jesus tells us to stay awake because it is possible to fall asleep. It is possible for us to fall asleep instead of keeping watch and being ready for Christ’s return. That is to say, it is possible for us to fall away from the faith.

So, stay awake. Stay awake from the false sense of security in which no thought is given at all about Christ’s return on the Last Day. Stay awake from the expectation that things will just keep on going as they have been since the foundation of the world. Stay awake from the lull of worldly comfort. Stay awake from giving highest priority to the cares of this world. Stay awake from the deceitfulness of riches.

Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. You do not know when Jesus will return. Yes, Jesus gives you signs so that you can recognize when the time is coming close, but no one knows when it will be. We have had wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes and famines since Jesus ascended into heaven (cf. Mk. 13:8). We’ve had signs of the end times for two thousand years. Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost that they were in the last days already then (Acts 2:17). Saint John writes, “Children, it is the last hour” (I Jn 2:18).

Live every day as though it might be your last, because it just might be your last. One day it will be your last.

Our Introit from Psalm 39 prays, “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you.” This is praying to God that He would lead us to realize that our life on earth is extremely short, so that we would think more about where we will spend eternity. Lead us to not spend all our time and energy stocking up treasure on earth and thus give up treasure in heaven. Lead us to not live lives in the pursuit of pleasure on earth and thus give up the pleasure of heaven.

Recall the parable of the sower. The Word of God that is heard by hard hearts is snatched away by the devil. The Word of God that is sown in some hearts endures for a while, but then, when tribulation and persecution arises on account of the Word, immediately they fall away. The Word of God that is sown in others proves unfruitful when the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the Word (cf. Mk. 4:1-20). There is great danger that we fall away if we allow hardships or worldly desires to turn us away from God.

Falling away doesn’t just happen overnight. You don’t go to sleep one night filled with faith and trust in God and wake up the next morning hating Him. It happens over time as a Christian does not prioritize the feeding and nurture of his faith. Little by little, he allows the world to influence him. He doesn’t even realize the things that he’s starting to believe are against God’s Word because he isn’t listening to God’s Word. He’s done listening to it because he thinks he knows it all and doesn’t need it any more. Maybe later, like on his deathbed, he thinks.

Do not think that you have lots of time to prepare for Jesus’ return, so you’ll prepare later; that you have lots of time to repent, you’ll repent later. We don’t know when Jesus will return. When He has returned, it will be too late to prepare or repent. The watchman cannot expect to be awake when his master returns if he figures he has some time to sleep, even just for a little bit, and then wake up before his master returns. His master will return at a time that he does not expect.

The Son of Man will return in clouds with great power and glory. Those who receive Jesus now when He comes humbly, are ready to receive Him when He comes in glory. Those who don’t, are not.

The day that Christ returns will be a day of great terror for some and a day of great joy for others. For some it will be scarier and more terrifying than anything they could have imagined. The hearts of unbelievers will melt with fear because they will see all their idols destroyed by fire. Everything they held dear and in which they hoped will be destroyed. Everything for which they worked, everything they valued, everything they believed in will be revealed to be foolishness, lies, and rubbish, while the almighty God they rejected will justly punish them for the truth they rejected; for the grace and mercy they rejected.

Stay awake and prepared for the return of Christ. You may well say, “I’m trying!” I’m trying to prioritize the right things in my life. I’m trying to think more about eternity. I’m trying to hear God’s Word more and even read it more. I come here to hear the pastor absolve my sin and to receive the body and blood of Jesus… but it doesn’t seem to do anything.

My sin that God has apparently thrown into the depths of the sea still remains in my heart. I come to church week after week; I hear the Gospel week after week; I receive communion week after week, but I cannot get rid of my sins.

I still make bad decisions. I still get caught up in the cares of this life. I still doubt. I still cannot be perfectly content. I despair. I still want things that God says I cannot have. I still get angry. I still lust. I still covet. I still say things I shouldn’t say. I’m still selfish.

The truth is, you are still sinful. That does not mean that the Holy Spirit is not doing anything in you. That does not mean that your hearing and reading of the Gospel has been in vain or that Jesus’ body and blood have done nothing for you.

This cannot be the case because you believe. You believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sin. The only reason that you believe is because the Holy Spirit gave you faith when you were baptized, and He has fed and nourished that faith through the Word and the Sacrament of the Altar even to this day. You are awake.

The Holy Spirit has given you faith. He has also kept you in the faith. Even though sin still clings to you, the Holy Spirit has continually forgiven you your sin. The Holy Spirit helps you in your struggle with sin, even though the struggle does not go away in this life.

Your struggle with sin will go away when Christ returns. Then you will be completely delivered from all sin. Not just delivered from sins of word and deed, but even of all sinful desires. Our very sinful nature, which is the reason that we sin, will be destroyed.

Thank God that this life is short! And thank God that He sends His Word and Sacrament to us to keep us awake until the coming of Christ. Christ will return and send out the angels to gather His elect from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. He doesn’t gather you because you’ve lived a good life, but because He died for your sins and you belong to Him, purchased by His blood. He gathers you because you are His elect and He will keep you in the true faith to life everlasting. Jesus will keep you awake. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The End of the World

Sermon for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 13:1-13

Dear people waiting for Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

If we look at this world, we can tell that it cannot endure; it cannot survive. Fires burn people out of house and home, killing many trying to escape. Hurricanes wipe out coastal cities and flood cities far inland. Earthquakes cause destruction, death, and panic. Bombs fall from the sky in response to rocket fire. Deranged, fatherless mass murders shoot up schools, concerts, and other places where people gather. Politically divided countries are filled with hatred, threats, and violence. Tensions are high, tempers flare, violent crime spreads even as victims lose their rights.

We know this world cannot go on. Not only can we tell that these volatile signs indicate that we are destroying each other and the world, but Jesus also tells us that they are signs of the end times; signs of the close of the age.

Another sign of the end times, Jesus says, is “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” God’s Word offends the world because Jesus claims to be the only way to the Father (John 14:6). God’s Word offends because it condemns the sins that the world loves to commit. Thus, anyone who believes and follows God’s Word will be hated. Jesus told us this would happen as we near the end of the world, and this is indeed happening now.

God is patient with those who hate Him and revile Him. He desires their salvation. He desires them to turn from their wickedness and live. That is why He has not yet destroyed them along with this world.

One day, His patience will end, and the wicked and the proud will suffer terribly and know great terror. They will be set ablaze by the fires of hell. Their punishment will have no end just as their wickedness knew no bounds. They will suffer the righteous and just consequence of their sins. They will receive the just punishment for their crimes.

If we were judged by our lives, by our works, and by our deeds, we would face the exact same punishment. We have lived selfish lives. We have lived for ourselves, as if we alone mattered. We have not loved God with our whole heart or our neighbours as ourselves. Repent.

God out of His great love and mercy will not judge us by our lives, by what we have done and left undone. God judges us by His Son’s life; by what His Son has done for us. The good that Jesus has done is credited to us even as our sins were charged to Him and He suffered and died for them.

Thus, God does not want us to be terrified of the Last Day or the return of Christ. He does not want us to be in fear or panic as we see signs of the end times in the world around us. Rather, He wants us to lift up our heads in glad anticipation. Our redemption is drawing near.

That terrible and great day of Christ’s return will be a day of joy for us. It will be the ushering in of a new heaven and a new earth where we will live with God in perfect peace and harmony forever.

Wars between nations will be over. The rage within nations will cease. The hurtful fighting within families will be no more. The battle with sin within ourselves that’s always tearing us apart will be gone.

Sin will lose its appeal. Temptations will have no power. We will be content and happy and filled with joy that never fades.

Now, you suffer. Your brother may not have delivered you over to death and your children may not have risen against you. You may not feel hated by the world, but you do suffer hardships, most of them secret and internal. You endure in prayer and faith, by hearing the Word of God and receiving the body and blood of Jesus. You wait with all the saints for the reappearing of our Saviour. You wait for the fulfilment of all of God’s promises to you. You wait for Judgment Day without fear, because you have God’s promise, that He will remember your sins and your lawless deeds no more.” (Heb. 10:17)

God’s Word does tell us that God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ec. 12:14). It also tells us we will have to give an account of ourselves to God (Rom. 14:12), even for every careless word we speak (Mt. 12:36). The Bible tells us these things so that we would fear God and keep His Commandments. That is the whole duty of man (Ec. 14:13). Fear God and keep His Commandments. The Bible tells us these things so that our conscience would be awakened and we would repent, so that we will not be found secure in sin, impenitent, and apathetic when Christ returns, and then be judged by our deeds with the unbelievers.

Repentant, faithful believers don’t have to wait until Judgment Day to hear their verdict. You hear it every Sunday when you hear the words of Absolution. You are absolved by God Himself. You are forgiven. Your sins are blotted out. Since God promises you that He will remember your sins and your lawless deeds no more, you can rest assured God isn’t going to bring them up on Judgment Day.

Jesus has taken the punishment of your sins and was judged in your place. The only verdict left for you is innocent. God grants you the opportunity to hear this every Sunday so that you will be ready to face Judgment Day. God grants you to receive the body and blood of Jesus so that you will be forgiven and strengthened in faith until you die or Jesus returns.

This world will not endure. However, it won’t be destroyed by our warring or pollution or climate change. God will destroy it with fire on Judgment Day.

Because of God’s love and mercy, you will not be judged by your lives, by your evil works, or by your sins. You are already judged to be forgiven saints of God with His promise that He will remember your sins and your lawless deeds no more. God will thus usher you into a perfect new world that will endure. It will endure forever. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Waiting for the Right Time

Sermon for Ascension Day (observed) based on Acts 1:1-11

Dear people waiting for the Lord: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Bible is a book about God’s work in time. It starts with, “In the beginning…” and ends with Christ’s promise, “Surely I am coming soon.”

Time is not some afterthought to God but is intimately related to His work of creation and His work of salvation. Thus, Genesis records God’s work of creation in each of the six days, and it reads, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day… And there was evening and there was morning, the second day…” and so on, for each of the six days of creation. This was no accident, but God’s carefully planned design to create the universe in time.

Regarding God’s work of salvation, we read in Galatians, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (4:4-5) When the fullness of time had come refers to the particular year, month, day, and hour set by God the Father (cf. Gal. 4:2). In Titus, this is called “the proper time” (1:3) and in Romans, “the right time.” (5:6)

We read in holy Scripture that God’s plan of salvation was from before the foundation of the world (I Pt. 1:20), promised before the ages began (Ti. 1:2), and indeed we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).

Yet, just before Jesus ascended into heaven, when the apostles asked Jesus if He would then restore the kingdom to Israel, Jesus responded to them saying, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

In other words, don’t worry about God’s work – worry about your own work. Don’t wonder or worry about what God’s plans are for His kingdom or when He’s going to do what He’s going to do. Leave it to God.

God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth has a plan and a time for Christ’s return as He had a plan for creation and a plan for Christ’s first coming. We do not know when it will be, but neither do we have to worry about it. Christ will return in the fullness of time, at the proper time, at the right time in the same way that He ascended into heaven.

As we have recorded in Scripture, God has always been with His people through the ups and downs of this life; through the good and the bad; the easy and the hard. He has always been with His people through life and through death.

As God has always been with His people, He is with His people now. Indeed, He has promised you, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He has also promised us that all things work together for our good (Rom. 8:28) and that He will not leave us as orphans (Jn 14:18).

Christ did not return in the apostles’ lifetime, even though they thought that He might. If it was up to them, they might have waited on the Mount of Olives for years waiting for Jesus to return. Thus, Christ sent them to work, to be His witnesses to the end of the earth, proclaiming the salvation accomplished for us by Christ offering Himself as a sacrifice for sins for all time (cf. Heb. 10:12). The angels also prompted them to move along when they continued staring up into heaven, saying, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”

The apostles then went about their work, waiting for Christ to return.

We join them and God’s people of all time in waiting. The waiting started with Adam and Eve waiting for the promised seed to crush the serpent’s head, and it continues today with us, and will continue until Christ does return.

While we wait for Christ’s return, we are exhorted in Ephesians to look carefully how we walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of our time, because the days are evil (5:15-16).

The little bit of time we have on this earth can be spent wisely or foolishly. In foolishness we can spend all our time in the pursuit of worldly goals and objectives, or in wisdom we can spend time doing the will of the Lord, pursuing heavenly goals and objectives.

There isn’t much time, but we don’t know how much. These days are the days the prophets call “the latter days” and the apostles call “the last days.” These are days of trial and tribulation, days of war, pestilence, and natural disaster, days of false teaching and false teachers. Thus, Scripture gives us so many admonitions to stay awake and spiritually attentive, making the best use of our time.

Now is not the time to seek excuses and justification for our sins, but the time to seek forgiveness and having our sins removed from us and covered. Now is the time to recognize our selfishness, dishonesty, pride, and hypocrisy, and repent. Now is the time to confess our sin of using time poorly, of wasting it, and using it to pursue sinful desires.

Why is now the time to do these things? Because Isaiah says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” (55:6-7) And Second Corinthians tells us, “Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (6:2)

God is near now, in His Word. God is near now with forgiveness. Christ is not only near you, but in you in His body and blood, given and shed for you.

He comes with forgiveness and healing in His body and blood because in the fullness of time, the proper time, the right time, Christ came into history as a man and saved you from the fires of hell. He purchased and won you with His precious blood and His innocent suffering and death on the cross.

It was God’s plan from before the ages began, but He did it when the time was right.

God’s plan for you was also made before the ages began. God chose you in Christ for eternal life, and He will come to take you to eternal life in the fullness of time, at the proper time, at the right time.

It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority, but Christ will return for you at the proper time, and until then strengthens you with His Word and His body and blood, the receiving of which is the best use of your time during these evil days.

Time is intimately related to all God’s work of creation and salvation, so it is also with your creation and your salvation. Your time is in God’s hands. You are in God’s hands.

Christ’s promise, “Surely I am coming soon” is for you. In the fullness of time, at the proper time, at the right time, Christ will take you to Himself, so that where He is, there you may be also.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27:14)

Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Judgment Day

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year based on Matthew 25:31-46

Dear sheep of the Good Shepherd: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

On Judgment Day, judgment will be based on works. Don’t be too shocked by that. Second Corinthians 5 says, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (v. 10) Romans 2 says that on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed, He will render to each one according to his works (vv. 5-6). In John 5, Jesus says on Judgment Day all the dead will hear His voice and be raised from their tombs and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (vv. 28-29). On Judgment Day, judgment will be based on works.

When was the last time you fed the hungry and gave drink to the thirsty? When was the last time you clothed the homeless, and even more, welcomed them into your house, though they were strangers? When was the last time you visited the sick or those in prison? Where are these good works by which you will be judged on the Last Day? I hope your answer is, “What good works?” rather than “When have I failed to do good works?”

Jesus does not teach about Judgment Day primarily to encourage you to do good works. In our lesson from St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus did not teach the disciples about the final judgment just before He was arrested and crucified because He was hoping for good works from them. He knew what would happen. He even told them ahead of time what would happen. The disciples would not feed Him when He was hungry or give Him a drink when He said, “I thirst.” The disciples would not clothe Him when He was naked and lots were cast for His clothing. They said He was a stranger they did not know. He was a prisoner on trial who they did not visit. He was sick with wounds to which they did not tend.

On Judgment Day, what do you think the disciples will say to Jesus when He says to them that they fed Him when He was hungry, gave Him drink when He was thirsty, welcomed Him and clothed and visited Him when sick and in prison? They will say, “When? When did we do any of these things that you say we have done?”

No disciple of Jesus will lay claim to good works he has done on Judgment Day. No believer will tell Jesus, the judge of the living and the dead, that he has done what God’s Law demanded of him. No sheep of the Good Shepherd will say that he has fulfilled God’s Law; that he has loved God with his whole heart, soul, and mind, and his neighbour as himself.

Unbelievers will. The goats will say, “When did we ever fail to do what we should have done? We’ve done so many good things in our lives, how dare you suggest we have failed to do something we should have done? We’ve done it all and then some.” They see no need for grace, mercy, or forgiveness. They think they’ve earned eternal life for themselves. In reality, they will go away to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Even though you will be judged on works, the truth is that on Judgment Day, your good works will not save you. Even if you fed all the hungry you could find and gave them drink; if you opened your home to every stranger and refugee and clothed them with your own clothing; if gave all that you have to the poor and volunteered at the hospital and prison; if you gave all your money, all your time, all your talent; even if you donated all your blood that you could every chance you got, your good works will not save you. It will not be enough. It will not even set you apart from the man who never so much as lifted his finger to help anyone in need.

How do we know this? Because “By works of the Law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight.” (Rom. 3:20) “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the Law.” (Gal. 2:16) “Now it is evident no one is justified before God by the Law.” (Gal. 3:11) “Good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never.” (LSB 555 st. 1)

We have to pay attention to what Jesus actually says when He teaches about Judgment Day. The very first thing that will happen on Judgment Day is Jesus separating the sheep from the goats. Before any judgment is pronounced, Jesus will stand His own on His right hand and the unbelievers on His left. He will call His dear sheep “blessed by My Father,” and will tell them to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. Yes, from the foundation of the world. Before we did anything good or bad; before we were conceived and had a chance to do a single work, good or evil, we already had God’s eternal kingdom prepared for us.

Revelation 20 also helps to shed light on Judgment Day. John has a vision of the Last Day. It says that the books were opened, and the dead were judged by what was written in the books. But there is another book, the book of life. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Those whose names are written in the book of life inherit the new heaven and the new earth and will dwell with God and be His people, with every tear wiped from their eyes, where death will be no more, neither mourning, nor crying, nor pain (Rev. 20:11-21:4).

The works written in the other books don’t save or condemn those whose names are written in the book of life. What you have done or left undone, good or evil, cannot save or condemn you. What matters for you is that your name is written in the book of life.

Those whose names are in the book of life will also be judged based on works, but not their own works. Those whose names are in the book of life will be judged by the works of Jesus. Baptized into Christ, we are covered with His righteousness that covers all our sin. All of His good works get credited to us.

On Judgment Day, Jesus will call us “blessed by My Father” and to inherit the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world. He will say that we did all kinds of good works, but we will not lay claim to them to set them against the judgment of God. We will cling alone to the merits of Jesus and His righteousness. We will answer Jesus, “When did we ever do anything for you? Do not open up the books of works! We have no desire to be judged based on our works. Open instead only the book of life, where our names are written. Judge us based on Your works, not ours.”

Are you uncertain about your name being written in the book of life? Have you been around Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper so long and you still do not realize that Jesus makes you holy and righteous through these means? Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word; it works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. Yes, Baptism saves!

Absolution is not just the plain word of man, but the voice of Christ Himself, commanded by Him to be spoken in His stead to forgive sins and open the gates of heaven.

The Lord’s Supper is not just plain bread and wine, but the very body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

Through these means of grace Christ gives you His righteousness. Through these means Christ gives you all of His good works and covers your sins. Through these means Christ declares you righteous, blessed by the Father, having fulfilled every good work, and an heir of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

Do not forget who the Judge is on Judgment Day. It is Christ Jesus your Lord who took on your flesh to live and die for you. It is your Good Shepherd, who gave His life as a ransom for yours. It is your High Priest who knows and sympathizes with your weaknesses and infirmities and thus paid for your sins with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.

On Judgment Day, Jesus will declare you righteous and give you eternal life because you are His sheep and He is your Good Shepherd. He will judge you based on His works, not your own, so you know that you will inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Eternal life is your promised inheritance because Jesus earned it for you and gives it to you freely. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

Foolish and Wise Virgins

Sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 25:1-13 (Amos 5:18-24)

Dear bride of Christ awaiting His return: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Judgment Day will come, and we know neither the day nor the hour. Christ, the bridegroom of the Church, will return as He has promised, and He will take His bride with Him into the great eternal wedding feast.

Since we do not know when Christ will return, we must watch and be ready at all times. When Christ returns, it will be too late to open our ears to God’s Word. It will be too late to repent. It will be too late to receive forgiveness.

Good intentions to hear God’s Word later, to repent later, to receive forgiveness later will end like the foolish virgins’ trip to the marketplace to buy oil. It will be too late. Jesus will answer those foolish virgins, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

The church on earth is like the ten virgins in Jesus’ parable. They all identify as the bride of Christ, the Church. They gather together with others who confess to be Christians. They are part of the group. They have their lamps and they live externally holy lives, which is why they are called virgins. It is not necessarily possible for us to tell the foolish virgins from the wise.

However, the foolish virgins were not ready for the bridegroom’s coming. They had no oil. An oil lamp is useless without oil. The flame will not burn without oil. If you don’t have oil, you may as well not have a lamp.

These are people who identify as Christians. They gather together on Sundays with other Christians. They are part of the group. They live externally good lives. But their hearts are far from God. They harden their hearts when they hear God’s Law. They don’t believe when they hear the Gospel. The Word of God bores them because they think they already know it all. Later, they say. I will open my ears to God’s Word later. I will repent and turn away from my sin later. I will receive forgiveness later. But later it is too late.

Since we do not know when Judgment Day will be, we must be ready now. We must open our ears to hear God’s Word now. We must repent now. We must receive forgiveness now.

The Word of God gives faith. The Word of God sustains faith. Being immersed in the holy Scriptures makes you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (II Tim. 3:15) so that you will be like the wise virgins and have oil in your lamps. The Sacrament of the Altar gives you Jesus’ body and blood so that you will be ready when He returns so you will go with Him into the wedding feast.

This does not happen by the mere outward act of sitting in church or kneeling at the altar rail or eating and drinking. It is through faith that Jesus’ death was for you. It is through trust in Jesus’ words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” It doesn’t happen by the mere outward act of being baptized, but it is through faith which trusts in God’s promise that Baptism rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation.

Mere outward worship is useless. God said to the Israelites concerning their insincere worship, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.” (Amos 5:21-23)

The Israelites were celebrating the feasts God had commanded them to celebrate. They assembled for solemn prayers and sacrifices offered on a daily and weekly basis. They gave offerings to the Lord and sang songs to Him. Yet, they did not submit to God’s Word. They lived in whatever sins their hearts desired and had higher priorities than worshiping God and hearing His Word. They thought everything would be alright as long as they went through the motions of worship, singing, and giving offerings.

They were like the foolish virgins, identifying as God’s people, gathering together for worship, going through the motions. They were like the foolish virgins and were not ready when God came to visit them. The Northern Kingdom of Israel perished and was sent into exile in Assyria, with their land was repopulated by foreigners by the command of the Assyrian king (II Kings 17).

What is it that God expects of His people? That we live perfect lives and never sin? That our minds never wander, not even for a second, during worship? That somehow we prepare ourselves for Jesus’ Second Coming?

No, none of these is possible.

God expects a broken and contrite heart and trust in His promises. We do not create these ourselves. We cannot break our own hearts or create contrition in our hearts. Rather, the Law of God breaks our hearts and creates contrition in our hearts. The Law of God shows us our sin so that we would hate it and turn away from it. The Law of God crushes our hearts with guilt and holds us accountable for what we have done and what we have failed to do so that we have sorrow over our sins and repent.

We also cannot create faith in our own hearts. God creates faith in our hearts through the Gospel. The Gospel binds the wounds that the Law has made and soothes consciences and hearts. The Gospel gives us the free forgiveness of sins that Jesus earned for us by His holy life, death, and resurrection. The Gospel is that God forgives our transgressions and covers our sins (Ps. 32:1). He washes us thoroughly from our iniquities and cleanses us from sin (Ps. 51:2). God hides His face from our sins and blots out all our iniquities (Ps. 51:9). He creates a clean heart within us and renews us with a right spirit (Ps. 51:10).

God opens our ears to His Word now. God’s Word brings us to repentance now. God’s Word promises and gives us forgiveness now. We don’t have to wait.

Absolution is God’s Word which forgives your sins now. The Lord’s Supper also gives you forgiveness and strengthens your faith now. God’s Word reminds you now, that He who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16).

God gives and does these things for you now, so that you will be ready for when Jesus returns, no matter when He comes. God prepares you now so that whether you die now or are still alive when Christ returns, you are and remain ready. God gives you forgiveness in these different ways to give you oil for your lamp so that when the call goes out to invite you to the wedding feast you will be a wise virgin, ready for the feast, ready for the bridegroom, ready for eternal life.

We don’t need to know either the day or the hour when Jesus returns because we are ready now, and we will be ready at all times. With our sins forgiven, nothing stands in the way of eternal life for us. Christ, the bridegroom of the Church, has prepared us for His return, and will return as He has promised to take us with Him into the great eternal wedding feast. We are ready. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

History

Sermon for the Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 21:5-28

Dear people of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

You have perhaps heard the saying, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” If you cannot learn from the mistakes of past generations, you will repeat the same mistakes they made, and end up with the same consequences.

As Jesus foretold the destruction of the Temple, the people of Jerusalem had not learned from history. In history, when man forsook God and acted wickedly, following every evil intention of his heart, God sent a flood which killed all the wicked (Gen 6-7). When the people rebelled against God and gathered in pride to build for themselves a monument to reach heaven, God confused their language and dispersed them over the face of the earth (Gen. 11:1-9). When the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah rejected God and exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; when the men gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men, they received the due penalty for the error (cf. Rom. 1:26-27), as God rained sulphur and fire from heaven and destroyed those cities (Gen. 18:16-19:29).

The Israelites also had the history of their own people from which to learn. God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 6-14), but they got impatient waiting for Moses on the mountain so they had Aaron build them a golden calf. God struck them with a plague (Ex. 32).

They were all under the pillar of cloud as God led them, and all passed through the Red Sea and were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food, the manna God sent from heaven. They all drank the same spiritual drink, given by the spiritual Rock that followed them, Christ Himself. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness (I Cor. 10:1-5).

First Corinthians 10 tells us that these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (I Cor. 10:7-11)

The people of Jerusalem did not heed Christ’s warnings. They did not listen to the warnings of the prophets God sent for centuries before Jesus either (ex. Jer. 6:8; Mi. 3:12; Zec. 14:1). They thought they could ignore God’s Law and do whatever they felt like doing. They followed their hearts instead of God’s Word. They engaged in idolatry, adultery, testing God, and grumbling.

They felt safe from God’s punishment because they had been doing it for years and lighting from heaven hadn’t struck them, no plague had decimated them, and despite being under Roman rule, they were at relative peace. Sure, God had destroyed sinners and punished sin a long time ago, but not today. They thought that in that day God just turned a blind eye to sin and forgave without people even turning away from sin. They thought that just because the Temple of God stood among them and the sacrifices were taking place there, everything was okay. However, Jesus told them the days will come when there will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down.

Forty year later, the Romans destroyed the Temple and all of Jerusalem as Jesus had prophesied. Over a million Jews were killed and about 100,000 taken captive. They fell by the edge of the sword and were led captive among the nations, and Jerusalem was trampled underfoot by Gentiles as Jesus prophesied.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who know history and fail to heed its warnings are also doomed to repeat it. Here specifically we are talking about the history of God’s relationship with man; God’s relationship with us.

We are God’s baptized people. That’s our history with Him. He has rescued us from the slavery of sin. By Jesus’ death in our place, He has rescued us from death and the devil, and from hell. We all passed through the sea of Baptism, baptized into Christ. We eat the same spiritual food and drink the same spiritual drink, the very body and blood of Jesus given and shed for us. And we have the same warning as God’s people of all time have had: do not follow your sinful flesh. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom. 8:13)

As Jesus gave the warning of the destruction of Jerusalem, He gave the warning of the destruction of the world. We have the warning of the end times when nation will rise against nation, and there will be earthquakes and famines and pestilences. There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations and perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and the foreboding of what is coming into the world.

This prophecy is no more preventable than Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. It will take place. The world will be destroyed and the Son of Man will return, coming in a cloud with power and great glory. There is nothing man can do to prevent it, but man can learn from the history of those who reject God and His Word, and the history of those who cling to God’s Word.

As with the destruction of Jerusalem, God’s children have nothing to fear about the end of the world. Even in the face of end-times persecution we have nothing to fear, even if that persecution comes from parents and brothers and relatives and friends. Even if we are hated by all the world and are put to death, Christ says, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” That is, by enduring in the faith, you will receive eternal life.

This eternal life is a free gift to us in spite of our past sins. If we look back at our personal histories, they are filled with all kinds of vile sin. But these histories are wiped out in God’s history books. Jesus died in our place, taking all the punishment for our sins. Our histories are re-written and do not include our sins. Our histories say that we have fulfilled the Law of God perfectly because Jesus fulfilled it for us. Our histories say that we are adopted children of God because we are baptized into Christ. Our histories say that we are in Christ and Christ in us because we eat the spiritual food and drink of Jesus’ true body and blood.

So, when we see the signs of the end times approaching, we do not need to fear. Rather, Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” We can raise our heads in confident expectation that even though Jesus returns to judge the world, our judgment has already been pronounced – we have been acquitted; we have been declared blameless by the judge of the living and the dead.

Instead, our redemption is drawing near. That moment when we will be taken from this world of sin and death is drawing near. That moment when we will no longer suffer at the hands of evildoers; that moment when we will no longer suffer illness and death; that moment when we will no longer suffer from the earthly consequences of our own sins; that moment is drawing near.

We can learn from the history of God’s people in all time and places. God’s people suffer in this world of sin as everyone suffers, but God saves His people from this world. Despite what we see going on in the world around us, we can straighten up and raise our heads because our redemption is drawing near.

God’s history is that He has never failed to keep His promises. Throughout history, He has never failed to save His people from every evil. He has never failed to warn people to turn from their sin and He has never failed to forgive repentant sinners.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. But those who know the history of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus are destined for eternal life, with our own history of sin wiped clean by the blood of Jesus. So, straighten up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.