God’s Visitation to Come

Sermon for Advent Midweek Service – God’s Visitation to Come (based on Exodus 4:27-31, Romans 8:26-39, Luke 1:57-79)

Dear people who will be visited by God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We have heard of God’s visitation of old and His visitation now, and how His visitation of unbelievers is Law and judgment, but how His visitation of believers is Gospel and forgiveness. Today, we look to the future. We look to how God will visit us in the time yet to come.

Judgment Day will be the final visitation of God. After Judgment Day, you will either be forever with God and in His presence, or you will be cast out of His presence, never to be visited by Him again.

As with God’s visitation of old and His visitation now, everything depends entirely on faith. Just as God visited the unbelieving Egyptians with plague and death, and visits unbelievers who commune at His altar with judgment, so He will also finally visit all unbelievers with eternal judgment. And, just as God visited His people of Israel and saved them from slavery, and visits His people at His altar with forgiveness, so He will also finally visit all believers with eternal life.

We heard in our Epistle lesson, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” (Rom. 8:28-30)

This passage beautifully brings together the past, the present, and the future of God’s children. Because in the past God predestined you and chose you for Himself, and because He has called you to faith and declares you justified in the present, you know that He will glorify you and grant you eternal life in the future. Put in another way, because God has graciously visited you in the past and graciously visits you in the present, you know He will graciously visit you on the Last Day.

Notice how Scripture speaks of your glorification in the past tense. It doesn’t say, “those whom He justified He will also glorify.” It says, “those whom He justified He also glorified.” Because it is God’s promise to you, it can be stated so certainly like it has already taken place, as if you have already been raised from the dead and given a glorified, resurrected body.

This is what Zechariah’s prophecy also does. At the time Zechariah uttered the prophecy, Jesus was not yet born. Mary was three months pregnant with Jesus. But what does Zechariah say? He says, filled with the Holy Spirit, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.” When God makes a promise to do something, it is as good as done. Because God had promised to send a Saviour, even though He hadn’t yet died for our sins on the cross to save us and was not yet even born, Zechariah says that He has redeemed His people. He has saved us from the hand of our enemies and delivered us from the hand of all who hate us.

That is how you should view God’s promises to you – that they are as certain as if they had already been fulfilled. Even though at this time you remain in this world of illness and suffering you have been delivered from your enemy of death. Even though you still struggle with sin, you have been saved from sin. Even though you are still tempted by the devil, you have been delivered from his clutches.

And you have God’s promise that for those who love God all things work together for good. Your eternal good in heaven is what God wants for you. To make sure that you will make it there, God has visited you, claimed you as His own, and given you faith. He visits you in His Word and the Sacrament of the Altar to keep and preserve you in the faith.

Out of His love for you and His desire for you to be with Him in eternity, God may also visit you with discipline to turn you back if you have wandered into sin. Scripture says, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives. It is for discipline you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:5-11)

God visits His children with discipline now so that He will not visit us with punishment on Judgment Day. Under discipline, it may seem as though we are forsaken by God, but that is precisely when He is loving and caring for us the most. Through hardship, the Holy Spirit quenches sinful desires and kills the flesh, to prepare us for eternal life.

Do not become bitter at God when He disciplines you. Rather, humble yourself and repent. Confess your sins and receive absolution. Even when God is visiting you with discipline, He also visits you with forgiveness. Even when God disciplines you He wants you to remember His promises to you.

All things work together for your good. God has visited you and redeemed you. He continues to visit you with discipline and forgiveness so that when He visits you on the Last Day you will enter into the eternal joys of heaven with a glorified body. God’s promises to you are as certain as if they had already been fulfilled.

Therefore we do not fear the return of Christ. Rather, we pray: O Saviour, rend the heavens wide; Come down, come down with mighty stride; Unlock the gates, the doors break down; Unbar the way to heaven’s crown (LSB 355 st. 1). Amen.

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

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.

Rend the Heavens and Come Down

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent based on Isaiah 64:1-9

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

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down. Isaiah longed for God to come from heaven to earth to see the suffering and affliction of His people. He longed for God to have pity on them and rescue them from their enemies.

Their enemies had trampled down God’s sanctuary among His people (Is. 63:18). Isaiah prayed that God would come down and make their enemies tremble at His presence; that He would reveal Himself in terror to those who terrorized His people. Even creation’s most secure elements are insecure in God’s presence, as even the mountains quake when God comes down. The mighty man who is bold to fight and tyrannize other men, cowers and cries aloud in fear before God (cf. Zeph. 1:14).

Yet, it was God who gave His people into the hand of their enemies because they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit (Is. 63:10). Therefore God turned into their enemy, and Himself fought against them. God was angry with them and hid His face from them.

Isaiah confessed their sins to God. He said, “Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.”

Why would Isaiah still pray to God that He would rend the heavens and come down? What hope is there for sinners before God who tears the heavens open and makes the mountains and nations quake at His presence? What hope is there for sinners before God; sinners whose righteous deeds are filthy rags? If their righteous deeds are filthy rags, how much worse are their unrighteous deeds? If their good works deserve punishment, how much worse punishment do their sins and evil works deserve? Why pray to God that He would rend the heavens and come down?

When God came down to Mount Sinai and gave His Law, His voice shook the earth. There was thunder and lightning and the sound of a trumpet and the mountain was smoking. The people were afraid and trembled and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Ex. 19:16-20:21; Heb. 12:18-29) Why pray to God that He would rend the heavens and come down?

Isaiah tells us. He prays, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father… Behold, please look, we are all Your people.” Because God is their Father, Isaiah prays that He would answer the plea for compassion and salvation for His children. Because they are God’s people, Isaiah prays that God would not be so terribly angry or remember their iniquity forever.

This is the same plea that Moses had for God’s people when thy fell into sin and worshiped the golden calf. God threatened to destroy them all, but Moses pleaded with Him, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? … Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” (Ex. 32:9-18)

The plea is for God to rend the heavens and come to His people in mercy, despite our sinfulness. Remember the promises you made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Remember the promises you made to us in our Baptism when you put Your name on us and made us Your people.

God is merciful to us for His own name’s sake; for His own glory. His glory is to snatch us from the devil. God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature… and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die (SC III.3).

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down. Come rescue us from sin, death, and the devil. Not because we deserve it, but because we are Your people. Come rescue us from this evil world. Not because we merit such salvation, but because You are our dear Father and we are your dear children. Come rescue us from our own sins because we cannot save ourselves, and you are merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

The Church prays that God would rend the heavens and come down, and the Church waits. The Church at the time of Isaiah and Moses waited for the promised Saviour to come. Ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin and God promised them a Saviour, the Church waited for the Christ. He did come. He came and fulfilled the Law of God on our behalf, took the punishment our sins deserve, and suffered and died for us. Now the Church waits once again. We wait for Christ to return as He has promised.

Advent is about waiting. Yes, waiting for and looking forward to Christmas, but even more waiting for and looking forward to Christ’s return, when He will rend the heavens and come down. Yes, He will come in power and great might. The mountains will quake, and the nations will tremble in His presence. He will destroy His enemies.

To His people, however, He will give everlasting life. He will not be terribly angry with us; all of His anger was poured out on Jesus. He will not remember our iniquity, He has removed our sins from us. He will remember His promises to us and He will save us eternally as He has promised.

Thus, the Church prays, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” 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.

Kingdoms

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 11:2-15

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

The kingdoms of the world grow and expand through violence. The most powerful kingdoms have had the biggest and strongest armies. It’s no coincidence. No kingdom ever became great without a great army.

Glory is found on the battlefield. Conquering other nations is the only way to increase the size of the kingdom. The strongest, the bravest, and the toughest are those who are valued. Violence serves the kingdom well… until a more powerful kingdom rises and takes dominance.

On the other hand, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence. It is the kingdom of the lowly and the weak; the kingdom of turning the other cheek; the kingdom of martyrs. The kingdom of heaven is violent to no one; it only suffers violence at the hands of the violent.

Even our King fits this description. Our King suffered violence like a Lamb led to the slaughter without complaint. Our King suffered mocking and spitting, flogging, and torture. Our King suffered violence to the point of death on a cross; God put to death by mere mortals.

This is not our way. Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20) However, we don’t want to suffer violence. Suffering violence isn’t in our plan. It doesn’t appear it was in John the Baptist’s plan either.

When John suffered violence, he doubted. He sent word to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” How can You be the one if Your followers suffer violence and You’re not doing anything about it? How can You be the King of the kingdom of heaven if You allow Your kingdom to suffer violence at the hands of violent men?

However, while suffering violence, Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)

The kingdom of heaven is not competing with earthly kingdoms. It is no threat to earthly kingdoms. Yet, the kingdoms of the earth all too often afflict the kingdom of heaven with violence.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were threatened by Jesus because their only goal was having an earthly kingdom, which they tried to pervert the church into being. Therefore, the leaders of the church delivered Jesus for crucifixion. Earthly kingdoms have persecuted the church since its inception because they cannot understand anything except for earthly kingdoms and they always think that the kingdom of heaven is competing with their earthly kingdoms.

Herod, the king of an earthly kingdom, had John the Baptist beheaded because of John’s preaching concerning the kingdom of heaven. John had warned Herod that he would not be in the kingdom of heaven unless he repented. To Herod, that sounded like an attack on him as an earthly king so he threw John in prison, later to be executed.

Historical writings tell us eleven of Jesus’ twelve disciples were martyred. The kingdoms of the earth felt threatened by the kingdom of heaven, so they afflicted the Church with violence. The Church has been persecuted throughout history, and is today persecuted around the world more than ever.

The violent think that they are taking the kingdom of heaven by force. They think they are winning the battle. The kingdoms of the earth think that every dead Christian is a victory for them. They couldn’t be more wrong. They can do nothing to the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is not of this world. It is present here, it is in this world, but it is not of this world. The kingdom of heaven is present wherever the King is present. Jesus is present here among us in Word and Sacrament, so the kingdom of heaven is here among us. The world cannot take Jesus away from us.

The kingdom of heaven is present in this world but it has no worldly ambitions. It has no desire to topple governments or take over their lands.

Further, the kingdom of heaven has no delusions that this world will be made into a world of peace and harmony. It has no expectation that wars will cease or that the kingdom of heaven will stop suffering violence in this world. Remember, “If they persecuted me they will also persecute you.” Jesus also said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)

All is not lost, however, because the kingdom of heaven is not about hatred or about violence. The kingdom of heaven is about the victory won by Jesus on the cross.

The crucifixion may have looked like a huge loss. It appeared that not only had earthly kingdoms defeated the kingdom of heaven, but that the prince of darkness, the prince of hell, had won. The King of heaven was dead. God in the flesh was dead.

The disciples went into hiding behind locked doors. What else would they do? They were scared what the earthly kingdoms would do to them. Then Jesus appeared to the disciples behind closed doors. He showed them His hands and side, the marks of His victory over sin, death, and the devil. He proved Himself alive, risen as He has said.

The disciples came out of hiding. They went and proclaimed publicly that Jesus had risen from the dead. They no longer feared the kingdoms of the earth because they were in the kingdom of heaven. They proclaimed the kingdom of heaven to the ends of the earth, in exchange suffering violence at the hands of violent men.

Suffering violence in this time of Advent, what does the Church do? The Church waits. The Church waits for the return of her King. When the King returns, the violence will cease. Christ will return in the clouds of heaven and all peoples, nations, and languages will serve Him. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom which will not pass away or be destroyed (Dan. 7:14-15).

Then the Church will have peace. Our King suffered violence so that we have peace with God now because our sins are forgiven (Rom. 5:1), and when He returns we will have peace on earth also. Our King gloriously triumphed on the battlefield of the cross, and gives us peace: peace with God; peace in the new heavens and the new earth; peace from the enemies of the Church, and peace with each other. We will have peace and the worldly kingdoms will cease to exist. So, the Church waits. The Church waits and prays, “Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly.” Amen.

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