Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 26)

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.

The scene described in our Old Testament lesson today from the Prophet Daniel depicts the coronation of “one like a son of man”. At first Daniel describes the Ancient of Days, who is God the Father, sitting upon His throne in judgment, surrounded by the heavenly host as the royal record books are opened. The scene is descriptive of a king’s courtroom where he is about to pronounce a binding legal judgment. A little horn is speaking, bringing charges and making boastful and proud accusations as a prosecuting attorney. In the verses preceding today’s pericope, Daniel describes four great beasts come up out of the sea. This blasphemous little horn is but one of ten horns upon the head of the fourth beast in Daniel’s vision; Daniel describes it as having eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth.

It is enough to understand the little horn as the activity of Satan in the world through men. And, though his charges and his accusations are against men, they are truly against God Himself. Thus, he is a blasphemer. Likewise, though men are the instruments of Satan to do evil, and are guilty of their own sins and transgressions, it is truly God Himself who is on trial. This is consistent with God’s answer to Job’s pleading question, “Why my suffering?” God’s answer: “That the righteousness of God might be revealed.” When Satan asked to test Job, he wasn’t concerned about Job’s faith and righteousness at all, but he wanted to put God to the test; he wanted to pit God’s justice and righteousness against His goodness, love, and mercy. Thus, it is true that no man is your enemy, for only Satan is your enemy; and Satan is only your enemy because He is God’s enemy first.

As the little horn was speaking, however, Daniel tells us that the beast upon whose head the horn was planted was destroyed. Who was that beast but Satan himself? And what was the cause of his destruction? That is revealed in the coronation of one like a son of man. He was presented before the Ancient of Days and to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. What Daniel foresaw in prophetic vision was fulfilled in the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When Satan hurled his charges, his accusations, and his blasphemies against God’s Son on the cross, Jesus took it all upon Himself and He died in your place, in my place, in Job’s place, in Adam’s place, that we might live. And, because of His perfect selflessness, sacrifice, and obedience, God the Father crowned Him and has given Him dominion and authority over heaven and earth and all things in them, so that the same description of the Ancient of Days is used to describe the Son of Man, Jesus, in the Revelation to St. John which closes the canon of Holy Scripture.

For, the Revelation much less reveals something new, that is yet to come, than it unveils something that is already accomplished: The Lamb of God Jesus Christ has died, and yet He lives – He stands as the lamb that is slain. He reigns and He rules with the Father, the Ancient of Days, and together with Him receives blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power forever and ever. It is accomplished. It is finished. Thus, what Daniel foresaw in prophetic vision was already a done deal. God had determined it. Therefore, no matter what life lays before you, no matter what challenge or fear or frustration you may face, the end of the story is written, and Jesus has us for all eternity – we win! And, since His dominion is everlasting, those who are in it are also eternal. That means that we are not looking forward to eternal life, actually, for we already possess it. Scripture calls it a hope because we do not experience its reality fully at this point in time. But we have it already, by virtue of our Baptism, and by the gift of the Medicine of Immortality which we receive in the Holy Supper. Jesus had accomplished it all for us already, it is pure gift. "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved."

The Apostle Peter expounds upon the ramifications of this reality by answering the question, “How then shall we live?” That is to say, if God created all things that exist, if Satan plunged all things into sin and death, if God redeemed all things through the victorious death and resurrection of His Son, and if Jesus is returning in glory and judgment on a day to come when all created things will burn and dissolve away, then what kind of people ought you to be? You are to live lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, being diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace. Of course, this is impossible for man, but it is a reality through baptism and faith in Jesus Christ. You are to take comfort and strength in the victory and eternal life that is already yours in Jesus and wait for His return in patient vigilance, in humility and repentance, in service to your brother and neighbor, persevering to the end.

In this regard, Jesus prophesied of that day, that He will come in glory and will sit upon His throne in judgment. Then He will separate the sheep from the goats. Yet, the clear indication is that the judgment will have already occurred, for the sheep are already sheep and the goats are already goats – all that is left is to separate them, a task easily accomplished by the outward appearance of each species. Still, Jesus does describe the behaviors of those He recognizes as sheep as compared to those He recognizes as goats. The sheep, Jesus says, gave food to Him when He was hungry and drink when He was thirsty, they welcomed Him as a stranger, clothed His nakedness, and visited Him when sick and in prison. In contrast, Jesus says, the goats did not do these things. Then, lest we make of His words a mere moralism, Jesus adds that the sheep did not realize that they had done these things to Him, nor did the goats realize that they had not. Thus, Jesus’ words are not a prescription for what you must do to be a sheep of His flock, but rather they are indicative that Christ is in those who trust in Him so that He counts them as His brothers. Therefore, to serve one of Jesus’ brothers is serve Jesus, and to refuse them and to reject them is to reject Him. It is much less about your deeds than it is your faith in, or rejection of, Jesus that makes you either a sheep or a goat. Yet, the truth remains that sheep will do sheepy things (love, compassion, mercy, charity, kindness, and forgiveness), while goats will be goats. The undone works are only a symptom of the real problem: lack of faith. If they had called on the Lord in faith, He would have forgiven them, prepared them, and completed good works in them.

The Judgment has already happened. Judgment Day was Good Friday. That was the day that our sins were judged and punished. It is not a day ahead of us, but the day Jesus died on the cross. So we look to the cross for comfort and hope, and we gladly bear the cross appointed for us, that we may share in the victory which Christ, the Son of Man, won for us, and was given, with us included, in Daniel's Vision of the End.
Life hurts. Dangers threaten. Illness frightens us. We often feel overwhelmed, and out of control. But God tells us that we should not trust our senses here, but listen to His Word. Already in the time of Daniel, five centuries before the time of Christ, it was a settled plan, and He locked it up in Jesus. God doesn't want us fearing what the world throws at us. He desires that we trust Him, and find daily peace and comfort in Him. Your sins are forgiven because Jesus died for you. God gives you eternal life for Christ's sake – or, as Daniel saw it, God gives you to Jesus for an eternal dominion. Either way, it is not what it may feel like at the moment that is important, but what we see in this apocalyptic vision of the end.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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