Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 25)

Matthew 24:15-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Exodus 32:1-20

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today’s Gospel is unquestionably about God’s judgment upon sinful mankind. The only question is “When?” Our Lord presents us with a myriad of signs and prophecies, some seemingly already fulfilled, others perhaps being fulfilled right now, and still others seemingly yet to be fulfilled. But, that is how things are with our Lord who is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, and everything in between. Our Lord is the Lord of History and the Lord of Time, and this is the nature of His Advent, His Coming: He has come. He comes. And, He is coming. Indeed, the end of the Church’s Year of Grace is much like its beginning in Advent:  We are to watch and to wait, always in faith, always in prayer, always prepared for His Parousia, the Day of His Coming. That He has come is the foundation of our faith. That He comes is the substance of our faith. That He is coming is our hope in faith for which we expectantly watch and wait. To do so is to be a Christian, a subject of Christ our King and recipients of His kingly reign on earth and in heaven. However, the kingdom of God does not come with signs to be observed. You must see with your ears and not your eyes. For God’s kingdom in this world is one of faith, and faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ. Only on the Last Day, when the King returns, will our faith be turned to sight.
Indeed, it is our sin-corrupted vision and reason that hinder us from seeing, receiving, and sharing the kingdom of God, for, in our willful rebellion, our physical eyes and reason may have been opened to know good and evil, but our spiritual vision and certainty became blind. Where, once, long ago, God’s will and His ways seemed to us wise, true, and good, now they seem to us foolish, weak, and despicable. “Why should God prohibit the eating of that one particular fruit? It obviously looks good to eat.” That was the root of our fall from grace: man placing his vision and reason over and above God’s Word. Satan planted that seed of doubt, and then he leveled his masterstroke: “When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Ever since that fateful day, man has no patience for God, His will, and His ways. Instead, man demands that God operate on man’s terms, according to man’s wisdom, and prove His existence by signs and wonders that men count as significant and wonderful.
When God first appeared to Israel on Mount Sinai, His Presence was accompanied by signs and wonders: “thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.” However, when Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, how quickly the people turned aside to idolatry, fashioning a god of their own making from the golden rings in their ears. When God did not act in the manner they considered wise and god-like, they took matters into their own hands and created a god of their own imagination, reason, and wisdom. They knew good and evil: They judged their own wisdom and reason to be good, and God’s wisdom to be foolishness and evil. In the golden calf, they created an abomination that resulted in their desolation before God, a desolating sacrilege.
The abomination is sin, and the abominable are sinners. The abomination of sin causes desolation, utter destruction of both the sin and the sinner because they are opposed and antithetical to God who is holy and righteous and just. The abomination of sin causes desolation by default, by definition, because sin and sinners cannot possibly stand in the presence of holy God anymore than darkness can exist in the presence of light. Therefore, sin must be dealt with, and sinners must be atoned for, if there is to be any hope of reunification. For this reason God gave His commandments and established the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system, that sins and sinners may be atoned for, covered over for a time, until the day when God would act to take away sin once and forever.
Until that day…. However, sinful, self-idolizing man won’t wait for that. Oh, no. Throughout the intervening years and centuries, men did not wait and watch for God’s mighty deliverance, but they continued to raise up and to worship creatures in the place of their Creator. They desired a king and a kingdom like the pagan nations, with wealth and military might that they might be glorious and strong in the eyes of men. They defiled themselves by comingling the pagan religions, with their multitudes of gods and goddesses, with their own, thus committing spiritual adultery and making themselves the whore, betraying their faithful God and Husband. Satan had lead them so far from the light of God’s Word into the darkness, ignorance, and foolishness of sin that, when the day in which God did act came, they were found not watching and waiting, but they were eating and drinking, planting and building, buying and selling, marrying and being given in marriage, and that day sprung upon them like a trap.
What day was that? It was the day that Jesus described in the Gospel when the abomination of desolation stood in the holy place. Yes, that day has already come! The abomination was Jesus, dead on the cross. The holy place was, not the temple, but Golgotha, the place of a skull. There, Jesus became what we are, a sinner, an abomination in the presence of God that cannot stand. However, Jesus was not merely one sinner among others, but in God’s eyes, He was the only sinner, a sacrilege to God. He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us. And, cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.
But, this is the nature of the kingdom of God, and this is how King Jesus reigns. It is a reign of love, a reign of mercy, and a reign of sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins: Greater love is not possible than this – that the Son of Man should lay down His life in death for you. O, Kingly Love! Indeed, it is from the cross that King Jesus reigns. There He was crowned. There the title above His head read in Greek, Aramaic, and Latin: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. When Jesus died, the temple – His body – was destroyed. Then did the earth shake and rocks were split. Then were tombs opened and many of the saints who had died were raised. Then was there a mighty earthquake and everyone was filled with awe, and men had to confess, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
How many people experienced all of this? As it was the Passover, and Jewish pilgrims had come from all over the middle east to celebrate the feast, hundreds of thousands at the very least. All of the phenomena associated with Jesus’ crucifixion and death were experienced by hundreds of thousands of Jews, Romans, and other Gentiles. And, what about those saints said to have come out of their graves alive and were seen in the city? Truly, it is not fabrication or myth, but these things actually occurred – their truth was incontrovertible, for too many had experienced it and seen it with their own eyes. Further, after Jesus’ resurrection, the Scriptures record for us at least eleven post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, at least one time before more than five hundred, and in the Jewish way of counting that likely included only the men present.
With all this evidence and eyewitness testimony, preserved and handed down over the course of two millennia, why then do men today refuse to believe? Because, seeing is believing, they say. That is, seeing with your eyes, having no regard for the eyes of faith. But, this is nothing new. Indeed, it is the first sin repeated again and again – idolatry. Men are not satisfied and content with the Word of God, even when it is supported by facts, but prefer to go their own way, according to their own reason and wisdom, which is foolishness and the pathway to sin and death. Further, men cannot imagine that God would reign and rule in such seeming weakness, humility, and pathetic suffering unto death. Surely there must be another, a different god – or perhaps there is no god at all. Either is preferable to this God who hides Himself and veils Himself in lowliness. Where is the God of Sinai? Let Him appear before us, then we will believe; but do not tarry lest we become the whore and worship gods of our own making. Oh, He will appear in glory and great power and might, but woe to those who did not receive Him in His first appearing.
For, indeed, the Day of the Lord has come, on a Friday afternoon two thousand years ago. Then began the Last Days, the thousand-year reign of Christ, with His death, resurrection, and ascension. Now He reigns at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. Now are the days in which you are not to be enslaved to material things, but you are to be watching and waiting in faithful, expectant, hope for His second coming, His Parousia. Now are the days to remain vigilant in the Word of God that you may not be lead astray by false teachers and false christs who say, “Look, here is the Christ!” or “There He is!” or “Look, He is in the wilderness.” If they tell you he is to be found in nature, do not believe it! If they tell you he is to be found in reason and science, do not believe it! And, if they tell you he is to be found in worship of yourself, do not believe it! No, when He returns, He will not come in meekness and humility, veiled so that you may only see with the eyes of faith. No, when He returns, He will come on the clouds with the sound of a trumpet and a cry from an archangel, and every eye will see Him, every tongue will confess Him, and every knee will bow before King Jesus, the Lord.
No, we do not need signs and wonders, but what we need now is mercy. We pray for mercy, and we receive mercy. “For the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” King Jesus reigns even now, for you, His Kingly reign of love, mercy, and sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. He blesses you and keeps you. He makes His face to shine upon you and is gracious to you. He lifts up His countenance upon you and gives you peace. He comes to you now on the clouds of heaven with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to dine with you at His banquet, a foretaste of the Great Wedding Feast that is yet to come. Though you do not see Him with your eyes, through the eyes of faith you see and hear and believe, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And, as the Roman vultures gathered around the corpse of Jesus dead on the cross, so we, His faithful subjects, as eagles, gather around His resurrected and ascended body and blood for the strengthening of our faith, the forgiveness of our sins, and the hope of eternal life in His Name. “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in His hand Christ our God to earth descending comes our homage to demand.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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