Author: pastormjc

Sermon for November 27, 2022, First Sunday in Advent

Matthew 24:36-44 (First Sunday in Advent—Series A)

“Watching, Perhaps Today”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 27, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

          A new church year! A new year of being ready for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in power and glory. The traditional Gospel Reading for this First Sunday in Advent is a text about Jesus’ coming, His coming into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But that was as close to as an announced coming as you might get. A great crowd was following Jesus when He left the city of Jericho, traveling on the road up to Jerusalem. They knew where He was going. No doubt, word of His traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover spread quickly. This was the man who had recently raised Lazarus from the dead after four days! This was the teacher and preacher from Galilee. He was the healer who had just given sight to blind Bartimaeus as He left Jericho! As Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, now riding a donkey’s colt, the crowd was waiting in anticipation to see Him, to cheer Him, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest.”

          It will not be like this when Jesus comes again on the Last Day. There will be no word of His imminent arrival. There will be no time to plan. Maybe you have heard about or might know a “prepper,” or even be one yourself. A “prepper” is someone with extensive food and emergency supplies always kept ready in case of some catastrophe. Our government has set up “shadow government” facilities and protocols in the event that Washington, DC, is attacked. When, for example, the terror attacks happened in our country on September 11, 2001, some in key military positions were called and given just a few hours to pack and depart for a mission of unknown duration. Yet on the final day, we will not even have that short notice. God’s judgment will overwhelm the unwary, so preoccupied with this world, unmindful of His impending fury. In an instant, Christ “will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thess 4:16). There will be no warning, no time for final preparations. The Day of Judgment at Jesus’ return is certain, but unknown and unknowable. Jesus calls us to prepare by being ready, to keep watching.

          Our text then is the alternate Gospel reading for today, from Matthew 24: “But concerning that day and hour, no one—neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son—knows except the Father only. For just as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day on which Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and took them all, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. At that time two men will be in the field. One will be taken and one will be left. The two women griding at the mill—one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore, keep watching, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But you know this, that if the householder had known at what watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. On account of this, also you, keep being ready, because at an hour at which you do not suppose, the Son of Man will come.”

          A winter storm warning is posted because a Nor’easter is heading our way. What do you do? I think we all would make some preparations. We’d make sure to have milk, bread, and toilet paper on hand. We’d have fuel for the snowblower and the power generator, just in case. You watch the radar, listen to the forecasters, and wait to see if it happens. That I would call “faithful watching.” You keep an eye on things, prepare, and wait. Contrast that to an afterthought. A winter storm is on the way and you pay little to no attention, maybe because those weather people are never right anyway. Well, that afterthought might prove to be your undoing when the storm comes, and you’re socked with feet of snow like our friends in Buffalo! What are you going to do then?

          No one is able to anticipate the time when God will fully bring to an end this present fallen age. The day of Christ’s coming is unknown and unknowable as to its timing. This does not mean that, since we don’t know the when, that we should not look for His return or ignore it. Jesus’ coming in glory to raise the dead, to judge, and to make a new creation is something that Jesus’ disciples, His Church, should and must watch for daily and faithfully. Since you and I don’t know the day or the hour of Jesus’ coming, we keep on watching. Or do we?

          The Rev. Dr. Jeff Gibbs, Professor Emeritus of our Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, always encouraged his students, his congregation, and his fellow Christians with the words, “Perhaps today.” What does that mean? It means that the Lord Jesus is coming again in glory with all His angels. Perhaps today. Jesus the Crucified and Risen Lamb of God is coming to raise the dead, to put an end to death forevermore. Perhaps today. Jesus Christ is coming in power and authority to judge both the living and the dead. Perhaps today. The Lord Christ who spoke this first creation into existence “in the beginning” is coming to destroy this fallen world and to make a brand-new heaven and earth where only righteousness will dwell. Perhaps today.

          The early church lived in the expectancy that the Lord Jesus was going to return at any moment. Some 2000 years later, the Church still awaits her King to come. And this anticipation, this waiting, this hopefulness of the day of the resurrection and the new creation ought not be an afterthought. But that’s what it has become for most of us. Oh sure, during the last weeks of the Church Year and at the beginning of Advent, we hear some Bible readings about Jesus’ return. Then we think about it, a little. But we’ve really got Christmas on our minds: Jesus’ incarnation, His birth among us to be our Savior. But being our Savior means not only taking on our human flesh as true God and true Man, not simply being born in Bethlehem, not only living a perfect life, dying on a cross for the sins of the world and rising again. Being our Savior also includes His Ascension into heaven as true God and true Man and His coming again in the same way that the disciples saw Him go into heaven—bodily! (Acts 1:11).

          For the disciples then, Jesus’ return was a forethought, not an afterthought. They preached and proclaimed Jesus, crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins, as if the very world depended on it because this same Jesus was coming back! And the world does depend on that Gospel message today because Jesus is coming again. His return, which is unknown and unknowable as to the day and hour, will happen . . . perhaps today! For us 21st century disciples, this cannot be an afterthought for ourselves or for others to whom we share the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and coming again.

          There was no warning for the inhabitants on earth when the flood came in the days of Noah. (And as an aside, if you think that the story of Noah and the flood is fiction or a fable, Jesus, God Himself, right here in Matthew 24 acknowledges that it really happened.) There is no warning about the moment when the thief breaks into the house. It comes unexpectedly, even with all the alarms and precautions. There is the theme of suddenness and unknowability. But that doesn’t mean we are not ready or unprepared. We are keeping watch for the Lord, perhaps today.

          Now what does this faithful watching and readiness look like? How do we “do it”? Keeping watch and being ready for the Lord’s coming again is a matter of remaining connected to His Word and Sacraments. It’s a matter of knowing and trusting that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary in order to be the world’s Savior. It was through His sacrificial death on a cross that Jesus purchased and won eternal life and salvation from death and hell for everyone. That forgiveness and eternal life are gifts freely given by God the Holy Spirit by the Means of Grace: the Gospel Word, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. The Word of the Gospel gives us Jesus by telling us about Him and what He has done for the world, for you, with His death and resurrection. It is that Gospel Word that promises His coming again to raise our bodies from the dust of death, to change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body, and to make for His faithful people a new heaven and earth where we will be together with God the Father, Son, and Spirit forevermore. Through the water and Word in Baptism, we receive forgiveness of sins and the new life of faith as in that Sacrament we are intimately connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection. We die to sin and rise to newness of life to await in faith the day of His coming when He will make all things new. And in the Sacrament of the Altar, the Risen Lord Christ gives us to eat His true body with the bread and to drink His true blood with wine for the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and the strengthening of our Baptismal faith so that we are empowered by the Spirit to faithfully look forward to, and be well prepared for, the day of the Lord’s coming. Far from being an afterthought, the Holy Supper is indeed a foretaste of the feast to come in God’s new creation when Jesus’ comes again.

          The story is told of a grandmother looking out the front-room window for the family to arrive for dinner on Christmas Day. She is not going to be nearly as ready as the grandmom basting the turkey in the kitchen and only now and then listening for the car coming into the driveway. We can’t always be physically looking heavenward for the personal appearing of our God and Savior Jesus. But by grace, by means of Christ’s Gospel and His Sacraments, you and I are prepared and ready for His coming as we keep watching through our expectant faith that says, “Perhaps today my Lord will come.”

          And that is really the prayer of God’s people in Christ Jesus throughout the ages since St. John first penned it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Revelation 22, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Christ’s coming is what we do look forward to in faith. It’s no accident that the Christian Church confesses in her Creeds that we believe Jesus “will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.” We who believe in “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” look forward to that day as a day of joy and gladness.

          As we keep faithfully waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ – perhaps today – we pray earnestly the prayer of all the faithful, “By Your grace, O Lord, we are ready. Come, Lord Jesus. Come.” Amen.

Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve, November 23, 2022

Psalm 67 (Thanksgiving Eve)

“Praise and Thanksgiving”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 23, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The text is the psalm appointed for the day, Psalm 67:

1May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine upon us, 2that Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. 3Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You. 4Let the nations rejoice and sing for joy because You judge the people with uprightness and You lead the nations on earth. 5Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You. 6The earth has given its produce. He will bless us; God, our God, will bless us. 7God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear Him.

          As you heard these words again, did you notice that something seemed to be missing in this Psalm read at Thanksgiving? The word, “thanks”! The closest we get are the words, “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.” Martin Luther found thanksgiving in the word praise, as he translated, “Es danken dir, Gott, die Völker; es danken dir alle Völker” (Let the people thank you, O God; let all the people thank you). Well, this sent me on a “linguistic archaeological dig” to find what good things our Lord has for us in this psalm.

          Twice, in verse 3 and verse 5 we have the refrain, “Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You.” That refrain brackets the centerpiece of Psalm 67. Maybe you’ll have a centerpiece on your Thanksgiving Day table tomorrow or one at your Christmas celebration. A centerpiece is meant to be the focus of attention. The centerpiece, the focus of Psalm 67 is verse 4, “Let the nations rejoice and sing for joy because you judge the peoples with uprightness and lead the nations on earth.”

          Flanked before and after with the direction to let all the peoples praise God, we discover the reason that all the peoples can do so. God judges the people, probably meaning here something closer to “God governs the people,” with uprightness. God rules over all nations of people with justice and fairness. He is impartial and does what is right as He leads and guides the nations upon the earth. Jesus points this out in the Sermon on the Mount when He reminds us that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45 ESV). The Psalmist can then proclaim, speaking for all peoples, “God, our God has blessed us” because “the earth has given its produce.” This is also what we pray in the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread. What does this mean? Answer: God gives daily bread, even without our prayer, even to all evil people; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”[1]

          And so we are back to the word of the day, as it were, “Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You.” In my exploratory dig, I uncovered a real treasure in the root meaning of the word translated “praise.” It’s the Hebrew word יָדָה (yadah). This is a word used to publicly confess and declare who God is and what God has done and is doing. In Psalm 67, the divine writer sees what God has done and is doing. Through the people of Israel, the Lord was making known His way on earth, His salvation among all the nations. The psalmist writes, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You.” Let all people everywhere declare what God is doing as He offers, gives, and seals His salvation to the nations of the world. God governs fairly and rightly. He punishes sin. He announces His wrath against all who transgress His ways. He makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). In the same fairness, according to His mercy and grace, God offers salvation to all, Gentile and Jew alike, as He declares all people “justified,” “righteous,” “by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24 ESV).

          Christ Jesus, the One-of-a-Kind Son of God, took to Himself human flesh so that He might be humanity’s substitute. Jesus took the sins of all the peoples and nations upon Himself and bore them on the cross as if they were His own. He faced God’s anger and wrath, the Lord’s justice and judgment against sin, so that you and I and all people would have the complete forgiveness of sins, be released from the power of death and the devil, and be given eternal life. This is what we praise and thank our God and Father for. This is what we publicly confess and announce here in this place. And the Lord’s praise is found among all the nations as His people, in heaven and on earth, give Him praise and thanksgiving for who He is and what He has done for us in His Son, Jesus. Christ governs us in uprightness. As Luther wrote, “The 67th psalm is a prophecy of Christ, that He shall be king the whole world over and rule the people rightly, that is rule them with the Gospel, that they may be freed from sin to live for Him in righteousness and thank Him with joy.”[2]

          From a text that, at first glance, might not have seemed to be appropriate for a day of Thanksgiving, we have discovered a Word from God that leads us into true praise and thankfulness for His gracious and merciful blessings bestowed upon us day in and day out, without any merit or worthiness in us. Our God blesses us with the fruits of the earth. He supplies us with our daily bread, all that we need to support this body and life. He has given to us His own Son to be our Savior. He lavishes upon us forgiveness and everlasting life. Christ feeds us with His own Body and Blood with the bread and wine, nourishing us with Himself, the very Bread of Life. And as we depart from this Divine Service, the Lord places His blessing upon us one more time as He is gracious to us and makes His face shine upon us so that we depart in His joy and peace. Amen.

     [1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 335.

     [2] Martin Luther, Reading the Psalms with Luther (St. Louis: Concordia, 1993), 154.

Sermon for November 20, 2022, Last Sunday in the Church Year

Luke 23:39-43 (Last Sunday in the Church Year—Series C)

“What Do You Have Going for You?”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 20, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The text is from the Gospel Reading recorded in Luke 23:

39And one of the criminals who was hanged railed against Him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other answered and rebuked him saying, “Do you not fear God, for we are under the same judgment? 41And we justly, for we are receiving what our deeds deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your reign and rule.” 43And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

          As the very intelligent daughter of rich parents, she has a lot going for her. But he has no job, no qualifications, and no place to live. He doesn’t have much going for him, does he? Sharralanda gained a lot of experience in her last IT job, so at least she’s got that going for her in the new company. Dennis knows that the market is pretty treacherous right now, but he’s got a few things going for him that will help him in his career. What do you have going for you?

          What if we were to ask the criminal on the cross what he had going for him? That’s a sobering thought. He really had nothing going for him. He, along with Jesus and the other criminal, were all under the sentence of judgment and condemnation. None of them received the governor’s pardon. That had gone to Barabbas. No, these three men were led to The Skull to be crucified.

We know Jesus’ “crime” because the charge of which He was guilty was posted in an inscription placed above His head on the cross, “This is the King of the Jews.” What about the two others? Luke refers to them as “criminals” or “evil-doers.” That’s not much help in discovering their crimes for which they were executed. Matthew and Mark call them “robbers” or “insurrectionists.” Perhaps these two were involved in the same insurrection in the city in which Barabbas had participated. That is certainly a possibility. Nevertheless, these criminals were getting what they deserved for their crime, contrary to Jesus of whom the one criminal confesses, “This man has done nothing wrong.”

And it is on this criminal in particular that we focus for a moment. All this criminal had going for him was the awareness of his own sins. He knew that he was justly condemned. And he also knew that Jesus was innocent and condemned to death unjustly. Both he and Jesus were hanged on a cross. Both would suffer unbelievable agony and death. Yet, this criminal who had nothing going for him, put his faith and trust in a man under the same sentence of judgment!

Doesn’t that simply defy reason? Had this man lost so much blood already that he wasn’t thinking clearly? This man and Jesus, under the same death sentence, nailed to crosses, bleeding, and ultimately suffocating together, and the justly condemned places his trust and care into the hands of the unjustly condemned: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your reign and rule.” This unnamed insurrectionist and criminal confesses that Jesus is indeed the King of the Jews. One does not have a kingdom, a reign and rule, unless He is truly a King. And Jesus truly is! While on trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor said to Jesus, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37 ESV). The rulers and soldiers and the other criminal didn’t listen to His voice. They mocked Him, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself! Certainly the great King and Messiah can do that little thing. He saved others, let him save himself!”

But this is a King who rules as the Suffering Servant. His reign and rule is not of this world. Jesus the Christ would not lead a revolt against the Roman occupiers. No, this is the King who comes riding on a donkey’s colt. This is the King whose throne is a cross of wood. This is the promised Suffering Servant who came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for the many. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5 ESV).

With HIS wounds, we are healed. The criminal who placed his trust in Jesus saw his own wounds on Christ’s body. 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24 ESV). Such a miracle of God’s grace to this criminal. The wounds of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, wins this criminal’s forgiveness. He is cleansed from whatever sins he had committed including the ones for which he was condemned. Jesus’ sacrificial death was for him and the results of that death and coming resurrection were made known by the Lord to this dying man: “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” It is the promise of life after death, immediate for him, “today”! It is the promise of unimaginable happiness, “paradise.” It is the promise not merely of continued existence but of life with God, “with Me,” Jesus said. And it is the promise to all of us, “You shall be with me in paradise.”

          By HIS wounds you have been healed. That’s what you have going for you! You and I were once under God’s sentence of judgment and condemnation. We were under the sentence of eternal death. That’s what we deserved because of our sins and our sinfulness, which we inherited from Adam and Eve through our parents. Death is the wages, the price, the punishment of sin (Rom. 6:23). But God’s Son, Jesus Christ, became flesh and dwelt among us as true man so that He might take your sentence of condemnation as His own. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5, “For our sake [God the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21 ESV).

          On the cross, Jesus received the punishment that He did not deserve. He had done nothing wrong. There is no sin in Jesus. He is the Holy One, the Righteous One (Mk. 1:24; Jn. 6:69; Lk. 1:35). But on the cross, Jesus became the sin-bearer, the unrighteous one covered with the sins of all humanity, suffering in His own body the wrath and condemnation of God unto death itself, for you. Jesus took your sins from you and paid their price in full with His own sacrificial death. Jesus won your complete forgiveness for all your sins, and He gives to you His own holiness and righteousness by grace through faith by Means of the Gospel Word and Sacraments.

          In this Gospel that grants you forgiveness and everlasting life, you have the promise of life after death with Christ, in heaven when you die and in eternity in your resurrected and glorified bodies. You have the promise of unimaginable happiness in the paradise of God which will culminate in the new heavens and the new earth, the very home of righteousness. You have the promise of life with God forever in that new creation. Take a listen to the promises again. This is what you have going for you because of Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection. From Revelation 21: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ . . . And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son’” (Rev. 21:1–7 ESV).

          Through the power of the Gospel, by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has granted to you these very great and precious promises (1 Pet. 1:3). They are gifts freely given, even as the criminal on the cross received them freely from the Suffering Servant, the Savior Jesus Christ. Through God’s gift of saving faith, this criminal who had nothing going for him, suddenly had everything going for him because of Jesus. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Through God’s gift of saving faith, you have everything going for you because of Jesus. His death and resurrection have won your forgiveness. And where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is truly eternal life and salvation. The gifts are yours in Christ. The promise is solid and sure. Jesus says to you, “You will be with Me in paradise.” Amen.

Sermon for November 13, 2022, Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 21:29-33 (Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)

“A Word of Comfort”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 13, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The text is from the Gospel Reading recorded in Luke 21:

29And [Jesus] told them a parable: Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30When they put out their leaves, you see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also you, when you should see these things taking place, know that the reign of God is near. 32Truly I say to you that this generation shall surely not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall surely not pass away.

          This current Church Year is coming to a close. In two weeks, we’ll once again be in the Season of Advent at the start of another year of God’s grace in His Church. The last Sundays in the Church Year focus us on “last things,” especially the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ at the end of days. On the day when Christ returns, Jesus will visibly appear in glory with His angels. The kingdoms of this world will give way to the everlasting reign and rule of Christ and human history will come to an end. The dead will be raised, the bodies of believers (those who were alive and those who were raised from the grave) will be glorified. Jesus will judge all people. Satan will be vanquished and banished forever. The current creation will be cleansed by fire and the heavens and the earth will be made new again. There will be a great feast with unending rejoicing, and we will see God and God will dwell with us forever.

          And yet, there is still fear among Christians regarding the coming of their Lord and the events surrounding the Last Day. We are generally afraid of the things we don’t understand. We fear the unknown, especially the unknown future. But Jesus tells us of the things to come, not to fuel our fears, but to give us comfort as the day of our redemption draws near.

          Jesus could have left things up to human imagination about the Last Day. And human imagination has come up with some real winners. A 2015 survey reported that, out of 1000 people, 30 were afraid that the end of the world would be brought about by an alien invasion or zombies. Rather than leaving it up to us, Jesus has prepared His people for His return and the Last Day, even as He prepared the disciples for the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in their days. And what Jesus leaves both with is a message of comfort.

          As we read the Bible, we find that we are locked in a tension between the now and the not yet. The disciples were enamored with Herod’s temple in Jerusalem, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings. Mark records in his Gospel the disciples’ words and Jesus’ response, which Luke also gives us, “And as [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down’” (Mark 13:1–2 ESV). The disciples then asked Him when these things would take place—“When will the destruction of this temple happen and are there signs when it’s about to?”

          The Gospel reading that we heard this morning is Jesus’ answer.“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.” These signs would lead up to the destruction of the temple in AD 70. The historian Josephus reported such events before the Romans, under Titus, destroyed Jerusalem and its temple. But before that, the disciples would endure various persecutions because they were Christians. Jesus continued, “But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.This will be your opportunity to bear witness. . . . You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death.You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.But not a hair of your head will perish.By your endurance you will gain your lives.”

          Jesus gave His followers comfort in that God would protect them and provide for them in these troubles. The Holy Spirit would even give them the words to use to point to Jesus as the Savior and Redeemer of the world. The Lord then concludes, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it,for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. . . .They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:10–24 ESV).

          In AD 70, the Roman army leveled Jerusalem and much of the population was killed. These were the days of God’s judgment and His vengeance for failure to receive His Messiah. Prophets like Jeremiah, Micah, and Zechariah had issued many warnings about this over the centuries. But if you think this was bad, and it was indeed, consider God’s judgment and vengeance at the Last Day.

          Jesus springboards from the prediction of Jerusalem’s and the temple’s destruction to the Last Day and His Second Coming in great power and glory. The destruction of Jerusalem and her temple is a small-scale version of the destruction of the whole created world on the Last Day as God dispenses out His judgment against sin through the Lord Christ. The message to the disciples of Jesus then and now is that the judgement of the Lord cannot be ignored. It’s going to come. As it did to Jerusalem, so also it will come to this created world. But you can face it without fear. “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28 ESV).

          The Lord’s coming is not simply for the destruction of this present creation. It is not only for the punishment of Satan and his henchman, death. It is for your redemption! So, check out the fig tree and all the trees!

          Martin Luther, preaching on this same text, told his hearers, “These are pure words of comfort. He does not give a parable about fall or winter, when all the trees become bare and the dreary days begin, but about spring and summer, which is a happy, joyous time, when all creation buds forth and is happy. By this He teaches quite clearly that we are to look forward to and take comfort in the Last Day with as much joy and delight as all creation shows in spring and summer. . . . Therefore, the time approaches when we are to be redeemed from sin and evil. In this life it begins in the spirit; but since we must still battle with sin and suffer much evil, and since death is still before us, the kingdom of God is not yet complete in us. But when once sin and death with all evil are taken away from us, then it will be complete. The Last Day will do this.”[1]

          You are in Christ now. And the Lord has begun a good work in you by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. But it is not yet complete. Paul writes in Philippians 1 that He will indeed bring it to completion “at the day of Jesus Christ,” which is the Last Day when you will be raised and glorified. It is the Last Day the brings you the full redemption of your body and soul from sin, death, and the devil. As you see these things taking place: earthquakes and famines and pestilences, wars and rumors of wars, troubles and persecutions, signs in the sun and moon and stars, distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and foreboding, you know what lies ahead. You know that the reign of God is near and that means that your redemption is near! As Matthew and Mark record it, you know that He—Jesus—is near, at the very gates (Mark 13:29).

          And that is a word of comfort. Jesus’ words are eternal words, everlasting promises. And He has already made good on those promises as He Himself suffered on the cross the rejection of both man and God. He was hated and gave up His life into death so that you might live forever. Jesus suffered the punishment of sin on the cross in your place, as your substitute. He faced the wrath and judgment of God so that you would not. By His wounds you are healed from your sin and rescued from the punishment of everlasting death (1 Peter 2:24). You are redeemed. You are forgiven. You have nothing to fear on the Last Day.

          As Jesus’ disciples faced troubles and persecutions before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, we also will face the troubles of this life and persecution for our faith. But Christ’s Word of promise to us shall surely not pass away. By His grace alone we will endure. The Holy Spirit will give us the words to speak in witness to our Redeemer and King, Jesus. He will enable and empower us through His Word and Sacrament to remain faithful and to give the good confession of Jesus, even unto death. By the power of the Spirit, you will have the strength “to escape all these things that are going to take place, and so stand before the Son of Man” without fear (Luke 21:36). By grace, you will stand unharmed in Christ’s judgment, greeting it with heads held high because He has redeemed you and will on that day bring you to the fullness of that redemption in body and soul unto life everlasting.

O Jesus Christ, do not delay,
    But hasten our salvation;
We often tremble on our way
    In fear and tribulation.
O hear and grant our fervent plea:
Come, mighty judge, and set us free
    From death and ev’ry evil.[2] Amen

     [1] Martin Luther, A Year in the Gospels with Martin Luther: Sermons from Luther’s Church Postil (St. Louis: Concordia, 2018), 50-51.

[2] Lutheran Service Book 508:7.

Sermon for November 6, 2022, All Saints’ Day (Observed)

Revelation 7:9-17 (All Saints’ Day—Observed)

“You Are Victorious”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 6, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is today’s Reading from Revelation 7:

9After these things I looked, and behold, a great crowd, which no one is able to number, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and palm branches in their hands, 10and they were crying out with a loud voice, saying: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and [belongs] to the Lamb.” 11And all the angels were standing around the throne and the elders and the four winged creatures and they fell before the throne on their faces and worshiped God, 12saying, “Amen. The blessing and the glory and the wisdom and the thanksgiving and the honor and the power and the strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” 13And one from the elders replied, saying to me, “These who are clothed with white robes, who are they and from where have they come?” 14And I answered him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are those who are coming out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15On account of this they are in the presence of the throne of God, and they worship Him day and night in His temple, and the One sitting on the throne will spread His tent over them. 16They will never hunger again nor ever again thirst, neither shall the sun fall upon them nor any scorching heat, 17because the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, will shepherd them, and He will lead them to fountains of the waters of life, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

           How “victorious” are you feeling today? Did you wake up this morning with unbridled passion and joy for the Lord because you are victorious in Christ? You came to this Divine Service this morning filled with hope and peace and . . .  Well, if you did, you sure don’t look like it now? You look tired. And no, I don’t mean sleepy tired because you had an extra hour of sleep last night. I mean that you look tired—spiritually tired, beaten down, and worn out. Is that more accurate than saying how triumphant and joyful we are? I believe it is.

          You woke up again today with your body aching. The medical issues that have been troubling you are still there. You simply wish that you felt like yourself again for even a day.

          You came to worship today still depressed or filled with anxiety. You hide it well from most everyone, but it’s always there waiting to trouble you.

          You stopped at the gas station on the way here and put a few dollars’ worth of fuel in the tank. That’ll have to get you through the week. Your financial situation is becoming a problem in the current economy.

          And tomorrow is Monday, back in the office. She’ll be there. She’s always there. You bow your head to thank God for your lunch, and she’s there mocking you to your coworkers. You gave up reading your Bible app on your phone because she made your life so miserable about the fact that you were a “holy roller”, and the rest of the office wasn’t good enough to be in your presence. She watches your every move just so she can point out your sin when you screw up. The stress is starting to pile on.

          Obviously, I cannot illustrate all the things that take away from the hope, joy, and victory of being in Christ. I’ve chosen these to be reflective of some of the things that are at play in your lives. If we are honest, then, there’s not a lot of moments when we hop out of bed or go to work, school, or play feeling triumphant and victorious in Christ. The reality is that we feel pretty beat up by life in this world with all its troubles. You and I do suffer in this world of sin the ravages of tribulations. We are the ones who are under attack by the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. We lose hope. We lose confidence.

          In our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preaches, “Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34 CSB). In the parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus reminds us that tribulation is out there just waiting to destroy the joy of faith where that faith doesn’t have enough root (Mark 4:17). Paul in Romans simply assumes that troubles and tribulations, including persecution, are going to be there as a part of life in a sin-filled, fallen creation. No Christian has immunity from severe suffering of body, mind, or spirit. The Christian, in his or her tribulation, will experience such pain and fears and threats to life and faith so much so that the depth of his or her soul is scorched in the fiery trial.

          That’s why you’re tired. You’re beaten down and worn out. You suffer. You struggle. You endure. You fight on. And the attacks come—the consequences of sin, including your sinful actions and words, the assaults of the devil, the world, and your own flesh. Feeling victorious? Probably not.

          John wasn’t feeling particularly victorious at this point in our text as he was receiving the revelatory unveiling of Jesus Christ. He had looked at some horrifying things as the first six seals of the seven-sealed scroll were opened. These are scene that melt a person’s heart like wax in awe and terror at what Jesus revealed. How much can a person take? Maybe you’re asking the same question this morning? “How much more can I take?” So, Jesus gives John an interlude between the opening of sixth and seventh seals. It is a vision of comfort for him and for you. The Lord is saying, “Look what your future in Jesus holds, dear Christian.” Triumph! Victory!

          Revelation 7 is a visual presentation of what you have to look forward to. Standing before God the Father’s throne, standing before the very Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, are an uncountable number of people from every ethnicity, tribe, people, and language. They are wearing white robes and waving palm branches—that’s a picture of a victory celebration. And, they are singing a victory song, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and [belongs] to the Lamb.” It’s His salvation and He’s given it to us! To this the very angels of God give their assent, Amen—“Yes, yes, it shall be so!” 

          And who are they, the members of this countless mass of people in white, waving the victor palm branch? They are the people that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, washed clean with His crimson blood. They are . . . you! They are your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout all ages and all places. John was viewing, and also allows us to see, the result of Christ’s triumphant victory. This untold number of people, you and I included, is victorious because of the blood of the Lamb. Because of the redeeming death of Jesus Christ and because He, the risen and victorious Lamb of God presents them to the heavenly Father, the crowd of people stands pure and holy in the presence of God. With sins forgiven by the blood of Jesus, and now covered with His own righteousness, they share in the triumph, in the victory of the Lamb, before their heavenly Father.

          Jesus shed His holy, precious blood, on the cross, covering over the sins of all people. In His sacrifice, Jesus took on Himself your sins and mine, and gave to us His flawlessness. Because Jesus is sinless, He fulfilled the Law perfectly as only He could. He kept all of the Father’s commandments. It is His shed blood that covers our flaws and imperfections as sinful creatures. Through Christ we come into full perfection. His perfection becomes ours. His righteousness is ours. His salvation is ours! His victory is ours!

          The scene in Revelation 7, then, is your victory celebration! It is your triumph! Your sins have been washed clean in the blood of Jesus Christ. As God promised through Isaiah, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). The Lord Jesus “has clothed [you] with the garments of salvation; he has covered [you] with the robe of righteousness,” His very own righteousness and holiness, so that you stand before God pure and holy (Isaiah 61:10). You share in Jesus’ victory over the devil, the world, and the flesh. Your sins are forgiven. You have eternal life.

          This triumph and victory that Christ reveals in His Word is for your special comfort as you experience whatever tribulations sorely test your faith and patience. You are the recipients of God’s grace in Jesus. You hold to Christ in repentance and faith, having your garments “washed” and “made white” in Jesus’ blood by means of His Word and Sacrament. And your future holds the promised eternal victory of Jesus. Forgiven and redeemed, covered in His own holiness, you will stand before the throne of God triumphant night and day. You will serve the Lord forevermore in His temple—in the new heaven and new earth where He will dwell with His victorious people. There you will be sheltered by God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—personally, face to face. You will never again be scorched by the fiery trials and troubles of this life.

          With the comfort of the Gospel proclaimed to us, we are able to rejoice and celebrate the victory that Jesus has already won for us! Christ’s blood-bought forgiveness and love, mercy and grace revive us now in the midst of our troubles. His Word of comfort assures us that the troubles we face today are not our end or our future. Our future is with Christ in glory, in victory, under the Father’s divine protection forevermore. Receive this Word of comfort daily and look forward to the triumphant day when all things are new in Christ. Amen.