13. November 2011
Second-last Sunday of the Church Year
When our Lord and savior Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, He took with Him the flesh he assumed from the virgin Mary. This flesh is no ordinary flesh. It is joined in union with Jesus’ divine nature. Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Man. He is true God and true Man, ascended into heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father.
We confess this fact each day in the Apostles’ Creed and each week in the Nicene Creed, boldly asserting that Christ’s death was accepted by the Father, who raised His Son, and called Him home to heaven. This is essential for us. For if the Father had not found the life and death of His only-begotten Son righteous, if Christ had not obeyed His Father perfectly, then all is lost. His death would have been for nothing. His witness would have been a fraud. His teachings would have been the mad ravings of a lunatic.
This is most certainly not the case. Jesus has died for our sins and the sins of the whole world. His death is our only hope for forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation. Just as He promised, everyone who comes to the Father through Him is saved. He is the Way. His Word is truth. His body, dying for our sin and rising for our life, is the Life.
Yet, how often do we desire to see Jesus in the flesh? How do we long to see Him face to face? For some Christians, Christ’s ascension is not a source of great comfort but rather great fear. They believe our LORD is absent, leaving us to fend here on earth for ourselves. He has only absently equipped us with the Bible, a weapon to be sure, but nothing to our victor King leading us through the present battle with Satan and his unholy host.
For these Christians, life’s struggles and pain are fought only knowing that Jesus is watching. Their every decision is fraught with despair as they fear unknowing. They ask themselves, “what would Jesus do?” only never finding quite the answer in their Bibles. Everything is done in agonizing doubt, hoping for forgiveness, but never quite knowing.
They are thinking of the next line in the Creed: “from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” Judgment is the word of fear. Judgment means there is a verdict. Some are guilty and others not. Some are sheep and others goats. Some cared for Christ and others neglected Him.
This is the stuff of Jesus’ end time discourse. After prophesying of the destruction of the Temple, as [Jesus] sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age.”
Last week’s Gospel answered the first question. When will this take place? On that day false prophets and false Christs appear, leading many astray. Meanwhile the temple once established not by hands but by God, that is, the temple of the Holy Spirit in the church, will become the abomination of desolation. The church herself will be rent asunder by schism and heresy.
Our Lord will come like a thief. No one will know the day or the hour. Yet, no one will doubt that Lord has come. The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
No wonder many Christians despair and worry. No wonder many doubt that Jesus will come in grace and mercy as we confess. For that day will be great and terrible. All nations will mourn their sin. The earth that they love will be shrouded in darkness.
The funny thing is, this is precisely the truth. Our earth is covered in deep darkness. Wickedness and evil abound. Satan prowls around like a roaring lion. Demons haunt and deceive in their master’s name. False prophets and anti-Christs are seen on newsstands, in bookstores, and on the TV. This world must be destroyed.
The heavens will pass away with a roar, and heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved… the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
Christians do not put their hope and trust in this world, despite our glorious triumphs and creations. Nor do they hope or trust in their flesh, despite our good intentions. Obedience to God is good but never good enough.
Our world seems beautiful until we peer underneath and see great rampant adultery, murder of unborn children, theft from neighbor, cheating government of lawful taxes, and pervasive greed. Sin is around every corner, in every school, under the bedsheets, and in everyone’s heart. How could we ever hope on that terrible and awesome day in ourselves or humanity’s accomplishments? Everyone and everything is saturated with evil.
It is true that no one can escape the final judgment. When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left.
The fear of Christ’s judgment is expected. For He will raise the dead and judge all nations. The verdict has already been declared. Those who are in Christ are justified. They are the redeemed from every nation. They live not in fear or trepidation but in hope and confidence in Jesus’ blood.
Those who refuse to receive His gracious death and resurrection are damned. They too are from every nation. They live in fear and hopelessness. They find no comfort in Jesus’ blood and merit. The cannot accept His Word nor believe the forgiveness spoken by the pastor. Baptism is plain water and the Holy Communion merely bread and wine.
To these damned—or as Jesus calls them, the goats—the church is a sham. Its all smoke and mirrors. Hypocrites in the pews. Preachers targeting pocketbooks. False smiles and empty ritual and ceremony. They don’t see anything that looks like Jesus is truly here, delivering on His promises, making good on His mercy.
They are different from Christians who doubt but only by a little. The fine line between fearing the judgment and ignoring the warning is easy to jump. If everything is doom and gloom, eventually you’ll give up hoping and live the life your flesh wants anyway. If you think of the church as merely a kingdom of believers, then the hypocrisy will eventually get to you. If you think you need more instruction for your living, nothing is to stop you from running to Dr. Phil for better and simpler advice.
The problem with those who hate the church and those who fear the church while remaining in the church is this: neither places their hope completely in Jesus. Actually, both stops at the end of the second article of the Creed, “from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.”
But wait, there’s more! Don’t forget the Third Article! I believe in the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that grants faith to trust in the Word. But what Word is it that we need? What do we need to know and trust or all else is lost? Keep going. Keep confessing the Creed. I believe in the Holy Christian church.
This same Holy Christian church is also called the body of Christ. The bridegroom will soon call us, “come join the wedding feast.” We are the bride of Christ, joined inseparably in a one flesh union with the bridegroom. If we are His body because we and He are joined, then there is no way Christ is absent from us. By water and Spirit we were baptized into His blood, adopted as sons and daughters of the King, made coheirs with Christ.
The King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
But when have we done such things? Christ has not been here. He has not visited us, asking of us these fleshy things. We have not seen our Lord in His body. How could we see Him ask of us bodily things? The answer is that He is not absent. He is here, in His very flesh and blood. For we are His workmanship, the very image of God.
This body is creedal stuff. As we say, I believe … in the communion of saints. We are joined to Christ in one, holy, apostolic, and mystic sweet communion. All the redeemed of God are joined together with Christ to share in His sufferings death, and all the more, to share in His resurrection.
No one neglects a part of his body. So also, no Christian rooted in the body of Christ neglects another Christian in need. It is beyond our telling, both amazing and beautiful. Thus, on the last day, even the saints of God will be surprised. Lord when did we see you hungry?…
The King answers us, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” When you care for the church, especially her members in need, you are caring for Christ’s body. Food and drink, a friendly welcome, clothing, visitation of the sick and imprisoned—these are all the stuff of Christians. And this is not done out of guilt or obligation. Rather it is done in faith within the body of Christ.
We aren’t the only ones surprised. So, also, for the goats. Those who will hear the verdict of guilty and damned will be surprised. For many think that there is life outside Christ’s body. They think the church is nothing but a imaginary fellowship of like-minded people. They are wrong, dead-wrong. The church is Christ’s body. Those who live outside this body will die eternally.
Then He will say to those on the left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” For you did not care for my body. You ignored the me in my hunger, thirst, nakedness, sickness, or imprisonment.
These goats know nothing of the true body of Christ. They look at the church and see a sham and scam. They know nothing of caring for Christ’s body because they did not care for the church and her members. They may have even boldly asserted that they are Christians with no need the church, only infrequently hearing God’s Word and even less frequently communing with our Lord. Yet, like any dismembered body part cut off from its source of life, this member withers and dies. Faith dies when one is outside the fellowship, the body, of the Son.
There is life in this body of Christ, this holy communion. Yet, when one thinks they have life apart from the head, Christ, they die. When one thinks they can sin against the rest of the body, they are cut off and cast away. Better to lose one eye and go into heaven without depth perception than follow the sinful eye into hell.
Dear Christians, do not neglect the one in need in this body. Admonish the sinner. Encourage each other. Welcome the stranger. Feed and clothe the needy. Visit the sick and imprisoned. For we are joined to them as one body in Christ, bride to bridegroom. When one member suffers, all suffer.
Dear Christians, do not neglect to care for your faith and life. Read God’s Word in daily prayer and devotion. Study God’s Word with your pastor. Diligently hear God’s Word every Lord’s day. Daily die to sin and rise to Christ in your Holy Baptism. Receive the life giving body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.
Christ is not absent in His body. Today we see His body in glory, shared among the holy communion of saints. Today we see our Lord face to face. Eat and drink the flesh and blood of your savior. In this blessed sweet communion are all the blessings of the Son, true God and true Man. You are forgiven. You have life. Your are eternally saved. Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church