Last Sunday in the Church Year (Proper 29B)
November 25, 2018
Text: Mark 13:24-37
The Son of Man is coming soon, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him (Rev. 1:7). It is the Day of Judgment, the End of the old creation, the visible manifestation of the New Creation begun already in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It will be a fearsome time for those who are not in Christ. Their condemnation has come. But not for you. For you, it will not be a Day of terror, but a Day of rejoicing. For your deliverance has come. The Savior has arrived. It is the end of death forever. It is the end of sin, once and for all. It is the end of the accusations of the Law and the appearing of your righteousness, your life that has been hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). It is the Day when you know by sight what you once knew only by faith. It is the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. It is the new heavens and the new earth. It is the end of Satan and the demons, death and hades, which will be thrown into the eternal Lake of Fire. It is the Day of your eternal consolation, for there will be no mourning, or crying, or pain anymore. God will wipe away every tear from your eyes (Rev. 21:4).
But this morning, our Lord Jesus bids you keep watch. Stay awake. Be alert. As we heard last Sunday, and hear again this morning, the signs are all manifest. The time is ripe. Jesus could return at any moment. And of course, we do not know the day or hour. Jesus says this to His disciples. No man knows. Not the angels in heaven. Not even the Son of Man, Jesus Himself (Mark 13:32). Now, that is a mystery to us, that Jesus Himself claims not to know the day or hour. He is speaking in terms of His state of humiliation, the time during His earthly ministry when He did not always or fully use His divine powers. Now seated at the right hand of His Father, ruling all things in His state of exaltation, always and fully using His divine powers, the Son of God certainly knows. But not then. And His point is twofold. First of all, don’t believe all the crackpot predictions of false teachers who claim He is coming at such and such a time, on such and such a date. Our Lord has spoken clearly. The time is impossible to calculate. When these teachers come, as we know they will, for our Lord has promised, do not listen to them. Do not be anxious about their predictions. Remain with the sure Word of the Lord, which will never fail, will never pass away. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of Jesus will never pass away (v. 31).
But so also, our Lord reminds us that, because we do not know the day or hour, we must always be on our guard and keep awake. Be vigilant. Read the signs. That is His point with the fig tree. You know when summer is coming, because you see the sign in the fig tree’s branch and leaf, or in the other vegetation, and so you are prepared for the new season. Therefore, what you are able to do in such mundane matters, do in this cosmic matter of our Lord’s return. The signs are in place. Be ready.
The temptation is to become complacent. We talked about this last week, but we must always remind ourselves. Here we confess week after week in the Creed, “From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead,” but then we act like we don’t really believe it. We take a casual attitude toward sin, as though it’s not really that big a deal, when in fact the Judge stands at the door, ready to pronounce His verdict at any moment. And those sins that we think are not that big a deal are leading our dear loved ones on the road to perdition. We feel no urgency to repent of our own sins. I like to sin, God likes to forgive, so we’re both happy. No, beloved. Examine yourselves. Repent of your sins. Confess them to God. Hear His glorious pronouncement of Absolution. And then let’s get busy confessing the faith. Let’s proclaim to the world that Jesus is coming soon, and all people need what He has to give them to be prepared for that Day, namely, the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. Our lack of zeal for our Lord’s mission betrays our complacency. Beloved, repent. Christ is coming. It really is true. There is a judgment. Therefore watch. Believe. Confess. Pray. And wait with eager anticipation for the coming of the Lord.
The beautiful thing for you who are in Christ is that you already know the verdict in your judgment. God has let it slip. He did it again this morning. He just can’t keep it in, thank God. And that is those beautiful words to which you cling for your very life, pronounced upon you just a few moments ago: “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son +, and of the Holy Spirit.” That is the verdict. Not guilty. Innocent. Righteous, in fact, not with a righteousness of your own, but with a righteousness from outside of you, the very righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, given to you as a gift, received by faith.
Now, how can God do such a thing? How can He let us off so easy? Well, it is anything but easy. Don’t make grace, mercy, forgiveness, a cheap thing. What forgiveness is NOT is God simply sweeping your sins under the rug and pretending they never happened. Nor is forgiveness our Grandfather in the Sky winking at our transgressions and giving us a good-natured scolding over our mischief. You have to understand what it means that God is “just.” A just judge must punish sin. If we heard of a judge who let a murderer or a rapist off the hook with a slap on the wrist and a little scolding never to do it again, we would rightly say of that judge that he is unjust. So our just God cannot simply excuse sin. Forgiveness is not excusing. Sin must be dealt with. Justice must be meted out. But we also know that God loves us. He loves sinners. So what is He to do? He sends His Son. He gives His Son into the death of the cross as punishment for our sins, in payment of our debt. His Son is the sacrifice of atonement. The cross is the intersection of God’s love and justice. The cross is where justice is accomplished. The sentence is carried out. The cross is where God’s love for you hangs, in the flesh. He is the price of your redemption. There is nothing cheap about that.
And that is where Judgment Day begins. This is not in any way to deny the Judgment of the Last Day. That Day is coming. But you have to understand, your judgment is already complete. When our Lord underwent the Great Tribulation for us on the cross, the signs were all there. The sun was darkened and the moon did not give its light. We read in St. Mark’s account of our Lord’s death: “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole earth until the ninth hour” (Mark 15:33). The powers of the heavens will be shaken, Jesus says (Mark 13:25). St. Matthew writes, “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, and the earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Matt. 27:51). Now, I have no doubt that these great signs, the darkening, falling, and shaking of the cosmic bodies, will accompany our Lord’s visible return on the Last Day. St. Peter says that when that Day comes, “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (2 Peter 3:12). It is the death of the physical universe in preparation for its own bodily resurrection as the new heavens and earth. But look how the signs point us not only to the Last Day, but to Good Friday and Jesus’ death. The two are intentionally and inextricably connected. Because on Good Friday, Jesus receives the judgment for your sin, so that on the Last Day, and already now in the Holy Absolution, you receive the judgment for His righteousness. That is why that Day holds no terror for you. All the terror has been poured out already on Jesus, your substitute. Now, Christ Jesus is risen from the dead. God has vindicated Him. And when He returns, that is your salvation, your deliverance. When you see the signs, lift up your head and rejoice, and pray with the Church of all ages, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Now, in the meantime, as we wait and watch and pray, we recognize that we are like servants whose Master has gone away on a journey. We do not know the Day of His return, but we do know that we have work to do. Jesus says of the master, that he put his servants in charge, “each with his work” (Mark 13:34). You all have vocations, callings from God, relationships in which God has placed you. You are to do them faithfully as you wait. You are to be faithful spouses, faithful parents, faithful children, faithful and chaste singles. You are to make your living faithfully, with integrity. You are to love your neighbor. You are to give to the poor, and to your Church. You are to pray all people, and especially for the government. You are to perform your civic duties, faithfully. Get up and go to work. Come home and take care of your family. Pay your taxes. Do your duty. Always, though, with the disposition of one who is watching for the Master’s immanent return. Take sin seriously. Repent of your own, and admonish your neighbor, and cling to the Holy Absolution. Take the mission of our Lord seriously. Confess Christ, no matter the consequences. Proclaim the Gospel. Be true to His Word. Be generous in giving to missions. And do not live as though this life is the be all and end all of your existence. Your citizenship is in heaven, and from it you await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:20). Live with your eyes focused on Him. Receive Him as He comes to you here and now in Word and Sacrament for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. And watch for Him to return visibly, as you know He will and confess in the Creed. You will not miss Him on that Day, nor will anyone else. But you will greet it with a sigh of relief and a hearty “Alleluia!” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.