Sermons, Uncategorized

Are You Ready for the Coming of the Lord?

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

“Are you ready?”

“Ready for what?”

“Are you ready for the coming of the Lord?”

“Sure. The tree’s decorated. The Christmas cards are ready. Most of the gifts are wrapped. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care. I’m ready.”

“No, I’m not talking about getting ready for Christmas. That coming of the Lord was over 2,000 years ago. If you’re still trying to get ready for Jesus’ coming as a little baby in the manger in Bethlehem, you’re really late! I’m talking about the Lord’s Second Coming. Are you ready?”

John the Baptist told people how to get ready—through repentance and Baptism. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, St. Paul gives further instructions: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”

St. Paul tells us how to be ready for Christ’s coming. In rapid fire, no less than eight imperatives follow one after the other. Rejoice! Pray! Give thanks! Don’t quench! Don’t despise! Test! Hold fast! Abstain!With these eight commands, the apostle reviews for us “the will of God in Christ Jesus.” These are not manmade guidelines. They are from God Himself. For those who are “in Christ Jesus,” they are vital and the way of true freedom and happiness. These are the keys for getting ready for the coming of the Lord.

So… how are you doing? Are you ready? Do you always rejoice? Is your life full of joy? Do you pray without ceasing? Do you give thanks to God in all circumstances? Do you always gladly hear and learn God’s Word? Do you test everything according to the standard of God’s Word? Do you always hold on to those things that are good, and avoid that which is evil?

Of course you don’t! And neither do I. But according to our text, these are the very things that make you ready for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. You must be blameless… and a close examination of your life will show you that you are not. You certainly don’t measure up to the standards St. Paul lays down in our text. Still the apostle seems to indicate that you will be found blameless: “He who calls you is faithful; He will certainly do it.” How can this be?

We have here, in our text, a series of paradoxes. God holds us to the highest, holiest standards. He calls us to be blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ; yet as we have just confessed, we are poor, miserable sinners, who justly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment. We are warned to not despise God’s Word, to test everything, holding fast to everything that is good and abstaining from every evil; yet we know we daily sin against God in thought, word, and deed. Our lives are often filled with sorrow, frustration, and adversity; yet we are called to always rejoice, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for us.

How do we resolve these paradoxes? Actually we don’t… we can’t… but God does—in the cross of Christ! Only viewed through the cross can these paradoxes be resolved. You see, God does demand of us holiness and perfection. But we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death. On the cross, Christ exchanges His perfect obedience and righteousness for your disobedience and unrighteousness. He pays the penalty for your sins and credits you with His holy life and His innocent suffering and death.

He has to! You are a spiritual beggar, hoping to enter the gates of heaven. You are a pauper. You don’t have even a dime to pay toward the high fee for admission. But there is One who has! Christ opened the gates of heaven to all believers with His death on the cross. He purchased your admission, and for every man, woman, and child who has ever lived or will ever live, not with silver or gold but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.

But that’s not all! Not only are you a beggar before God: you are the worst sort of beggar—one filled with pride. You’re a beggar who sits by the gates with his hands in his pockets, not willing to accept a handout, because you think you can make it on your own, even though you don’t have a dime to your name. And the fact is… you would not have the strength to reach out your own hand if you should condescend to accept His charity.

So Christ has to pull your hands out of your pocket, open your closed fists, place His gift of salvation into your hands, close your palms, and put your hands back in your pocket, so you won’t drop His wonderful gift.  

You cannot get yourself ready for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ—but there is One Who has! There is One who is full of joy—“the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). The One who rejoices with the angels in heaven over one repentant sinner” (Luke 15:7).

There is One who prays without ceasing. He often withdrew to a solitary place to pray (Luke 5:16). During Holy Week, He prayed every night in Gethsemane (Luke 21:37; 22:39). He prayed so fervently that His sweat fell like blood (Luke 22:43). In the upper room He prayed for Himself, for His disciples, and for those who would believe in Him through their message (John 17). On the cross, He prayed for His enemies (Luke 23:34). Even today He intercedes on your behalf (Romans 8:34) and speaks to the Father in your defense (1 John 2:1).

There is One who gives thanks in all circumstances. He thanked His Father for hearing His prayers (John 11:41). He thanked the Father for revealing His Word to the simple, and keeping its meaning hidden from the wise (Luke 10:21). And He thanked God before breaking bread and passing the cup (Luke 22:17,19).

There is One who did not quench the Spirit but was full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1). He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). The Holy Spirit descended upon Him in His Baptism (Luke 3:17). The Spirit of the Lord was upon Him as He preached the Gospel and did merciful works of healing (Luke 4:18). This One taught that one must be born of the Spirit through water and the Word (John 3:5). He promised to send His Holy Spirit to guide His disciples into all truth (John 16:13). He breathed the Spirit into them that they might pass on His Word of forgiveness (John 21:22-23).

There is One who never despised God’s Word but held it sacred and glad heard and learned it. At the age of twelve, He was found in His Father’s house, listening to the teachers and questioning them. When tempted by the devil, He showed that God’s Word meant more to Him than food, power, or fame.

There is One who tested everything concerning Christian faith and life. He warned His disciples to be on guard against false doctrine (Luke 12:1). He abstained from every evil. “He was tempted in every way, just as we are—yet [He] was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  

There is One who does all of these. And He does them for you! Not only does Christ justify you—declare you right with God, He continues to sanctify you—to conform you to His own image through His Word and Sacraments.

This is “the will of God in Christ Jesusfor you.” It is only when we look at God “in Christ Jesus” that you may see Him as your loving, forgiving Father. It is only when you remember that God now always looks at you “in Christ Jesus” that you may be confident that He will be at work in everything for your ultimate good. Such confidence emboldens Paul to pray that God might sanctify you completely and keep you in faith so that you would be ready for the Lord’s coming.

It is a formidable list of commands that Paul has penned here by inspiration of the Spirit. They are guidelines that God urges upon you for your good now and eternally. But they are guidelines that you cannot reach by your own understanding or strength. Only the believer who by faith is clothed in Jesus’ blood and righteousness will be found blameless when Christ comes to judge the world.

As God works in you through His Word and sacrament, you are taught and enabled to “rejoice always.” By God’s grace, Christians are able to be joyful even in times of trial and tribulations that cause us sorrow. Why? Because we know that Christ rules heaven and earth, so that the sorrow that enters our lives is not a matter of blind fate. Anything that causes us sorrow is something our Savior permits to come and will ultimately serve our good.

Sorrows draw you closer to the Lord (Romans 5:3-5). They purify and refine your faith (1 Peter 1:17). They provide you with opportunities to confess the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:13-15). There is, however, one thing sorrow cannot do. It can never, ever separate you from God’s love (Romans 8:39).

God also enables you to “pray without ceasing.” This does not mean that you go around constantly mumbling prayers. To “pray without ceasing” means developing an awareness of Jesus’ presence and an attitude that brings Him easily into every thought and every activity of life.

Closely related is Paul’s admonition to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Let us never forget to thank God for all of His blessings, including those “blessings” that come disguised. Giving thanks in all circumstances means living by faith and not by sight. It is a theology of the cross trusting that God is graciously at work for His people even in the most difficult of circumstances. The Greek in this verse calls for more than “feeling thankful.” It commands an active, conscious givingof thanks in allthings. Of course, you will not “feel thankful” during difficult or unhappy circumstances, those that are threatening and hurtful to you. But you can activelythank God in allcircumstances because you know that He has allowed them and is at work in them for your good.

Nor is your thankfulness limited to words. You can also express it by your actions. “Whatever you do whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). The simplest actions of every Christian done in faith bring glory to His name.  

Next Paul instructs, “Do not quench the Spirit.” Your coming to faith is a miracle in which you had no part. God the Holy Spirit lit the fire of faith in your heart. He keeps building “the fire” through the Word and Sacraments. But failure to use these means of grace gives the devil the upper hand. He is ready to help us put the fire out. And your Old Adam is a more than willing ally in the struggle.

But once you are brought to faith, you have a new man in you who enables you to fight “the good fight” of faith (2 Timothy 4:7) and to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) in cooperation with God’s Holy Spirit. To this end God gives you His Word and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through these means the Holy Spirit strengthens your faith and renews your zeal to live according to the new man.

That’s why it is important that you “do not despise prophecies.” You must not look at preaching and teaching of the Word as just “human opinion” instead of receiving it as God’s Word. God’s Word has the power to create that which it calls for. Only as far as it is God’s Word that is being preached or taught will it bring life and salvation. That’s why it is important for Christians to test everything.

The word test is the Greek word used for testing the genuineness of precious metals. The standard God wants you to use is His pure Word. Everything you meet in your daily lives is to be tested and examined in the light of God’s Word.

If you find that what you are testing is “good” according to the standard of God’s Word, then you are to “hold fast” to it. If you find that something is “evil” by its nature, you are to “abstain” from it. Consciously and constantly God wants you to put distance between yourself and whatever conflicts, even in a small way, with His pure Word. Why? Because “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” A little bit of impurity mixed with God’s truth will eventually destroy the truth and lead to one error after the other.

In this life, you will never reach perfection. But the Holy Spirit helps you to be content with nothing less. On Judgment Day our Lord will find you blameless because of His suffering and death on the cross. You will enter eternal life purified, for you will regain the sinless state human beings had before the Fall.

Are you ready for the coming of the Lord? You certainly are. You may be certain of this because He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it! Christ has lived the perfect life that you could not live. He has died on the cross in payment for your sins. He has risen victoriously from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God the Father. Even today He comes to through His means of grace to sanctify you and make you blameless, He brings you this Good News: You are forgiven of all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Ready for the Master’s Return

Teachings_of_Jesus_32_of_40._the_faithful_and_wise_steward._Jan_Luyken_etching._Bowyer_BibleClick here to listen to this sermon.

[Jesus said:] “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep” (Mark 13:34-35).

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The last Sundays of the Church Year bring eschatology, the study of the last things, into focus with the lectionary’s emphasis on death, the final judgment, and the promise of the new heaven and the new earth. These Sundays bring us to the conclusion of the Nicene Creed, “And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.” We have said those words so often, but what do they mean?

Truth be told, we are often more concerned about the judgment that comes from other human beings. We fret about how others will evaluate us. Sometimes it has to do with lesser things like how we dress or the way that our lawn looks. Sometimes it is wondering whether so-and-so will like or accept us. Other times it might be more profound worries like an employee who is anxious over an annual performance review or a student taking an entrance exam that may determine which academic paths are opened or closed to him.

The stresses and strains of this life seem enough to keep us preoccupied with the here and now. The judgment which will come at the end seems distant and abstract, far removed from all the things that call the worth of our lives into question right now. So, we may ask the question not with skepticism, but with honesty, what does the return of the Lord Jesus in judgment mean for me now in the face of all the real-life verdicts that I have to face?

The answer to that question is found in God’s Word appointed to be read in the churches on these last Sundays of the Church Year. These are the Sundays of the end times. They point us to the sober reality that life will not always go on as usual. These gray and increasingly winter-like days of November bear all the signs of death. The dazzling red and gold leaves of autumn give way to brown and barren branches. So also in the Church Year these November Sundays have the chill of death. The year hastens to a close and with it the reminder that our lives hasten on as well. The Scripture readings appointed for these Sundays, therefore, are a wakeup call, a reminder to be always ready for the Master’s return.

This is especially true of the readings today from Mark 13. Jesus says learn from the fig tree. When it begins to blossom, you know that summer is at hand. Wake up to the reality that the Son of Man is at the gate.

Jesus speaks of cosmic signs. The sun will be darkened and the moon will not share its beams. Stars tumble from the skies and the heavenly powers are shaken when the Son of Man comes on the clouds with power and great glory. He dispatches His holy angels to gather a harvest from the seeds that were sown and so they reap the elect from north and south, from east and west. None that belong to Jesus will be lost. That great cloud of witnesses will be complete; they will forever be with Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of their faith. He endured the cross, triumphed over death by dying, and now He is seated at the Father’s right hand. It is this Jesus who is near the gate, standing at the door.

Of course, Jesus spoke these words just after He had entered through the gate on Palm Sunday. He was in Jerusalem moving ever closer to Calvary where sun and moon would be darkened (at least for a few hours), and the powers of heaven shaken as the sinless Son of God endures all that our sin deserved—God’s wrath and death itself. You see Judgment Day really does begin on Good Friday, for it is there that Jesus is judged with our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous!

Indeed, the generation that Jesus spoke to would not pass away until these things had taken place. The time of God’s visitation was upon them. They would see the Son of Man scorned and blasphemed. They would see Him handed over to wicked men, sentenced and spit upon, beaten and bloody. They would see Him suffering and dying. They would hear Him cry out in His dying breath, “It is finished.” God is finished with sin in Jesus, for Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world in His own body pinned to a Roman cross. With His blood, He drains away the pollutant of your unbelief.

It is this Jesus who will come again to judge the living and the dead. The last days are not “out there” in the future somewhere. You are in them now. The Church has been living in the last days ever since Good Friday. To live in the last days is to live on the threshold between time and eternity.

How close we are, we do not know. Life can be and is deceptive. It is easy to think that life just meanders on, that the comfortable routines we have established for ourselves will continue uninterrupted. We can so easily be lulled into the fleshly security of the man in Jesus’ parable who surveyed his overflowing barns and concluded that his soul could be at rest for he had enough to supply his needs for years to come. Jesus calls this man a fool, for the abundance of his riches blinded him to the fact that his soul would be required of him that very night.

Jesus shows us how the things by which we evaluate our lives are transient and deceptive. Wealth and health are not permanent. There is a Judge who is standing at the door. He is not removed in some far distant realm of the future. He is near. One day—a day that is hidden from His creation—He will come on clouds and every eye will see Him and every tongue confess either in eternal joy or perpetual shame, that He is Lord. Faith is not preoccupied with futile attempts to calculate when. Faith lives by the promises that Jesus makes right now. “Heaven and earth,” Jesus says, “will pass away, but My words will not pass away.”

For your faith’s sake, Jesus warns you of things to come, even things here now, because you will be tempted to drift away from the faith, to fall away in persecution, to doubt God’s love when suffering, and to doubt that He will return. Jesus doesn’t say when He will return. He just promises that He will and that you must be ready. It is not the duty of the master to tell his servants exactly when he will return, but it is the duty of the doorkeeper to be watching. The master may return at any hour. The doorkeeper must always be ready for the master’s return.

Jesus calls you to a lifetime of watching and remaining faithful in your holy vocation. Each of us is given the authority to work until His return. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, an heir of the kingdom of God, you are part of the royal priesthood, living as Gospel people in your ordinary vocations. Your greatest work is faith, which is really a work of God, done through His Word. That highlights the importance of remaining in the Word of God. Despite the temptations of false teachers, tribulations because of faith, or suffering in a sinful, futile world, the Church does not receive or declare the Word in vain. Christ’s authority assures us that His words remain forever.

Be ready for the Master’s return. You must not be found asleep. Therefore, repent. If desire or sophistry turned you to accept false as true, return to the pure Word. If you are too fearful to bear a cross, confess your faintheartedness. If troubles seem greater than Christ’s sufficiency, confess your unbelief. And if urgency to hear Christ’s Word and receive His very body and blood are forgotten after the Saturday late movie, or in anticipation of this Sunday’s sporting event or family gathering, confess your failure to watch and be ready.

Christ exhorts: “Be on guard! Be alert!” Don’t immerse yourself in the things of this world and thus lose your own soul. Always keep your eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, your ears attuned to His Word. For in this way, you will ready for the Master’s return, whenever that may be!

This means that even though we always live as those who are walking under the shadow of death, you can live in confidence and peace. The believer in Jesus Christ does not have to fret about the final judgment, living in uncertainty and fear. Why? Because you have already heard God’s final verdict ahead of time. God let it slip out early. It is no longer a secret. It is called the absolution. God says, “I forgive you all your sin.” It is as sure and certain here on earth as it is in heaven!

A Lutheran pastor of the last century once said that a Christian should go to the Lord’s Supper as though he were going to his death, and that a Christian may then go to his death as though he were going to the Lord’s Supper. When we go to the Lord’s Supper, St. Paul tells us we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. When we go to our death, we will confess that Jesus’ death for our sins is our confidence. His blood is our righteousness and the forgiveness of our sins is the promise of an open heaven. Werner Elert once said the, “Day of Judgment… is just as close to us as the Judge is.”[i]

Faith rejoices to receive this Lord ever-near; unbelief is terrified. So again Elert, “Some live in the light of the Last Day, others in its shadow.”[ii] It is my privilege as God’s called and ordained servant to proclaim that the One who comes at the End is the Lord who came in the flesh to be our Brother and Savior. He came so those broken by their sin might live, not in the long shadows of the Last Day, but in the brilliance of the light of the face of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Go in the peace and joy of the Lord. Live each day in confidence and hope, exercising yourself in the faith that works through love. You are ready for the Master’s return. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

This sermon is adaptation of an essay by John T. Pless on Craft of Preaching.

 

[i]  Werner Elert, The Last Things, trans. Martin Bertram (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1974), 28.

[ii] Elert, 28.