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Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “Concerning the times and the season, brothers and sisters, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
We've come to that time of year on to the Church’s calendar when our focus is directed to the Lord’s RETURN. Last Sunday, we made a point of saying that the focus of the Christian’s HOPE is the return of the Master to His servants.
Our HOPE is not in earthly governments, that they will finally get it right and establish “peace on earth and good will among men” – even though we carry out our daily vocation in life diligently working for exactly that.
The Christian HOPE is not in science, that scientists will finally the cure for every disease and starving body and we will live forever – even though we carry out or daily vocation in life diligently working for exactly that.
Paul writes, “Since we belong to the day, let us be sober…” So we will not become intoxicated by enlightened idealism that claims that man has the ability to save himself if only he believes in himself. And we will not get drunk on rationalism, that claims that for every problem of body and soul there’s a program that can make it all right because we believe that where there’s a will there’s a way.
No, the Christian HOPE is in Jesus Christ just as the Christian FAITH is in Jesus Christ.
Our FAITH is based on what He has already done. “He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom in EVERLASTING righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He has risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.” (SC – 2nd article).
Our HOPE is based on what He is yet to do. “On the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.” (SC – 3rd article.)
So the BELIEVER in Christ is also the HOPER in Christ. As surely as we look backward in faith, to His death, His resurrection, His ascension, to our Baptism that unites me to all of that, so we also look forward to the future when He will come again.
And in HOPE that is informed by FAITH we say, “THE SOONER THE BETTER.” We are not so attached to the things of this fallen and sinful world that we are not ready to let go of them as soon as we hear “the cry of command and the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God.” (1Thess.4:16).
In fact, the last word in the Scriptures is just this. In his Revelation, St. John records the glorious picture of the CHURCH TRIUMPHANT in heaven that is anxiously waiting, along with the CHURCH MILITANT on earth. The souls of the dead in Christ have “come out of the great tribulation” and have entered into their ‘MASTER’S JOY,’ even while they await the resurrection of the body.
Those who still live by faith in this world continue the daily struggle with sin, both from without and from within.
And then comes the very last verse of the Bible. Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain, declares, “Surely I am coming soon!” And the one, holy Christian church, in heaven and on earth responds with one voice, “Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)
For 2000 years, this has been the HOPE of all who have fixed their eyes and their hearts and their minds on Jesus Christ. And for 2000 years the baptized on earth and in heaven have waited for His 2nd Coming just like the faithful of the Old Testament waited for His 1st Coming. “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” (Psalm 130:5-6)
So, Paul reminds us that the ‘DAY OF THE LORD’ will come suddenly and quickly. But for the Christian, who has listened to His Word – NOT UNEXPECTEDLY.
The Day of the Lord’ will come without warning. But for the Christian who has rehearsed and rehearsed and His 2nd coming every time he has kneeled at this railing where the same Jesus has come to him in the bread and the wine – he will not be UNPREPARED.
Paul writes, “For you are not in darkness, brothers and sisters, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are children of light, children of the day…” “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep [when he comes again], we might live with him.”
The Christian HOPE for the return of our Lord and our own personal, eternal destiny are all wrapped up together. His coming, whether it happens this afternoon or tomorrow or long after we have fallen asleep in death, is the reunion of our body and soul in perfect holiness and we “live with him.”
Paul writes, “encourage one another and build one another up with these words.” This is not a journey to be taken alone. We do this in communion with the community of Christ.
“Having put on the breastplate of faith and love…” keep it on, and don’t take it off. “Having put on for a helmet the hope of salvation…” keep it on, and don’t take it off.
• Wait for the Lord and don’t grow impatient.
• Persevere in your baptism and don’t wander away from it.
• Endure to the end and keep awake and remain sober.
If you will listen, you can hear the distant echo of your Lord and your God say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into your master’s joy.”
In your baptism, you entered into your master’s righteousness and his holiness and his love. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ… have entered into Him just as He has entered into you. But you have NOT YET entered into His JOY.
As long as we are still in this flesh, our life in Christ is a constant battle with sin and death and the devil. When we entered into our Lord’s righteousness and holiness and love in our baptism, we entered into His suffering and death for our sin. And no matter how you try to sugar-coat it, suffering and death is NOT JOY. It’s suffering and death. For how many times, having entered into the body of Jesus Christ have also ENTERED INTO TEMPTATION? Because we want the JOY now. We’re tired of the battle that wages within us between the good that I will to do and the evil that I hate.
Don’t kid yourself, it is very possible to grow weary of the struggle and the suffering and the constant putting to death of our sinful nature, and give up, and settle for an earthly JOY in what comes easy and naturally and without any struggle. It’s neither counter-cultural nor anti-social. In fact, every one else is already doing it and you its easy to fit it.
And if you listen, you can hear the voice of your lord and your god (with a little ‘l’ and a little ‘g’) say with a serpent-like charm, ‘well done, foolish and faithless servant. Enter into your master’s joy’?
And it doesn't take very long before you find yourself saying, ‘ah, isn't this nice. The daily battle with sin and the devil is over.’ “There is peace and security.”
Paul writes, “Then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and THEY WILL NOT ESCAPE.”
It will be as the prophet Zephaniah described it:
“A day of wrath is that day,
A day of distress and anguish,
A day of ruin and devastation,
A day of darkness and gloom,
A day of clouds and thick darkness…” (Zephaniah 1:15-17)
It will be as we just sung:
“Then woe to those who scorned the Lord and sought but carnal pleasures,
Who here despised His precious Word and loved their earthly treasures!
With shame and trembling they will stand
And at the judge’s stern command to Satan be delivered.” (LSB #508:4)
If you listen, you can hear the distant echo of your Lord and your God, (with a capital ‘L’ and capital ‘G’), “Take the talent from him… And cast the worthless servant into outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
It’s a serious mistake that many make if we were to think that there are two kinds of ‘servants of the master.’ There are the FAITHFUL SERVANTS who trade with what the Lord has entrusted to them. AND there are the UNFAITHFUL SERVANTS who bury the Lord’s trust in the ground because they are wicked and slothful. So, which one are you?
The truth however is that there is really only one kind of ‘servant’ of the master, those who are simultaneously faithful and unfaithful; those who are simultaneously worthy and unworthy.
So our HOPE is not that we will be like the ‘faithful servant’ and not like the ‘unfaithful servant’ as measured by the good works we have produced or failed to produce. The truth is, none of the good works that you do are yours – they’re all His. He has worked what ever is good in you and through you.
No, our only HOPE is that the Lord who has called us to be His servant in our baptism, and united us to His suffering and death and resurrection in the same, and ENTRUSTED us with His righteousness and holiness and love – and HIS NAME – would preserve us in this one true FAITH until He comes again.
Which is exactly what He promises to do. The Psalmist declares what is most certainly true,
“He will not let your foot be moved…
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:3-7)
But His promise to “KEEP US” and PRESERVE US in this one true faith is through His MEANS OF GRACE – and not apart from them. He KEEPS US through His Word and His Sacraments, and in no other way. This is what the ‘breastplate” and ‘helmet’ are. To neglect His Word and Sacraments is to cut the umbilical cord through which He feeds you and sustains you and keeps you.
To think that you can KEEP YOURSELF and PRESERVE YOURSELF in this one true faith on your own, apart from His means of grace is what it means to be ‘drunk.’ You are intoxicated with yourself.
Paul writes, “But you are not in darkness brothers… You are all children of light, children of the day. So then, let us not sleep as other do, but let us keep awake and be sober…” “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep, we might live with him.”
“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.” (LSB #508:7)