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Every year, the Church reviews the life of Jesus Christ according to the season from His coming into the world to His birth and life and death and resurrection and ascension.
Now this morning, we come to that point in the annual cycle called the “Last Sunday of the Church Year.” Today, we are reminded that there is a day that has been appointed by God from all eternity, which will be the last day. There will be a final sunrise and sunset, when every calendar will suddenly become obsolete and all of the dates and appointments and birthdays and anniversaries and schedules that fill our calendars will vanish, because there won’t be any dates to hold them.
Today we are reminded that just as there was a ‘beginning,’ there will also be an ‘end.’ Just as there was a “first day,” there will also be a “last day.”
And we can certainly apply this to our own life. None of us will not live forever. Every one of us who have had a ‘first day,’ which was the moment that we were conceived. And each of us will have a last day, when we will ‘breathe or last breath.’
Death is inevitable because of sin. We were born in sin, and we daily sin much, and sin is deadly, much more deadly than we treat it.
If we really believed that sin is as deadly as the Scriptures say that it is, we would treat it much differently than we do.
We would treat sin like we treat a deadly virus and flee from it rather than playing with it as we do.
But “The Last Sunday of the Church Year” is not really directing us to think just about our mortality, as much as it is asking us to think about the fact that there really is such a thing as a ‘last day’ of the world, at least as we know it.
There was a day when the curtain rose on THE CREATION, and the great drama of life began.
And there will be day when the curtain will come down, and the drama will be over.
We don’t know how far along we are in this drama, or how close to the end we are, and Jesus makes it clear that we should not be spending our time trying to figure it out. But the Scriptures do tell us that when God who created the world, enters into His own creation, that will be the beginning of ‘the last days.’ This morning we responded to the Gospel reading with the opening words from the book of Hebrews, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but now in THESE LAST DAYS he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
The Scriptures make it clear that as we move towards the end of time, the world will become increasingly unstable. Sin is like cancer that eats away at everything that it touches, and it touches everything.
Sin weakens the infrastructure of the universe, and the earth and seas and sky begin to collapse in on itself in an increasing rate.
Sin infects the mind of mankind and man becomes more and more insane, to the point that we do whatever we can to destroy ourselves and everyone else before the collapsing planet can do so. Nations not only rise up against nations, but they rise up against their own people. Men and women believe that it is honorable and heroic to kill as many of their neighbors as possible, either by blowing themselves up in their presence, or aborting them before they can be born. What was taboo just 20 years ago is perfectly acceptable today.
There have been great achievements and improvements over time, but even these are achievements and improvements to a ship that is sinking lower and lower in the water.
This is simply an elaboration on Jesus words to His disciples about what is to come. “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.” (Luke 21:10-11)
None of this is meant to suggest that we should live in constant fear or that there is no time in “these last days” to experience real joy and fun and laughter. But it does mean that we live with a sober wisdom about this world. A sober wisdom that knows how to handle sorrow and tragedy and disaster in ever increasing frequency, as a light shining in the darkness, as a witness to the One who saves us.
So, could it have been these ‘last days’ that Jesus had in mind as He was carrying His cross to Calvary, that moved Him to turn to the women who were mourning for Him, and say to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold the days are coming when they will says, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountain, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘cover us.’
You know that things are pretty bad when you think that to be swallowed up in an earthquake or buried under a rock-slide would be the best thing that could happen to you, that it would be sign that you were one of the lucky ones, the ‘blessed’ ones.
And you know that the mankind has gone totally mad when it crucifies “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…by whom ALL THINGS were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” – not just the material realm but the civil realm as well, “whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities.” “ALL THINGS were created through him and for him. And in Him ALL THINGS HOLD TOGETHER.”
So, why is the material realm falling apart at the seams? Why is the civil realm and peace and order and culture and morality falling apart at the seams? What do you think is bound to happen when you kill the One who holds ALL THINGS TOGETHER? What happens is, ALL THINGS come apart. Not all at once but progressively so.
And what do madmen do when ALL THINGS start coming apart around them and onto them? They complain to God. “Why are you letting this happen?” “You’re being irresponsible.” “You’re supposed to hold ALL THINGS together.”
The prophet Malachi speaks for God. “’Your words have been hard against me,’ says the Lord.” And the madmen reply, “How have we spoken against you?” “Well, how about when you said, ‘crucify Him, crucify Him.’” And “He saved others, let Him save Himself.” “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.”
And isn’t every earthquake and flood and tornado, every war and atrocity, every corrupt government, every divorce, every rape and murder, every disease and illness,
the echo of our own voice, ‘crucify Him, crucify Him’ coming back to us;
and the reminder that we killed the One who “holds ALL THINGS together”;
and the call to repent before it is too late, and ask for forgiveness and mercy and the wisdom that comes down from above?
So, on the “Last Sunday of the Church Year,” we are reminded that a day is coming that will be the ‘last day.’ And that until that day comes, things will continue to go from bad to worse.
But this is not the last word about the last day that the Holy Spirit insists that we hear. Amidst all of the pessimistic gloom and doom that we have brought upon ourselves, there is a word yet to be heard that sets us free to be optimistic and cheerful people, to that light that shines in the darkness, who live with a clear sense of hope and even an anxious anticipation for that Last Day to come.
“For in him,” “the image of the invisible God,” “the firstborn of all creation,” “the One in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” the One whom we crucified, “THROUGH HIM GOD RECONCILED TO HIMSELF ALL THINGS, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of the cross.”
The One who holds ALL THINGS together, whom we crucified, has reconciled ALL THINGS to Himself. How?
By the very same cross on which we crucified Him.
By the cross, “the firstborn of all creation” atoned for the sin of the world by offering up the only thing that there that is greater than our sin – His own blood.
His innocence covers our sinfulness.
His death and resurrection is the firm foundation for real hope and joy in the midst of a world headed to its last day.
Here is the Good News that tells us that after the end there is a new beginning;
the Last Day is actually followed by a NEW DAY, an eternal day.
There is a Word that calls to all who live in the here and the now from the hereafter and the forever more, and it says, “He has delivered you from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
There are those who will hear this word and reject it. A true sign of just how insane they are.
But there are others who will hear this word and believe it and cling to it and want to grow in it.
Malachi speaks for God about these two. “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another.”
And what do you suppose that they spoke to one another about?
What else, but the same thing that we are speaking to one another about right now.
“He has delivered you from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
The writer to the Hebrews says, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:25)
“Then you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” “In these last days,” it’s not so clear. The righteous and the unrighteous are all mingled together. The one who fears God lives side by side with the one who does not fear God. In fact, the righteous and the unrighteous are mingled together inside each one of us. We are simultaneously righteous and unrighteous, believers and unbelievers.
But the “last day” brings an end to all of that. Jesus Christ, the One whom we crucified, will appear as victorious King and ruler of ALL THINGS that He has always been. And He will separate the righteous and the wicked, the one who serves God and the one who does not. And the wicked will be cast down to Hell and the righteous will hear those blessed words from the mouth of the crucified King, “today you will be with me in paradise.”