Archive for November, 2010

Now, Not Yet; So Now What?

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

1st Sunday of Advent, November 28, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

“Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” [Matt. 24:44]  When I was in the Air Force, stationed in the Philippines I was a victim of a burglary while I slept in my off base quarters.  The burglar quietly broke in at around 2:00 am, and then drugged me with chloroform and made off with almost all of my electronic possessions.  If I would have only known that on that particular morning I would become a victim I would have been ready, but I did not know; I could not know, because only God knows the future!  And so it will be on the last day, when Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead!  We do not know when it will be, only God knows.  But Jesus does tell us to be ready, because it will come like a thief in the night!

“Christ is coming; He is coming indeed!”  This was the hope of sinful man ever since the fall into sin of Adam and Eve.  It was the promise of a Savior, God’s promise that gave them the hope that God still loved them and would save them from their sins.  Today we begin the Advent season all decked out in purple.  Purple is a royal color; it is the color we give to our King Jesus, the Christ, the only Son of God!  He came to us as a baby, humbly born in a manager, but this is not how He will return.  No He is coming soon as the King of Creation; He is coming as the Creator of the world who will judge His creation.  But as we have been learning these last few weeks, you dear Christians have nothing to fear, because you are resting in His kingdom of grace; protected by His Kingdom of Power, and promised a joyful and happy eternity in His Kingdom of Glory!  That is God’s promise to you if you continue to rest in His Kingdom of Grace.  And to help you rest in this grace we will look at three things:  First we will look at how God has already come to us and fulfilled His promises (Realized Eschatology); second we will look at how God has promised that He will come again in the near future (Future Eschatology); and finally we will look at how we are to live out our lives in this now/not yet coming of Jesus Christ and His kingdom of Glory (Vocation).

This morning in our first Sunday of Advent, and for the rest of our lives here on this earth, we can and should celebrate God’s fulfilling of the Old Testament promises that He alone would defeat sin, death, and the devil.  Above all else we celebrate that through the promised birth, death, and resurrection of God the Son, Jesus Christ, God’s Kingdom of grace has been given to each of us.  In this kingdom we have been given a new life as a result of our baptism, where our old sinful identity has been put to death and a new resurrected nature has been raised with Jesus Christ.  Right now we have victory over sin, death, and the devil, but yet we still are fighting our old sinful nature and the sinfulness of others.  But we must not look at this sin that still attacks us as a real threat to the peace of God which scripture says is ours right now.  Instead we must look at our fight against sin as a mop-up operation, in a battle that God has already won!  Victory has been assured to us and Christ’s presence within us as individuals and as His church assures us that He has already established God’s rule among us.  The day of salvation is at hand, and is nearer to us now than when we first believed. [Rom. 13:11b]

And yet, even though God’s rule has established itself already, it is not yet complete for those of us who are still living within our sinful selves in the middle of a sinful world.  The already realized promises of God seem to require us to look forward and wait for the “not yet” realized promises of the future.  God is telling us to get ready and be prepared, because Christ will come at any time!

God’s promises in the future are meant to focus our attention on the final day of Christ’s coming, which we celebrated last week on Christ the King Sunday.  As we learned, God has fixed a day for Christ’s second coming when Christ will come to execute his final acts of judgment and liberation.  The date has been set, and the outcome is certain.  We know the outcome; sin, death, and the devil will be destroyed and those outside of the Kingdom of Grace, or faith in Jesus Christ will be punished for their lack of faith and we who are in faith will be freed at last and ushered into Christ’s kingdom of glory.  Yes this much is certain, but what we do not know is when this will happen.  All we know is that it is soon.  In our epistle lesson we read, “That the hour has come for you to wake from (your) sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” [Rom. 13:11] 

But what is this hour?  Friends it is the hour of your freedom and the hour of judgment.  When Christ appears he will come to execute his final act of judgment.  But for you dear Christian Christ shall appear to save you, because you are already expecting and waiting for His return.  And yet even those of us who are constantly watching and waiting will  be taken completely by surprise.  We will feel certain that this or that time He will not come, and on a time just like that He will come!

When I was a Border Patrol Agent one of the most boring duties I had to perform was what is called “still-watch.”  The name pretty much sums up the function of the duty.  We were to sit for hours on end watching one little portion of the border.  At night, your eyes can play tricks on you, and you begin to see things that aren’t really there!  On one particular night, I positioned my vehicle right in front of a hole in the border fence.  After several hours of seeing phantoms in the night, I began to relax and I thought, “No one’s there and no one will be!”  I turned on some easy listening music, got out my Bible, and I began to get lost in the Word.  About an hour later, I decided to get out and stretch my legs, when I stepped on an illegal entrant right outside my vehicle door.  To say I was startled would be an understatement.  But wait, that’s not all; after I regained my composure and arrested the fellow, I quickly discovered three more illegal entrants who were quietly laying around my vehicle!  After I arrested the four, we began to talk and they started to tease me, because I let my guard down.  Then the older man of the group looked at me with a very serious expression and said, “Officer, you really should be more attentive.  Not everyone out here tonight is as nice as we are!  So be ready because you never know when they will come!”

“For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. [Matt. 24:37-39]  Yes friends, Christ is coming again; He is coming soon and He wants us to be ready!

Think of His coming this way: Either He comes on the last day or He comes on your last day when you close your eyes for the last time in this sinful world.  Jesus says, “That two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.” [vs. 40,41]  This is a picture of Christ coming when all will be judged and held accountable.  Another way to look at this truth is like this: “Two men are out playing golf and lighting strikes them both dead.  One will be taken to heaven; that is he will be ushered into God’s Kingdom of Glory, and the other wont.  He will go to judgment because he was found without faith in Jesus Christ.  Two women will be driving on the highway when a semi-truck will hit them head on and kill them.  One will be taken to heaven because of her faith in Jesus Christ and the other will not.  She too will go to be judged because she was found without faith in Jesus Christ!”

So we now see the tension of the now/not yet reality that we live in.  Certain promises that God makes to us have been realized and some must wait for our last day.  And yet we are called to live a life of faith, centered in the grace of Jesus Christ and the future promises of God!  This life we live by faith is called our vocation.

In scripture, every part of our Christian life, all its activities, and all its sorrows are brought into the light of the last day, our last day and the glory that will be revealed to us!  Because you are waiting for your Lord to return, you dear Christian are always busy doing things that please God.  And what pleases God?  Well, serving Him and your neighbor!  You will stay centered in the gospel and you will share that gospel with whoever God puts into your life.  Your time, talents, and treasures become a means to further and advance the Kingdom of God.  Even though you live in this world, you are not of this world, so you will guard yourself against the temptations of this world that has been around since the time of Noah.  You know that your night-watch is almost over and the day, which is the pure light of God, is at hand.  As St. Paul says in our epistle reading, “Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.  But put on Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the flesh, to gratify its desires!” [Rom.13:12-14]  This then is God’s call for us to live out and become what He has already declared that we are; holy, perfect, and righteous because of Jesus Christ!  So if you are a parent, you are a Christian parent, living to serve God and your Children.  If you are a child, you are a Christian child, living a life that honors God and your parents.  Everything we do and everywhere we go is a call to put off our old sinful nature and put on the robe of righteousness that Jesus clothed us with in our baptism. 

But what if we fail?  What happens if we fall into sin?  Well that is a good indication that you were not staying alert and watching!  But don’t be discouraged; you see this call to watch, wait, and put on Christ is an ongoing process.  Remember, you live by faith within God’s kingdom of grace, so don’t grow tired of confessing your sin and then living out your life as a forgiven saint.  “But I’m still a sinner.  I know that I will sin again!”  Yes, that is true, but that is part of living out that “Now/Not Yet” tension.  That is your vocation.  You must receive God’s forgiveness and then model and give that forgiveness to your neighbor!

Dear friends, as you remember that Christ has come and will come again rest in the truth that Christ is here with you now.  He is with you in His Word and in His Sacrament; rest in the reality that He is with you when you hear your pastor or a neighbor say, “I forgive you!”  As your providing and protecting king, Jesus extends His rule into your heart and life every moment.  His loving presence comes to us in different ways; often it seems incomplete and broken because of the evil that still exists all around us.  And yet, He has assured us of His real presence and power in our lives until our last day of earthly life.  This work of His continues in this sinful world through the day to day lives of believers like you and me, until He brings each of us finally to Himself in Heaven!  I pray that you will rest in this real presence of our God and learn to live a life of victory in this world where Jesus says all that the Father has given to me I give to you… now and not yet!  I ask this in Jesus name…. AMEN!

The Peace of Christ’s Kingdom

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

26th Sunday after Pentecost C, November 21, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  But what is the Kingdom of God and how is God’s will done?  First, we must understand that God’s Kingdom certainly does come with or without our power.  In fact, for the last few weeks we have been reading about His Kingdom of Power, when Christ shall come to judge and recreate all of creation into a new Kingdom, a Kingdom of Glory.  And there is yet another Kingdom, a Kingdom of Grace, which you dear saints are held secure in by God’s Power and His glory.  It is this Kingdom of grace which brings you God’s will for your life, and that is peace!  Peace seems to be well out of sight, and yet God’s Word clearly teaches us that we do have peace right now?  But how?  Well let’s allow God’s Word to answer that.  In Psalm 34 we are encouraged to “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” We are told that “Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” [Psalm 34:8] 

Did you know that before I came to Trinity as your pastor I had never tasted sweet potato pie?!   Coming from the Midwest, we eat pumpkin pie.  To me, sweet potato pie was a crude imitation of good old pumpkin pie.  No sir, you would never get me to eat that sweet potato pie; “Uh ah, aint gonna happen!” I said.  But one day right here at Trinity, at a pot luck dinner, I picked up what I thought was pumpkin pie, and I had a big old slice.  I remember telling my wife that that particular piece of pumpkin pie was the best I ever tasted.  Well my wife smiled at me and said, “Dear that is sweet potato pie!”  Ever since then, as we say around these parts, “I can eat me some sweet potato pie!”  Oh taste and see dear saints, that the Lord is good!  Don’t you know friends that you have to be in the Word of God in order to know His goodness; in order to know the peace that he brings?  So we see peace with God and peace with ourselves and our neighbors always comes through the Word of God!

But some people don’t want to taste the Lord; they don’t want to be in His Word because they’ve heard that it says that a man who was born in a manger and died like a thief upon a cross is the King of all creation.  They’ve heard tell about portions of scripture like our epistle lesson this morning, that say Jesus is God!  Listen: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” [Colossians 1:15-20]  Sadly for some the very thought of Jesus being King and God, their King and God is just too much.  Like me and the sweet potato pie, they will not taste and see that the Lord is good! 

In our gospel reading this morning, we discover three groups of people and two different reactions to Jesus, who is Christ the King. 

Our first group of people are the women of Jerusalem.  As Jesus is led out carrying His own cross to Golgotha, our reading says that a great multitude of people and many women were there along the roadside mourning and lamenting for him.  And Jesus, exhausted and in great pain turns and says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” [vs. 29] Now that seems strange.  First if it were you or me carrying that cross, we wouldn’t have the strength to say anything, let alone give an encrypted warning.  But Jesus is not just like you and me.  Oh he is human flesh to be sure, but he is also something so much more… He is God!  And God is always concerned about our eternal salvation.  God does not wish that anyone should perish, but that all would turn to the Lord, taste the Lord, and experience His peace and live!  These women sobbed for Jesus as a good man in pain who would soon be dead; they were moved by their emotions and the passion and suffering of Jesus the man!  But they failed to hear in His teachings that He is the God-man, their creator; the author and perfecter of their faith.  Such tears are a complete waste to Jesus, so He orders them, “Stop weeping over me and weep over yourselves and your children.”  Jesus knew that these women weren’t weeping over the sins of their leaders, they weren’t weeping for the sins of the crowd that demanded His death, and they weren’t weeping over their own sins that God said demanded death.  Jesus knew that they would never have this kind of sorrow and repentance unless they first saw their sins and then knew Him as God’s only means of forgiveness; they needed to see Him as their Savior and King!   

Well, the next group of people we must look at are the very ones that brought Jesus to this painful torture and death.  They are the religious leaders of the Jewish society, the Sanhedrin.  They wanted a leader and a king alright, but not one that would replace their authority.  They wanted a king that would destroy Roman rule and set them up as the true authority.  But this “man” Jesus only wanted to talk about the rule and authority of God.  He kept insinuating that He was God!  No He must be removed so that someone they could control could come and destroy Roman rule.  So they instructed the crowd to scream, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” And the Roman Governor of Judea heard and answered.  He answered by complying with their request.  It seems that this is another group of people that would not and could not taste and experience the peace of God!  But Jesus, God the Son who could have struck them dead does just the opposite… He prays for them.  “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” [vs. 34]  If they only would have really listened to God speak to them in Scripture and Heard Jesus Word’s they would have known who Jesus is. Jesus prays forgiveness yes, but He also prays that they will have life by knowing God’s grace.

Soon, when Jesus rose from the dead, they would know the truth about who He was and is, and then they alone would bear the responsibility for their many sins.  But Jesus wanted so badly for them and us to know that through His cross they could truly find forgiveness and peace with God!  Would they know, would they receive the truth that as Jesus hung upon the very cross that they placed Him on He was bringing forth the very means that would bring them eternal life?  Would they taste the Lord and know the peace of His kingdom of grace?

Well the next class of people that we need to look at are the two thieves that were hung on the cross next to Jesus!  For a moment in your minds eye, picture hundreds of people gathered around Jesus’ cross and the two thieves next to Him on either side, and then hear the crowd and the thieves taunting Him by saying something like, “So there hangs Jesus, King of the Jews huh?  Hey Jesus, you saved others so let’s see you save yourself!”  They couldn’t spit on Him anymore, but they could taunt Him and attack Him with their vicious and cowardly tongues!  And after one of the thieves heard the crowd and leaders shouting about how Jesus saved people, he thought as only a desperate man will think, “Maybe he’ll save me too from this painful and certain death.  It’s worth a try!”  And so he shouts at Jesus saying, “(Aren’t) you the Christ (that they’re talking about)?  (Well then) save yourself and save us!” 

This first thief who speaks is a big mouth; unrepentant sinners always are!  He wanted Jesus to be his Savior, but he wanted Him to be a Savior on his terms.  He wanted Jesus to free him from the agony of the cross.  He wanted life, but he wanted his old life, not the new kind of life that Jesus promised.  Why?  So he could go right back to his life of sin!  In essence, he wanted to cheat justice!  He wanted temporary salvation.

But the second thief doesn’t join in with the other’s taunts; instead he rebukes the loud mouth next to him with the fear of God.  Listen: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed (deserve it), for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”  Why did this thief rebuke the first thief this way?  May I be so bold as to say that if we were to list the good works of this man’s life, this would be first on the list?  And what was this work?  It was the work of repentance; a turning to Jesus for life and salvation.  You see friends, when you turn to Jesus you also turn away from your sin!  One thief is unrepentant and will pay for his many sins and the other is repentant.  And this repentance always leads to confession and salvation.  Do you remember his confession?  He said, “We are receiving the due reward of our deeds!”  In other words, he is saying “We have sinned!”  But after his confession comes a powerful prayer; the sinner’s prayer: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  In these Words, this repentant thief is saying, “Remember me O Heavenly King; include me and do not bar me from your presence because of my many sins when you come into your kingdom!”  And to this confession and request for forgiveness, Jesus declares the absolution: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 

Yes friends, it was faith in the real Jesus, the Son of God that moved this thief above his fear and suffering to believe that Jesus was his King, the only King that could bring God’s peace.  But how did this happen?  How did he in such a short time taste and know the peace of God?  Well, how does faith always come?  It comes through God’s means, His Holy Word and the cross of Jesus Christ!  Think of how many sinners over the centuries have echoed that thief’s prayer, “Remember me!”  Faith, that wonderful gift from God has always come through the Word and it alone enables sinners to rest in that prayer.  On the cross that day, God the Father handed his dying Son a prize of victory in the repentance and salvation of this thief.  The dying soul of a sinner was refreshed by the King who came to seek and save the lost!

Oh friends, by faith through the Living Word of God continue to come to God’s Word and taste and see, taste and know that the Lord is good! In His Word taste and know the Kingdom of God and the peace of God, a peace that surpasses all understanding and let every part of your life be transformed by that peace.  Take all of your pain, suffering and fear, and lay them at the foot of the cross.  Bring them into the light of God’s love, and like the repentant thief you too will be with your King Jesus in Paradise.  May we daily hunger for this peace, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Are Signs!

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

25th Sunday after Pentecost C, November 14, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Signs, signs everywhere are signs; signs that Jesus said would signify the end of the world as we know it!  Jesus told His disciples that very difficult times were coming for the church and they should prepare for them, but as they waited He wanted them to be centered in His Word and not deceived by false teachers.  He also said that they shouldn’t be frightened by national, international, and natural disasters, or give up when persecution became intense.  He wanted them to remember that the times of persecution and tribulation would be God designed opportunities for them to give their testimony that Jesus was coming again, and He was coming soon!  What would or should they say though?  Well, Jesus told them not to worry about that because the Holy Spirit would be speaking through them!  Jesus point was that because they know what will happen they will be ready for it!

While Jesus was referring first to the ministry of the apostles and disciples of that time, He is also speaking to every Christian of every age, because the signs of the end are still with us and Jesus return is still eminent.  This morning friends, Jesus is telling us that we need to beware of deception and fear and trust the Holy Spirit to lead, guide, and empower us!

I. So what are the signs that Jesus gave us?  Well let’s go over the list briefly and check off those that have already happened: False Saviors or false teachers will come who claim to have a new teaching from God!  I think we can check that off; these devils have been popping up left and right.  All of the cults would fit into this category as well as anyone who takes your eyes off of Jesus, His cross, His Word, and His grace!  Next would be wars and rumors of wars… check!  How about nations rising against nations?  Check!  Then there’s great earthquakes in various places.  Check!  How about famines and pestilence?  Check!  And what about fearful things or things that cause terror?  I would say that these Muslim extremists fit that bill; check!  And then there is the great signs from heaven!  Did you know that in just a few short years there is a massive meteor that could hit the earth?  Now I don’t know how many things have fallen out of the sky since our Lord’s warning, but I think that it is safe to say that there has been a lot!  So, Check!  Finally, Jesus tells us that there will be a continued effort to persecute His disciples.  By disciples, Jesus means true Christians who relate to Him by faith and through the power of the Holy Spirit; people who would never let anyone take away their faith in their risen Savior!  Did you know that there is a book called “Foxes Book of Martyrs” that chronicles the lives of individuals and whole communities that were killed because of their faith in Jesus Christ?  Since its publication in #### we could have written at least two more books whose pages would be filled with contemporary martyrs.  Yes, on this last point we can all join in with a resounding “CHECK” that this sign and all others has been fulfilled and are being fulfilled, even at this very moment!

Oh, I forgot there was another sign; a sign that would be the mother of all signs; the sign that would signify that all of the others would soon take place.  For that sign, let’s go to the opening of our gospel reading this morning.  Jesus and His disciples are leaving the temple when someone points out how massive the stones are and how beautifully it is adorned.  And to this Jesus says, “(Do you see all of these things?)  The days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” [Luke 21:5-6]  Wow, that must have been a shocker for them, because the temple was the pride of their people.  In fact King Herod was spending a fortune to restore it to its previous glory when Solomon first built it! 

Could this really happen?  Well let me tell you a true story, which occurred in the year 70 A.D.  In that year, the Roman Emperor Vespasian was becoming weary with all of the defiance, political unrest, and rioting of the Jews and the people from within the region of Palestine; so weary that he sent his son Titus and a large army to crush the resistance.  In the spring of 70 AD, he arrived with the army, surrounded the temple and on August 10th, the Jewish Sabbath day the temple was destroyed.  But were all of the stones really torn apart so that one would not be on top of the other?  Yes!  It seems that between the stones was melted gold, which the soldiers could see between the cracks of each stone.  In order to get at the gold and claim it for the emperor, each stone was dismantled so that its treasure could be removed!  By the time the soldiers were finished the city of Jerusalem was left in disarray and them temple was destroyed; not one stone standing upon the other! 

II. So what does all of this mean for us today?  It means that we need to read the signs and be ready!  I teach my martial arts students this same concept.  I always tell them that your greatest weapons are your ears, your eyes, and your brain.  They learn that they must read their surroundings and know how to avoid trouble.  In essence, when trouble comes, don’t be there.  Any street smart kid from the “hood” can tell you the truth in that teaching.  Our kids in this community learn at an early age how to “read the streets!”

Remember the brave actions of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who was able to quickly evaluate his circumstances and then beautifully land a commercial airline in the Hudson River?  That was a wonderful example of reading the signs and avoiding trouble.  But then we have the opposite of this example; a woman from Utah who is suing the Google corporation because she was hit by a car.  It seems a car struck her while she was crossing a busy street as her eyes were glued to her street GPS navigator on her smart phone.  She blames the Google Map service she was using at the time of her accident because it told her to walk along state Route 224, never warning her of high speed traffic or the absence of sidewalks; Google should have better advised her concerning the dangers in her surroundings.  Of course, she could have just looked up from her cell phone and assessed the dangers herself!

Yes friends, we can’t deny that the ability to read the signs around us is necessary if we want to survive and thrive in this world we live in!  And Jesus would agree!  In fact, that’s precisely what He’s telling us in our gospel this morning.  Did you know that as He was speaking to His disciples He was just days away from dying on the cross?  He knew this truth, and because He knew it His attention and His ministry was shifted from preaching the gospel to preparing His disciples for a world that would be eternally changed because of not just His death, but also His resurrection, ascension into heaven, and His promise to return soon!  Nothing gives you clearer focus friends than staring down the barrel of a gun in the hand of someone who can and will kill you!  But Jesus was staring at a gruesome cross, and He wasn’t thinking about Himself, He was thinking about His disciples who would be taking up their own cross; He was thinking about you!

III. Yes the end of the world is coming and Jesus wants you to be ready.  But ready for what?  Well friends, Jesus Words are preparing us for this time that we live in now.  He has already told us that it will be a time of struggle and a judgment that is coming upon all of the earth.  This time of struggle, a period of hard times is meant to be a warning for the unbelieving world to repent from their sinful life style outside of faith in Jesus Christ.  It is a warning to them that Jesus is coming soon!  Last week we talked about the resurrection of the dead, and we learned that for those of us who are truly disciples of Jesus this will be a time of joyful celebration.  But for those who choose to live in unbelief, it will be a time of eternal sorrow and pain.  But until all of this comes to pass and Jesus returns, He calls us to be ready, watchful and faithful as we read the signs around us!

In verse vs. 34 He warns those of us of faith not to become complacent; not to quit reading the signs around us.  He is warning us that the danger is real and His return is eminent.  He doesn’t want us to become lazy and caught up in this world.  Listen: “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you like a trap!”  Friends, Jesus is speaking to us in the plainest of language; or as we would say, “He’s telling us in plain English!”  He’s saying watch how you live.  Don’t get caught up in the attitude of your society with all of its partying and drunkenness.  Can you imagine being drunk or high and Jesus shows up?  It could happen and for some it will happen!  No friends, Jesus warns us to read the signs so we won’t fall into that trap!  He wants us to be ready, but He also wants us to prepare for His return.  But how?

By warning others that the end is coming and there will be a judgment.  Jesus is telling us that He wants us to be engaged in the sinful world around us so that we will have opportunities to testify about God’s forgiveness and grace through Jesus Christ.  He wants us to tell them about the urgency to turn to Jesus and His cross before it is too late and He comes not as their Savior but as their judge!  Jesus is sending each of us out into a world broken by sin; a world caught up in all types of trouble, struggle, persecution, and death and He wants us to share with our neighbors our hope and the reason for our lack of fear!  He wants all of His disciples to tell their family, friends, and even their enemies why this world is so broken and full of sin, and how Jesus has made and will make it new again!

CONCLUSION: Dear friends, Jesus isn’t painting such a dark picture of the end of days so that you will be consumed by worry, in fact the exact opposite is true.  He told us the truth about His coming so that we will have peace!  It’s the kind of peace that says to your soul, “Even though you have to endure, you will get through this and everything for you will be good!”  He wants us to live life in a constant joyful expectation of His second coming and final Advent.  Just as the believers in the Old Testament always waited for the Savior’s gracious coming, so too we believers in the New Testament then and now await with true joy and patience for Jesus’ glorious coming to judge the living and the dead.  We know that our judgment will be one of grace and peace with God because of our faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ!  And it is this hoping, waiting, and living for Jesus glorious return that moves us to live a life worthy of our high calling as His disciples!  Because of our hope in Jesus and His work upon the cross for us we can live our lives in a world that is falling apart around us not in fear, but in glorious expectation of our assured eternal salvation.

So look around dear friends and learn to read the signs.  Signs, signs, everywhere are signs that say Jesus is coming soon!  May you not grow weary in doing good and waiting with patience, endurance, and peace knowing that Jesus is your Savior and friend!  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

You Need to Know!

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

24th Sunday after Pentecost C, November 7, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Our starting point for this morning is this portion of our Gospel reading: “Now He is not God of the dead, but of the Living, for all live to Him”. [Luke 20:38]

Is the resurrection important?  You bet it is, because you see without it we are all lost and left with no hope and life is meaningless.  Without the resurrection we do not have an all-powerful, all knowing, and all present God.  If God cannot defeat death then He cannot defeat sin and the devil.  Without the resurrection then Jesus who is God in our flesh did not rise from the dead, and if Jesus did not rise from the dead then we are lost and without hope.  No friends, you need to know that your redeemer lives, because if you know this and believe it you are guaranteed that you will live with him!  But there are those who will laugh at our faith in the resurrection.  But take heart little ones of faith, because your Savior has already dealt with these type of people!

In our gospel reading we join Jesus being confronted by a group of Jewish philosophers known as the Sadducees.  As a group, they denied the resurrection because it required faith instead of logic.  In their world view, there was no place for angels, spirits or the resurrection.  They wanted a form of Judaism that was secular and rooted to the world; in effect they were humanists!  So as humanists, they brought to Jesus what they thought was a conundrum designed to destroy faith in the God of Scripture.  They brought to Jesus a brilliantly thought-out question that was designed to make both Him and the scriptural doctrine of the resurrection seem ridiculous.  They quickly turned to Moses and God’s law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) as a weapon to destroy both hope and faith.  With Moses as their starting point, they created a hypothetical woman whose husband died and left her childless.  As dictated in Deuteronomy, the man’s six brothers all married her as well in order to propagate a legacy for their brother, but alas they all died as well as finally the woman.  “So now” they asked quite pleased with themselves, “at the resurrection whose wife will she be?”

Jesus answered them in a way not designed to be clever but simply truthful.  He reminded them that the reward of a heavenly resurrection was something for only those who are “considered worthy” [v. 35].  Then Jesus taught them that in heaven, there is no marriage, as on earth, because all are married to God!  The worthy, or the saints are in a sense, like the angels in that they are equal to them. [v. 36]  And now Jesus takes a hold of the double edged sword that they used against Him and He beats them with the flat portion of it.  “Here is the truth you faithless men!”  Your Moses that you love to quote, at the burning bush was told and wrote for you that God called Himself “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”.  These men, though dead in your eyes at the time of Moses, still served the living God.  He was still their God!  So He is the God of the living and not of the dead, for “all live to Him.”” [vs. 37-38]  This morning we will discover that for those of us who believe in God’s Word and trust it, death will be a glorious moment when we enter a life as such that we have never known or could imagine!  But to come to this understanding we must look at three things.  We must look at death, then the resurrection of all human life, and then the importance of the resurrection.

It only makes sense that in order for there to be a resurrection of physical life there must first come a physical death.  Death is something we don’t really like to talk about or even consider, because it scares us!  Why is that?  I think that it’s because we don’t have a proper Biblical understanding of death.  You see, we must remember that the death of our flesh isn’t a total destruction of who we are but simply a separation of our physical body from our soul.  Jesus spoke of this in His parable about the greedy man who God declared to, “This night your soul will be required of you.” [Luke 12:20]  When Jesus Himself died upon the cross we read in Matthew that He “gave up the ghost”! [Matt. 27:50]  And finally in Ecclesiastics we read, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” [Eccl. 12:7]  So we see clearly that life, our life continues after the death of our flesh.  But why must our flesh die?  Our flesh must die because of our sin!  You see, God did not create man to die; no we were never intended to be subject to death, and that is why we have a natural horror of death.  Death was a part of God’s threat as punishment for sin, and our first parents dared Him to make good on that threat, and God did! [Gen. 2:17; 3:19] 

So death entered into the world by sin and the wages of sin is death! [Rom. 5:12; 6:23]  It was God who imposed the death penalty but it was man who desired it.  So now we live and die by the will of God! [Deut. 31:14; 2 Kings 20:1-6; Job 14:5]  God chooses to terminate our lives in many different ways and at different times, but make no mistake everyone dies as a result of sin! [Ps. 90:7-9]  But your death dear Christian is not the same death as those who die outside of faith in Jesus.

Even though you still bear the outside consequence of sin, just as other people do, there is a huge difference between you and them!  For you, death has lost its sting [1 Cor. 15:55-57]; God has forgiven all of your sins because you have faith in His only chosen remedy, His Son our Savior Jesus Christ!  To you who walk by faith, death is not a punishment, but a deliverance (2 Tim. 4:18), it is a change for the better!  So by God’s gift of faith you are being taught by God’s own Word to overcome your natural fear of death so that you can depart this vale of tears in peace.  But for those who live without faith, they die without hope so they fear their death! While they lack proper evidence to believe in a resurrection, in their heart they know that death cannot destroy their conscious existence and personal identity.  They know that who they are is too strong to simply vanish.  This is why almost every civilization has taught and believed that there is something after death.  But where do we go after death?

Holy Scripture teaches that there are but two choices… paradise and hell!  For you dear Christians, you need only know that you shall be in paradise.  Our Lord said to the thief on the cross, “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” [Lk. 23:43]  St. Stephen said confidently at the hour of his death, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” [Acts 7:59]  And in Revelations we are assured that whoever dies in the Lord is blessed from that point into eternity. [Rev. 14:13]  Everyone who dies shall remain in either heaven or in hell until the Day of Judgment, when they shall be reunited with their own bodies.  And that shall be the time of the resurrection.

The resurrection is the rebirth of all flesh at the second coming of Jesus Christ.  It is the time of judgment for those who do not know Jesus by faith as their Savior.  Does it surprise you to know that they too will rise?  Scripture itself assures us of this truth.  In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus himself announces that all of the unbelievers will in body and soul be banished to eternal torment. [Matt. 10:28]  And at the resurrection, the eternal destiny of each person will be announced, but make no mistake, it was decided at the time of death.  Either a person dies in Christ or they die outside of faith in Him, but at the resurrection everyone shall be gathered up!  On that last day, Christ will appear in all His glory, He will raise the dead and will judge the world in righteousness.  He will come in the clouds of heaven, and then send out His angels to gather all of the living and the dead; this will be the end of the world as we know it, but it is also the beginning of a new existence for us. Jesus will resurrect each person for a purpose, and that purpose is either to reward faith or to punish the lack of it!

Who will be judged?  Everyone will!  It doesn’t matter whether they want to submit or not, they will appear and they will be judged!  Oh some thought they were clever when they were alive, living as if God did not see, as if God didn’t exist, but they will appear on that last day and they will be judged! [2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10-11; Matt. 25:32; Acts 17:31; 2 Tim. 4:1]  No one will be overlooked and no one can escape.  In fact, even the fallen angels, those vile creatures we call demons will be judged on the last day.  But don’t fear this judgment dear saints, because you unlike those who rejected the gift of faith in Jesus Christ will not be judged by God’s perfect law!  Your Jesus will not judge you according to the Law of Moses because that would make His precious work upon the cross and the work of the Holy Spirit meaningless.  No dear saints Jesus will judge you by the law of grace; He will find you trusting in the faith He gave you as a gift and He will call you friend.  “He that believes… will be saved!”  [Mark 16:16; Jn. 5:24; 2 Thess. 1:7-10]

Dear friends, the resurrection is either something we believe and look forward to, or it is something we reject, fear, and deny.  If by faith we believe that God’s Word is true and that through Jesus Christ there is something wonderful waiting for us after death, we will not be disappointed.  Instead we will be lifted up out of death and our bodies will be recreated out of the narrow limitations of this sinful world, and they will be made sinless and perfect so that we can finally live as God intended us to live… in a relationship of constant praise and love for our Creator.  This is the age to come that Jesus speaks of.  But if a person dies outside of faith in Jesus Christ, they will not have the same experience.  Instead for them, they will be raised in the same body just as us, but the afflictions of sin will still remain, and in fact it will be intensified.  They will always know of the pure love of God but they will never experience it.  They will always know that there is a Savior, but He will never be their Savior.  They will suffer and they will continue in suffering forever!

So hold onto your faith in the resurrection; it’s the key to your very salvation.  Because you see, if you do not believe in the resurrection then you can’t believe in an all-powerful God; if there is no resurrection then that means that God is unable to conquer sin, death, and the devil.  Without the resurrection Christ did not rise from the dead, and if Christ did not rise from the dead then you have no savior!  No friends you must not let any man or devil rob you of your faith in God’s promised resurrection, because it proves that God is the God of the living and not the dead.  Through Jesus Christ, death has suffered a deathblow and redemption from sin, death, and the devil has not failed.  Our Lord Jesus Christ will come again and gather us together with Him.  You really do need to know that your Redeemer lives, and because He lives so shall you always live with Him!  Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”  In Jesus name… AMEN!