Posts Tagged ‘End Times’

Thy Kingdom Come!

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Last Sunday of the Church Year (B), November 25th, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“”Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  But my kingdom is not from the world. [John 18:36]

On December 7, 1941, a quite naval harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii was attacked by the Japanese military.  After several years of sitting  out the war, that was enough to propel our great nation into action.  We were at war, and we would defeat the enemy at all costs!

On September 11, 2011 our nation was attacked on three different fronts, by a loose but large confederation of Islamic terrorist known  as Al Qaeda. That was enough to begin a war on all terrorist who pose a threat against our country, and indeed democracy throughout  the world.  Our nation, once again has vowed to win that war at all costs, and even now, that war rages on throughout the world.

And yet, in our gospel reading, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who alone is our true and eternal King, was about to be brutally beaten  and crucified at the hands of an occupying terrorist force in Palestine, known as the Roman Empire.  Where was the outrage?  Where  was the beating of war drums?  Why would God the Father allow this to happen?  Jesus gives the answer: “My kingdom is not of this  world.”

What does that mean?  Well simply put, our King Jesus and His true followers are not of this world; we do not find our identity here.  We  know that in this world of sin, we will find suffering just as our King found suffering. We have learned to accept this truth as our reality  while we wait patiently for our King to return.  And while we wait, we are not a threat to this physical world.  We live in this world, but  we are not of this world.  We obey the law, we pay taxes, we do many works of charity, and we give large sums of money to work towards peace in this world, and yet, we suffer for the good we do.  Why do we accept this as our reality?  Because we know that the time is coming when our true King will come in power for us to make all things new and right, but we also know that He is coming to judge the unfaithful and punish sin.

Until the day of our Lord arrives, we are simply to wait; we are to do nothing disruptive, but simply wait and behave as good citizens under whatever government we find ourselves in.  Are we doing anything to prepare for our King Jesus’ return?  Are we preparing by committing acts of sedition?  No!  Are we working to undermine the authority of our rulers?  NO!  So what are we doing?  We are praying, “Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

So, is prayer all that we do to prepare for Christ kingdom?  Certainly not; you see we also speak God’s Word, which is God’s power, or God’s means in both opening the gates to Christ Kingdom and closing them to those who rebel against His Kingdom into an eternal internment camp, built by the will of God to forever separate unrepentant rebels from God’s children of faith.

The Kingdom of God is here with us right now; we call it His Kingdom of Grace, and yet, His Kingdom is not yet complete.  On the great and terrible day that it comes in full, it will come with power, great power that will not only topple all earthly kingdoms, but it will also destroy both the earth and heaven together.  And when it comes, it will usher in a new heaven and earth that will be one under the rule of the Son of God, King Jesus Christ.

Now, as Isaiah reported in our Old Testament reading, our King has set His Word as a true source of justice and divine light for all of the people of the world.  It’s righteousness draws nearer every day as His Holy Gospel is proclaimed throughout the world.  He has prepared those who will hear His Word to respond to that Word of forgiveness; that is why Isaiah was compelled to write that “the coast-lands hope for (their King). [Isaiah 51:4-5]  And what we hope for is what we wait for; so we can say that the Kingdom of Jesus, that is His Kingdom of Power is not yet.  And this is where people who are not God’s children of faith have a problem.  They have a problem because they will not look up to heaven for answers.

The Kingdom of Power is coming whether you believe in it or not; whether you hope for it or not.  The day is coming when the heavens will vanish like smoke and the earth will wear out like a garment, and all will die and all will come back to life.  The question really is, after you die and you are returned to life, where will you spend eternity.  And what will answer that question will be the kingdom you are trusting and resting in.

You dear saints, who are resting in the Kingdom of Grace, Christ’s Kingdom are also pursuing righteousness.  You are seeking God’s Kingdom and waiting for it to come in power.  But waiting in the Kingdom of grace and pursuing that Kingdom of power is not easy; in fact it is impossible without faith.  As we live here in this world of sin, we soon discover that there is very little grace shown to us, and the power we experience seems to be evil and working against the good we try to do.  At best here in this world, we seem to have fleeting moments of happiness, but they elude us so quickly and then we fall to sin ourselves and collapse again in guilt, fear, and doubt.  We can become frustrated when we discover, that we can’t simply take off our sinful nature and hang it up in the closet or throw it out for the weekly trash collection.

So what are we to do?  Well listen of course.  We are to hear the word of God and pay attention to it.  Listen: “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation (of faith); for a law will go out from me (to you).  What law?  The law of grace that can come only through your King of Grace, Jesus Christ.

You see, God knows that you are but flesh; He knows that you cannot come into His Kingdom of Grace, so in His Word, He brings that Kingdom to you.  What word is that?  The Word about Jesus your King; His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension.  It is that Word that has been sent out and found you.  It is a Word of forgiveness.

Grace to you… grace for you… grace, which is yours right now, if you see a need for it; if you want to be in God’s Kingdom.  God’s unmerited love is yours right now through Jesus who loves you and has set you free from your sins by His blood shed upon the cross.  He has done all of the work and simply calls you to come and rest in His kingdom of grace and pursue every day His Kingdom of Power.  You pursue His Kingdom of Power as His priests proclaiming the message about His Kingdom of Grace; the message of your God and Father.  And the life we live here in the kingdom of man we live while waiting for the Kingdom of Christ.  And the life that we live is how we give glory to God the Father of our King Jesus, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. [Revelations 1:4-8]

At least every Sunday we pray, “Thy Kingdom come” in the Lord’s prayer.  What does it mean then to pray those words?

God’s kingdom comes all by itself without our prayer, right?  So why must we pray those words?  So that His kingdom would be so great within us and among us that others would know that there is a God in Heaven.  We pray those words so that we will be the type of child that not only lives in His kingdom but also helps to make that kingdom grow among us!  How does that Kingdom grow among us?  Through the message from and about our King Jesus, and that message, is the good news that God sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into this sinful world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil, to bring us to himself, and to rule us as our King of righteousness.  In this kingdom we are given life, and salvation against sin, death, and an the devil. It is this message alone that keeps us in His kingdom and delivers His Holy Spirit to us in power, so that we may have faith to continually be saved by his holy Word and Sacraments.  These are the only means God has provided to save us and deliver us safely into His Kingdom.

When we talk about God’s Kingdom, when we pray that God would help us rest in His kingdom, we are really asking God to help us praise His name and live a Christian life. We ask this so that those of us who have already entered into the kingdom of grace may remain faithful and grow daily in it and also so that God may use us to help others enter it, and together we may all remain eternally in His kingdom that He has now begun in us and among us!

“The coming of God’s kingdom to us” then takes place in two ways: first, it comes here, in time, through the Word and faith, and second, it comes in eternity, with the end of days.  It comes in great power and might, and it is the only way that you can enter the kingdom of God.  Christ has done all of the work.  He has given to you His Holy gospel so that you may hear and believe through His gift of faith.  He has washed you clean in the waters of your baptism.  Not only has he stripped you of your sinful and soiled nature, but he has given you a new nature; a robe of righteousness, which is the very nature of your King Jesus.  And what’s more is He invites you to come to His holy table to have communion with Him and all of the saints that have gone before you.  He asks you to dine on His very body and blood for the continued forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of your faith.  All that He asks of you is that you continue to use these things every day and trust in them alone.

Oh yes, there is one more thing He asks of you.  He asks that you pray to Him in Heaven that He would continue to keep His name and you holy, and He asks that you pray that His Kingdom would come soon in power and might.

Will you remember to pray that Christ’s Kingdom would come soon?  Will you look forward to that Kingdom and let all that is within you work towards ushering in that Kingdom first in you then around you?

I pray that God would continually move our hearts to always ask for His kingdom to come among us.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)!

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

25th Sunday in Pentecost B, November 18th, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“”And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.  But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. [Daniel 13:1b]

The song we just heard by R.E.M., is also the title of our message.  It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)!  Well if the end  of the world were too come say next month, on December 21st as many say the Mayan calendar predicts, would you be fine with that,  or does it cause you to worry?

Or if the end of the world would have happened on May 21st as Harold Camping said in one of his many false predictions, would that  have been alright with you.  Were you ready for it?  Are you still ready?  Can you ever be ready?

The truth is friends, God has been telling us in his Word that there will be an end of all things created and we need to be ready.  You can  sense it can’t you?  You can tell that there are many things that just aren’t right; things that seem to be so unfair in this life that this can’t be all that there is.  If you need proof that something here is broken, just look at all of the wars and threats of wars, the earthquakes and hurricanes, and the deaths.  Nations and alliances are formed and peace is always destroyed, no matter how hard we try to keep it.  Children disrespect their parents and parents abuse and abandon their children.  False messiahs and cults seem to pop up everywhere.  Isn’t that proof enough that something big, something terrible is getting ready to happen?

I like to go into Wal-Mart with some spare change in my pocket, so I can drop it into that charity bin they have.  You know the one I’m talking about don’t you?  It looks like a big concave bowl sitting on top of a giant funnel that drops into a glass box.  I like to drop my change from the top of the bowl and watch it go around and around and around.  And the closer it gets to the hole in the bottom, the faster and faster it goes, until it plops into the box and disappears.

That’s how I feel this world is moving.  In the beginning God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. [Genesis 2:7]  But in just the next chapter of Genesis we read how God’s first children, our parents rebelled against their Creator, and one of the terrible consequences of that sin was death.  And just like that, our existence has been dropped into the bowl of death and it is going faster, and faster, and before you know it, plop it is all going to drop into the bin of destruction.

The truth is, like Adam and Eve, all of us must return to the ground from which we came.  In every generation since Adam and Eve’s fall from paradise, our greatest fear and our greatest enemy has always been death.  You could say that since the fall the death rate has remained the same—one per person.

So how should we feel about our death and the end of all things; should we be afraid or should we feel fine?  Well, that all depends on the kind of death you have to look forward to.

In our reading from Daniel (Daniel 12:1-3) we are told of two different kinds of deaths; there are those who die with their names written in God’s book of life, and those who aren’t recorded in that book.  Each of us, after we die will rise again; we will all be called out of our graves, no matter where they are or how we have been laid to rest, and each of us will have to face our Creator.  And many of us who are raised from death will be given everlasting life in paradise, but many will also be given everlasting life in shame and contempt.

Those who spent their lives avoiding God and running after false gods and false messiahs will experience a dreadful day, even if they don’t believe it now.  They will hear God say, “Very well, you wanted to be without me; now be without me—forever!”  And they will be sentenced to and eternal divorce from God—a never ending existence of shame and emptiness.  It will be a loneliness that that will consume them like fire, yet they will never know and end to that suffering.  They will suffer in complete awareness and hopelessness.

That idea of hell and suffering doesn’t go well with people today who like to turn God into some lovable, soft-hearted, incompetent old fool.  But God’s Word says different, doesn’t it.  God’s anger and His punishment are evident throughout scripture.  We start with the expulsion from paradise of Adam and Eve, and then we go to the flood and countless people screaming out of the agony of death by drowning.  And then God’s Word takes us to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in a hurricane of fire.  Yes He is is the same God who fed evil Queen Jezebel to the dogs and allowed countless people, including children, to die in wars that He sent Israel to wage against unrepentant sinners.  That same God still reigns in heaven today!  And what’s more, He has told us that He does not change; what He has done before, He will do again; He is doing again.

And Those who’s names are not written in His book will stand before Him on judgment day and be sentenced to shame and everlasting contempt.  They wont simply cease to exist, as if they were cast away into some celestial junk yard to simply rust away into nothing.  No, God would never dishonor His creation like that.  For all eternity those who fall into judgment will retain their personality and the ability to experience God’s eternal rejection and His displeasure.

But for you dear saints, for you who are resting in the promises of God’s forgiving love, things shall be much different.  You are those who God told Daniel are wise.  From God’s Word you have learned to recognize your sin and the need for a Savior from that sin.  You have learned to trust God in hard times; times of war, natural and man-made disasters, and economic despair.  You have learned through God’s Word to remain hopeful and to show restraint and sound judgment, even when your savings are dwindling and there is no food in the cupboard.  You have simply learned to wait on the Lord to provide both comfort in times of trouble and a way out of that trouble.  This then, is one of the ways that you shine like a bright star in heaven.  As others are suffering and crying out in fear and desperation you are waiting for your God.  You become one who shows others what the peace of God that surpasses all understanding is.  You are a light in your community that helps others find the way into God’s family and ultimately into a place at God’s side.

You and the many other saints who wait in peace on the Lord will live forever in glory, as you shine like the brightness of heaven.  You know that on judgment day, the end of the world as we know it, you will stand before God and be inspected, and you will actually survive that inspection because you have the promise of the gospel!  In the Word of God you have learned and you believe by faith in God’s forgiving love you will not only survive God’s inspection of your life, but you will thrive forever after that inspection.  But how?

Because of Christ alone.  It was Jesus, God’s own Son who has forever sat down at the right hand of the Father as all of His enemies and your enemies are put at His feet like a foot-stool. [Hebrews 10:11-25] What enemies are those?  Sin of course; your sin and even the sin of our first parents that was committed long ago in the Garden of Eden.  But another enemy, the great serpent, the father of all lies Satan Himself will have to submit to the rule of the Son of God on that great day.  And finally, the enemy that we all fear the most, death itself will be defeated.  All because the Son of God was obedient to the will of His Father; a will that led Him to the cross to suffer and die for the sins of the World, even your sins.

It is the promise of God that tells you to hold on; change is indeed coming.  It is a change that the world may fear, but you need not fear.  Even when the great monuments and governments of this world are falling, you need not fear.  Even if your own family is against you because of your strong faith in the promises of God and the real presence of His Son Jesus Christ in your life, you need not fear.  Even if you should be persecuted because of your faith in Jesus by the government itself, you need not fear, because through the gift of faith in Jesus alone you are able grab onto His perfect life, the life He lived for you.  By faith, you are able to claim His innocent death as your own, and find not only pity from God, but His delight; just as a father delights in his own child. [Mark 13:1-13]

To be sure there is trouble ahead, and it will only get worse until the end of the world as we know it arrives, but there is also the promise of God that He will never leave you nor forsake you.  And it is this promise of God that brings peace and joy in knowing for certain that through all the things that will happen around you and even within you, because you are resting in Christ Jesus, you really are fine.

Now, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until we enter into God’s new world that He has prepared for us since the beginning of time… AMEN!

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
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“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
Click here for audio of this message

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!

Shout Glory in the Night!

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Seventh Sunday after Easter, May 16, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
Click here for audio of this message
 

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me  because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” [Jn. 17:24]

 Do you want to see Christ’s glory with your physical eyes and not just your eyes of faith?  Are you sure?  Then pray… beg Him to come quickly, even right this second!  Are you praying for Jesus to come soon?  Then you are praying for Him to end your existence in this world so that you can meet Him in His glory in paradise.  Are you ready for that… I mean are you really ready for that?  Are you sure that you will be meet with a Holy kiss and welcomed into paradise or are you afraid that you will be meet with admonishment and cast outside of the City with the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood? [Rev. 22:15]  You know, what determines your eternal destination is what or Whom you place your trust in!

Harry Connick Jr. tells the story about his first real break in show biz that came in front of Frank Sinatra, the man he made a living out of impersonating. The young singer was nervous; what would his idol think of his performance? When Connick began his performance, he immediately forgot the opening words of the first verse, and that mistake was followed by numerous others.  As he ended the song, he knew it was a disaster, but at the final note, the enthusiastic yet ignorant audience rose to its feet and cheered the singer. The cheers echoed down the halls of the casino. Connick looked to the box where Sinatra was seated; he was looking for the approval of only one man, but Sinatra seemed unimpressed. All the excitement of the crowd could not compensate for the lack of Sinatra’s approval.  (As told by Connick in an interview on American Idol Season 2010)

Much is wrong with our society and even in our own lives. We can all make a list; broken homes, the increase in violence and dishonesty, the lack of integrity in public life, the slow slide of the church into adopting the ways of the world, the decay of sexual morality. It is the duty of the church and every saint within the church to be the watchman who sounds the alarm!  And our only tool that God has given us for this task is His Word… the inerrant Words of the Bible.  This is the most important source of approval that we have; at times it will be our only source.

Our gospel reading for this morning is a prayer, Jesus prayer to be exact.  His time to leave this world had come and He desired that His apostles would be encouraged to know that their master was praying for them and would continue to pray for them.  But we also discover that He is praying for us.  Listen: “I do not (pray) for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [Jn. 17:20, 21]

 Who is Jesus praying for?  Well He is praying for you!  What is He praying for?  That you might have faith; that you might believe in Him unto salvation!  How does He say this faith, this ability to believe will come to us?  He says that it will be through God’s Word, which comes to us through the Words He has given the apostles. What will be the result of this faith that Jesus asks the Father for?  None other than unity and the spread of the gospel!  Just as the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit exist in unity, our Savior desires that we also be one with Him and with each other!  But He also asks that this unity be used for a purpose, and that is so that the sinful dying world might know Him through God’s Word unto salvation as well.

 Now there may be some here this morning that are right now at this very moment wondering, “But what about my salvation?  How can I know for sure that I will be welcomed into paradise and not admonished and thrown into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth?”  Friend, the only way you can be certain is as I stated, through His Word.

God is so serious about His Word that He gives us grave warnings to protect it from anyone who would add to it or take away from it.  Each Word is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit; the power to bring faith to sinners who without it are eternally damned to live in darkness.  Listen to the warning He gives us in our epistle lesson: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” [Rev. 22:18-19]  Now some may say, “But that refers to the prophecy found in the book of Revelations!”  And I must warn you that scripture must be taken as a whole.  You can’t cherry pick some as true and reject other portions as false or culturally irrelevant. 

 You see, every word of Scripture must be seen as a sanctuary; a sanctuary which is just as infallible and unchangeable as God Himself. [Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:5–6; Rev. 22:18–19]. Every addition is a sacrilege, since it dilutes God’s Word with the word of men. In the book of Proverbs, God provides this warning to those of us who want to tamper with His Word: ‘Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar. [Prov. 30:6]  Jesus Himself defends the completed Word of God this way: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” [Matt. 5:17–19].

Dear friends, God does not want you to leave here afraid and worried.  He wants you to leave here assured that He has made a way for you to join Him in paradise, a way back to the tree of eternal life, and He did it through the fruit of another tree, the tree of woe… the blessed cross.  You see, to hang upon that tree is to be accursed, so Jesus hung on that tree for you!  He bore our curse and removed it from us.  That then is the fruit of eternal life that He gives to you, the fruit of His righteousness… righteousness unto eternal life! [Rev. 22:2, 3]  Friends, He’s given you this fruit within the waters of your baptism, where you have been washed by the water and the Word… you have been washed clean in the blood of the lamb!  He promises you that although you may experience periods of night, it is not the darkness that awaits those who die in their sins because of their rejection of both God’s love and His Word that speaks of Christ’s passion.

You dear saints are now the servants of Jesus Christ; you are allowed by faith to see Him in His Word, seated upon the throne.  You bear His name upon your foreheads because in your baptism you were sealed by the Holy Spirit and moved by that same Spirit through the Word to believe in God’s real presence and His love for you!  You know by faith, that God has a plan for you and you trust in that plan.  And the day will come when night for you will be no more; you will enter the Eternal City as a servant of the Most High God Jesus Christ, and you will be infinitely blessed in that service, because you see, as a servant of the Lamb of God you will no longer have to learn the will of God, because it will be part of your very nature.  And the Lord God will be your light, and you will reign with Him forever and ever! [Rev. 22:3-5]

You see, unlike the sinful world that fears their own death, you are assured that the end of this world, is not something to be feared but anxiously awaited and celebrated when that day comes. Sure, Jesus may come at any moment to repay the entire world for what each individual has done, or he may also come at any time when you close your eyes for that last time in a natural death.  In either case, you dear saints have nothing to fear if you are trusting and resting in God’s Word.  Because in that Word you have been shown that through Jesus Christ you do not have an angry God but a God who loves you.  You have a God who has done all of the work Himself to ensure that you will be with Him, even today… this very moment in paradise! 

Is this your desire friends, to be with Jesus in paradise?  Then always remember this: We have no Christ, no God, and no salvation without His perfect and Holy Word.  And we have no unity with God and ourselves without that same Word.  But the more we have His Word ruling in our hearts and lives by faith, the more perfect our unity with Him and each other becomes.  And the deeper we are drawn into that unity the more we’re assured by God that we have nothing to fear!  The truth is friends, we are as close to Christ and each other as we believe, teach, live, and confess all that is contained in God’s Word. Let’s always remember that every deviation in doctrine, life, and practice from God’s Word distorts our unity and hinders the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer for unity and assurance. Let’s also remember that people who are bent on changing any part of the Word, also those who demand things that aren’t in that Word must be warned that it is their very salvation and the power of the gospel for the entire world that is at stake!

So friends, spend time in that Word.  Let it become for you the living presence of almighty God.  Let it change you and rearrange you.  Let it alone become your moral compass.  Pray over His Word and meditate on God’s will, and then listen to Him speak!  Can you hear Him whispering to you now in the night of this sinful world?  He is saying, “I am coming soon.”  And what does He want our response to be?  You must shout in the night of this sinful world, “Glory!  Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus, come!”  AMEN!

Watch and Wait

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Last Sunday of the Church Year, November 22, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

Our text this morning is verse6 from our Old Testament lesson: “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.” [Isaiah 51:6]

Are you afraid of these words?  It is my prayer that you aren’t, and it is God’s desire that in these words you would find comfort, and an opportunity to be thankful and joyful.  Jesus is coming!  During the Easter season our standard greeting is “He is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  This morning our greeting should be, “He is coming!  He is coming indeed!”  “But Pastor, it’s not the same” you say.  “I just can’t get excited about the end of the world.”

 Well no wonder, Hollywood and our society is doing all it can to make you believe that the end of the world is something to be feared.  They are making a lot of money off of this fear.  Last week, the movie 2012 opened and it is selling a lot of tickets.  It’s a movie about the end of the world.  It’s based on a supposed prophetic ancient Mayan calendar, which indicates that the world will come to an end on December 21, 2012. In their sales hype, they promise that “2012” is an epic adventure about a global cataclysm that brings an end to the world and it portrays the heroic struggle of the survivors.  Survivors?  What survivors!?  Wait a minute, God’s Word tells us this morning that nothing will survive.  It is the end of not just the world but also the heavens!  Well, Hollywood has never let a little thing like God’s true Word get in the way of making a lot of money.  If you’ve seen the trailer for the film, it asks this question: “How would the world governments prepare over 6 Billion people for the end of the world?”  Answer: THEY WOULDN’T—Our Answer: BUT GOD HAS!  Together, let’s turn to God’s Word to discover just how He is preparing us.

 In our gospel reading Jesus is getting ready to expound on what Isaiah spoke of in our Old Testament lesson.  It is the Tuesday before Good Friday; Jesus and His apostles are on Mt. Olivet and He is teaching them about what will come; about the last things.  Listen, “But in those days, after the tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”  In order to understand these words completely, we must first understand a little something about the tribulation.  The tribulation is now!  Every moment since Jesus ascended into heaven with the promise of His return we Christians have been battered, bruised, and attacked by sin, death, and the devil.  We are like sheep being led to the slaughter.  When others have taken eye for eye and tooth for tooth, those of us who are trusting in our Lord’s return have tried to turn the other cheek. 

In many of the Muslim controlled parts of Africa, Christians are being slaughtered for their faith.  In countries like Iraq and Turkey, where there were once millions of Christians, now there are only Thousands.  What happened to all of them?  Well many were murdered at the point of a Muslim sword.  And in this country, we are told ever more assertively by a politically correct society to sit down and shut up!  They would have us believe that our gospel message of hope is no longer relative in an all-inclusive modern society.

 Yes, we Christians really are good at being sheep led to the slaughter.  Why?  Because we will not be silence… we cannot be silenced.  Because we are watching and waiting for our Lord to return—because we have been ordered to warn others of God’s judgment and the only source of hope—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!  Do you see the tension?  This is the tribulation.  It is our time of testing… a time of suffering.  But what is that when we compare it to our Lord’s own suffering upon the cross for us? 

 And now with His own suffering in mind in just a few short days, and our future suffering in this present tribulation, Jesus continues: “And then they (those who are alive) will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”  He is coming!  He is coming indeed!  “But when Lord?”  Jesus knew that this was the question that everyone of His apostles were asking within their hearts.  He knows that it is the question that you ask within your own.  And to this He answers, “From the fig tree learn its lesson.” 

Now some might be wondering why Jesus did not just speak plainly?  Why can’t He just tell it like it is?  Well He is!  Think about this—when the fruit trees blossom in the spring you know that summer is coming.  And in the summer, what will those fruit trees provide?  Fruit!  Earlier in his conversations with the apostles Jesus was talking about earthquakes and famines… wars and rumors of wars.  Have we seen our fair share of these?  Yes!  These are the blossoms.  They are the tribulation.  So when we see these things we know that the end is at hand.  It is very soon!  The end of all things is the fruit that is certainly coming… the final judgment.  Those who are trusting in God’s love and mercy through Christ will be rewarded and those who are not will be eternally punished.  So watch and wait! 

 And still our sinful hearts ask, “But when Lord?!”  And to this Jesus answers most seriously, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words (mark my words) will not pass away.  (It will happen!)  “What generation does Jesus mean” we might ask?  If he meant the apostles, well they’ve been dead for almost two thousand years!  Well then obviously He didn’t mean the apostles generation.  So what other generation is there?  Why none other than the very one that still rejects the gospel today.  The very people that crucified the Messiah they were waiting for, and are still praying for today!  The Jewish people! 

Oh how it broke our Lord’s heart when He looked over the city of Jerusalem and wept for them saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” [Matt. 23:37]

Ah, but your weak faith is still asking when Lord, isn’t it?  Very well, and to this Jesus finally answers, “Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  And to this many people scratch their heads and say, “But you are God!  I can see the angels not knowing, but you?  How can this be?!”  And here we must relearn a little something about our Lord’s two natures.  Jesus is indeed very God!  In their essential oneness the three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit know all things equally and do all things in complete agreement.  But Jesus is also very man.  He had to be man in order to pay for your sins.  He intentionally chose to enter a state of humiliation out of love for the Father and out of His love for us.  In this state of humiliation Jesus also chose not to use His divine attributes unless they were needed to bring God’s peace.  That’s why there on Mt. Olivet, as He was teaching His apostles, He did not know the day nor the hour—He chose not to know.  Listen friends, knowledge will not bring you peace with God, but instead it is faith, trust in Jesus’ own Words that will bring you that peace!  We cannot understand this deliberate restriction of Jesus’ power because we are not God, so we simply allow it to remain a mystery, but one thing we do know, now that our Lord has returned to Heaven, He knows precisely when He will come again to bring an end to the old and make all things new!

 And now, Jesus closes our message this morning with these Words: “Be on guard, keep awake.  For you do not know when the time will come.”  Now since you have mastered Jesus’ last story, He is eager to use just one more story make this promise of the end times stick in our hard hearts.  Listen, “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servant is charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.”  Do you get what Jesus is saying?  Good, “Therefore” he says, “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.”

Friends, Jesus is THE man!  He is not the man frightening us or keeping us down but the man who has called us into His very home and given us safety, comfort, and salvation!  In our own baptisms we were freed from all fear of sin death, and the devils…even fear of the end of the world.  In our baptisms, He has made us the servants of a very kind and loving God.  He has given each of us a calling.  In whatever station of life we find ourselves in, we are to live and work as if we are doing it all just for Jesus!  We don’t work to please our master so that He will continue to be kind and loving, but instead we work for Him because He is kind and loving.  It is the very essence of our new baptized natures to do this very thing.

Finally we must ask, “Who is the doorkeeper?  Is it the pastor?”  Yes, but it is also you!  Listen again to Jesus’ Words: “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”  He says it to all of us.  We must stay awake and watch.  Watch for the signs of the age.  Stay awake in the tribulation and wait eagerly for Jesus to come and take us home.  Home to a place where there is no more humiliation, fear, suffering, or pain.  Home to a place where every tear will be eternally dried.  But staying awake is difficult, because after all, we are but weak flesh.  The apostles would soon find out just how hard it was to remain alert and awake in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus asked them as He prayed in agony waiting to be arrested and executed upon the cross, to stay awake with Him and pray…they could not… they were weak… they were but flesh.  So how do we weaklings summon the strength to wait and watch for our Lord?  By living and walking in our new nature… our baptismal nature.  We wait and watch for Jesus return by asking Him to wait and watch with us.

 You see friends, only God never sleeps. He watches us at all times.  He keeps us in Hs care, in His love and mercy, but He does it with His means.  What are those means?  They are His Holy Word and sacraments.  We are to watch and hold onto God’s pure Word (Law & Gospel).  We are to watch over our spiritual condition by living out our baptismal lives where ever he has placed us.  We are to hunger for His Holy meal where through His precious body and blood our sins are not only forgiven but our faith is strengthened.  We are to gather regularly together at the only place where these gifts are lavished upon us… we are to gather as His church.  We are to gather at His cross where His suffering and humiliation ended in His resurrection and His exhalation.  And when we gather, we are to remember that our own humiliation and tribulation will soon end.  It will either end in the blink of an eye when Jesus comes and the heavens and earth are destroyed or when we close our eyes for the last time in death, leaving this veil of tears mixed with joy.  Either way, we wait and we watch, and we say, “He is coming.  He is coming indeed!”

 And now, may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…AMEN!