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The Gift of Marriage and Christ our Bridegroom

Epiphany 2

Ephesians 5:22-33; John 2:1-11

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Today’s Gospel depicts Jesus taking part in and adding to the joy of a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee.  While this Gospel certainly deals with much more than marriage, I’m going to follow the lead of Martin Luther when he preached on this passage and speak today especially about the divine gift and institution of marriage.  

    We live in a culture in which human sexuality has been cheapened and degraded.  We’ve become accustomed to humor being reduced to sexual double entendre or adolescent innuendo about body parts.  We’re saturated in an environment where almost everything is sexualized–from TV shows to the internet to casual conversations with friends and co-workers.  How are we as Christians to deal with this?  We don’t want to seem uptight and puritanical to people.  But at the same time, human sexuality and morality is not something to treat lightly or unseriously.

    The Christian approach to this should not be prudishness, which tends to look at sexuality as something that is inherently tainted by its sensual nature, necessary perhaps for procreation, but something that is far too fleshly and physical to be considered good or godly.  Those who are prudish don’t believe that human sexuality is, in fact, a good gift of the Creator, that He is the One who made the one flesh, physical, sexual relationship from the very beginning, before sin ever entered into the world.  They fail to fully recognize that sexuality and sexual activity is a gift to be received and enjoyed within marriage by husband and wife, that God created it for their mutual delight and companionship, and for the creation of new human life when He grants it.null

    However, those on the other end of the spectrum who engage in raunchy talk and immoral behavior actually have the exact same problem as the prudish.  For they also fail to treat human sexuality as a gift of God.  They diminish it to a juvenile punchline and belittle it by engaging in sexual relationships without God’s blessing.  To them waiting until you’re married is weird and chastity is something to mock.  Human sexuality is not treated as special and divinely given but is distorted to be merely the fulfillment of a personal need or desire.  So in the end, by rejecting the goodness of God’s gift of marriage, both the prudish and the raunchy commit the very same error.

    But in today’s Gospel we see that Jesus blesses marriage and the sexual relationship within it as good and holy.  Marriage is not just a human arrangement or a mere legal matter or piece of paper, it’s a divine joining together of a man and a woman, an act of God making two people one flesh.  Whether you’re married or single, God teaches you in His Word to honor marriage highly, especially in how you talk about it with friends and family.  Through marriage God  seeks to protect us from the evils of selfishness, loneliness, lust, doubt, and self-sufficiency.  And He works through it to preserve society, so that the saving Gospel of Christ may be preached.  Let’s go through each of those points individually:

    *First of all, selfishness threatens to destroy us.  In marriage God works to protect us from this.  He places a flesh and blood spouse directly before our eyes, with specific and real needs.  God calls us out of a self-absorbed life that invents its own good works, into a devoted life that takes care of the spouse He has given.  A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed Himself for her; a wife is to submit to her husband as to the Lord.  In this way, God both builds up His people and beats down selfishness.

    Secondly, lust threatens to ruin us.  The book of Proverbs consistently refers to sexual enticements as one of the chief ways in which people are led into ruin.  In marriage God seeks to protect us from the destructiveness of lust.  St. Paul (who himself was single) counsels all who suffer from lust to marry, for this is God’s good and gracious provision for rendering proper affection one to the other.  This is also one of the reasons why Paul counsels spouses not to withhold themselves from each other for lengthy periods of time.  One of God’s blessings in marriage is the dampening and controlling of lust.

    Thirdly, loneliness threatens to destroy us.  Through the working of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh, we become isolated and cut off.  In marriage God protects us from loneliness.  He gives us a companion for comfort and camaraderie in life.  In the Garden of Eden, God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”  Adam received Eve as the God-given companion that brought them both completeness: Such is God’s intention for marriage also today.

    Fourthly, doubt threatens to destroy us.  Although we would like to believe that we always make good decisions in life, we know that sin clouds our heart and mind.  So how can we be certain that we have chosen the right partner?  Through marriage God guards against such doubt by giving you the certainty that He is the One who married you to your spouse; that person is the one the Lord Himself has given you to love and to be committed to, even if they’re far from perfect.  And what the Lord has done stands far above any feelings you may or may not have or any later wondering whether you should have done differently.  A man and woman may in freedom choose to marry each other, but what really and finally counts is that it is the Lord who unites them, working through the authorities that He has established.  In this way God protects marriage from doubt with the certainty that He is the One who has made the union.

    Fifthly, self-sufficiency threatens to destroy us.  We tend to think that we can do just fine on our own without God.  Without the calling of serving a spouse in marriage, sinners would perceive even less need for God.  In marriage God protects us from such misguided self-sufficiency.  He calls husband and wife to the holy vocation of serving each other in Christ.  And when husband and wife fail each other, God puts His law to work.  He confronts their self-centeredness and their faltering service.  He afflicts their consciences and disturbs their self-sufficiency.  In short, God drives them to depend on Him.  He drives them back to Himself, to find forgiveness, strength, and hope in Christ.  Confession and Absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, and the Body and Blood of Christ become their lifeblood, making them right with God and able again to serve each other.

    Finally, God preserves society through marriage.  Without this institution, the basic unit of society, the family, would crumble.  We see this happening around us, where conflict and chaos and self-will replace familial love.  To prevent such evil, God established and blessed marriage from the beginning and said, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.”  With that creative word, God continues to bless the union of husband and wife so that children are conceived and born.  This, by the way, is why gay marriage simply does not and cannot exist.  Every child has a father and a mother, male and female.  Every father and mother is given a divine responsibility toward their children and toward one another within the commitment of marriage.  Homosexual relationships can only fake that and cannot produce children.  So-called gay “marriage” is sterile, not by reason of health defect or age, but by nature.  God’s purpose in marriage is for husband and wife to serve not only each other but also their children by protecting, providing for, and nurturing them in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Founded upon God’s gift of the family, human society can be peaceably ordered.  And this in turn gives a good context for the saving Word of Christ to be preached and taught both in the church and the home.

    All of this is God’s good gift.  And all of this is meant to drive us to the greater reality that marriage points to.  For the fact of the matter is, to one degree or another, all marriages are broken marriages; for it is two sinners who are united.  Whether a Christian is single or married, divorced, widowed, young or old, as members of the Church we all are in a marital relationship that rescues and saves us.  For the Church has been united with her holy Groom, Jesus. She is the betrothed of Christ.  In the Epistle today Paul spent a lot of time talking about husbands and wives and marriage.  And then he concludes his comments by saying, “What I’m really talking about though is Christ and the Church.”  Earthly marriage is a sign of the greater and perfect love that God has for His people and the heavenly union that exists between them.

    From all eternity, before marriage was instituted, it was planned that Christ would lay down His life for His woman, sacrifice Himself for the church, to save her from her fall into sin.  Even as Adam was put into a deep sleep, and Eve was created from his side, so Jesus was put into the sleep of death on the cross, that this new Eve might be created from the sacramental blood and water that flowed from His side.  St. John calls the church “the elect Lady,” chosen and redeemed by Christ.  For Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her by the washing of water with the Word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having any spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.  For all of you whom sin has contaminated, or whose marriages and families are broken, Jesus shed His blood to cleanse you of every sin; He sanctified you and made you holy for Himself by the water and the Word of Baptism.  You stand before God spotless and perfect in the family of His Church, His holy bride.

    Just as husband and wife are given in marriage to become one flesh, so our Lord unites Himself to us and makes Himself one flesh with us–one flesh to the extent that you are now members of His body.  So if He is the Son of God, then you are called sons of God.  If He holds in His hand the riches and treasures of heaven, those treasures are also yours to hold and take to heart.  If He is the Righteous One, then you are declared righteous before God.  If the death He dies no longer holds Him in the grave, then neither can death hold you in the grave.  The Bride shares in everything that belongs to the Groom.  That’s how marriage works with Jesus.  What is His is now yours, too.

    This is the joy of the eternal wedding feast that we are given a glimpse of in the Gospel.  The ritual washing water of the Law is turned into the joyous wedding wine of the Gospel.  The best is saved for last, and that best is Jesus–and His forgiveness and mercy and life–which are all for you.  Even now in Divine Service the heavenly groom, our Lord Christ, comes to His bride to comfort her.  He speaks to you His words of love.  He remembers the commitment He made to you at Baptism. He gives Himself to you in Holy Communion that you may share fully in His life.  And so the Scriptures say, “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

    So set aside your doubts and fears and sorrows.  Jesus rejoices over you, to have you as His own.  Come in faith to His table, that you may partake in the eternal wedding feast.  As it is written, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb!”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

*These points are borrowed from the Rev. Chaplain Jonathan Shaw.

Jesus' Perfect Humanity

Epiphany 1

Luke 2:41-52

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

    Many Christians–myself included–grew up with a wrong understanding about today’s Gospel of the boy Jesus in the temple.  We think that He was able to amaze the teachers with His understanding because He was (and is) God.  As the only-begotten Son of the Father, He is omniscient and therefore He knows all the answers; no big deal for Him to do this.  Except that’s not actually what is going on here.  For notice how it says that the 12 year old Jesus was listening to them and asking them questions.  And it’s not that Jesus is just playing along; He’s truly learning.  For it is written here that He increased in wisdom as well as stature.  Just as Jesus was growing up in body, so also He was growing up in mind as a true human being.  So Jesus doesn’t impress the teachers here by pulling out His divinity card.  Rather, right there before them is perfect humanity, a boy who loves His heavenly Father and who is absolutely enthralled with pondering the Scriptures, who has no sin to cloud His understanding and insight.  null

    The way that the Scriptures speak of this is that the Son of God emptied Himself of His divine powers for us.  We were just talking about this last Wednesday in Confirmation class; it’s called Jesus’ state of humiliation, that period of time where our Lord did not always or fully use His divine knowledge and might.  Only after His death on the cross and burial did Jesus then enter His state of exaltation, as He bodily rose from the dead and ascended to the Father’s right hand.  Certainly now He does always and fully exercise the powers of His divine nature as both God and man.  But here in today’s Gospel, Jesus has emptied Himself for us in order to redeem us.  It is written in Philippians 2: “[Christ Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

    So consider what is going on here.  Having been raised in a pious household, Jesus had been hearing and learning the Scriptures all His life and was growing up with a clear-minded, innocent, accurate grasp of them as a fully human boy.  Now here He is in the temple, and He is just reveling in the discussion of the things of God, demonstrating marvelous insight, growing in the holy words of the Scriptures.  Imagine seeing a 12-year-old boy today doing that in Sunday School or Bible class.  Well here is Jesus doing that, all without making use of His divine powers–He whom all the Scriptures point to.  Here in Jesus, perfect 12-year old humanity is being revealed.  That is what is bringing amazement to the teachers.

    We also are given to marvel and to be amazed at all this.  For Jesus our Savior was doing this for us and for our children and our grandchildren.  He was living a perfectly human life in our place, unstained by sin from beginning to end, so that He might cleanse us of our sin, so that we might be given to share in His love of the Word, and so that we might be made perfectly human again through faith in Him.

    This is so important for you to remember and cling to, especially in those times when you seem to have lost track of Jesus like Joseph and His mother did.  All too often we can become complacent in our faith, thinking that we’ve got it all figured out; and then we take our eyes off of Jesus to focus our attention on the things and the people and the honors of this world, being conformed to this world (Romans 12).  Everything seems to be going along fine until we get a rude awakening, when we’re confronted with the truth about ourselves, and suddenly Jesus seems to have become far, far away from us, we’ve been walking without Him for so long.  That’s when the fear strikes you that perhaps you’re the one who is lost, and you don’t know how to get back to Him.  Well the good news of today’s Gospel is that Jesus in the temple is already at work to bring you back into God’s holy presence–as Mary and Joseph were brought back–and to find you and reconcile you to the Father in Himself.  That is His Father’s business.

    As Joseph and Mary were anxious at being separated from Jesus, so Christian parents also are anxious that their children not be separated from Jesus in this ungodly world.  Our fears in particular are for our loved ones who have strayed away from the Lord and who may not even seem to care, who have loved this world and its wisdom instead of the wisdom of Christ.  We shouldn’t just give up and say “Oh well, what can I do?  I’ll just pretend like they’re not unbelieving pagans who have no time for the preaching of Christ or His holy supper.”  We should care and be anxious for them and pray for them and speak to them about Christ.  For Jesus lives through these growing up years, including adolescence and early adulthood–those times when people all too often stray away from the faith–Jesus lives through all the stages of our life to sanctify them for us, and to make the way back for those who have strayed, so that His life might be theirs again, so that the words of the Psalmist might be in their mouths, “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways.  According to your mercy remember me, for Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.”  Our Lord fills up this and every phase of our life with His perfect life so that we might never lose hope for those who have lost track of Jesus.  He lives to restore our humanity and to reclaim and draw us back to Himself.

    For what is clear here is that while Joseph and Mary lost track of Jesus, Jesus Himself was never lost.  He was always right where He was supposed to be.  He was in His Father’s house and about His Father’s business.  Jesus would not only learn and do the carpentry work of His guardian-father Joseph, but also and especially the work of His heavenly Father, where wood and hammer and nails will be to be put to a different use.   Jesus will continue His work until it perfected 21 years later outside Jerusalem as He says, “It finished.”  This is, after all, the Passover feast, and the Lamb of God is in the holy temple.  His shed blood causes death to pass over you.  By His holy cross He takes away your sins.  You are redeemed; you are forgiven.

    For three days Mary felt the loss of her Son here, when He had to be about His Father’s business.  All these things that happened she would keep in her heart, even though she didn’t understand them yet.  Mary may well have recalled this day in the temple as she stood at the foot of her Son’s cross, and lost Him again, this time to death and the grave, only to receive Him back once more on the third day, risen from the dead.  Here Jesus said, “Why did you seek me?”  Later angels would announce to the women at the tomb, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  The temple was destroyed and in three days it was raised up again.  Jesus had to be about His Father’s business like this to deliver Mary and Joseph and the whole world from the curse.

    Today we are given to see that our God empties Himself so that we might be emptied of our sin.  In Jesus we are being restored to our true selves.  By His Spirit, we are being made to be all that we were first created to be–not in the way of the world, which thinks you are becoming all you can be by pursuing self-fulfillment and achieving all your dreams–no, you are being recreated in the way of Christ, increasing in godly wisdom, in love for the Lord, in kindness and compassion for others.

    So remember this:  You may sometimes lose track of Jesus, but He never loses track of you.  He has inscribed you on the palms of His fully human hands.  The Lord has given you His saving name, and He has not withdrawn it.  His words and promises always remain true; you can count on them.  Trust in them.  For Jesus increased in wisdom and stature in order to give you stature and standing before God, to bring you back into the Father’s favor, to make you wise for salvation through faith in Him.  Here is your lost humanity restored.  You can count on this Jesus, who already as a Boy is applying Himself to His saving work for you.  It is written, “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him” (Colossians 2:9-10).

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

The Blessed Name

Numbers 6:22-27; Luke 2:21
The Naming and Circumcision of our Lord (Dec. 31/Jan.1)

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    New Year’s [Eve] has never really struck me as a particularly cheerful holiday in spite of all its festivities.  For we’re marking another year gone by.  And while it is good to reflect on the blessings of God in the year past and give Him thanks, to think about the growth of our children or grandchildren and the new things that have happened and our hopes for the future, more often than not, we don’t like the passage of time.  It takes away what’s familiar and comfortable to us.  It takes away friends and family.  In the end it takes away our health and our life.  And so Psalm 39 prays, “Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am. Indeed, You have made my days a mere handbreadth, and my age is as nothing before You; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.”  It seems to me that some of the excesses of the New Year’s celebrations carry a good deal of this melancholy undertone.  

    So rather than simply marking the new year today, the church marks the naming and circumcision of Jesus.  This is the [Eve of the] 8th day of Christmas when these things occurred for our Lord.  And in particular I would like to have us meditate on the fullness of the name revealed in the blessing that our Lord speaks to His people, the Benediction given in today’s Old Testament reading.  In our lifetimes we have heard this Benediction spoken hundreds if not thousands of times.  But we don’t always fully consider what these words mean.  We don’t always realize all that our Lord is doing for us with these words.  And so as we observe the naming and circumcision of our Lord, we will focus our attention on this threefold blessing in which our Lord gives His name to us.null

    First of all, please note that the benediction is not a mere wish, like when we say, “Have a nice day.”  It’s not “May the Lord bless you and keep you.”  It’s “The Lord bless you and keep you.”  It’s an actual giving of a gift.  It’s a real bestowal of what the words say.  God Himself is active through these words.  In the Old Testament reading God directed the priests to speak this benediction; and then He said, “So I shall bless them.”  And it’s the same way still today.  Though the benediction is spoken by a man, it should be understood as the voice of God Himself to you.

    Specifically, God says that He will put His name on His people through this triple blessing.  And so for us, the benediction is intimately connected to our baptism.  For that is the place where God first put His threefold name on us and claimed us as His own.  Just like we place our names on things that are important to us, that we don’t want to lose or have stolen, so the Lord marked us with the sign of the cross, and in the water He inscribed His name on us as His own treasured, precious possession.  He doesn’t want to lose us.  And so we have on us the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

    In a very real way, then, the benediction re-applies and confirms us in our baptism.  Even as we became His people with the threefold application of His name, so also we depart divine service with the threefold application of His name, to live as His people out in the stations of life where He has put us.

    Each of the three parts of the benediction correspond to the three persons of the Holy Trinity.  First, we receive the blessing of the Father with these words, “The Lord bless you and keep you.”  Notice that He’s the one who does the keeping.  While we do cling to Him by faith, the greater truth is that He is keeping and holding on to us.  He keeps us in the faith through His Word and Spirit so that we may endure in the faith to the end and be saved.  It’s like a father holding on to the hand of his little child as they walk together across a slippery patch of snow and ice or down the stairs.  The child may be holding on to Dad, but what really counts is that Dad is holding on to his child, especially when the child slips.  That’s the only thing that will keep the child from falling.  So also, God the Father holds on to us, so that even when we slip, we won’t fall away from Him.  That’s how the Father blesses us–not only does He give us life and sustain our lives in this world, but He also gives us everlasting life in Christ, and by the Holy Spirit He keeps us with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.  James 1 reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights.”

    Second, we receive the blessing of God the Son with these words, “The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.”  Jesus is the face of the Father, as He said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”  In the humble Jesus in the manger, in the Word made flesh who willingly submits to the Law of circumcision, we see God in His mercy and love, who comes to redeem us by fulfilling the Law in our place.  The words about the Lord making His face shine on you especially calls to mind Jesus’ transfiguration, where the Scriptures say that His face “shone like the sun.”  Every benediction you hear is a little transfiguration event where Jesus' face shines for you.  It is written in 2 Corinthians, “It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  

    For the Lord to make His face shine on us means for Him to accept us and look upon us favorably.  And how could God look on us any more favorably than to send His Son into our flesh and blood to save us from sin and death and to restore our humanity by His cross and resurrection?  Because Christ’s face has shined on us in self-giving love, we are now given to shine in His glory in the resurrection to come.  That is how He is gracious to us–this all comes to us without any merit or worthiness in us but purely out of His grace and goodness.

    Thirdly, we receive the blessing of God the Holy Spirit with these words, “The Lord lift up His countenance on you and give you peace.”  Countenance is another word for the face, or more specifically, for the attitude or the expression that is on the face.  So a lifted-up countenance would be a sign of God’s good will toward you.  The opposite would be for Him to turn away from you with an angry countenance and forsake you in hell.  Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, God reveals that His countenance and expression is lifted up toward you because of Jesus.  The Father turned away from Christ on the cross in order to turn toward you in love.  

    This is how the Holy Spirit gives you peace.  The word for peace is “shalom.”  It has to do with health and wholeness, with being put right again.  Through the working of the Spirit, you are put right again with God, and with one another.  You are given eternal health and wholeness and life in Christ.  When Jesus spoke of sending the Holy Spirit, He said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled; neither let them be afraid.”

    There’s one final thing to consider regarding this benediction.  And that is the name of God that is used here.  Our translations have it as Lord.  But it is actually the name Yahweh, the name God revealed to Moses in the burning bush.  “Yahweh bless you and keep you; Yahweh make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; Yahweh lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”  Yahweh means I AM.  It’s the name of the Creator who has always existed, who is, who was, and who will be.  And yet it’s a name that seems also somewhat incomplete.  I am . . .  what?  The good news for us today is that Jesus came to reveal the name of God completely.  He fills in the blank for us.  For He said, “I am the Good Shepherd; I am the Light of the World; I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; I am the Vine.”  I am Jesus, which means, “Yahweh saves.”  Though you are cursed under the Law and condemned to eternal death, I am the One who came to redeem you from the curse by being cursed in your place, hung on the tree of the cross.  Even as I first shed blood for you in my circumcision to fulfill the Law, so I poured out my blood for you at Golgotha to cleanse you from all sin.  Now you are released from the curse, forgiven, set free.  You are children of God in Me, the Son of God.

    The benediction has been put on God’s people for thousands of years.  And God will continue to bless us with His saving name in the year 2017 and to the very close of the age.  It is one thing that is constant and sure in the midst of this changing and decaying world, even as Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  God grant you His heavenly benediction in the year to come, that you may know His great blessing for all eternity.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Look to Jesus, See God, And Live

John 1:1-18; Deuteronomy 18:15-19

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    You and I suffer from a fundamental religious problem.  We want God to deal with us in a way that would wind up destroying us.  We think that it would be a great thing if we could see God in all His glory and hear Him speak to us.  We say to ourselves, “if only God would come to me in some special and direct way.  If only He would show Himself to Me and speak to me face to face.  Then I could really trust in Him and lead a more faithful Christian life.”  We think that coming into direct, unfiltered, unsheltered contact with God would be a wonderful experience for us.  

    The people of God standing at Mount Sinai, however, would strongly disagree.  They came very nearly into direct contact with God, and they were freaked out.  There was thunder and lightning and fire and smoke and an ear-piercing trumpet sound.  They stayed at a distance from the mountain of God, and they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen.  But let us not hear again the voice of the Lord our God, nor let us see this great fire anymore, lest we die.”  When unholy people come into direct contact with the holy God, it’s like grabbing onto an uninsulated high voltage wire.  The power is good, but unshielded it is deadly.  Nothing unrighteous can stand exposed in God’s presence without being destroyed.  And that includes you.  It is proof of sinful human foolishness that we tend to think otherwise.

    The Old Testament tells us several times that no one can see God and live.  Even Moses, who was permitted safely to hear the voice of God, was only allowed to see the “back” of God on Mount Sinai, Scripture says.  Anything more than that would have undone him.  In a sense, then, God hides Himself from us for our good.  For if we were to come into contact with Him directly in our current fallen condition, we would perish.null

    And yet it’s not good if God were to remain hidden from us forever.  Ultimately, that’s what hell is:  eternal, painful separation from God and all that is blessed and good.  What we want, what we need is to stand in God’s glorious presence and experience the holy joy of communion with Him.  How, then, do we come into contact with God in a saving and beneficial way?

    The answer to our question comes to us at Christmas.  It is as God said to Moses, “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth.”  The people could handle a human presence and a human voice.  And so the solution to our problem of how to come into contact with the holy God is the wonderfully human presence of the Child in the manger.  For that infant boy in swaddling clothes is the fulfillment of the prophecy.  He is the Lord–not God with thunder and lightning and fire and smoke, but God veiled in human flesh–Emmanuel, God with us, God who is one of us.  This is not just the back of God that Moses saw, but the very image and face of God.  In Jesus we are able to approach God without fear.  For He has come down to our level.  He’s not on a mountain; He’s in a manger.  We don't need to climb up to Him.  He has descended to where we are at.  We aren’t overwhelmed and repelled and annihilated by His holiness and power; for He has wrapped His glory in a most inviting way, in the body and soul of a baby.  There He is, the Lord of might, Creator of the universe, helpless in the arms of His mother.  This He did for us, that we might be restored to Him.  Jesus is God whom we can come into direct contact with and not die.  If we seek God anywhere else, we will perish.  But when we come into contact with Jesus, the Son of God in our flesh, just the opposite happens when we believe in Him: we live.  His holiness doesn’t annihilate us, it cleanses us.  Joined to Him by faith, trusting in His love for us, we enter into God’s very presence, where we experience not His anger and wrath, but His everlasting goodness and mercy.

    Jesus is a Prophet like Moses, who speaks the Word of God.  And yet He is of course much greater than Moses, for He is the Word of God, the Word made flesh.  The words in His mouth come from the Father whose divine nature He shares in fully, since He is the very Son of God, of one substance with the Father, God of God, Light of Light.  The reason that God and man can safely come together in Christ is because Jesus is both God and man unified and reconciled in one undivided person.

    And Jesus is much greater than Moses also in this sense: the Law came through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  The Law of God that Moses revealed is good, but it can only take us so far, even as Moses could only take Israel so far, but not all the way to the Promised Land.  In the end the Law condemns us.  Only Joshua, Yeshua, only Jesus takes us to the Promised Land.  For only He crossed the Jordan ahead of us and for us, passing through death into life in our flesh, that we may share in His life forever.  Jesus reveals the truth of His name, “The Lord saves.”  In Him is manifested the free grace of God, that the Father sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that world might be saved through Him.

    So on this blessed Christmas Day, give thanks to God that He comes to you not in the way of Mt. Sinai but in the way of the manger. The Son of God hides Himself like this in order to reveal Himself in love and make Himself truly known to you.  He veils Himself behind swaddling clothes and the shame of the cross in order that you may see Him by faith and perceive His great love for you.  He veils His voice of power and thunder behind the still small voice of the Scriptures and the preaching of the Gospel, so that you may hear Him without fear.  He conceals and covers Himself in your flesh and blood so that you may come into contact with Him and not be destroyed but purified and redeemed by His mighty power.

    The Word is still made flesh quite literally for you here, mangered in the bread and wine.  As the shepherds knelt before Jesus and worshiped God truly present in the flesh, so you are given to do the very same at this altar.  That is the true way to celebrate Christmas, by partaking of the Christ mass, the true body and blood of Christ given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Receive Him who comes to you in this humble and lowly way; gladly welcome the Christ-child and hold onto His free gifts of mercy and life.  For the Lord Jesus conceals Himself like this for you now, so that when He reveals Himself on the Last Day, you will not be destroyed; rather, you will be delivered into the most beautiful and awesome glory of His presence and will share in perfect communion with Him who is in the bosom of the Father.  

    Look to Jesus, and see God, and live.  Merry Christmas!

    ✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Giving Thanks for Our Daily Bread

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    This day has been set aside by our government for the giving of thanks, especially for our national and temporal blessings.  Interestingly, Thanksgiving first became a national holiday in 1863, right in the middle of the conflict and bloodshed of the Civil War.  Abraham Lincoln saw God’s providence in the pivotal victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and praise “to our beneficent Father who dwells in the heavens.”  There is certainly also something for us to learn about giving thanks even in the midst of conflict and troubles.  And so as we think about all of our temporal blessings, it is fitting that we consider and meditate on the 4th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  If you would, please turn to the back of your bulletins and answer aloud the questions that I will ask you from the catechism. 

What is the 4th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer?

“Give us this day our daily bread.”
What does this mean?
God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.null

    Let’s stop there for a moment.  “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people.”  Think about what that means.  It means that God’s goodness is not dependent on your praying.  The Scriptures say that He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and He sends His rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  The Lord is good.  Period.  If you stop praying, He’s not going to stop being good.  So don’t think that your praying is the key element that gets God to do things, as if we can manipulate Him to do what we want.  The truth is that very often it seems to be the unfaithful and the unscrupulous who are doing better at acquiring daily bread than Christians!  In fact most of Psalm 73 is a lament at how prosperous the wicked often are.  And yet the Psalm also confesses trust in the ways of the Lord, who brings down the unrepentant to utter desolation and destruction in the end.  So, we don’t pray “Give us this day our daily bread” in order to make God do something He otherwise wouldn’t.

    But that raises the question, “Why should we pray for daily bread at all, then?”  We do so because in praying this petition, we are drawn to turn our hearts toward our merciful and generous God, to remember that He is the One who gives us our daily bread and all things, and we learn in that way to give Him thanks and honor as our gracious Lord.  God gives us this prayer not for His benefit but for ours, so that we might learn to look to Him for all our needs and trust in Him and cling to Him, lest we forget about Him and turn away from Him and begin trusting in ourselves, to our own destruction.  That’s the real danger that we face as fallen sinners, isn’t it?  To think we’ve gotten where we are in life by our own sweat and hard work and good choices and intelligence.  That’s especially a danger when times are tough.  If we’re doing OK, we can become proud that we put ourselves in a better place than those who are struggling.  But if we’re struggling, we can burden ourselves with all this overwhelming guilt as if it’s all up to us and we’re the ones who control everything.  In both cases, whether it’s pride or despair, thanks toward God and faith in Him is completely lacking.  There is no looking to Him as the source of every blessing for which we should give thanks.  

    Moses warns us in particular against pride in the OT reading, “Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’” When we are unthankful, it is because we have forgotten that every good thing that we have in our life is an undeserved gift from our merciful heavenly Father, for which we should thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

     One way you’ll be able to tell that most people don’t really get this point, even on Thanksgiving Day, is in the way they talk about giving thanks.  I always like to mention this, because it’s key:  If you listen carefully, you’ll notice that while people may talk about what they’re thankful for, there’s almost no talk about who they’re thankful to.  There’s no mention of the one who receives our thanks, no mention of God or the Lord.  Or else they’re just expressing thanks to other people, which is fine, but entirely misses the point of the holiday.  Just as Christmas has in many ways become Christ-less in our culture, so also Thanksgiving has become God-less.  Sometimes I think when people say they’re thankful for something, they just mean they’re glad they have it or they feel good about it.  So be sure when you talk about what you’re thankful for that you say, “I’m thankful to God for this or that.”  For ultimately it’s not our giving of thanks, but who we’re giving thanks to that matters.

Let’s continue with the catechism:  
What is meant by daily bread?
Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

    As I’ve already been indicating, when we pray for daily bread, we are asking for more than just food.  We are also praying for everything that is necessary for us to receive it and enjoy it.  It’s hard to enjoy your daily bread when you’ve got rude neighbors or a grouchy spouse or bad health or violence in the streets.  And so when we give thanks for daily bread, our hearts and minds should think beyond the turkey and stuffing on the table, and consider also the farmer’s field and the weather and the trucker who transports and the baker who bakes and the store which sells and the employment by which we earn our money to buy and civil order in society and so forth.  All of this is in God’s hands.  All of this is what we need and ask for in this petition so that our bodily needs might be provided for.

    And yet, we should never forget that this petition comes in 4th place in the Lord’s Prayer, not 1st or 2nd or even 3rd.  That is meant to teach us something, namely, that daily bread is not the most important thing.  First comes God’s name, God’s kingdom, God’s will; and only then comes the daily needs of this life.  You see, the Lord preserves and protects life not simply because He created it, but especially in order to save it for eternity.  The reason He feeds even the wicked and the unbeliever is so that the unbeliever might repent and believe.  That is His will–not just to provide for you for a time, but to have you with Himself forever.  

    And so our receiving of daily bread is ultimately meant to draw us to the even more important receiving of the Bread of Life, our Savior Jesus Christ.  Just as God provides food for both the good and the evil, so also our Lord Jesus died on the cross for all, for the morally upright and for the immoral, for the noble and the shameful, for those who believe in Him and for those who do not.  The Lord is good, and His goodness is shown in His mercy toward people like us, that He took the punishment for all of our ingratitude and pride and sinful self-love, and by His suffering and death He forgave us and freed us from eternal judgment.  This is the greatest blessing for which we give thanks today, that the Living Bread from Heaven has been given to us, Bread which we may eat of and never die.  As Jesus said, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.  And the bread which I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”  It’s no coincidence that we pray  “Give us this day our daily bread” in the liturgy right before we receive Holy Communion.  For that petition (and indeed every petition of the Lord’s Prayer)  is answered most perfectly in the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for our forgiveness.  

    And so our Lord exhorts His disciples and us in today’s Gospel: Don’t rejoice simply in the fact that the spirits are subject to you, that you have certain spiritual or material gifts.  Don’t simply give thanks to God for your house or car or job or family.  Rather, rejoice especially in this, that He has written your names in heaven by the blood of Christ.  You who are in Christ are in the Book of Life.  You are saved and redeemed and reconciled to God.  You are His baptized chosen ones.  And if you have that, you have it all–even if you’re unemployed or struggling to pay the bills, even if your health is failing, even if there’s conflict in your life or in our nation.  In Jesus you have the unimaginable riches of heaven.  In Him you have the perfect health of His resurrection life and His victory over the grave.  You are children of God’s kingdom and citizens of heaven.  So it is written, “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”  That’s how St. Paul could say in today’s Epistle, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  

    God grant that Paul’s faithful attitude may also be our own, that our prayers and petitions may be filled with thanksgiving to God for all of His fatherly love toward us.  “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.”  Amen.

The Lord Comes as a Thief

I Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:1-13

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    We heard it last week from St. Peter.  We hear it again today from St. Paul.  “The day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night.”  Our Lord Himself says the same thing in the book of Revelation, “Behold, I am coming as a thief.”  That’s certainly an odd sort of image to associate with our Savior Jesus, isn’t it.  But there is something for us to learn from the fact that our Lord comes to us like a bandit, a criminal.  

    Thievery is something we would more readily associate with the devil.  For Satan is indeed the thief and swindler of humanity.  He came to us in the garden like a con-man, flattering with his tongue, smooth-talking.  He told our first parents that they were missing out on a great deal that God was keeping to Himself.  If they would just eat of the forbidden fruit, then they would be like God themselves.  Turning them from God’s words to his own deceitful words, the devil robbed them blind.  Enticing them to try to be like God, he stole away their humanity and the glory in which they were created.  He pilfered their very lives.  

    That’s why you sons of Adam and daughters of Eve find yourselves in your present fallen state.  The truth is that we are now less than human, a disfigured shadow of what we were created to be.  We can sometimes feel that in our very souls, that things just aren’t right.  This inhumanity shows itself in our relationships with others–in anger and disrespect and lusts and jealousies and petty grudges and gossip.  And it shows itself in our relationship with God, too.  Instead of being human, creatures under a Creator, and honoring Him above all things, we would rather be like God, running our own lives, doing things our own way, following our own ideas.  The result for us is the same as it was for Adam, “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”  We’ve been robbed by the serpent; we’ve been mugged and left to die.null

    But just as God often punishes one thief by another thief in this world, so that the robber ends up losing what he stole, so also God punishes the devil by sending His Son as a thief.  The Son of God became the Son of man for that very purpose, to steal and snatch back our lost humanity from the evil one and to restore us to fellowship with God again.  

    Just think of how our Lord entered into this world.  Was it with great fanfare?  No, He came like a thief–quietly, hidden in the shadows, with nobody but some shepherds noticing His arrival.  Jesus came on the scene under cover, secretly, like a holy burglar, to win back for you what the devil stole away.  

    Our Lord already began to do that in the very act of becoming man.  By taking on your body and soul, Jesus redeemed and cleansed your humanity with His divine holiness.  God has greatly exalted you by becoming not an angel or any other creature but a true man, your blood brother.  He partook fully of your humanity so that in Him you might become truly human again.  

    Jesus was born like a thief, and He also died as one.  For He was crucified between two robbers.  And in fact that’s what He was.  Not only did He come to rob the devil of his victory over you, He accomplished that by robbing you of your sin.  He stole away from you every uncleanness, every damnable failure to love, along with every hurtful and evil thing that has been done to you.  He robbed you of it all, took it as His own, and demolished it in His death.  It was through the tree in the garden that Satan conquered man, and so it was also by a tree, the holy cross, that Christ conquered Satan and reconciled man to God again.  It was by death that Satan stole away man’s glory; and so it is by the death of Christ and His resurrection to life again that the glory of man is recaptured and that your humanity is restored.  

    And today’s Epistle tells us that there’s one more thing our Lord is going to do like a thief.  He’s going to come back to this world suddenly and unexpectedly.  A robber doesn’t announce when he’s coming.  He tries to catch people unawares.  In fact Jesus once said, “If the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”  

    If you found out that sometime tonight someone was going to try to break into your house and steal all your valuables, you’d take steps to make sure that didn’t happen, right?  You’d be awake and standing watch around the clock.  That way you’d be prepared to “greet” the thief upon his arrival.  Well, the same sort of thing is true with the day of the Lord.  Jesus has said that He’s coming back.  He will return to judge the living and the dead.  We don’t know when it’s going to be.  Only God does.  But He has said, “Surely, I am coming soon.”  We are given to watch for Christ’s return as diligently as if we were watching for a thief coming to our house.  We are to be ready and prepared for Jesus’ arrival; for it could be at any time.  When you least expect it, expect it.
    We need to be on guard, then, against being lulled into a sense of complacency while we wait.  This is what Paul speaks of in the Epistle, “For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman.  And they shall not escape.”  Beware of that worldly way of thinking which lives for the moment without a view to Jesus’ return.  “Everything’s just fine.  Why should I be preoccupied with the coming of the Lord?  I’ve got things to do, places to go, people to see.”

    That is precisely the attitude of the five foolish virgins in the Gospel.  They thought they had their bases covered.  They had a little oil in their lamps.  Why overdo it?  Why burden yourself with too much oil?  Lighten up!  Live a little!

    The lamps in the parable are the Word of Christ.  For the Psalmist says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet.”  The oil in the lamps is the Holy Spirit, who creates and sustains the flame of faith in Christ.  To be like the foolish is to fail to give proper attention to Christ’s Word and the working of the Holy Spirit.  It is to ignore the Lord’s preaching and the Lord’s Supper, or merely to go through the motions.  When these instruments of the Holy Spirit are neglected, the flame of faith is in danger of going out.  The foolish thought they had their spiritual life all together.  But they were not prepared for a delay; they weren’t ready to watch for the long haul.  And then the call finally comes at midnight; time has run out.  And the foolish are left in a panic, scrambling to get oil, banging on a locked door saying “Lord, Lord, open to us!” and hearing the awful words, “I don’t know you.”

    We should remember that we know neither when Christ is returning, nor when the day of our own death is coming.  Therefore, the Psalmist prays, “Lord make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am.  My age is as nothing before you; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.”  

    On your own you are nothing but a dark mist.  But Christ has enlightened you with the gift of His Spirit in the waters of baptism.  That’s why Paul says in the epistle, “You, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.  You are all sons of light and sons of the day.”  For you have been united with Christ, who is the Son of light.  Therefore, “let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.”

    That is the way of the five wise virgins.  Those who are wise act as if there is nothing so important as the arrival of the bridegroom.  As they tend to their daily callings and enjoy the good gifts of creation, they do so always with an eye toward Jesus’ return.  That’s what they’re really living for and watching for.  And so they don’t want to cut it close when it comes to the oil in their lamps.  They want to have “oil enough and more” as the hymn says.  And so they “devote themselves to the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.”  The wise seek to heed the words of St. Paul in Colossians, “Set your minds on things above, not on things on the earth.  For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”

    The wise probably seemed way over-prepared, lugging around those extra jars of oil along with their lamps.  But in the end their wisdom was vindicated as they joined in the bridegroom’s procession and entered into the wedding hall.  So also Christians may appear to be overdoing it, going to divine service each week, meditating on God’s Word, praying and watching for Christ’s return, when they could be doing other things.  But in the end, such wisdom will be vindicated, when our Bridegroom returns to bring us into the new heavens and the new earth in which there is no more sorrow or crying or pain or death, but only perfect joy in God’s presence.  “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.”

    Brothers and sisters of Christ, God has granted you to be among those who are wise.  For the Holy Spirit has made you wise unto salvation through Gospel of Christ the crucified.  “Assuredly,” the Lord says, “I know you in your baptism.  I have forgiven you and redeemed you and claimed you as my own.”  Jesus is the One who day by day and week by week gives you His Word and Spirit, plenty of oil to burn for a lifetime of watching for His return.  You are ready for the wedding feast on the Last Day because Christ prepares you for it by giving you a foretaste of that feast each week in Holy Communion.  The Gospel cry rings out again in this place today, “Behold, the bridegroom is coming!  Go out to meet Him at His holy altar!”  We will not be surprised or caught off guard at Jesus’ second coming because we’ve long been in the habit of going out to meet him in His divine service.

    The Lord will come like a thief in the night.  Let us watch and be ready that we may rejoice in that day.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Mocking and Longsuffering

2 Peter 3:3-14

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the path that sinners take, nor sit in the seat of mockers.”  One of the defining characteristics of the ungodly is that they are mockers.  They revel in making fun of stuff.  They delight in tearing down the good gifts of God and His teaching and the things that make for order and peace in our lives, and they do little to build up what is good and right.  This is the way of a good deal of today’s comedy and entertainment, mocking and scoffing and making parodies of people and institutions, and then walking away and blaming others for the rubble that remains.  Hidden beneath the mockery is an unbelieving heart.  

    Now that’s not to say that all mocking and scoffing is wrong.  In the Old Testament the prophet Elijah famously mocked the prophets of Baal as they danced around their altar and called on their god to send down fire on their sacrifice.  Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”  Idolatry in all its forms is to be mocked, along with the foolishness of those who oppose God’s ways.  Psalm 2 speaks of how, when God looks down at all the scheming and conniving of the rulers of this world, as if they’re the ones in control, the Lord laughs at them and scorns them.  The God/god we truly serve is often revealed in what it is that we mock and make fun of.

    The Scriptures warn us to beware of engaging in worldly mocking and scoffing.  And especially today, the Scriptures warn us to be prepared to be on the receiving end of ridicule because of who we are as the people of God.  You’re going to have a hard time being a Christian in this world if you’re going to be all worried about what people say about you, if you’re trying to remain popular with the secular and pagan types that are all around you.  

 null   Peter reminds us in today’s Epistle, “Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’”  “For almost 2000 years you Christians have been talking about Jesus’ return.  It hasn’t happened yet.  Why should I believe it ever will?”  Notice Peter states that they say this because they walk “according to their own lusts.”  Their way of life is to follow their own passions and desires and appetites.  The notion of a God who might one day judge their behavior doesn’t fit in very well with the way they want to live.  And so they deal with that by scoffing at the idea, mocking it and making fun of it as stupid and ignorant.

    But Peter goes on to point out that they do this by willfully forgetting the truth.  They purposely ignore reality in order to justify themselves.  That is why those who object to Christian teaching are becoming increasingly bold and condescending in their speech–it takes a lot of passion and effort to fight against what you know deep down is true.  St. Paul speaks in Romans 1 about how the unrighteous “suppress the truth” that is clearly evident in creation.  Unbelief pushes the truth down and out of the mind so that people can rationalize the way they think and act.

    All of this is not unlike how it was in the days before the flood.  Genesis 6 says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”   And so the flood came.  But before that it took Noah decades to build the ark.  In the meantime the Scriptures say he was a “preacher of righteousness,” warning people of the coming judgment.  But no one paid attention.  They surely mocked him for his building project.  We heard it in the Gospel last week, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married . . . until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.”  As we live in this ungodly and perverse world, Peter reminds us that there is another judgment coming, this time not by water but by fire.

    Now it’s easy to condemn the world out there.  But we dare not think that all of this doesn’t have its effects on us, especially in our media-saturated lives.  The temptation for us as we wait is to grow weary in the struggle, to become tired of being made to feel like an outsider, and finally to just give in, to go along with the mindset of the culture, to adopt its self-indulgent way of living, to compromise your beliefs because, well, that’s what you’ve got to do to get by or to get ahead.  The daily barrage can entice us all to believe the lies, to question or even give up on God’s Word.

    And so Peter here offers us some encouragement.  He reminds us first of all that the Lord’s delay is not a sign that He’s forgotten about us or that the promise of His return is empty.  Rather, it’s a sign of His great mercy.  He is patient and longsuffering with us sinners, not wanting anyone to perish eternally.  He gives us all time to repent.  It is written that the Lord is “slow to anger.”  He’s not like us, with a short fuse when things don’t go our way.  He’s not looking for a reasnullon to let us have it, even though that’s exactly what we deserve.  Rather, He is “abounding in steadfast love,” wanting all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  So if you hear someone ridiculing a belief in the second coming, or if you find yourself beginning to question it, remember that in the Lord’s delay is His patient mercy.  The only reason the world continues on each day is because of His love for fallen human beings.

    Our Lord is longsuffering toward us because He suffered long for us.  And that suffering included being mocked and ridiculed Himself.  At Golgotha Jesus was scorned and made fun of and treated as a fool in order to deliver us from our foolishness and to vindicate us who believe in Him and to deliver us from judgment.  All of the judgment we have merited He already endured in our place on the cross.  The punishment has been meted out.  The sentence has been served.  It is finished.  And that means that the Lord can wait, and so can we.  There is no hurry.  For God’s wrath has already been appeased.  Your redemption is won in Christ through the blood that He shed. You are safe and forgiven and put right with God.  You have nothing to fear.

    And besides, what seems like a dreadfully long time to us is just a blink of an eye to the Lord.  One day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day to Him.  We must always be careful to look at things from His eternal perspective and be patient, even as He is.

    Still, there will come a point when the time of mercy, when the opportunity for repentance will end.  “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night,” suddenly and unexpectedly on the world, as did the flood.  On that last day it is written here that the whole universe will be incinerated and will pass away with a great noise, the real big bang.  The elements of this sin-cursed old creation will melt and fully degrade and expire to make way for the new creation to come.  Specifically, Peter says that the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.  All of our greatest works and achievements, all that human hands have made will be consumed–the great pyramids, skyscrapers and stadiums, computers and technological gadgets, the things and the property that we worked so hard to make payments on–all of it, evaporated, gone.

    Therefore, since that is what is going to happen, how should we be conducting ourselves?  Should we be setting our hearts on the stuff of this world, or the status and power that comes with being honored by others and not mocked by them?  Why be completely wrapped up in what doesn’t last?  This is no time for complacency and spiritual laziness.  Rather, says Peter, since the last day is fast approaching, we should be conducting ourselves in holiness and godliness and love toward others.  We should be looking for and living for the day of His return.

    The Epistle draws this all together when it says, “According to His promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”   This old cursed and deathward creation is not where it’s at.  Rather we await our bodily resurrection in that place which our Lord Jesus is preparing for us, a real, tangible world in which righteousness dwells, for He, the Righteous One is there.  No more will there be violent and stomach-turning news reports.  No more will we have to deal with our own frustrating fallen nature.  For all things will be made permanently right and good and new in that Day.  All scoffing will be done, all mockers cast out, and there will be only perfect praise and reveling in in God’s glory.

    And even now, the Scriptures say, you are already new in Christ, for you have been baptized into Him who is immortal and incorruptible.  Like Noah of old, you have been saved from judgment through water; you are safe in the ark of church, Christ’s body.  As Noah and His family and the animals entered in through the side of the ark, so also you have found refuge in the side of Christ, from which the blood and the water flowed for your cleansing and your redemption.  You are the ones the Gospel speaks of who are at the Jesus’ right hand.  To you He will say, “Come, you blessed of My Father.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  

    Let us then pray daily for our Lord’s return.  Let us look for His coming, especially as He comes to us hiddenly even now in the holy supper.  Our Lord says in Revelation, “Surely I am coming quickly.”  We say with all the saints who have gone before us, “Amen.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠