Saturday, December 09, 2023

The End

[This message was shared last Sunday during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Also in this post is live stream video from both worship services.]

Mark 13:24-37

As we begin the new Church Year, Jesus talks to us about the End. 

Now, if you were listening to some preachers who call themselves “evangelical” talking about today’s Gospel lesson, they would unleash fearsome talk and guilt-based calls to act right. 

But that approach isn't reflective of the evangelical words Jesus speaks to us this morning. 

The term “evangelical” means people of the evangel, from the Greek compound word, euangelion, meaning good news or of the Gospel

The gospel is the good news is that Jesus Christ, God the Son, bore the condemnation of death for sin that you and I deserve, then rose again, so that all who, as a result of the Gospel Word being given to them in the Word and Sacraments, repent and believe in Jesus, have life with God beyond death that never ends

The apostle Peter delivers the good news, in a single verse: “...Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God…” (1 Peter 3:18) 

And of course, Jesus says in the verse Martin Luther called “the Gospel in a nutshell”: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

God’s Law and Gospel are two different things, the two ways God speaks to us. This is what the book of Hebrews means when it says that “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword…” (Hebrews 4:12) One edge of God’s Word is the Law that condemns us to death for our sin. The other edge is the Gospel, the good news that despite our sin, God forgives us and gives us new and everlasting life through Jesus Christ.

God does command the preaching and teaching of His Law. The Ten Commandments continue to reveal God’s will for the human race. God does will that, as Jesus summarizes the commandments, we love God and love others. 

But none of us obeys God’s commands, even when we want to! 

Like the apostle Paul, we are bound to confess, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15) 

Now, if the Gospel convicts us of our sin and shows us that we aren’t good enough or moral enough to merit life with God, it has done its job. That’s the most it can or ever will do.

Happily, the Law is not the only Word that God speaks to us. Jesus does speak the Law in today’s Gospel lesson. “Be on guard, keep awake,” He says. And “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. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

The way some preach on this text (and the way that I, God forgive me, have sometimes preached on this text), is to turn the whole thing into Law. They’ll say, “Be a vigilant Christian. Read your Bible. Do good works. Check your character.” 

Now there’s nothing wrong with any of these things. 

But if I’m reading my Bible to keep God from punishing me rather than reading it because in it, a gracious, loving God is giving me life, I’m missing the point. 

If I do good works for others to gain God’s favor, I’m making Jesus’ death on the cross for sinners like me irrelevant and worthless. 

If I’m checking my character just to assure God (or more likely, myself) what a wonderful person I am, I’m deluded. 

As Isaiah says, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” (Isaiah 64:6) 

What will be the end for those who believe the lie that they, by their vigilance and their grim adoption of certain spiritual disciplines and good works, their dogged and superior obedience to the Law, will make it impossible for Jesus to send them to hell? 

Quite simply, people like this will be eternally separated from God and condemned. No one can be good enough to earn God’s favor. No one.

But Jesus reveals a different end in today’s Gospel lesson, the end wrought not by our inadequate obedience of the Law, but by God’s good gift of the Gospel! 

His words to us today are spoken near the temple in Jerusalem a few days before His crucifixion. Jesus says that in the not-too-distant future, the temple will be destroyed. (That happened in 70 AD, by the way.) Jesus then expands His words to encompass the constant cycle of sin, destruction, violence, and disaster that characterizes this sin-sick universe. But soon, Jesus says, something new is going to happen. In fact, it–the Gospel, the good news–would break in on this sorry old universe in a matter of days, at the cross, and, of course, will finally, be fully consummated on the day that the crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus returns. Of His second coming, Jesus says, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)

But we do know though that the End that Jesus will bring on that day will be no fearful thing for those who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, trust in Jesus as God and Savior, and loving Lord. We know that because of the powerful Word, Law and Gospel, that Jesus gives us today in one single verse. He says, “Heaven and earth will pass away [That’s the Law; this universe is condemned for human sin, for our sin.], but my words will not pass away [That’s the Gospel.].” (Mark 13:31) 

When this universe is destroyed in a cataclysm of fire and death, the Gospel Word of Jesus, will still stand. And all who take shelter in Christ and His Gospel will stand with Him

The End that Jesus will bring is the end of the Law that condemns us. God’s Word tells us, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4, English Standard Version)

The Word that will not pass away is Jesus Himself, risen from the dead to rescue you and me from ourselves, from our inability to make ourselves righteous through our actions. 

The Word that will not pass away is also the Word that Jesus spoke with His dying breath on the cross when He said, “It is finished,” meaning everything that needed doing, every bit of righteousness necessary to give you entrance into His eternal Kingdom, has already been done for you in Jesus Himself. 

That Word can be heard too from the apostle Paul: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

This is the End to which Jesus points you today. 

Yes, He tells us to be awake and ready and the God Who compassionately remembers that we are dust, knows that we will, like the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, doze off spiritually under the weight of our sins and the griefs of this world. But Jesus calls us to turn to Him in our weakness and our need, bringing our sins to Him, so that He can give us–now and for eternity–His forgiveness, His restoration, His life

In the Gospel, Jesus has brought an end to your condemnation

He takes the weight of your guilt and fear off of your shoulders and gives you the light yoke of His grace

And He gives you a different End, which is really an eternal beginning in which sin no longer dogs or damns us, an eternity in which, “there will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) 

This End is already yours through the Savior Who long ago broke through the clouds, giving His life and taking your death, so that you might have life forever with Him

As He comes to you in Word and Sacrament today, cherish the reality that, through whatever depth of faith our Lord gives to you, the power of the Law over your life has ended and you live eternally in the Gospel Word that will never pass away.  Believe in Christ and His Gospel!

Today and always, God bless you, friends, with the peace of being one with Jesus! Amen

Friday, December 08, 2023

Luke 8

If it helps you to read along silently with someone reading the Bible aloud, here's Luke 8. We're reading one chapter of the Gospel of Luke each day from December 1 to December 24.

Monday, December 04, 2023

From Desert Place to Desert Place

[Short reflections on chapter 4 of Luke's Gospel, which members of Living Water Lutheran Church, like many others, are reading in December 2023. The word from the original Greek in which the New Testament was written is ἔρημος (eremos), meaning desert or wilderness.]