The In Between Time

7th Sunday of Easter

 

Today is the last Sunday of Easter. It’s an in-between time type of Sunday. It’s the Sunday between the Ascension of our Lord and Pentecost Sunday. Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended to His throne at the right hand of the Father disappearing from our sight until the Last Day. Fifty days after the resurrection came Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Today is part of those in-between days. We also live in in-between days, between Jesus’ ascension, and His appearing in glory on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead. This time is properly called the last days or end times, because it is the Sabbaths rest of the old creation. The resurrection has happened we are made new; but we still wait for the day of completion.

The in-between times call for trust in the promises of God. They’re not times of seeing but hearing and believing. In fact, there’s not much to look at – words, water, bread, wine, church, and ministry. Nothing too fancy, nothing that suggests power and glory, but simply humble, earthy means by which the crucified, risen, and reigning Lord is present with us.

This in-between time calls for patients, somber watchfulness, rejoicing in suffering, faithfulness combined with continuous prayer. It’s the time of the Church; the Assembly of God’s chosen people who are called to a very specific purpose - to declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. We are called to be God’s royal priesthood, His holy nation, His chosen people, His new Israel.

How can the Church survive in the in-between time? What will sustain Her as the people of God? What hope does the Church have as we approach the Last Day, as apostasy increases, as the old creation accelerates to its death, as society comes unraveled and hostile and those who have put their hope in this life are driven to despair? How will the Church survive? How will you survive?

Scripture indeed gives us some warnings and some comforts while living in the in-between times. But don’t forget we have the unholy trinity to deal with: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.

Paul reminds us that we are debtors, but not to the flesh. Living according to the flesh only brings death. But we can expect temptation. The flesh is always trying to bring us back into bondage. We shouldn’t be surprised when it happens. And if we fight the battle of flesh without the Holy Spirit’s help, we will only fail.  Jesus tells us our battle isn’t just our flesh. Listen to Matthew 10:22 Jesus speaking: “The world will hate you because of me, but stand firm until the end and you shall be saved.” We can expect to be insulted for the name of Jesus, but we should count it as a blessing, as Jesus said in the Beatitudes, ““Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Paul says simply, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.”

 Now this is suffering for being a Christian, not the suffering that comes to us from our own sin. That’s another matter. That’s a good suffering too, because it’s the refining fire of God. Don’t think the Lord doesn’t judge His Church. In fact, “judgment begins with the household of God.” Just as He did with OT Israel, God makes an example out of His Church, showing mercy to the faithful remnant, showing His wrath on those who reject His gifts and deny His presence. And if judgment begins with God’s believers, how will those escape who refuse to believe and reject the truth?

We have our sinful flesh; our pride filled egocentric old Adam who gets us in trouble. We think we’re high and mighty, we don’t need to be picked up, we can save ourselves. We can fix our own woes. But these are clever lies of the deceiver. Humility is the way of faith; the way of Jesus is to be humble and lowly of heart. Humble yourselves, and God will lift you up and exalt you, as He already has in Christ. But exalt yourself, and you shall be toppled from your throne.

The devil is prowling around like a hungry lion looking for whom he may devour. Jesus defeated him by His own death and resurrection. He’s judged the deed is done. Yet the devil stalks around looking for his next meal. Maybe a weak, isolated Christian, to tempt into doubt and disbelief. Maybe entice us with a new religion and all they ways we try to invent to bribe God. “Resist him!” The devil is resistible in the same way that Jesus resisted the devil - by the Word of God. “Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” Know what you believe and stand firm in it.

Years ago an expert in apologetics named Walter Martin made this observation concerning cults. The best way to resist the devil and his cults is to know the truth. Not to know all the games and tricks of the devil. He went on to explain how a bank teller learns to spot a counterfeit dollar bill. It’s not by looking at a bunch of counterfeit bills but handling the real thing constantly. The more often you handle real money the more quickly the phony stuff sticks out. So it is with false religions. Spend time in the Word, in God’s church and real teachings and the false religions will stick out more easily, for you will know what you believe.

Know this truth too, there’s grace under the stress and strain of persecution and temptation. St. Peter says in 1 Peter 5:10: “after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”

God doesn’t leave His church in the dominion of persecution. He doesn’t abandon His believers to suffering and temptation. As the good shepherd restores his sheep that have fallen, so our Lord restores those who are oppressed, He confirms us in the faith, He strengthens us in our weakness, He establishes Himself in us and us in Him. St. Paul tells us, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

Remember that and cling to it when you are suffering for the faith, insulted for being a Christian, when you are beset by the devil or tried by your own sinful flesh, the Lord will lift you up and shall sustain you.

He provides the means - the Word preached and heard. Martin Luther once said that the church is the mouth-house of God. Without the Word the Church would die. The Church is born of the Word and is sustained by hearing the Word. This is why Luther, Melanchthon and Chemnitz reformers of the church argued so forcefully in the Confessions that the churches have an inalienable right to preachers, and that no one, not even someone in a high church office, can deny a congregation a pastor to preach the Word.

In the time between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost, there was a pastoral vacancy. Jesus had just disappeared after blessing and sending His disciples. The disciples returned to Jerusalem, and Peter took a head count. Eleven. One short of a Twelve. Judas was gone. He had betrayed Christ, vacated his office, and killed himself. His place had to be taken by another. What were they supposed to do? Jesus was nowhere to be seen. Jesus had appointed them as apostles. How were they supposed to fill this vacancy without a visible Jesus?

The Book of Acts is often called “the acts of the apostles” though it is really the acts of the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord Jesus through HIs apostles and The Church. It’s interesting, the very first act of the ascended Lord Jesus, the Jesus you cannot now see, though He is very much present, was to call and ordain someone to fill the vacancy left by Judas. Even before Pentecost, where the ascended Lord Jesus breathes out His Spirit over His Church, He is active giving His gifts of prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastor-teachers.

The field is narrowed to the two eyewitnesses who had been with them from the beginning - Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthias. They prayed to the Lord, whom they could no longer see, yet trusted His words that He would be with them and hear their prayers. They drew lots, flipped a coin as it were, and the lot fell to Matthias, and the vacancy was filled. The ascended Lord had acted, providing the twelfth apostle to His Church. The Church may never be without her ministers.

The Lord also prays for His Church. In our Gospel reading we heard the first part of Jesus’ high priestly prayer, the prayer He prayed at the table where He gave them His body and blood, His Eucharistic prayer. He prayed that He would be glorified - in His death, His resurrection, His ascension. He prayed for His apostles, that they would be kept in the Name in which they would baptized and teach. And He prayed for all who would believe through their word which was His Word. He prays for you and me, for His Church. He prays for our unity, that we would be one. He prays that we would see His glory. He prays that the love of the Father for the Son might also be in you.

This is the prayer that sustains us. This is the apostolic Word that restores and keeps us. This is the apostolic ministry that restores, confirms, strengthens, and establishes you and the whole Church and keeps it in Christ by the Holy Spirit in this in-between time of Jesus’ ascension and His reappearing in glory on the Last Day.

For Jesus is still with you, until He once again appears in Glory to take you home! For He says: Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age. That’s a promise you can trust in these in between times. In Jesus name, amen and amen!

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.