Lift Up Your Eyes and Voices!
The Sunday of Fulfillment
22 November 2009
Isaiah 51:4-6, Jude 20-25, Mark 13:24-37
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
Here we are! The end has come! This is the Sunday of the Fulfillment, the last Sunday of the church year, known as the Sunday of Judgment. Next week, if there is a next week, we’ll start the church all over again with Advent. Our focus will be on the coming of the Lord. Not just the first coming of Jesus as the wee babe of Bethlehem but the coming of Jesus as the warrior King, Lord and judge. But today marks the end.
The Bible begins “in the beginning,” when God created the heavens and the earth. The Bible ends at the end, when the heavens and the earth God made in the beginning come to their end. God made the heavens and earth out of nothing, ex nihilo, in the beginning. In the end the old will be done away with and there will be a new creation. This has already come in the crucified and risen body of Jesus. His salvation will last forever, Isaiah says “His righteousness shall never fail.”
Can you be certain of it? Absolutely! Jesus predicted only a handful of events. He predicted His own death and resurrection. At least three times He said that He would suffer at the hands of the religious leaders, be crucified, and on the third day rise from the dead. And then He did it. That fact alone should cause us to sit up and take notice of everything He said, because let’s face it - resurrections don’t just happen every day. In fact, this kind of resurrection has only happened once.
Jesus predicted that Peter would betray Him three times before the cock crowed, and he did, just as Jesus said. Jesus predicted that Jerusalem would be overrun and the temple destroyed, and in AD 70 it was, just as Jesus said. Jesus said that the world as we know it, the sun, the moon, the stars, the constellations, the planets, the galaxies, the vast reaches of space, in inner reaches of the earth, would all be destroyed. And it will be just as He said.
There’s no reason to doubt what Jesus says. He’s the expert on beginnings and endings. Jesus is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. He was there in the beginning when the heavens and the earth were made. Through Him, the creative Word, all things were made that were made. And He will be there at the end, reigning over all things, raising the dead, providing salvation, doing justice to sin, judging the world with His righteousness.
The prophet Isaiah spoke about the end, which he saw through the lens of Jesus’ the coming death and resurrection. He preached to Israel to prepare them for what was coming. “The Law will go out from me.” Jesus is the Law, the Word of God, made flesh. He came from the right hand of God to save us, to suffer, to die, and to rise for our salvation, to fulfill the Law and the prophets with Himself.
“I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.” Jesus came to do justice to our sin, to bear the burden of our guilt and our shame, to take the punishments of the Law on Himself in our place.
“My righteousness draws near.” Jesus is the righteousness of God, who was made sin for us, even though He himself knew no sin, so that in Him, by God’s own declaration, you and I who trust in Christ might become the righteousness of God. A sinner doesn’t stand before God on the basis of his own good works. We don’t have any. We stand on Christ’s righteousness, a righteousness that drew near to us, became one with us, and brought us in His own flesh to the right hand of God.
“My salvation has gone out.” Salvation is coming to a world that doesn’t even seek it. Oh, it’s a very religious world, but the religious world is trying to deal with God in its own way on its own merit. You don’t earn salvation, God sends it, He (T) delivers it, He (T) applies it. The world didn’t ask for Jesus, He came to this world without an invitation. And He came to you without waiting for you to decide. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. While we were yet enemies of God, Christ reconciled us to the Father.”(Rom 5)
“My arms will bring justice to the peoples.” In Jesus, God stretched out His arms; He reached out to the world. He brought justice, perfect justice, the kind of justice you’ll find in no courtroom. “The wages of sin is death,” and He (T) died for it, all of it. There’s God’s justice in fullest measure. The gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ. That too is God’s justice - He justifies the ungodly in His Son Jesus Christ.
He doesn’t do it for chosen few, but for all. When Jesus said, “Make disciples of all nations,” He didn’t say, “get a representation of a few,” get a diversity of people and fulfill the quota system. Go out and apply the affirmative action of my mission. No! He meant all nations, as many as He died, which is all. HIs blood covers all and all sins. God’s arms embraced all on the cross (T). Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all to myself.”
Isaiah says Look. “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth.” It all looks so permanent, doesn’t it? But the heavens will vanish like a puff of smoke, the earth will unravel like a worn out garment, the world’s population will perish. A disturbing image isn’t it? You bet it is. We rely on permanence and predictability. We make certain assumptions, like the sun comes up in the morning; any amount of unpredictability affects us. We can’t even handle a surprise snow storm around here. Having lived in the Midwest, I always have to chuckle a little when we have a dusting of snow. It seems to me that the TV news goes immediately on “Winter Watch.” If it ever really snows here, I’m going to hide until it melts.
We’re on “Jesus Watch.” Watch. Wake up. Be alert. Salvation is coming, a salvation that will last forever. Righteousness is near, a righteousness that will never fail. Jesus said, “No one knows the day nor the hour.” The angels don’t. They stand ready, waiting and watching for the word to go out and harvest the earth. Even Jesus didn’t know the time when He was speaking. He does now in His glory, but not then. He told His inquiring disciples, “It’s not for you to know the times or the seasons.” That’s a secret between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“Be like household servants,” Jesus says. The master goes away; he leaves his servants in charge, each with his or her own assigned task, and he tells the servant at the door to keep watch. What he doesn’t tell them is when he’ll come back. What if he had? What if the master had said to his servants, I’ll be back a year from now, on November 22nd. What do you think would happen? You know how workers are. You know how we are. We’d kick back, relax, hang out, have a party, let the house run down, the grass grow. And as the day drew near, we’d start to panic, trying to get the house back in order. Instead of greeting our master with joy, we’d greet him in trepidation.
Jesus disappears, and says, “I’ll be back before you know it, Keep watch.” - We don’t know when! - Jesus names the unlikely times, the four watches of the night - evening, midnight, the cock crows, dawn. When most people are asleep, when the world is dark, when the world least expects Him, He will show up.
Don’t let him find you sleeping. Sleep is a picture for unbelief, something done in the darkness. Don’t let Him find you in unbelief. That’s why Jesus never told His disciples the day or the hour of the end. Our old Adam would say, “Let’s live it up, do as we please, eat, and be merry, and we can still repent the day before His arrival.
Jesus declines to give us that luxury, that type of security. Today is the day to believe. Now is the time of your salvation. Don’t look to tomorrow; you don’t know that you even have a tomorrow. Don’t say to yourself, “I have time; I’ll look into nurturing my faith when I have a chance.” We don’t know how much time we have. Let me give you an example of that. A member of our congregation was going to leave a sizable gift to Messiah upon his death. He was waiting until he felt better to do the paperwork. He never got around to doing the paperwork. He was very healthy but 2 months later he was dead. Today, right now, this moment is a saving moment for you, in which Christ comes to you and forgives you, feeds you His own body and blood, keeps you in the faith, washes away your sin, prepares to present you holy, spotless and blameless on the last day.
So, how do we live as servants on the watch, waiting for the Master to return at any time? Not in a panic, not in fear or dread. He’s coming to bring salvation and righteousness. He’s coming to give eternal life to His believers. This is something to look forward to.
Jude, the brother of James, the other brother of Jesus, has a few words for life in the last days. “Build yourselves up in your most holy faith.” Not your faith, the faith. Don’t focus on your believing, focus on what you believe. Grow in your knowledge of God’s Word and doctrine. The end times are a time of bad religion and false messiahs. God’s people need to be wise and discerning. These are no times for ignorant believers. Be ready. Stand firm in your faith (know what you believe), be courageous, strong, and let all you do be done in love.
“Pray in the Holy Spirit”, watchful servants pray. They pray for each other, for the world, for those who don’t yet believe. The words “watch and pray” go together in the Bible. The wonderful thing is that you are never alone in prayer. You pray in the Spirit, who prays for you and carries your prayer to the Son who offers it to the Father.
“Keep yourselves in the love of God”. How do you do that? By hearing His words of love. By receiving His gifts of love that Christ died to win for you. As things go from bad to worse to unbearable, it won’t be easy to know God is love just by looking at the sky or the earth. God won’t look like love when the heavens vanish like smoke and the earth unravels. The face of God’s love is the face of Jesus. The sound of God’s love is your Baptism, the Word His (T) forgiveness. Attend God’s feast of love in the Supper of His body and blood. Keep close to these things; cling to them as you wait for mercy, the mercy of Jesus that will bring you into eternal life.
Don’t think only about yourself. It’s not just about you. Faith has peripheral vision. Jude says, “Be merciful to those who doubt.” Help those weak in faith. Those of you who are strong and knowledgeable, help those who are weak and doubting. Grab as many as you can. We are God’s Israel for the end times. Our work, as servants in the Master’s house, is to prepare the world for the appearing of its Savior. Do it with mercy mixed with fear. If you see someone in a boat about to go over a waterfall, wouldn’t you warn them? You might throw them a rope. You might even attempt to swim out to them, but not without first tying yourself off to a solid rock. Be anchored in Jesus, the Rock of your salvation. By no means climb in the boat with them. That would be reckless and foolish. Don’t join others in their sin; instead rescue them. Invite in your boat, the church. You have the good news in your ears and on your lips. Jesus Christ died for your sins and was raised for your justification. That applies to everyone and anyone, and you, as a baptized believer, have the privilege of saying so. Lift up not only your eyes but also your voices.
And so, on this last day that celebrates the Last Day, the watchword is “Watch!” Watch soberly, watch eagerly, watch expectantly – Jesus is coming. Your salvation is coming in Jesus. For He alone has secured a place for you by paying the price in full for your sin on Calvary’s cross. Therefore know without a doubt that all your sins are forgiven in Jesus name and for Jesus sake, amen and amen!
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. C: AMEN!