2nd Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 26)
St. Matthew 25:31-46
November 15, 20156 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I don’t know if there was a time when terrorist attacks in Paris wouldn’t have been unsettling to Americans, but certainly the shrinking of the world through technology makes this scarier now that it would have been 50 years ago. The oceans aren’t big enough to protect America from invasion or terrorist attacks. We mourn for Paris and for those who are suffering and afraid in the city of light these days, but we also shake with fear realizing that neither we nor our children are not safe either. What happened on 9/11or worse could happen again.
We live in the days foretold by Jesus. We hear of wars and rumors of war. Lawlessness is increasing. The love of many is growing cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. The Gospel of Christ is being proclaimed through the whole world as a testimony to all nations.
On Wednesday evening, in the week in which He was crucified, Jesus was on the Mount of Olives. As He had left the Temple that afternoon He had predicted its destruction. The disciples came to Him privately and said: “Tell us, when will these things be and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Jesus gave a long speech about the end. He talked about false prophets and false Christs, of tribulation and apostasy. He also gave His famous description of our times: “you will hear of wars and rumors of war.” He then described what sounds like the crucifixion with the sun going dark and the powers of the heaven shaking.
Then it is the parable of the fig tree and the surprising saying that no one will know the day or hour of the 2nd coming, not even the holy angels or Jesus Himself. Then He tells the parable of the ten virgins and their lamps, which we will hear next week. And, finally, as His last teaching before institution of the Lord’s Supper, He tells the parable of final judgment when He will draw all of humanity to Himself and separate them as a shepherd separates goats and sheep.
While this is going on the chief priests and the elders of the people have gathered in an evil synagogue where they are plotting how they might arrest and kill Jesus. That same night Satan will deliver Judas to them and through him, the next night, the Lord.
The disciples asked: “Tell us, when will these things be and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus responds with enough material to keep the shut-ins on the edge of their seats from then until now. But the real key is what He says after all of this, by way of summary. “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.’” (Matthew 26:1–2, ESV)
They want to know when the Temple will be destroyed and He will come back in judgment. He gives them a bunch of information about the character of the last days, days in which we have been living ever since Pentecost, but He doesn’t tell them anything about when. The chief sign of His coming and the end of the age is not in tribulations and false Christ’s and apostasy, not even in wars and rumors of wars, but in what they do know: “After two day the Passover is coming and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”
The final Judgment is a fundamental article of Christianity. It is confessed in all three of the Ecumenical creeds: the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and ascended to the right hand of the Father will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead. But it is not the foundation or the hope or the message of Christianity. That is no doctrine at all. It is simply the reality that Christ has given His life as a ransom and atonement to reconcile us to Himself and His Father. The angel of death is on his way. The Blood of the Lamb is here for us, to keep us save, to protect us. The Son of Man has been betrayed and delivered up to sinful, plotting false priests in order to fulfill His Father’s will and to give us this Blood, the Blood of the New Passover, to rescue us not simply from trials and hardship on earth but to rescue us from the place prepared for Satan and his angels.
We live in the shadow of the cross – politics, gossip, and conspiracies with wars and rumors of war. We live in the time of tribulation, lawlessness, and betrayal. We are not above our Master, but we are redeemed. This dying life, the plots of jihadists, the cheating of husbands and wives, and tyranny will not last. After the cross comes Easter, and after Easter comes Judgment Day and Ascension. Judgment Day means freedom from the guilt and shame and regret of our sins and from the sins of others and the end of Satan’s tyranny. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. The day of judgment is not a day of terror for us but of joy. To be sure there will be signs of power and there will be wrath. Fright will banish idle mirth. But idle mirth will be replaced. We will sing with the angels in pious mirth.
The judgment will be a great surprise – it will come like a thief in the night. The goats will be especially surprised and they will protest. They will proudly stand by what they’ve done. They will dare the Lord to find a time when they failed to provide Him with food, drink, or clothing and in their pride and obstinate unbelief they will be sent to the place prepared for the devil and his angels. That place was not prepared for them. The Lord in His mercy placed Enmity between them and Satan, but they chose Satan anyway, and they will go to be with their lord. It was him that they fed and nourished, mistakenly thinking that they were feeding themselves and that they were the lord. That is why they think they did for Jesus. They thought they were Jesus.
The children of God will also be surprised and overjoyed. I do not mean that you do not know whether you are a sheep or a goat, whether you belong to God or not. The time of the end is not known, but what will happen is clear. The Son of Man was delivered up to be crucified for you. You belong to God. You are Baptized. You should expect deliverance and relief because God has promised it and God does not lie. And when you doubt and worry, you should subdue that old man in you by the Word of God and Sacraments and give no place to him. Until the end, you have to keep on doing that. You stand firm by kneeling in confession and at the communion rail, by filling the space in your mind with the Word of God.
The Bible says that you will be brought to the place prepared for you, not to the place prepared for the holy angels, but for you, not for people without sin or people who didn’t doubt God or people who were perfect mothers, but for you, precisely for you. When you look at your life and your deeds you may not see much good and everything is tainted by sin. But when the Lord looks at your life and your deeds it is spotless, sparkling, and impressive because it is washed in the Blood of the Passover Lamb. The unbelievers go to a place prepared for others. You go to the place prepared for you. For in that Blood you are blessed by the Father.
The surprise is that it is even better than you imagined, that the Lord, in fact, did know what He was doing and has brought all things together for good, that He has prepared a place for you, and that you have been a hero for the faith even when you didn’t know it.
The apostles and the early church were fervent in their expectation of the end. We tend to be a little more complacent. We want to see our grandchildren or worse we want to see the latest Star Wars movie. That is to our shame. Maybe these evil days are for our chastisement. We do well to let the tragedies of this world and the every growing wickedness all around us call us to repent and pray not just for the victims and our nation, not just for our children and the downtrodden, but to pray also for the end. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.
May God in His mercy keep us ever mindful of the end of all things and the day of His just judgment. By that awareness may He stir us up to holiness of living and prepares us to dwell with Him forever. May God in His mercy bring a quick end to these tribulations for the sake of His people in Paris and for us all. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.