As We Were Created to Be

Text: Genesis 2:7-17

It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are or where you’ve been. When you’re traveling to a place you haven’t been before, you always keep track of where you started so that, if you end up off course, you know the part you’ve already traveled and can turn back. If you don’t know where you’ve been, it’s hard to know where you’re going. This much is shared with us, I believe, in our text today.

This week, we turn back to the beginning of the Bible, the beginning of the world, the beginning of the universe. We hear how God created man, in what state man and creation originally existed, and what we were created for. Unfortunately, because of sin, the reality of Genesis 2 is no longer what we experience. Instead, the experiences of our lives now are very different than how God intended them to be. The Holy Spirit shows us in this text how things were, so that we might know how they will be again. In other words, the Spirit shows us in Genesis 2 where we’ve been so that we know where – in Christ – we’re headed. In our text, we learn from God how He originally created us to be so that we would know a) the greatness of His creation; b) depth of our sin; and c) the greatness of His mercy.

I.

In Genesis 1 and 2, God gives us a factual and true account of how the world came to be. Before the universe existed, only God did. He forever and always existed in the unity of the Trinity. Out of His own desire to show love and mercy, God created the heavens and the earth. He spoke and all things came to be. Genesis 1 provides the overview of God’s creative activity. In chapter 2, the Spirit directs the focus on the particular activity of the sixth day of Creation: the day that God created man.

Moses wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.[1]

After God created the earth, the land and seas, trees, all plants, and animals, His hand turned to create something in His own image and in His likeness – man. Everything else, God created by speaking; but man God formed from the dust of the earth. The Hebrew word is the word also used in Isaiah for a potter forming a vessel from clay. So, God molded man from the earth.

God formed man from the dust of the earth, breathed into him the breath of life, and man became a living creature. Unlike all other creatures, whom God caused to be by speaking, man alone was formed by God’s hand and endowed with an immortal soul. After God formed the man, the text says, “[He] planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.”[2] God created the garden for man, and man for the garden. Man’s job was simple. It says in verse 15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The only instructions God gave were these, “You may surely eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”[3]

II.

Man’s job, as God created him was simple. Adam was to live in the Garden of Eden, to work it and keep it and care for it. Adam was to live in the garden and enjoy fellowship with God. His work would’ve been a joy, too. Genesis 2 is before the Fall. So, the unpleasant things we experience while working in the field – scorching heat, never-ending weeds – these would’ve been unknown to Adam. He would’ve needed no pesticide or fertilizer. His work would’ve been one-hundred percent joyful. He only had one command – don’t eat from the tree. This is the way Adam was to worship God, by listening to His Word. And, Adam could’ve done it. God created man with complete free will and the ability to not sin.

But, we know what happened, don’t we? Back on the First Sunday in Lent, the Old Testament text was Genesis 3. Adam was formed by God from the dust of the earth. He was molded like a clay vessel. Alone among all creatures, God blessed him with a soul and free will. Adam’s job, as Eve’s would be, was to live in the garden and work it. This work would’ve been a joy and be done in full communion with God. The way they were to worship was simply, listen to God’s Word. They had the free will and ability to do so. But instead, by the temptation of Satan, they chose to doubt and disobey God’s Word. They sinned. Ever since, the whole world has existed in this corrupted state.

God pronounced the consequences of sin in that text. To Eve, God said that childbearing would now be painful and the relationship between husbands and wives, stressful. To Adam, God said that the ground which used to be a joy to work would be cursed. Because of sin, the earth would now bear thorns and thistles, and food would only come by hard labor. Then, God gave the greatest consequence – which He said would happen – because of sin, man will return to the dust from whence he came. All these things we find true by our own experience. I’d ask you if farming is an easy job, but you know the answer. Sure, we take joy in our work from time to time. But, it’s rare to have a job without stress. And, God’s Word is true: the rest of our lives are filled with pain, suffering, and death.

III.

It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. Now we know where we’ve been. God created man to be perfect. Man was placed in Eden to work and keep it. This would have been a joyful experience. The work would’ve come easily. Adam and Eve (and all after them) would neither have died nor experienced any illness or hardship. Then the Fall happened, and things have been going terribly. That is, until Christ – the Second Adam – came.

St. Paul wrote to the Romans that sin came into the world through the one man, Adam; and death came through sin. Therefore, all men die because all men sin. That’s how original sin works. We inherit from our fathers the inability to not sin. Because we sin, we die. But, St. Paul says, “The free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through the one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ…as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”[4] St. Paul means, the fall of Adam and Eve introduced the corruption of sin; but the righteous work of Christ – His obedience of the Law and His death on the cross for our sins – brings life back into the picture.

Christ earned for us re-entry into paradise and fellowship with God. After Adam and Eve sinned, God barred entrance to Eden by a flaming sword. But now, in Christ, our fractured relationship with God is restored. Through the forgiveness we’ve received in Christ, we now address God as our dear Father, and He speaks to us through His Word and Sacrament as to His beloved children. The work of Christ on the cross doesn’t just restore us to a right relationship with God, though; but, creation, too. Doesn’t St. Paul also say to Romans in chapter 8 that the whole creation groans as it awaits the redemption of our bodies?

By His death and resurrection, Christ has not only restored us to a right relationship with God, but He also restored creation. Scripture calls the “New Creation,” the place where the lion and lamb will lay together, where children will play with snakes, and death will not exist. These things will take place when Christ returns, and they’re what we mean when we say, “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Now we know where we’ve been and where we’re going. God created man perfect, to work joyfully in the Garden and live in fellowship with Him. That was all destroyed by sin, and we experience that corruption in our lives. But, through Christ’s death and resurrection sin is forgiven. We are restored to fellowship with God. We now await Christ’s return, where He will raise the bodies of all believers and bring them with Himself into the joy of the new creation.


[1] Gen. 2:5-7, English Standard Version.

[2] Gen. 2:8.

[3] Gen. 2:16-17.

[4] Rom. 5:15-16.

On Civil Government and the Return of Christ

Welcome back to our congregational study of the Augsburg Confession! In celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we’ve been working our way through the AC, article-by-article. It’s been fairly difficult at times, and I congratulate you for reading so far. This month we’re going to look at a couple articles that sometimes slip by us: whether Christians can hold political office and what we believe about the return of Christ. Here’s Article XVI: Civil Government –

Our churches teach that lawful civil regulations are good works of God. They teach that it is right for Christians to hold political office, to serve as judges, to judge matters by imperial laws and other existing laws, to impose just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to take oaths when required by the magistrates, for a man to marry a wife, or a woman to be given in marriage [Romans 13; 1 Corinthians 7:2].

Our churches condemn the Anabaptists who forbid these political offices to Christians.  They also condemn those who do not locate evangelical perfection in the fear of God and in faith, but place it in forsaking political offices. For the Gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of the heart (Romans 10:10). At the same time, it does not require the destruction of the civil state or the family. The Gospel very much requires that they be preserved as God’s ordinances and that love be practiced in such ordinances. Therefore, it is necessary for Christians to be obedient to their rulers and laws. The only exception is when they are commanded to sin. Then they ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

As we’ve encountered already, this article is broken up into 2 parts: what we believe and what we reject, more or less. First, what do we believe? We believe that, “lawful civil regulations are good works of God.” That means that, when we keep civil laws – such as, not murdering or stealing – we’re actually doing things that are pleasing to God. That’s because not murdering and not stealing are things God has told us in Scripture. Also, since we learn in Scripture (Rom. 13) that civil government started as God’s idea, it is perfectly fine for a Christian to hold office, be a judge or police office, be a politician, buy or sell in the marketplace, swear before a judge, etc.

You might know that the Lutheran Reformation wasn’t the only one happening in the 1500’s. Another group around at this time was called the Anabaptists. They believed that the civil realm was absolutely sinful; therefore, a Christian could not hold a political office. If you were a Christian who did – then you weren’t a true Christian. We, of course, disagree with that for the reasons above. Instead, we would say the Gospel encourages us to continue in our vocations, including serving in a civil office or aspiring to one. We also believe that it is a Christian’s duty to obey their rulers and laws. “The only exception is when they are commanded to sin. Then they ought to obey God rather than men.”

augsburg-confession-1530

Now for Article XVII: The Return of Christ for Judgment –

Our churches teach that at the end of the world Christ will appear for judgment and will raise all the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:2]. He will give the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, but He will condemn ungodly people and the devils to be tormented without end [Matthew 25:31–46].

Our churches condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils.

Our churches also condemn those who are spreading certain Jewish opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed.

Again, this article is broken into a couple parts – what we believe and what we don’t. With the majority of the Church catholic (universal), we believe that at the end of the world Christ will return and raise the dead. At His return, He will also render His eternal judgment against sin. Those who, by grace, received His Word in faith for the forgiveness of their sins will enter eternal life. However, those who rejected Christ and His Word will be condemned to eternal separation from God’s love in hell.

The same group we mentioned earlier, the Anabaptists, come up here. They taught, and some still do, that there is an end to the condemnation of hell. In a nutshell, they taught that one could leave hell and enter heaven. The second thing we reject may be a more familiar idea, since it is part of the premise of the Left Behind series that was popular a little while back. We reject that – before Christ returns – all evil will be destroyed and Christians will be the rulers of this world. Though they aren’t mentioned here, we also don’t hold to the ideas of the Rapture or Tribulation. None of these are actually Christian ideas, originally. We simply believe that the end of the world will be when Christ returns. Those who received Him in faith will enter the new creation, those who rejected Him will be condemned.

I hate to end of kind of a bummer of a sentence. I guess, I encourage all Christians to give thanks for the grace they’ve received and pray that the number of God’s people would be increased. Next month we’ll return to a couple articles that hit on the core of the faith. We’ll study the articles on free will and the cause of sin. See you next month!

New Heavens and a New Earth

Text: Isaiah 65:17-25

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” Thus says the Lord in the second to last chapter of Isaiah. He promises a time when His beloved children will no longer suffer the effects of sin. In that time He will rejoice over His people and dwell with them. No longer will there be heard among them the sound of crying or distress, no longer will there be an infant who dies only a few days old nor and old man who doesn’t fill out his days. No longer will God’s people labor in vain, nor will they build and others inhabit. The wolf and lamb will graze together and the lion will eat straw. Finally, the promise made in Genesis 3 will find complete fulfillment: the serpent will eat dust forever. God says that there shall be no hurt nor destruction in all His holy mountain.

All this we understand to be a picture of what our lives will be like in the Resurrection. Last week the lessons took us to the end times and the return of our Savior. And now this week, the last Sunday of the year, we are given in our Old Testament text a vision and a promise of the blessed future that awaits us. In Gospel and Epistle readings we are exhorted to live and wait as those who are wise and have oil enough and more. But here in Isaiah, we see that for which we wait and pray. We await from our Lord the time when sin will be no more. Our God promises to us, His beloved children, a new heaven and earth. There He will dwell with us in a way that we can’t even fully comprehend yet, and He will cause us to live in joy, security, and peace forever.

I.

Thus saith the Lord, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” As we talked about last week, at the end of the Church Year our minds turn toward the talk of eschatology, the last things. Our Epistle and Gospel readings direct our consciences toward what will happen to us. Between recent funerals and the readings, we’ve reached a conclusion. Those who die in faith are immediately in the presence of Christ. Though we lay their bodies in the grave, those same bodies will be resurrected at Christ’s return. One thing we haven’t really talked about is, what happens to creation? After all, God created us with bodies. Bodies need space. Bodies need the creation. Yet, at present, the creation itself is corrupted by sin. St. Paul says in Romans that, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth,” until such time as sin will be no more.

That’s where our text comes in. God promises to create new heavens and a new earth. You might hear that and expect that we’re hearing from Revelation – because it’s there, too. But it’s also promised here in the Old Testament. It’s unclear to us exactly how the new heavens and earth will come to be. St. Peter says that the heavenly bodies will be burned up with fire. Hebrews simply says the foundation of the earth and heavens will be “changed,” like you would an old shirt. Whether by fire or other means, the Biblical witness and the promise of God is that all things will be made new. And, quite frankly, we’re due for it. Our Lutheran forefathers were of the opinion that the earth is somewhere around 6,000 years old, judging from the timelines in the Bible. This view we share. That’s six thousand years of death. Six thousand years of disease and decay, of crime and warfare, of sin and shame. But all these things will pass away. We who have been baptized have already been made new creations in Christ, but then will all creation itself be made new.

What will be new, is that the effects of sin will be no more. God goes to one of the most notable changes, “No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days.” In this new creation, the chief consequence of sin will be destroyed. Death will no longer exist. No more will we mourn the loss of our children nor grieve for those who passed too soon. There will be no more weeping nor cry of distress. For, God says, “I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people.” In addition, the former things shall not be remembered. Meaning, the sins that we committed will no longer weigh us down. There will be no death, and there will be no guilt.

II.

Because God will create all things new, death and sin will be no more. We will live in the joy of the resurrection and in its security. The language of building and inhabiting, planting and eating, calls to mind the many times in the Old Testament where God’s people were delivered into the hands of their enemies. God allowed them to be driven from their land as punishment for sin and their adultery against Him. Other families lived in their homes and other farmers benefited from their hard work. But, no more. Instead, “They shall build…and inhabit…they shall plant…and eat…my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.” Think of all those times you’ve worked hard on something, only to see it fall to pieces. That won’t happen anymore.

For like the days of a tree shall the days of My people be…They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them.” God returns us to the big idea here: there will be no sin, no death. Death is not a good thing. Jesus Christ died to put an end to death; at His Return it will finally be no more. The translators of the Greek Old Testament monkey with the Hebrew here, but I’ll allow it. They change “like the days of a tree,” to “like the days of the Tree of Life.” The lives of God’s beloved people will be like the Tree of Life, standing in the Garden of Eden forever for all to see and enjoy. This eternal life will extend not just to us, but to our children. No longer will we labor in vain, or bear children just to outlive them. Instead, we and our children will live together in God’s light. Remember what St. Peter said on Pentecost, “The promise [of forgiveness in Christ] is for you and for your children.”

III.   

So much of this text is beyond our comprehension. We can imagine there being no death, but only to an extent. The entire experience of our lives is built upon the fact that things don’t last. None of us has ever lived in a world where there was no death. Soon we will. God has yet more to say in our text. “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” Repeatedly God promises in Scripture to dwell with us. All of it – all of the work of Christ, His fulfillment of the Law, His suffering, His death, His resurrection and defeat of death – culminate in this. God will dwell with us in an immediate sense. There will be nothing between us. Truly, God does already dwell with us in Word and Sacrament, but in the new creation we will be in the presence of God. Before we call, He’ll answer. While we’re speaking, He’ll hear. It won’t be a terrifying presence, like in chapter 6 when Isaiah is sure he’s gonna die for seeing God. It will be a joy, and God Himself will rejoice.

Last things. “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the LORD. So much of this we can’t truly picture, so God describes it in a way we can. The fundamental order of creation will be changed. There will be no death and no destruction in the new creation that awaits us. And so, at the end of another Church year, our minds turn to the glory ahead. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we await from it our Savior. When He returns He will change our bodies to be like His and create all things new. Let us pray.

O God, the Father of all mercies, we bring unto You this day our sacrifice of praise for the innumerable and inestimable blessings which You have bestowed on us in Christ during the Church year which is now ending. You have caused Your divine Word to be preached to us, which is able to make us wise for salvation; You have permitted us to enjoy the holy Sacraments for our comfort and sanctification, and have accompanied the means of grace with the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We thank Your for Your goodness and praise Your holy name. We beg You, that in Your mercy, You would forgive us all our sins of the past year for Jesus’ sake, and graciously preserve for us and Your whole Church the light of Your Gospel. Lead us by Your Holy Spirit, that, receiving Your Word with gladness, we may be sanctified by Your Truth, and finally receive eternal salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Where Christ Is Found

Text: Matthew 24:15-28

Today our attention turns toward the end times and the return of Christ. This week and next we’ll be focusing primarily on the return of our Lord and for what purpose He comes. His first coming was to preach the Word of God and to secure for us the forgiveness of sins by His death on the cross. His second coming will be to raise all the dead, gather all the faithful to His side, and stand in judgment over those who rejected His salvation. The big word for all this kind of talk is eschatology, or, the study of the last things. In the early centuries of the Church, as we heard in our Epistle text, the return of Christ was looked forward to with fervent anticipation. Though, now it seems to have left the mind of many, or else the joy of Christ’s return is replaced with fear.

It’s easy for our minds to sway that way. The Gospel reading for today, taken by itself, without context, can be frightening. It can be mystifying. But, we should understand, the reason why Jesus is saying these things is not to scare us, but to prepare and comfort us. Jesus said, “I have told you beforehand.” In St. Luke’s account Jesus also said, “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” So, if it is correct – that Jesus teaches us these things to comfort us – what is one thing we can be comforted by today? In our text, when Jesus teaches not to be swayed by those saying He is out in the wilderness or in the inner rooms, He’s teaching that because soon He Himself will promise to be with His people always. Just after our text, He institutes the Sacraments and promises to be with us always and never be apart from us. Therefore, in our text Jesus teaches us the signs of His Coming so that we are not deceived, and learn to look for Him where He already is and will always be until His return.

I.

Our text takes place around Tuesday of Holy Week. Sunday is the Triumphal Entry and the cleansing of the temple. The next few days see Jesus teaching in the temple a final time. As He and the disciples are leaving in chapter 24, He caught them marveling over the great buildings. Jesus said to them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Jesus was indicating that the temple, the place of God’s holy abode, would be destroyed as a judgment against unbelief. This had happened earlier, 500 years before Christ, but this prediction of Jesus came true some 40 years after His ascension, when the Romans destroyed both the temple and the city.

Jesus is a clever and skilled teacher, so He’s able to teach two things at once. In our text He’s teaching about the destruction of Jerusalem as both the temporal judgment of God against His people’s infidelity and as a sign of the impending eternal judgment of God against sin and unbelief. This means that we should understand the destruction of the temple and the holy city not just as God’s specific judgment against them, but as a point from which we should be always prepared for Christ’s return. We should see the destruction of the temple as an indicator that we are in the end times. Or, to be more precise – the temple is destroyed because God’s chosen people rejected the Messiah. In Christ, the fullness of the deity became flesh. In Jesus the mystery of God’s salvation was made plain for all to see. We should see in His incarnation, death, and resurrection, the surest sign that we are near the end. But, like the disciples, we can be kind of dense. In His compassion, Jesus doesn’t rebuke us. He is patient and teaches us further about the end times.

Jesus has already taught about the wars and rumors of war that are to come when He says,

So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place…then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back…

Remember that Jesus is teaching about two things at once. These verses are attached to the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. The abomination mentioned could be a reference to a few things. First, we read in the book of Maccabees that king Antiochus Epiphanes set up a pagan altar on top of the altar that was already in the temple. Or, it could be reference to Roman interference with temple worship. Long story short – the temple’s going to be destroyed and Jerusalem with it. When these things happens, to condense Jesus’ words: Get out.

II.

There’s a subtle shift in verse 23. Remember that Jesus is really good at teaching and can do two things at once. He’s talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple as both the temporal judgment of God and as a sign of the end times. We’ve all heard the passages about wars and rumors of wars and pestilences and famines; but there’s one aspect I want us to latch onto today. Jesus says,

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

One of things that Jesus says is going to happen before He returns is a continual spread of false teachers and false doctrine. Jesus says that, first of all, there will be false christs. History has shown us some examples of this. Scripture itself contains accounts of those who came claiming to be someone. (Acts 5, for example.) I think Luther’s interpretation of this passage is helpful, especially since we don’t so much see people claiming explicitly to be Jesus. Luther says this also applies to those who teach in Christ’s name what He has not said. So this applies to pastors. Jesus says that in the end times many false pastors will come and teach what is not right – and claim that it is true Christian teaching. This fits well with Jesus saying there will also be false prophets.

What sort of things will these men of falsehood say? Jesus gives examples. They will try and draw people to go find Christ in places where He hasn’t promised to be. What does that mean? They will teach people to search for Jesus out in the wilderness, that is nature, or in the inner rooms, that is the mystical warm feeling of Jesus that you can only experience by yourself. It is true, that by the power of being God, Jesus is everywhere, but He hasn’t told us to look for Him there. Instead, He has told us two places to look for Him and find Him. His Word and His Sacraments. In these trying times, the devil tries to lead many astray by convincing them to look for Jesus in places He hasn’t promised to be.

But, Jesus is telling us all these things so that we would be prepared and comforted by His coming. Against all the world and the devil, there are two places where Jesus remembers and is faithful to His promise to be with us always. First, He has promised to be with us through His Word. Jesus says that where two or three are gathered in His name, He also is there. Scripture itself is living and active. It is the instrument through the Spirit of Christ creates and maintains faith within us. Christ is always with us in His Word. Second, Christ promised to be and is with us in the Sacraments. In Baptism, He joins us to Himself, taking our shame and clothing us with His righteousness. Through Baptism we have access to our Father in heaven. In Absolution, Christ works through His Word spoken through the mouth of pastors to forgive sins and mend broken hearts. In His Supper, Christ is with us in a tangible way – a way we can see, feel, taste – for the forgiveness of sins. So, when men come to lead God’s people astray from the Word and the Sacraments – where Christ has promised to be found – we repeat Jesus’ words, don’t believe them and don’t go out.

My dear friends in Christ – taken by itself, this text can be kind of distressing. But, for those who are found in Christ, it is a comfort. It is a comfort that we are now in the end times, for the end is when our Savior comes. Then will the redemption He won for us on the cross be made complete when we are forever separated from sin, death, and the devil. But until then, things are going to be bad. Jesus says so. He also encourages today to look for Him not where people say He is – in the wilderness, in inner rooms – but where He promises to be. He has promised to be with us always and to always be found in His Holy Word and Sacraments. Then, when the end comes, Christ Himself will appear like lightening and gather us with all the faithful to enter His everlasting joy and peace.

Night of the Daywalkers

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

In the Marvel Comics Universe there is a character named Blade. He was invented in 1973 but rose to popularity with the film series of the same name in the last 15 years or so. One of Blade’s nicknames is “The Daywalker.” He got that nickname because he is half vampire and half human. His mother was attacked by a vampire while she was pregnant, and the result is that he is turned into some sort of half-breed. He becomes half vampire, but still a good guy. He’s a creature of the night, but walks in the daytime. In the Epistle reading, Paul writes, “You are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day.”[1] In keeping with the theme of the end of the church year we learn from the text that the day of the Lord will soon come like a thief in the night to put an end to darkness, but we have already been made children of the day.

I.

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.[2] When we last looked at 1 Thessalonians we learned that Thessalonica was the capital of Roman Macedonia. It was surrounded and filled by the wicked practices particularly of pagans, but of the Jews as well. Paul was not able to spend as much time there as he wanted on his second missionary journey, as he was driven out of town by an angry Jewish mob, only to have the same happen in the next town over. And so, he was worried about the new Christians there until he heard a good report from Timothy.

Paul commended them as an example of faith amidst a sea of evil. In addition to temptations to gratify the desires of the flesh as they saw everyone else doing, they had another concern: the return of Jesus Christ. Early Christians believed that Jesus would return immediately, and then when He didn’t, they became concerned that they missed it. This thinking Paul would specifically address in parts of 2 Thessalonians, but at this point Paul writes that the Thessalonians have no need to have anything written about the Second Coming – the return of Christ for judgment against sin and the reunion of all believers. Paul constantly affirms in his writing that he is not teaching anything new, but he teaches what he received from the other Apostles and from Jesus Himself. Part of that teaching was what Jesus said about His own return.

Matthew 24 puts us in the middle of Holy Week. As Jesus left the Temple, His disciples remarked how great the buildings were, and He told them that not one of them would be left standing. This piques their interest and they ask Him what the sign of His coming will be. Jesus gives them a general idea by saying that there will be wars and famines and earthquakes; false prophets will arise and deceive many, and many will fall away from the faith – all things which have already happened and will continue to happen. But to keep them from trying to pinpoint the time, He tells them, “Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”[3]

This teaching the Thessalonians received from Paul and we receive as well. But, wouldn’t it be nice to know when exactly Jesus is coming? We could have all our ducks in a row; we could make sure that we were behaving like good little Christians. Some, like John Hagee, have put stock in something called the Blood Moon Prophecy. This is the idea that a series of red moons will immediately precede Christ. Therefore, since we can use science to predict these, some say they know exactly when Jesus will return. Now, this is well-intentioned, I’m sure. But, what happens when you have work to do – say you have a task that will take you an hour to do – and you have more than enough time to do it? If you’re like me, you procrastinate. I’ll get this idea that if I can get this thing done in an hour, and I’ve got two hours free, why not spent the first doing whatever I feel like? In that way I make myself comfortable as I gratify my own desire to not do work.

II.

The text says, “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”[4] Jesus said that the coming of the Son of Man will be like the days of Noah, where people were eating and drinking and being merrily unaware up until Noah was getting into the ark, and the Flood destroyed them all. I like to read the Psalms; Luther prized them and called them the songbook of the Bible. Truly all Scripture transcends time, but the Psalms are especially good at speaking to the core of our human condition. Psalm 73 is one of those Psalms, I think, that just hits the spot. Asaph writes that God is truly good to Israel, but he almost stumbled and slipped out of faith, and the reason was that, “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”[5]

Job was troubled by this as well. He asked, “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power…they spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to Sheol. They say to God. ‘Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of Your ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? And what profit do we get if we pray to Him?”[6] Sometimes we ask ourselves, what is the benefit of being a Christian? Why do we come to church? We sing and hear some readings, but how does it impact me, if at all, when non-believers appear to live the same or even a better life? Asaph continues in Psalm 73, “When I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.”[7]

Scripture gives us this comfort, that though it seems like the world has the upper hand, that we Christians are like flies beneath the swatter, the end will come like thief in the night and sudden unescapable destruction will come upon those who say in their heart, “There is no God.” Though it appears they live the prosperous life, their end is ruin. The psalmist wrote, “I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end…I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will receive me to glory.”[8]

St. Paul writes, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day…For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”[9] The end of those who reject God in their heart will come swiftly, and they will not escape. But we are not in darkness. Though we were once in darkness, enslaved to the sin that lurks within and around us, now you are light in the Lord. Those who disbelieve, who get drunk on the desires of their own flesh will not enter the kingdom of heaven. While they are telling themselves, “peace and security,” the end will come.

But God has not destined those in Christ for wrath, but for salvation through Jesus Christ. He is the eternal Son of God. He existed before all creation and all things were created by Him. He took on flesh to die for us, to win for us the salvation that we cannot work out ourselves. He did this to win us for Himself and make us children of the day. St. Paul writes, “Let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”[10] Since we have been bought by the blood of Christ, we are not only assured of our salvation, but we also receive the armor of God. This we need as we continue to be in the world, but not of it. The breastplate of faith and love was been placed upon us to share that faith and love with those around us.

Next week we are having our community meatball dinner. The money we raise from it goes not to us, but to our neighbor in need. In this we are sharing the love that we have through the faith we receive from Christ.

This is the second to last Sunday in the Church year. We’ve been focusing last week and this week on what that means for those on earth. We know that those who live according to the world will receive their just reward. But, we are still tempted and we do envy them. There are so many who live such better lives than us. This is why we have been given the helmet of salvation. Our helmet that protects us from the devil and the world is the hope that in Christ all of our sins are forgiven and that in Him we have obtained salvation.


 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Thess. 5:4-5.

[2] 1 Th 5:1–2.

[3] Mt 24:36.

[4] 1 Th 5:3.

[5] Ps. 73:3

[6] Job 21:7, 13-15

[7] Ps. 73:16-17

[8] Ps. 73:17, 23-24

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Th 5:4-5, 9–10.

[10] 1 Thess. 5:8