The Great Day When Faith Turns to Sight (Matthew 25:31-46)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Last Sunday of the Church Year + November 26, 2017

Text: Matthew 25:31-46

We are Christians living in the Last Days.  As such, it is our calling not to measure the frequency of wars, famines, and earthquakes, but to wait patiently for the Day of the Lord.

 

So let’s walk through this text and learn from the Lord what He would have us learn.

 

  • What this teaches us about the end times
    • “When the Son of Man comes”: He is This is unavoidable and just as certain as His coming at Christmas.  Because it’s been so long, it will catch many by surprise (“like a thief in the night,”
    • All His angels with Him: those ministering spirits, God’s army, who have served the elect to help them to this end and protected them from danger, will now at last will be the reapers who will separate out the multitude of unbelievers and gather the elect to their Lord (Matt. 13:37-43, Matt. 24:31).
      • Hebrews 1:14: Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?
      • Psalm 91:11–12: For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.
      • Matthew 24:31: And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
    • The Day of Christ’s return in glory will also be the Day of Judgment (Acts 17:31).
  • It will be a day of great revelation of what was in the hearts of all
    • For now, all we can see are the works. God knows the faith for certain.  That’s why the Lord commands us not to step into the role of judgment: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matt. 7:1-5)  For one person to judge another is beyond their ability.
    • On that Day, each person’s faith will be seen at last when the Lord separates believers from unbelievers. Do not judge and do not attempt to discriminate who the true believers are before then (Matt. 13:24-30).
    • Salvation will not be on the basis of those works, because the Kingdom comes as an inheritance which has been prepared for us from before the foundation of the world.
      • Inheritances are received on the basis of someone else’s labor (namely, Christ’s)
      • “Before the foundation of the world” shows the fullness of this plan that it could never be on the basis of human merit. Faith only receives what God gifts. (see also Ephesians 1:3-14)
    • The damned have it all wrong because they believed that God would be pleased with their works. They are astonished that God would find fault with all the Christian-looking things they did.  On that day, everyone who believed in a works-based salvation (Christian or other religion) will be put to shame.
  • Now that you know the end of the story, this is how to prepare:
    • Faith is the absolute most precious gift that any person may have.
      • Make every effort to build up your faith through frequent attendance in worship, studying the Scriptures, and devoting time to prayer. Faith comes and is strengthened by being in the Word (Romans 10:17, Galatians 3:5, James 1:21)
      • Avoid those things which are harmful to your faith. Namely, activities which keep you or your children from worship, books and YouTube videos which would cast doubt on the apostolic faith, and yoking yourself with someone who does not share the faith or criticizes your church.
    • Let the Holy Spirit renew your heart so that you live that faith. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned.  Welcome the downcast are love them, just as God welcomed you into His family.  When works like these come out of faith in the mercy God has shown you, it’s a beautiful thing in God’s sight.
    • Share with others what a beautiful inheritance Christ has won for all who believe in Him.

Giving Thanks, No Matter Circumstances (Philippians 4:6-13)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Service of Thanksgiving – November 22, 2017

Text: Philippians 4:6-13

St. Paul’s words sound preposterous: Do not be anxious about anything.  Whatever is true, honorable, just, etc…think about these things.  I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger…I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.  What could be more unrealistic?

 

If Paul were just a feel-good purveyor of platitudes, then they would just be empty, motivational words.  But what he tells us is based all on who God is and what He has done and is doing.

 

“The Lord is at hand”

Our God is near.  Repeatedly in His Word He reminds us that He created us, provides for us, defends us:

Psalm 139:13–14a: For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

 

Matthew 6:31–32: Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

 

Hebrews 13:5–6: Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

 

Where else do we get our ideas about God’s nearness?

From our feelings?  But those fluctuate so much, from day to day or in a moment.

From signs in nature?  Perhaps, but what do you think of God when the flood waters rise and destroy your property?  Or where is your joy on a gloomy winter day?

From how well relationships and work?  People are fickle and not always reliable.  It’s fine for when things are going smoothly, but where is God when they’re not?

From our health? All of us bear the effects of sin in our bodies.  It’s no surprise when we catch one more cold this fall, or one more thing breaks in our body.

We have a God who is near.  He challenges us to believe that He is at hand, and repent of our projections or perceptions.  That is His will for us in every adversity that we face: to realize where we have looked for Him in the wrong places, and to come back to His word of promise which speaks of His faithfulness no matter what.

 


 

“The God of peace will be with you.”

Paul says it again, but He adds that He is the God of peace, right after this admonition:

“Brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

 

Think back to all the times just recently that you’ve worried, set your mind on how bad things were, how hopeless situations were, ad how awful people are and they deserve worse than they get.

In His Law, God says we should have no other gods, and love our neighbor as ourselves.    When we distrust God, we are guilty of the very first Commandment of not loving and trusting in God above all things.  When we get down on our neighbor and think the worst about him and wish ill for him, we sin against the Second table of the Law—against God and often hurt our neighbor too.

Now that’s a serious problem for our relationship with a holy, almighty God who wishes to be our Father.  But with you, of shallow thankfulness and a lukewarm heart, He has made peace with you through the gift of His Son.  Jesus, Immanuel, God-with-us is the assurance of peace with God in spite of the ways you have been unfaithful and unthankful.  “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)  This is access by grace to a Father in heaven who loves you, cares for you, and upholds you.

 

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

“I can’t go on…I can’t take anymore…I just can’t handle this…It’s impossible to live like this!”  These are the things we tell ourselves and others out of desperation.  With minds set on earthly setbacks—our incompetence and the messes we’ve made, other people’s failings, looking inside and not finding the strength to go forward.

The Lord is at hand.  These are not empty words.  When He says that He will never leave you or forsake you, that you need not be anxious like a Gentile about how to get by, that He is as close to you now as when you were an embryo being made in the womb—believe it.

By the power that enabled Him to create out of nothing, He creates for you and in you.  Where is it going to come from?  How will I get there?  He has it mapped out how He will give it.

How am I, a Christian but tossed around with bouts of unbelief, to trust in Him and keep my faith?  He gives you that strength, because it’s not a strength that you muster up yourself.  It’s a divine, heavenly strength which He delivers to you in His Word, in the sermon, in the absolution, in the Body and Blood of Jesus.

 

Empty words?  Platitudes?  Far from it.  Great is His faithfulness indeed!  All of His promises have Him standing behind them.  Even better than that, the Lord is indeed at hand for you. Amen.

Clarifying the Last Day (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

2nd to Last Sunday of the Church Year + November 19, 2017

Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Adapted from a sermon by Pastor Alexander Lange

 

13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (NKJV)

 

The Christians in Thessalonica were troubled. Some of their brothers and sisters had died. They were grieving. On top of that, they were also worried that their dearly departed would not see or fully enjoy the return of Jesus. So, St. Paul in this letter writes to address their concerns. Today we will closely examine this passage to see how it addresses the questions of the Thessalonians and how it addresses our own questions and concerns.

 

The first place Paul goes is to the heart of the Christian faith: that Jesus died and rose.  But that isn’t just a fact memorized from the creed.  It’s a reality for every Christian baptized into Him.  Because Jesus died and rose, so will all who believe in Him.  This gives hope in the face of death and all that leads up to it—grave illness, diseases that eat away at the body, and dementia.

 

This is contrasted with “others who have no hope.”  These others face the same bitter anguish and death.  They run into the same vanity that you can expend all your effort on life, building a career, raising a family, saving for retirement—all for it to be obliterated by death.   But for those without Jesus, death is a gloomy, final end.  Sure there’s a wish that death leads to somewhere or something better than what was experienced in life, but there’s no certainty; only fear.  So put death away, ignore it, dress it up, and avoid it as long as possible.

 

Paul knows that some of the Thessalonians have died. He knows that the rest of the Thessalonians are mourning, but he doesn’t want them to grieve without hope. So, he reminds them that Jesus once died … and he was raised from the dead!

 

The Thessalonians don’t need to despair as they lose loved ones and as they approach the grave… and neither do you, because your Lord has already been there. Your Lord was crucified and buried, but then he left behind his tomb. Jesus is alive and immortal. You are in Christ, and so, what happened to him must happen to you! You and all your brothers and sisters will be raised from the dead. Death is only temporary. The resurrection gives us an unshakable hope.

 

Then, Paul says to the Thessalonians: “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.”

 

The Thessalonians were grieving, because some of their brothers and sisters had died. They were a bit worried too. They knew that Jesus would return and that Jesus would raise their brothers and sisters, but they were not sure about the order of these events. Would Jesus raise them first and then come? Or would he come first and then raise the dead?

 

You might think, “Why does it matter?” Well, the Thessalonians were worried that the dead would not witness the glorious return of Jesus. They were worried that their dearly departed would miss something which the living would enjoy. Paul assures them that this will not be the case. He says that the living will not precede the dead, that the dead in Christ will rise first, that their dearly departed will not miss a thing.

 

Now, we may not share the same concerns as these Thessalonians. Nevertheless, we do have our own misunderstandings and concerns about the second coming, don’t we? For example, we have lots of neighbors who believe in Premillenial Dispensationalism.

 

They believe that the Lord will return in secret to take all believers into heaven. They imagine that “true” believers will be teleported away from earth without warning, leaving all the unbelievers behind. Then, there will be a period tribulation on the earth for 7 years, during which the Anti-Christ will appear. The temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt.  Then after the time of tribulation, Jesus will come a third time and reign visibly on earth for 1,000 years. After the thousand year reign, Jesus will raise the dead and judge mankind.

 

This whole system was first thought up by John Nelson Darby in the 1830’s in England.  It was brought to America and popularized by Cyrus Ingerson Scofield who divided history into 7 dispensations, which in his own words describes: “These periods are marked off in Scripture by some change in God’s method of dealing with mankind, in respect to two questions: of sin, and of man’s responsibility…Each of the dispensations may be regarded as a new test of the natural man, and each ends in judgment—marking his utter failure in every dispensation.”

 

These Premillenial Dispensationalists can sound very convincing, because they pull lots of Bible verses (mostly from Daniel and Revelation) out of context to supposedly prove their theology.  However, our text from 1 Thessalonians exposes their doctrine as false. According to Paul, Jesus will not return in secret. He will “will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.” Everyone will know when Jesus returns. Immediately upon his return—with no pause or 1,000 year delay—Jesus will raise the dead and all believers will be caught up to him.

 

 

In biblical Christianity there are only two comings of Christ. First, Jesus came in humility to obey the Law in our place, to die as our substitute, and to rise from the dead. Jesus came to win forgiveness and eternal life for you. Then, Jesus will come in glory to destroy all evil including the devil and the sin and death that still remains in you. He will pronounce you righteous and make you immortal. There’s no need for a third or a fourth coming.  These two comings are all we need.  There’s no need for God to have a different way of dealing with Jews versus Gentiles, because of Christ, “who has made [Jews and Gentiles] both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”[1]

Finally, Paul says to the Thessalonians: “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

 

Again, Paul is assuring the Thessalonians that the dead won’t miss out on anything. First, Jesus will raise the dead Christians, and then, all Christians will meet Jesus in the air and participate in his glorious descent. The dead won’t miss a thing.

 

Now, this is important. When Paul says that we will meet Jesus in the air, he is not saying that Jesus will take us to heaven. The Greek word ἀπάντησις (ah-PAN-tay-sis) is translated “to meet”, but it is also a word that refers to a special kind of journey. In the ancient world kings and governors would sometimes visit one of their colonies. The leading citizens of that colony were expected to meet him on the road and escort him back to the city. That was called an apantesis.[2]

 

Paul is saying that Jesus is our King and he will come to earth to judge the wicked and to set things right. Just as the leading citizens met their dignitaries on the road, we will meet our King in the air and we will escort him to earth. Then, Jesus will renew the earth, where we will live and work on it forever. Paul makes this clear in Romans chapter eight, where he says that Jesus will liberate creation from decay. John describes this renewal of creation in Revelation chapters 21 and 22. So, you see, this is not about believers going to heaven, but it’s about our King coming to fix his corrupt creation.

 

A new word instead of “rapture” -> Parousia

Matthew 24:27: 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.

1 John 2:28: And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.

James 5: Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

 

Paul concludes that we will be with our Lord forever and he tells the Thessalonians to comfort each other with these words. And boy, are these words comforting! Essentially, Paul is saying that Sin and Death will not sever us from our Lord. Just as the Lord lived with Adam on a beautiful world, the Lord will live with us in the new creation!  Take comfort in His trustworthy Word, and let not your hearts be troubled by deceptive and novel teachings about the End Times.  Amen.

[1] Ephesians 2:14-16

[2] Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

A Wise Virgin is Ready for the Long Run (Matthew 25:1-13)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost + November 12, 2017

Text: Matthew 25:1-13

We can all agree that preparation is an important thing to do.  If you are prepared for something, it will be easier to meet when it comes.  This is true of things we know when to expect, like Christmas, bills, school assignments, or retirement.  But it’s also true of things we don’t have a date on, like natural disasters and when the car will break down.

 

Despite how important it can be, preparing for the future is often shuffled to the bottom of priorities.  Bankrate.com released a study saying that 36% of American workers have absolutely nothing saved for retirement.[1]  Around this time of year, the loan sharks take advantage of Christmas spending.  Countless business are ready to jump at the opportunity to “help you out” in the form of a short-term loan.  We know we should be prepared in the event of a disaster or power outage, but how many actually have stores of water and food?

 

In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, our Lord is talking about preparation.  We may not have a date on it, but we know that God is not lying and Christ will return.  Even tomorrow is not promised to us, but the Lord’s coming in glory is.  His coming will be like a “thief in the night”[2] but for those who are prepared, this will not be a shock.  So that we will not be caught off guard, Jesus tells this parable:

 

1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.

 

After nation has risen against nation, famines, earthquakes, great tribulation, false prophets, and frightful signs in the heavens,[3] the return of Christ will be a relief for God’s people.  At last our Redeemer has drawn near!  He will take us to be with Himself in heaven forever!  They will shout, “This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”[4]

 

But then comes the shock: not everyone who is waiting for the Lord enters into the Marriage Feast.  Haven’t all ten been prepared?  All have decked themselves for their Bridegroom’s return.   They all have their lamps handy.  They even all fell asleep in waiting for the Bridegroom.  So why are five wise and five foolish?

 

It’s has to do with the oil.  The five wise had oil to last the wait, but the foolish only brought enough for the moment.

 

 

But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’

 

It seems that the wise are coldhearted toward their companions.  How can this be an example of charity and grace?  The virgins have oil and they are not willing to share.  The real trouble is they cannot share because the oil is living faith, and each must have his own.  Christians are called to share material things with those in need, but faith is something that one person cannot give to another.  As Martin Luther began his Invocavit sermons,

The summons of death comes to us all, and no one can die for another. Every one must fight his own battle with death by himself, alone. We can shout into another’s ears, but every one must himself be prepared for the time of death, for I will not be with you then, nor you with me.[5]

The reality is that each of us must be prepared with his or her own faith.  Faith is a gift from God, but it is one that each needs to have, and cherish and value above all else in this life.

 

Jesus tells this parable to His disciples.  He speaks to those in His Church, not to those outside.  The ten virgins stand for the total of all who consider themselves Christians.  Enough has been said by the Lord to those who reject His Word for themselves—Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, and atheists.  But Jesus is our Lord and He has every right to our attention.

 

It is also right for Him to have our attention now, because the time is coming when we will all grow drowsy and sleep.  None of us can escape death (which the Lord calls sleep more than once).  Let us not laugh at Him like those at Jairus’ house or be ignorant like the disciples at Lazarus’ death,[6] when He tells us that the sleep of death will come to us all before His return.  As the Apostle Paul says, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”[7]

 

Consider again how all of the virgins are decked out for the Bridegroom’s return.  No doubt they are all beautifully clad and full of anticipation.  Psalm 45 foretells this, “All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold. In many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions following behind her.”[8]  This depicts the Bride of Christ, the Church on earth, waiting for His arrival.

 

But it turns out for all their preparations, the foolish virgin companions have run out of oil.  They would have been fine if the Lord had come back immediately, but He delayed in returning.  This has a lot to say to us as Lutherans, who move heaven and earth to get our children baptized, but then never bring them to church again.  It speaks to parents who could care less about the Divine Service until 7th grade hits, and suddenly their junior high student must be confirmed.  Pastor Mark Surburg calls this the “magic talisman of the Lutheran Church,” that parents and children go to great lengths for a moment in time, but neglect training in godliness for the rest of life’s journey.  Do we really want our children to be found without oil on that Day?

 

The Lord also warns everyone who would trust in their adornments.  Though you rarely miss a Sunday at Church, and though you gave generously in the offering plate, and though you sponsored every one of the pew Bibles, none of this will win you the Bridegroom’s eye.  The Scriptures make this clear, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” and “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”[9]

 

The wise virgins know this, but the foolish virgins think they can white knuckle it through life.  Once fed at the rich table of Law and Gospel preaching and the comfort of the Sacraments, they leave to subsist on scraps at their friend’s non-denom church.  They move to college, get divorced, or lose their job and decide that Church is what’s really wrong with their life.  They marry an unbeliever and think they’ll save him by sitting next to him on the couch.

 

Empty lamps with the flame burning out is what all of us become unless we are regularly filled by the Lord.  If the Lord brought us to heaven immediately, we might be fine.  But He doesn’t.  He tarries, and the journey of life is long.  “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  Be prepared for the whole span of your life.

 

When it comes to preparing for things like retirement or an upcoming trip, the emphasis is on our work and our decisions.  If we don’t save or we don’t pack, we’ll be sorry.  But when it comes to being a wise virgin, the Lord prepares you. He gives you a heart of wisdom to number your days,[10] so that you see your desperate need for the gifts He freely gives.  Throughout our days, we come to the Lord like an empty vessel, needing to be filled.  He gladly does so!  He is filling you right here in the Divine Service.  In faith, you hear His Word, receive His forgiveness, and taste His Body and Blood.  He fills you in Bible study, so that as you spend time meditating on His Word, He fills you with eternal riches.

 

In being filled, you might miss out on sleep, or watching a football game, or visiting with out-of-town family.  But the wise virgin knows that what her Bridegroom gives—and still has laid up in eternity—far outshines anything on this earth.  Unless He comes before, you will grow drowsy and your earthly life will ebb to a close.  You will be with Him until that final trumpet sounds and all the virgins rise.  Those wise, prepared virgins will rejoice and sing the rest of Psalm 45:

    Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.

The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness;

                you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.

                  Therefore God, your God, has anointed you

with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

And “with joy and gladness they will be led along as they enter the palace of the King.”[11]

Amen.
[1] http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/08/18/zero-retirement-savings/14070167/

[2] 1 Thessalonians 5:2 (Epistle reading)

[3] An overview of Matthew 24

[4] Isaiah 25:9

[5] Sermon for Invocabit Sunday (1st Sunday in Lent), March 9, 1522

[6] Matthew 9:24; John 11:11-15

[7] 2 Corinthians 6:2

[8] Psalm 45:13-14

[9] Hebrews 11:6, Romans 14:23

[10] Psalm 90:12

[11] Psalm 45:6-7, 15

All Saints Day (observed)(Revelation 7:9-17)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

All Saints Day (observed) – November 5, 2017

Text: Revelation 7:9-17

 

“After this I looked, and behold”: For now, faith and sight are now distinguished from each other.

We know that God is good, that He loves us, and that He has brought us into His Kingdom.

But all that we see is evil, hatred and rejection, and an ever-increasing discord among the kingdoms of the world.

 

How do we know that God is good? Of His mercy?  That He has a bright future for us?  John was given a vision of it, but we must hear His Word

John 20:29 – “Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Luke 11:28 – “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”

Psalm 119:105 – “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” And 2 Peter 1:19: “We have something more sure—the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts”

The Lord actually rebukes us if we are too eager to end this time of faith and hearing: Matthew 12:39: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”

 

God’s sure message for faith comes in His Word (and nowhere else).  How often have people fallen into despair because they thought they were a lost cause, that God didn’t exist, or even if He does that He doesn’t love us because of what’s happened—all based on their experience instead of the Word.

 

When we dwell on His Word, what our eyes see disappoint and saddens, because we see how it’s meant to be and how far it is from perfect.  The more you are in the Word, the less at home you will feel in this world, and the more you will long to be with the Lord.  You will feel like a stranger, but at home whenever you are with God.  Yes, you’ll long to be with Him face-to-face, but you’ll also have a longing to be with Him where He promises—in hearing His voice in the Scriptures, and reclining at table with Him in Communion.

 

What our eyes see in the here and now can wear us down.  When we lose someone to death, when we see people who we thought were Christians and friends betray us, and when we see the enmity of the world increase—these things wear out our eyes and fill them with tears.

 

If we grow weary of waiting, we begin to look for our hearts delight in what our eyes do see.  Wouldn’t it just be easier to give up longing and be satisfied with enjoyment of this life?  Do everything possible to fill our coffers and live an easy life now!  Live like our unbelieving friends and neighbors who have no concerns about sin or eternity, but only if they’re happy.

 

What’s more, our ears can become dull of hearing.  It can become too comfortable or familiar to hear the Word of God that we no longer actually listening it.  It’s like going through the liturgy without actually listening. Then we bemoan worship and say it isn’t exciting or novel.

 

Hear anew the Word which calls each of us to repent of our weary eyes and dull ears!  John’s vision in Revelation was specifically given for Christians who have lost their heavenward focus.  So the Lord gave this visual confirmation of His Gospel.  We hear of God’s Kingdom, but here is the vision of it:

 

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

 

Let God’s trustworthy Word breathe new life and hope into you.  He hasn’t changed, and the kingdom and future He has for you has not gone away even if you don’t feel it as strongly as you may have before.  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col. 3:16)  God does provide you with the strength you need to press on—in His Word, in the gift of the Holy Spirit, in the Lord’s Supper.

 

This future is on the horizon for you and all believers:

 

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

      15         “Therefore they are before the throne of God,

and serve him day and night in his temple;

and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

      16         They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;

the sun shall not strike them,

nor any scorching heat.

      17         For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,

and he will guide them to springs of living water,

                  and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

 

 

Every believer is pictured in that great multitude, and even though our lives may look pretty mundane, our life of faith is a great struggle, but we will come through it by the Blood of the Lamb, Jesus our Savior.

 

The people who walked by the light of God’s Word will dwell in the light of the Lord.   In eternity: Revelation 22:5: “They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light.”

 

When faith becomes sight, those eyes which have shed tears will be comforted.