Last Sunday of the Church Year
Rev. Paul L. Beisel
In many ways the seasons of the church year match those of the calendar year. The celebration of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead comes at that time of the year when flowers begin to bloom and the cold darkness of winter begins to show signs of departure. Creation itself seems to announce the glorious truth that death has been defeated and life has triumphed in Christ.
Then comes the long season of green. Pentecost is the season of growth. During this time farmers are planting and waiting for the growth of their crops. And preachers emphasize the growth of the Holy Christian Church through the work of the Holy Spirit in the Word. The cool breeze in mid October tells us that the time of summer has come to an end and winter is near once more.
So also at the end of the Church Year, we are reminded that the end of all things is near. Jesus is coming again as surely as he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. The Creeds of the Church echo the words of the Bible when they say: “And He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.” And though there are signs that will announce the arrival of that great day, Jesus reminds us today that no one knows the day or the hour, “not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
For this reason, we are to be on our guard. “Keep awake!” Our Lord has promised to return, but he hasn’t told us when. Woe to all those who think they have plenty of time, who do as they please, who fail to listen to the words of Christ. For them it will be like the days of Noah before the flood. They were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage,” and then came destruction. They ignored the warnings of Noah and they suffered the consequences of their unbelief.
Blessed are those who stay awake, who ignore the jeers and the jokes of the rest of the world, who hear the words of our greater Noah and believe. Surely they will be safe and secure inside the holy ark of the Christian Church while the unbelieving world perishes. Jesus says so himself: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. He who does not believe will be condemned.”
As with many things in the Bible, there are some pretty strange ideas floating around out there about the End Times. Perhaps you’ve heard of the “left behind” series, or you’ve watched the movies with Kirk Cameron. Maybe you’ve seen signs on other churches talking about the “Rapture.” Maybe you have friends who get excited every time it seems like there is going to be war over in the Middle East because they are waiting for “Armageddon.” As I said, there are some very fanciful ideas out there.
Most common is the one that thinks that Jesus will first come secretly. You’ll be walking downtown one day and all of a sudden cars will begin crashing because their drivers have been “raptured” from their seats. Or maybe you’ll see a plane crash because its pilots were taken while others were “left behind.” And then, they say, at a later time Christ will come and set up an earthly kingdom for 1000 years, taking literally the words of Revelation.
None of these things has any firm grounding in God’s Word. We believe what is taught in the Scriptures and the ancient Christian creeds. There will be one, final return of Christ. That return will be visible for all to see. It will need no announcement, and it will be day when Christ will render judgment on the whole world, including the devil and his evil angels. The “sheep” and the “goats” will be separated.
For all true Christians, this is a day to which we look with eyes of longing. It is a day when the war will finally be over, when the songs of victory will go on without end. It is the day that the Bridegroom will return to claim his holy Bride and wipe away her tears forever. It is a day of deliverance and gladness. Like a soldier’s wife who looks out the window each day hoping to catch a glimpse of her beloved, so we too eagerly look for the appearing of the Son of Man.
As we do so, let us also remember that “Heaven and earth are passing away.” All this stuff that we see around us is not going to last. It’s already beginning to decay. Has anyone yet found a car that doesn’t eventually turn to rust? Has anyone found a tree that does not eventually wither and die? Has anyone owned a computer that has not eventually gone bad? (Mac users don’t count.)
“Heaven and earth are passing away,” says Jesus, “but my words will not pass away.” These words beg the following question: is this good news for you, or bad news? Is it a good thing that this world and everything in it is passing away? Or is this a reason for sadness? That question is a very important one for all of us to consider. Is your hope set on “things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” or is it set on “things below?” In other words, if Christ were to return today, and you had to bid farewell to all of the things you hold dear in this life, would this be a cause for sadness, or joy?
If your faith is right, if your hope is set on Christ and on the things of the life to come, then you will have no problem with the fact that “this world is passing away.” This will come as good news, great news in fact to you. If your faith is not right, then the thought of leaving the things of this life and world behind will cause you grief. Can you imagine life without your homes, your cars, your jobs, your computers, your season tickets, your games, and all the other things that give you pleasure here on earth? If not, then your god is a false one. Your god is yourself, and your heart is fixed on earthly things.
Repent! “Heaven and earth are passing away, but my words will not pass away.” Did Christ give his life into death so that you could remain in this world? Certainly not! Did Christ suffer the pains of the cross so that you could return like a sow to the slop of sin, or like a dog to its vomit? Clearly not! He did so in order that you might enjoy the true riches of heaven. He gave up his life into death, suffering the wrath of His Father for your sins, so that by faith in Him you might escape the death and bitterness of this world and live in the joy and glory of the holy angels.
In this Gospel today, Jesus invites you to place your hope not in the passing things of this earth, but in Him and His changeless Words and Promises. “My words will not pass away.” When the bricks and mortar of this very church building are crumbling, Christ’s Word will remain. When kingdoms rise and fall, and generations come and go, Christ’s Words will remain. When our hair turns grey and our skin to wrinkles, Christ’s Words will remain. In fact, His Word is the one thing that has been there from the very beginning and will be there even into eternity.
For those of you whose families have been torn apart by sin, for you children who live in broken homes, here is something that is permanent and changeless. Christ’s word remains. It endures forever. For you whose bodies are racked with illness and suffering, Christ’s word of healing endures. And unlike the words of men, which promise great things but never deliver, Christ’s Word is always faithful. It is predictable. “If we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins.”
What a marvelous thing to know: that there is one thing in this world, one thing in heaven and earth that endures when everything else is passing away. What a marvelous and comforting thing to know that here in God’s house, in His holy Church, you can always come and find Christ and His Word, for you and for your salvation. In his Word you hear that for Christ’s sake God forgives you your sins. In his Word you hear that in Christ’s death and resurrection, God has cancelled the debts of all men. In His Word you hear that you too will be raised bodily from the grave, even as Christ was, and live, even though you die.
“Heaven and earth will pass away. But my words will not pass away.” This is good news to hearts that are broken because of sin; good news to those who long for deliverance; good news to body that is ravaged by disease and illness. Christ is coming soon to deliver you, and to bring you to dwell in your true and lasting city. Amen.