Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Man's Work

Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Daniel 12:1-3

I suppose in this day and age you have to be careful about how you describe things and people, but work with me on the assumption that there’s no intention here to be chauvinistic. There are certain things that are a man’s work. And it’s good when men step up to do that work.

Picture Eve in the Garden of Eden. All things are at her disposal. She has a husband who treasures her above all other things, even though God has given him dominion over the earth. Eve is truly content, knowing that all of her needs are provided for with a gracious God who has given everything to her.

But she is on her own when Satan tempts her. She is beguiled by the picture he paints before her eyes—maybe she doesn’t have everything she needs after all. What is wrong with this situation is that there is no man to step in and do the man’s work. Oh he was there. Adam saw what was happening to his wife. But he didn’t do anything. He didn’t be a man. He let his wife be taken advantage of.

Or what about Bathsheba? Where was there a man to protect her in her time of need? Oh wait, he was the one that violated her. David, the man who was charged with the duty of taking care of the people of his kingdom, was the one who abused his authority in the absence of Bathsheba’s husband, the one charged with taking care of her. When Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, was called to active duty he trusted that Bathsheba would be in good hands back home. David, like Adam, backed out of his man’s work that God had given him to do.

And what do you think possessed Peter to shirk his duty to protect the flock of God by guarding them against false doctrine? He was a afraid to stand up and be a man. He was more concerned about what people would think of him so he traded the Gospel for respect of people. Like Adam and David, his selfish actions ended up hurting others. People were led to believe that if you eat certain foods you will be gaining favor with God. This caused some who were weak in faith to wonder if they could really be saved by what Christ has done or if they needed to get their act together and be better than they were.

We could go on and on with examples of men of God who didn’t do the man’s work God had called them to do. But what does this have to do with Daniel and the angel Michael and the Old Testament reading for today? It’s this: God has given us men to do His work, but we must not rely on the men themselves. Because they continue to shirk their responsibility. They fall short. They don’t always step in and do the “man’s work”—the work God has given them to do.

We must rely on God Himself. In the case of the situation described in the Old Testament reading God doesn’t even send a man. He sends an angel! An angel is not a physical being, but a spirit being. Angels are not men or women, they are angels, beings sent by God to help us out. And boy do we need help. Because there’s a lot of men who aren’t doing the man’s work.

Every human being is a sinner. Every person falls short. Let’s his own desires or cowardice get the best of him. We can’t rely on men, or any human being. We must rely on God. He gives a powerful prince, the archangel Michael. He is not of this world and he will fight against the spiritual forces of Satan, as we see described in Revelation:

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

Since we are so frail as the saints who went before us, men like Adam, David, and Peter, it’s good for us to know that God has His army of angels fighting for us. Paul reminds us that it is not flesh and blood we fight against but against the very principalities of darkness. And is it any wonder things are so difficult for us Christians? We not only have our sinful flesh waging war against us, Satan and his minions are constantly on the attack as well.

The Old Testament reading gives the warning: “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.” That’s why we need to know that we’re not alone. That we who cannot overcome spiritual powers on our own are surrounded by an army of angels of the Most High God.

But even here, do we find our salvation? Is our ultimate hope found in Michael; in the other angels? No, it’s still a man’s work that needs to be done. Michael is great. Gabriel is fantastic. God gave them to us for our help. But ultimately, that’s what they are: help. Michael is the prince of the people of God. We need the king. We need more than angels.

The word angel means “messenger”. That’s the greatest thing angels do for us. They point us to the King. They bring the message to us that He is the Savior. Satan wants to deter us from that message so the angels also fight for us. But is there any man who will step up to actually defeat Satan, to bring about our salvation, to give us true hope?

Yes, there is. And we know who it is. The Old Testament reading goes on to say about those Michael is fighting for (the people of God): “But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.” You might say, “Well, it doesn’t say Jesus, and it doesn’t even say God.” That’s true, it doesn’t say that. But the Bible does say that there is only one man who has risen from the dead to never die again. And that is Jesus.

There really is man’s work to be done, so God did it Himself. He became a man. And He did what a man should do, He actually took care of those entrusted to His care. Michael may be responsible for writing the names of the people in the Book of Life, but they aren’t in there because he’s a such a great warrior. There’s only one man who can get you into the Book of Life, the Man who conquered death and Satan. He did this by His death and resurrection.

Jesus in the Gospel reading describes in detail how bad things get. On a large scale, of course, we see this. Dictators continue to be relentless. Government leaders who are supposed to serve others at times serve themselves at our expense. And we always notice the tragedies of storms and other physical disasters. We can’t prevent these things from happening. We’re mere men. Even the angels can’t prevent these things from happening. They can fight for us and help us, but there’s only one who is the true ever present help in time of trouble, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The signs of the times cause us to fear and be unnerved. As the Epistle reading reminds us, we ought to be vigilant as we see the Day drawing near. Even on a small scale, in our own lives, we see how things get worse. Why can’t we kick our bad habits? Why do we continue to worry? Why do we treat people the way we do? All of this points to the unmistakable fact that once you die, you stand before the Judgment Throne of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament explains it simply: “And those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

Even before Jesus Christ came in the flesh and died on the cross and rose from the grave, the Bible gave the prophecy of the resurrection of all the dead. There is no “nothing” after you die. There is resurrection from the dead and Judgment. Those who have already been written in the Book of Life will hear the judgment confirmed—Welcome into My Father’s eternal mansion. Those who rejected Christ as the only Savior from sin will be told of their judgment: shame and everlasting contempt.

There’s no doubt that this is something we’d rather not have to hear. Why is God’s judgment upon unbelievers eternal damnation? Can’t He cut them some slack? That would undo everything Christ did in taking eternal Judgment upon Himself. He has already accomplished salvation, those who don’t want it cannot blame God. What happens to unbelievers is a warning, and we pray that people will heed it.

God wants us to know the Gift that He gives in His Son, the work of the man Jesus Christ. “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” These words from the Old Testament are a precursor to the Words of Christ Himself in the New Testament: when Jesus described Judgment Day and welcomed the sheep into heavenly glory because they fed Him when He was hungry, clothed Him when He was naked, and visited Him when He was sick, they didn’t understand what He was talking about. When did we do those things to you, Lord? When they had done it to the least of His brothers they had done it to Him.

The very fact that they were unaware of this “condition” of being saved shows that there is only one thing that must be met in order for those who are saved to be saved—what Christ Himself has accomplished in His life, suffering, death, and resurrection. And this is truly a man’s work. But not just any man. Not just anyone. Certainly not us ourselves. But the work of the one Man, Jesus Christ. Yes, He sends angels to help us. And for that we are grateful. But above all God our Father has sent us His very own Son. Begotten of Him and born of a virgin. To live, suffer, and die that we may live. Raised from the dead, He lives forever as our Lord and Savior, the man who is at the same time God Almighty. Amen.

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