Sunday, November 21, 2010

How Do You Approach the End?

Last Sunday of the Church Year
Sunday of the Fulfillment
November 21, 2010
Luke 23:23-47

How do you approach the end? I’d like to submit to you today that how you approach the end is dependent on how you approach Jesus.

On the Last Sunday of the Church Year we are met with the reality that things come to an end. Sometimes people meet their end suddenly, perhaps in a car crash where they die instantly. Sometimes people enter the hospital and never go home, but wake every day in that place knowing that their end will come soon. Sometimes people are told that their end will come soon but it becomes prolonged and they’re left to wonder what plans God has through this. Sometimes we face the end when someone we love is coming to their end. Even though they are the ones dying we are facing that end with them.

How will we face the end? Even if we ourselves are in good health, we know one day our end will come. If Christ returns in glory before we face death our end on this earth will coincide. If not, then we know we will die in some way—an accident, an illness, someone taking our life, or simply old age. How do you approach the end that you know is coming, soon or far off in the distance?

When there doesn’t appear to be any reason for our end to come soon it’s easy not to have to think about it. When it appears imminent, we can become consumed with it. To help us approach the end in the way our Lord would have us approach it, He gives us in His Word examples of how certain people approached the end. In the case of three of these groups of people it wasn’t their own end but the end of Jesus. In the case of all four it was an approaching of Jesus in His end.

The portion of Scripture for us today on the last day of the Church Year is the moments leading up to the actual end of Christ, at least in His body. It is bookended by the approach of a group of women to Jesus and a criminal who approached Him. In between this is a group of soldiers and their torturing of Him linked with a group of religious leaders who mocked Him.

The two approaches to Jesus that bookend Jesus’ imminent death show us in their approach to Jesus how they approached death. The women were godly in their sorrow over Jesus. They loved their Lord and were brought to despair over His end. Even in their faithfulness to Him they could not see past the end. All they saw was the end; the end of their Lord whom they loved.

The criminal saw one who should not have had such an end. He realized that He deserved to be hanging on that cross but the one who was being crucified next to him did not. He approached Jesus as one who was not worthy to ask but did—remember when You come into Your Kingdom.

On the one hand, we learn how to approach the end from these four approaches to the end and to Jesus. We certainly can appreciate the loyalty and compassion the women had for Jesus. We certainly should learn to face death in such a manner. In this respect there is a stark contrast between them and the group of soldiers and the group of religious leaders. They had no regard for Jesus, as a person and certainly as Lord. However, the women fell short in their approach to the end because they fell short in their approach to Jesus. Where was their faith? Where was their trust in His Word that He would meet His death but be victorious in it? That He would follow up that victory by putting a stamp on it in dealing a death blow to the grave by stepping from it. Where was the compassionate approach to Jesus that was coupled with conviction that this was in fact not the end, the ultimate end anyway?

On the other hand, we learn how not to approach the end from the unconscionable attitude and action of the soldiers and religious leaders toward the end of one who was coming to His end, and specifically their approach to Jesus in His end. Aside from their not believing in Him as Lord, they had no regard for Him as a person who was brought to a brutal end. But they show that their approach to the end is one in which they want to avoid any notion of judgment that relates to death. They are in the driver’s seat so it’s easy for them to ignore their own end. They know it’s coming eventually, but right now they don’t have to deal with it. It’s much easier to live in their own worlds they have created where they can ignore the Word of God and live by their own understanding that whatever good will come to them at their death rests on themselves. This makes perfect sense to them because what they have to rest on in themselves seems a whole lot better than relying on this guy who is being humiliated and nailed to a cross. How in the world could He offer them anything of value that is better than what they can offer themselves of their own ability?

This shows the flip side of faith. Faith trusts in this One who is humiliated and nailed to a cross. The opposite of faith looks at the One who is humiliated and nailed to a cross and says that there can’t be anything there in which I trust solely. When you’re facing your own end or that of your loved ones, in what do you put your trust? It’s true that God is the author of many blessings, including sending angels to guard you in danger, medicine and medical workers to attend to your illnesses or injuries, amazing technological advances to help you in your needs. We can and should give thanks to God for these and may freely make use of them. But they are not what gets us through when we are facing the end. We should not approach the end by depending on those things. It is Jesus Christ and His end at Calvary that is our sole help in time of trouble and facing the end. Whether we live or die it is Christ and His cross that gives us hope.

Now is this just a pious thought? No, it’s what our Lord shows us in His end. It’s not just the people who approached Jesus that helps us learn how we approach the end. It’s also and especially how Jesus responded to them. The women wept for Him—His response: Don’t weep for Me. Yes, He is the one suffering, but He is doing it for them. Jesus on the cross was not Jesus defeated, meeting His ultimate end. Jesus on the cross was Jesus for the world, delivering the world from an eternal end, an end that is eternal suffering in hell. This is a remarkable truth: when facing the end we may approach it in victory. In hope! In a confidence that rests in the end of Jesus at Calvary which really was not an end at all but rather the victory that makes it possible not only to face the end but to get through it. When Jesus gives us permission not to feel sorry for Him but actually to look to Him in hope as He walked that path to the cross then He gives us the truth that since He made it to the cross and from the grave He will get us through anything we face, even our end.

Notice another amazing thing. His love, His help, His promise is not conditional. It is not a promise that depends on our approach toward Him. His response toward the brutal attack of the soldiers and religious leaders was stunning: Father forgive them. He didn’t look down at them and strike up a bargain: Look, if you guys get it together and just believe in Me, I will offer you full and free forgiveness. No, there was no sign whatsoever that those men who crucified Him and disdained Him began to see the light. There was simply the clearest sign of all: forgiveness. Full and free. Offered from the cross to them and to all. The women, the soldiers, the religious leaders, the criminals hanging with Him, and you and me and everyone who has ever walked this earth. Jesus died for sinners.

If the women loved their Lord and yet fell short in their trust in His promises and if the soldiers and the religious leaders had no regard for Jesus as Lord, the criminal who heard the reviling of the other one was seeing that this was all wrong. He and his fellow criminal deserved to there. That was right. But the one between didn’t deserve any of this. This was all wrong. If there was any hope it was in the one who did not deserve to be there and yet was, in all of His humiliation, pain, suffering, and offering of forgiveness. So if you want to see a picture of how you approach Jesus you look to that criminal and see one who deserves to be there. You see one who approaches Jesus unworthily and yet, strange as it seems, confidently. Fully as a sinner and yet fully in the trust that He will remember him when Jesus comes into His Kingdom. To this one Jesus speaks the results of the bestowing of forgiveness: Today you will be with Me in paradise.

That is our Lord’s approach to those who see that their only defense before Jesus is to confess their sins and appeal to His having taken on their sins in His suffering and death. How we approach the end, whether that be our own, our loved ones, or the imminent return of Christ on the Last Day is to look to the end that brought to an end Satan’s hold over us, sin’s power over us, and death’s grip on us. Jesus approached His suffering and death in humility and compassion. We ought to face the end in the same way. Humbly, compassionately, in the peace of knowing that our Lord has taken the path already before us. Knowing that He has come through it in victory. What lies ahead is not the end, but a moment in which there is loss that marks the point where there is no more ending, sin, sorrow, and fear. You don’t know when your end will be, but you know that eternity in heaven is on the horizon. Amen.


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