Sunday, November 17, 2013

Knowing the Not Yet Now

Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year
Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Trinity
November 17, 2013
The delay is what always gets you. Where was Moses anyway? The Israelites were hanging out down below while Moses was up on the mountain with God. But we don’t know what has become of him, the people said to Aaron. Moses was the great prophet. He led God’s people, but he didn’t need to worry about them. They were in good hands. His brother, Aaron the high priest, would keep them safely in God’s care.

Well we know how well that worked out. The people complained and Aaron promptly led them into sin. The High Priest, who was to intercede for them on behalf of God, turned them to false gods. The famous Golden Calf incident is an excellent example of how the people of God hear God’s Word but become restless when His Word does not bring about immediate results. We want something tangible, something that we can get a handle on right now. And so Aaron gave the people what they wanted.

It’s always the delay. Even Aaron was perplexed at what was taking Moses so long. Even he was not willing to take confidence in God’s word that Moses would come down from the mountain after forty days.

From the perspective of our sinful nature, God’s response here isn’t all that satisfying. He promises things and then we wait. He tells us beforehand what is to come but then we must wait for it. It is precisely because there is a delay that He tells us beforehand.

Paul, in the Epistle, takes a similar approach. Writing after Jesus had given His predictions of the End Times, Paul likewise wants us Christians to know what will take place. He says, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” If there’s something you don’t know that you need to know, then it is best to be told. Paul as an apostle takes on the role Jesus did in the Gospel reading. He tells us what we need to know ahead of time.

He says, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Right now we live in this world. We know Christ is coming in glory on the Last Day, but the delay seems long. The Israelites couldn’t even wait forty days for Moses to come down from the mountain. Jesus anticipates this kind of restlessness with us, speaking even before His suffering and death, and His resurrection and ascension, of His coming again in glory on the Last Day. Everything He spoke of the end of the world was in light of where He knew He was going first. That was to the cross. His coming in glory on the Last Day is only glorious through His humiliation and suffering on account of the sins of the world. This is why Paul speaks as he does about informing us of what is to come: “since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Those who are no longer as we are, living here in this fallen world, awaiting the Last Day and Christ’s glorious Return, but who have already been called Home by our Lord, they are those who, as Paul says, have fallen asleep. They will be raised on the Last Day; and why do we know this? Paul says because we believe that Jesus died and rose again.

We know this. We have been told this. It has been promised to us in the apostolic word. But we’re restless, aren’t we? It’s going to happen, but it hasn’t yet. When will it happen? When will He return again in glory? If it has been nearly two thousand years, will it be a couple more? Will it really happen? Sounds a lot like those Israelites becoming restless with the delay. Paul’s answer to this is this: “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

“For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord.” Paul knows the restless nature of the sinful flesh. So it is declared beforehand. Not too long after Christ Himself declared it. And it must continue to be declared. We must continue to hear it so that we don’t lose hope. So that when we wonder at the delay we won’t have to doubt whether it will be. We will be able to know, because it has been declared to us beforehand. It is has been declared by a word from the Lord.

And it is this very kind of thing that our Lord, in the Gospel reading, is doing when He says: “See, I have told you beforehand.” There will be persecution. There will be false Messiahs. And, perhaps the most difficult of all, there will be a delay. You know it’s coming, but you don’t know when. You know Christ is coming again, but man, it sure seems to be taking a long time, doesn’t it?

Yes, it does. And He knew this, that’s why He told us. Not only did He know it, He knows it. He knows how we flail around here, wondering if what the world says is true. If Jesus promised to return again in glory, why hasn’t He done it? You keep holding out hope that He will, but He hasn’t. Why do you continue to believe this when the delay looks more and more like an empty promise? Yes, He knows this. He is fully aware that His promise doesn’t look nearly as strong as the evidence mounted against it.

But He knows something else, and that is what He delights in making known to us. It is that this is the only promise of His that actually has not come to fulfillment. Every single other one has. That’s a pretty good track record. That actually is much more evidence towards Jesus’ promise of coming again in glory than evidence against it.

And so we hear His word to us, “See, I have told you beforehand.” You know what is coming even if you doubt it. You know what will be even if in the delay you begin to falter. He gives us His word so that we can always go back to it. And by the way, since when is the word of the world suddenly so certain and reliable? Since when does the world seek out your ultimate good and not its own? Since when does your sinful flesh become the authority and seek out what is best for you? Jesus is aware of all of this even as you are often misled and swayed by the world and your sinful nature.

So He gives you His Word. Not only has He told you beforehand, He tells you now. Not only has He spoken His word as promise and anchor, He continues to proclaim His word to you so that you may know. So that you may not get restless and wonder at the delay.

For, in fact, the only delay is the putting an end to all this fallenness and sin and sorrow of this world. He does not, in fact, delay in coming to you. Though you do not experience it in the fullness of all His glory, as you will on the Last Day, you receive all of His blessings when He comes to you. Every day you live out your Baptism. This is how your Lord first came to you. In your Baptism you were brought from your sin to new life and you live this new life every day in repentance and rising to new life. Forgiveness is the daily sustenance of your life in Christ. In Baptism, your Lord is united to you in everlasting life.

You are still joined with your sinful nature, though, aren’t you? You are still restless, struggling against temptation every day. You wonder, “When will God come and put an end to all of this struggle with sin and all the sickness I face, and the troubles I experience and all the persecution I endure in being a  Christian?” That’s why as a Baptized child of God your Lord comes to you again and again. He prepares His Supper for you often so that you make partake of His Food. It’s not simply physical sustenance that He gives you. It is Himself, coming to you in the bread and wine. Coming to you with His actual body and blood. For forgiveness. For strength. For peace that passes all understanding and even restlessness.

Since there is a delay in His coming again in glory, He comes to you often with His full forgiveness, life, and salvation in His Holy Supper. This is a foretaste of the Feast to Come which He will usher in in His coming again in glory on the Last Day. He has told you beforehand. It’s coming, but not yet. Even so, you know the not yet now. Amen.


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