Monday, November 22, 2010

The Beginning is the End is the Beginning

Sunday of the Fulfillment – Last Sunday of the Church Year – Nov. 21st, 2010
Text: Luke 23:27-43; Colossians 1:13-20; Malachi 3:13-18

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

   Who fouled up the readings? What's going on here? Where's the burning of the chaff? The weeping and gnashing of teeth? It's the Last Sunday of the Church Year – we want some judgment. A little fire and brimstone's not too much to ask for is it? We need some flames to roast our chestnuts on as we launch into a four week frenzy – It might be the end of the world if I don't get this holiday list checked off - but not Good Friday.
    Jesus is the expert on beginnings and endings. And the Last Sunday of the Church Year is both. It may seem like you can't tell where the church year ends and Advent begins. But that's the way it should be. The church year ends as it begins: with Christ's second coming. This is why we celebrate this festival (or any other festival of the church) - Sunday of the Fulfillment. For the church year gives us the life of Jesus. And the life of Jesus is the life of the Church. The Sunday of the Fulfillment is the Church's Nunc Dimittis. We sing with Simeon – and the malefactor: "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace; Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom."
   This is precisely the right reading for the Sunday. No mistake. No liturgical faux pa; just a confession and a declaration: the Lord has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. What does Jesus' crucifixion have to do with the Last Day? The answer's in the question.
There's no bigger fulfillment. Jesus' Crucifixion is the central event of all human history. Everything in the world – your sin, the death of death the devil's defeat – all hang on that cross, on that crucified for you God-Man. Jesus goes as He promised.
Jesus is also an expert on predictions. Sure, plenty of people make predictions –Heaven's Gate, Mayan calendars. But no one else backs them up by dying and rising from the dead. That makes all the difference. When Jesus predicts something, it happens.
"The Son of Man must suffer many things. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and spat upon and after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise."
(Luke 9:22; 18:31-33)

    He goes there to die for those thugs – even those who reject Him. He dies for Peter who had denied Him three times. Remember, Jesus predicted that one too. And He goes there to die for you.
For He knows your sin better than you know yourself. He knows that we live in a fallen world sullied by sin and corrupted in rebellion. We are both perpetrators and victims. On the one hand, we, like the Israelites in Malachi, see the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer; sinners everywhere we turn. We want judgment. We demand justice. Wait. Stop and think. Do you really want people to get what they deserve? What about you? Do we dare God to be fair in His judgment? Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it.
    And on the other hand, we languish under the curse of a poor miserable fallen world. Where families' lives are changed forever by disease or tragedy; where parents bury their sons or daughters; where infants die by the knife and life is treated casually or callously. There's a reason we call this a vale of tears. Weary heads. Droopy hearts. Disease. Accidents. Pain. Sorrow. Guilt. Death. We doubt, we fear, worry we tremble. "Why are you cast down, o my soul?" Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
    And He does. Jesus snatches us out of the pit of death by throwing Himself into it. There is nothing left outside His death. No one too sinful for Christ to save – not a thief, not a rebel, not a God hater, chief of sinners like you and me. And no judgment too harsh for Him to bear. No guilt, fear, disease or sorrow too heavy to carry.
    He goes the way of His own prediction, stumbling under our cross until Simon of Cyrene bears the burden as He staggers to the Skull. And when a place is called the Skull there's only one possible reason to go there. And He goes there for you.
    No wonder the women wail with lament. They weep for Jesus. But they weep for the wrong things. The days are coming, says Jesus, when one stone will be turned upon another, when they will say, "The shame of childlessness is better than the suffering that awaits the coming destruction of Jerusalem." Judgment is coming. The temple had to be torn down in 70 AD; it has been replaced in His own flesh. Its end is destruction, a type of the Last Day. Do not weep for Jesus; He needs no tears. Weep, rather, for those who reject Christ.

    See how the world mocks Jesus. Hear the criminal's arrogant cry: "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" The soldiers' spit, the crowds jeer, and the guilty mocks the innocent. But here's the irony, it's precisely through His suffering and mockery and shame and humiliation and death that we are saved. Guilty sinners find their eternal rest in those innocent wounds. Gaze upon those glorious scars, dear tokens of His passion. He bears them – along with His crucified, risen and glorified body - for an eternity of blessing you.

    The thief was half right. He is the Christ. But Jesus will not save Himself. He needs no Savior; you do. He will not pull Himself off those nails. He will not let you get what you deserved. That's how valuable, how precious you are to Him. It's not fair, it's free. It's not what you deserved; it's pure gift. It's justice you want? Well, it's justice Christ gets. Jesus is judged and you are innocent. That is how all things in heaven and earth are reconciled to God, by the peace-stained, blood-soaked cross.
    As the world curses Him, He is cursed for the world. As they reject His forgiveness, He forgives their rejection. Our mouths do nothing but curse Him; His lips do nothing but pray for us. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
    His Word and work of forgiveness bear fruit. The other malefactor gets it. Through Jesus' word He is transferred from the domain of darkness - on the darkest day of the world – into the Kingdom our Heavenly Father. Jesus' Word brings this man to faith: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom."
And there is Jesus in His Kingdom: crowned with thorns, enthroned on the cross, reigning as King of the Jews, just as the sign above Him read - for you, for the thief, for the world.

    The best way to be prepared for Christ's second coming is to look to His coming: His Word made flesh Advent among us. His watery Advent. His body and blood Advent. His "in the stead and by the command" Advent.
    Baptism is your: "today you will be with me in Paradise." Jesus' Word is as good with water as it was with that thief. It's no different when you're at the Lord's Table. We give Him sour wine and He gives us His very own blood to drink. And here in His body and blood He remembers you in His Kingdom.
The question is not when will the end come, but who is the end? Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, your beginning and your end; the firstborn from the dead. Lift up your weary heads. Watch for His coming. For Christ has already gone down the Last Day road ahead of us, through the darkness, through fear and guilt, shame and death and He's come through alive, risen from the dead.
    For most of us this fulfillment comes at death – unless you're taken directly into heaven like Elijah or Reepicheep into Aslan's country – and yet, until the Last Day comes, we rest in sainted slumber awaiting the day of resurrection, where Christ will awaken us from the grave as quickly as He awoke Lazarus from his 3 day dirt-nap. Fulfilling for you what is already yours in Him. He will breathe life into your rotting flesh even Jesus peacefully proclaims now, "Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." And that's one end times prediction you can trust.
In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

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