Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Beginning of the End of the World

Sometimes you just need a good burglar. It's as true in the fictional world as it is in the real world. We all need a Bilbo Baggins, a good burglar, from time to time. In our world he is not known in the flesh of a hobbit, but the flesh of man. Although he very much likes eating, drinking and, well, burglaring. Consider Jesus' own teaching on the Last Day (Matthew 24):

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.  But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

St. Paul agrees: "The Day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

The Gospel of Mark is, among many other themes, the "Burglar Gospel." Mark 3: "No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house." Jesus is that strong man, that thief. His first coming was in the night, under the cover of darkness, hidden in human flesh to take the devil captive, to come as a thief to bind Satan, the prince of this world and then plunder all his goods. And this is good news. For when Jesus the burglar is on the prowl we are released us the clutches of sin, death and the devil. And Jesus' second coming too will be like a  thief in the night. However, the cover of darkness will be lifted and all will see the glorious return of the King.

And yet questions arise. But why doesn't he return now? What's the delay? Why won't Jesus do something about this messy, sinful world if it really is as bad as Scripture says it is apart from him? To be sure, he already has done something about this messy, sinful world. That's what his first coming was all about. As we look to his second coming we have the reality of his first as a guarantee of his return. There's no need to worry about judgement on the Last Day. Jesus has already been judged in your place on the cross; he has robbed hell of it's eternal claim on you. There's no need to wonder if you are a sheep or a goat; the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world, your sin. And this Lamb is also your Good Shepherd and he leads you unto himself. You are more than a sheep; you God's own dear child. There's no need to ponder or calculate the exact date of his return; he will come again as surely has he rose from the dead. It will be impossible to miss the trumpets blaring. Or, as Lewis comments in Mere Christianity, "You will see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else, something it never entered into your head to conceive - comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others...For this time God will come without disguise, something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature."

Because of Christ - the judgment he bore, the punishment he endured, the death he died for us - Christians have every confidence that the last day will be one of joy. Jesus teaching is, above all things, a teaching for consolation. Christians know their own future in Christ better than they know the present. For Jesus teaching on the subject is known by three propositions: "1)  That he will certainly return. 2) That we cannot possible find out when. 3) And that therefore we must always be ready for him" (C.S. Lewis. The World's Last Night).

So, how do you prepare for this gracious burglar? Watch. Be sober. Live in the joy of Christ's Last Day verdict that comes to you ahead of time in the absolution. Even now you are gathered around the Lamb and his marriage supper in the Eucharist.

Therefore concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).

Rejoice. The Last Sunday of the Church year is upon us. Even now, the King is at the gates. He is ready. The dragon is defeated. You are free. You belong to Him now and forever. And no one can snatch you out of his hands or rob you of his crucified and risen joy. Even so we pray, "Return, O great burglar and restore your lost treasure...Come quickly, Lord Jesus."

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