Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sermon for The Last Sunday of the Church Year: "Thy Kingdom Come"

+ Last Sunday of the Church Year – November 24th, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Proper 29, Series C: Malachi 3:13-18; Colossians 1:13-20; Luke 23:27-43
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today feels a bit like church year déjà vu, doesn’t it? We’re celebrating the end of the Church Year and yet the Gospel reading is from Holy Week. We’re anticipating Christ’s second coming and yet we’re hearing about his crucifixion. Isn’t this all a bit backwards?

Actually, this is how you live your lives as Christian pilgrims. We look forward to the future while holding on to the past. We preach Christ Crucified and proclaim His promised return. You can trust his promises about his return because of his saving work in the past. The Lord is faithful. So, think of the Last Sunday of the Church Year as the Church’s Nunc Dimittis. We sing with Simeon and the criminal: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Or as we pray in the Lord’s prayer: “Thy Kingdom Come.” There it is; in three little words – Jesus’ crucifixion and His return. Good Friday and the Last Day.

Thy Kingdom Come.

Good Friday and Jesus’ second coming have a lot more in common than you think. Good Friday is a snap-shot of the Last Day. After all, Good Friday is the beginning of the end times.

Thy Kingdom Come.

Still, we want to know when. When is Jesus going to come in glory? When will he finally put an end to my sin and suffering? When will he put an end to cancer wards and graveyards? When will he wipe away all tears from our eyes? Thy Kingdom come…what does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray that it may come to us also.

So, when is Jesus’ kingdom going to come?

According to Luke’s Gospel it’s already here. Every sign that Jesus gives warning about the End Times happened at his crucifixion: darkness, earthquakes, rumors of war, persecution, suffering, and judgment. Jesus’ crucifixion is the beginning of the end. Even the events of the crucifixion sound like the end of the world:

The women weep and wail for Jesus. But Jesus replies, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” Jesus’ words are a two-fold warning. Warning about the Romans, the temple destruction, and how much worse it will be for women and children. But he’s also warning all of us about the Last Day. “If they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry.” That’s how the end times work. Things go from bad to worse and worse to worst before they get better.

Thy Kingdom Come.

As the kingdom comes on the cross, so does the mockery. The religious types cry out: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  The soldiers also mocked him with their cheep wine and sour sarcasm: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” And then one final insult, an inscription over his head, “This is the King of the Jews.”
Of course none of them believe what they’re saying – that’s the mockery. But here’s the irony. They’re right. Jesus is the Christ, the Chosen One. Jesus is the King…of the Jews and the Gentiles, you and me. King Jesus, enthroned on the cross. Robed in our sin. Crowned with our suffering. Reigning over death while dying.

Thy Kingdom Come.

For even here on the cross, especially here on the cross, Jesus is King of kings, Lord of lords. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Son of God, Savior of the nations… This is the King in His kingdom as it appears in this world. On our hearts imprint this image: Jesus crucified for me, for you.

There’s comfort for us in Jesus being mocked. The Church is mocked. You’ll be mocked for believing Christian doctrine too: That the Bible is God’s Word; that it’s historically reliable; that God gives life includes unborn children. God’s gift of sexuality, marriage, and family just to name a few in the headlines these days. Why? The world mocks the Gospel. The world hates free grace, unconditional pardon of sin, and forgiven sinners. “You’re letting guilty people off the hook” they say. And they’re right. That’s the Gospel: Outrageous forgiveness for undeserving sinners. So don’t be surprised when you are mocked for believing and proclaiming this Gospel too. For the disciple is not greater than his master. So when the world hates you know that it hated Jesus first. But fear not, Christ has overcome the world too.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Thy Kingdom Come.

Jesus’ cross is also a picture of judgment day. For in Jesus, the world is already judged. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17) Jesus is all of humanity in one Man, the second Adam. His death is humanity’s death; His death is the death of the world. His death is the world’s Last Day in type. The innocent for the guilty. That’s the pattern Jesus lays down for us when he lays down his own life.

That other criminal got it. “…we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” He confesses Christ. Jesus is innocent. More than that; he is sinless. And yet for our sakes God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us. On the cross Jesus is the criminal, the blasphemer, the rebel, the murderer, the adulterer, the thief, the liar, the gossiper, the coveter. On the cross Jesus became your sin.

The judgment you had coming on the Last Day, Jesus takes for you. He takes your record of sins and drenches it in his blood, rips up your laundry list of sin and throws it into the grave. In the salvation of this criminal next to Jesus we see our own. We - the guilty ones – are pardoned. And Christ suffers innocent for us. We – sinners all – are declared righteous. And Jesus is declared cursed on the tree.

“This man has done nothing wrong,” and yet this Man dies as one who has done everything wrong, forsaken by God, condemned, persecuted, mocked, ridiculed, damned. He gets what we deserve so that, in the end, we get what He deserves. It is finished.

Thy Kingdom Come.

We need to hear those words over and over again. For everything in this life cries out, “No it isn’t. Just look around you. It’s a mess. Life is one bitter tragedy after the next.” Against all that the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh hurl at us Jesus’ words stand true: “It is finished.”

In Christ’s judgment on the cross we see a marvelous picture of Christ’s return. You hear the final verdict of the Last Day ahead of time: Come you who are blessed by my father…inherit the kingdom prepare for you before the foundations of the world. Jesus’ kingdom comes among us without our prayer, or our efforts. It comes by promise: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Jesus’ words are pure gift. Words that are as true today as the day Jesus spoke them. “You will be with me in Paradise.” “When?” “Today.” “How? I don’t see it. This looks like Paradise lost.” “Don’t fear. Today you’ll be with me in paradise.”

Jesus’ two most important words in that sentence are: “With me.” Paradise is wherever Jesus is. Jesus brings you Paradise in the waters of Holy Baptism. Jesus brings you paradise in the absolution. Jesus brings paradise to earth at the holy altar.

It’s the same as praying, “Thy Kingdom Come.” And how does Jesus’ kingdom come? “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

Wherever you have Jesus, there’s His kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom comes in water and Word. Jesus’ kingdom comes in the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ kingdom comes in bread and wine to feed and forgive you.

That’s how we live in these latter days. The same way that second thief on the cross lived and died confessing: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  This is how faith prays. He asks for nothing but to be remembered by Jesus. He doesn’t ask to be saved from the cross, to be spared his suffering, to be granted a last minute pardon, as the other one did. When death is unavoidable, faith embraces death and prays, “Jesus, remember me.” So it is for us. Jesus, remember us in our grief and sorrow. Remember us in the hour of temptation. Remember us in illness and in death. Stay with us, Lord, for it is evening, and the day is almost over.

And Jesus is with you. That’s why he didn’t leave the cross. He stayed there for you. Pierced for you. Bled for you. Breathed his last for you. Died for you. Buried for you. Rose for you. And he will come again for you.

Thy Kingdom Come!

He has…and He will…and He does. The One who comes on the Last Day to judge is the same One who was judged for you on the cross. The One who comes on the Last Day is the One who comes to you today with the gifts of His sacrifice. Today we pray the prayer of faith: “Jesus, remember me.” Knowing that Jesus’ response is always the same: “Amen, I say to you, today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

Thy Kingdom Come. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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