Monday, November 26, 2012

Sermon -- End Times 3, Saints Triumphant (November 18, 2012)

DANIEL 12:1-3

In the name + of Jesus.

Blessed are the saints of God; they are bought with Christ’s own blood.
They are ransomed from the grave; life eternal they shall have.
With them numbered may we be here and in eternity. (CW 394:1)

     Dear Christians, as you sang that opening hymn, you may have prayed that you would one day be among the saints of God.  But I hope you realize this: You already are saints of God.  You have been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ.  You have been ransomed from the grave.  Though you will go to your grave one day, you will not remain.  The grave does not own you; Jesus does.  Remember?  “Bought with Christ’s own blood.”  That is what ransoms you.  Life eternal you shall have.  In fact, life eternal you already have.  You do not yet have heaven.  That will come.  But you have life in Christ already, and that never ends.  You are numbered with the saints of God here, and God will sustain you through his word and sacraments so that you will be numbered among the saints in the Church Triumphant forever.

     But if you have a hard time considering yourself among the blessed saints of God, it is probably because you do not look like a saint.  You don’t act like a saint.  And the adjective triumphant is not one that you would use to describe your life.  An honest assessment of yourself and your life proves that you are a sinful being living in a sinful world.  You face the same vexing and seductive temptations day after day.  They are seductive because you would like to give in to them.  They are vexing because you do.  You sin against your God, your spouse, your children, your co-workers, and so forth.  This is not saintly, but wicked.

     You also do not appear to be especially triumphant.  You have to deal with a body that is failing—one organ, one nerve, or one sense at a time.  You have family or friends whom you see suffer and struggle, and it grieves you.  You face hardships from people who deceive you and lie about you.  You hurt from the cruel words of loved ones or the heartless actions of strangers.  You seem to barely be getting by, and there are days you would like to just quit – quit your job, quit your friends, quit your responsibilities, and maybe even on really bad days quit your life.  And you wonder, “This is what it is like to be a child of God?!”

     In this world you will have trouble, but all this is not of trouble Daniel foretold.  Daniel warned that a time of persecution is coming upon the Church.  Satan will be unleashed and launch a last-ditch assault, and he will try to eradicate the Church from the earth when the end of the world is imminent.  I can’t tell you when it will be, and I can’t tell you how bad it might get.  I can only tell you that Daniel describes it as a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.” (Daniel 12:1)  You will feel even less like the saints of God when that hardship comes.  The Lord loves his Church, and yet he will let her endure intense pain, loss, and suffering.  If you wonder where the glory is now, you may be tempted to renounce the faith altogether when persecution comes with great fury. Beware.  Keep watch.  You are still the saints of God.  You are still blessed.  And your hope remains the same: Jesus Christ.

     The Lord foretold through the prophet Daniel: At that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.  And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:1-3)

     Brothers and sisters, you will shine in glory.  But your glory is not now.  It will be for you like it was for Jesus.  In this world, you will live in humility and weakness and suffering.  The glory comes after the resurrection.  Then, you will shine in glory.

     It is not until the resurrection that you will finally appear to be exactly what God says you are.  The judgment will come.  The dead will be raised.  And the Lord will show before the entire population of the world’s history who are blessed and who are cursed.  Those who are blessed will shine in glory and be taken to the bliss of heaven.  Those who are evil will delivered over to everlasting shame and damnation.  There will be no mistaking who is who.  And the hymn we sang today will ring especially true on that day: “Blessed are the saints of God.”  You are the saints of God.  At the resurrection, you will not know it by faith, but by sight.  You will shine in glory.

     But it is important to understand why you have such confidence.  It is through Jesus Christ who had come once to ransom you.  Jesus Christ became flesh to redeem you from sin, death, and Satan.  He suffered all of the hatred and pain and rejection at the hands of sinful men.  He died in shame and contempt under the curse of the heavenly Father.  He died for sinners to redeem you from all of your shame, your guilt, and your regrets.  He paid the price so that sin cannot condemn you.  Satan cannot accuse you.  The grave does not own you.  Jesus’ resurrection from the grave is the proof of his judgment upon you.  He who is flesh and blood conquered death for you.  He assures you that you, who are flesh and blood, will rise from the grave, too.  He lives and reigns to verify your forgiveness, to deliver you from evil, and to bring you to heaven. 

     Jesus has called you out of a world that is dying and cursed because it is infested with evil.  He has cleansed you through your baptism so that you are purified from evil.  And if you are pure, then there is no more curse upon you.  Jesus has saved you through your baptism.  This is how he has made you saints of God.  Jesus sustains you through his absolution.  This is how he assures you that you are still saints of God.  Jesus strengthens you through his supper.  This is where he feeds you and strengthens you as saints of God.  This is where you get to join in with the saints in heaven for the feast of victory.  Though the glory is hidden, it is here.  Though you may not seem triumphant, the victory is yours.  Here, the Lord dispenses his forgiveness.  Here, the Lord pours out his mercy.  Here, the Lord makes you partakers of eternal life.

     Jesus has called you out of shame and contempt and sin and death.  Jesus gives you peace and blessing and life.  Keep yourselves free from the evil that is so prevalent and celebrated in this world.  Do not go back to deeds that lead to death.  Repent of your sins and flee to Jesus.  In Jesus, you will always find forgiveness, a life of comfort and hope, and eternal salvation.  In Jesus, you have deliverance from the devil’s taunting and death’s threats.  In Jesus, all shame is covered and all glory awaits. 

     You will shine in glory with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  You’ve been forever redeemed from the curse.  You are forever blessed among the saints of God.  For now, the glory is hidden, but you will shine in glory.  You have been made wise for salvation, knowing that your judgment and your eternity rest in the hands of Jesus Christ.  You have been made wise to know that Jesus dispenses his mercy and salvation through his Church which preaches his word, proclaims his absolution, and administers his sacraments.  You have been made wise to know that the wedding feast of the Lamb is here, that the saints of God gather around the feast, and that what has begun here will continue through all eternity.  And you know that those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above. (Daniel 12:3) 

     You will shine in glory, for you are the saints of God.  You have been bought with Christ’s own blood.  You have been ransomed from the grave.  Life eternal you shall have.  You are numbered with God’s saints here and, by God’s gracious care, in eternity.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. 

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