Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sermon -- Advent Vespers 3 (December 19, 2012)

…So Sin, Death, and Hell May Be Exterminated.

In the name + of Jesus.

     When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying for all of the blessings our Lord Jesus Christ has to give.  Those blessings come through the Gospel.  His word reveals the innocent life and the sacrificial death which atone for our sins and bestow God’s grace upon us.  The sacraments apply those blessings to us personally.  Therefore, if you ever wonder if you are truly forgiven, you only have to say, “I am baptized!”  This is the confidence that the Lord has washed you clean of all your sins.  The Lord has clothed you in the pure, white wedding garments in which you stand before him without stain or spot or any blemish.  Therefore, you shall feast at the eternal wedding banquet in the heavenly kingdom.  God’s kingdom has come to you; its blessings are yours.
     There is one blessing for which we still wait.  St. Paul wrote, “(Christ) must reign until he has put everything under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26)  So far, it appears that death reigns.  We are convinced of it because we know that everyone is going to die.  We try to delay that for as long as we can, but exercise, diet, and prescriptions will only work for so long.  Even the person who holds the distinction of being the oldest person on earth does not get to enjoy that title for very long.  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and sooner or later everyone gets to payday.
     While many tell you that death is natural, that is not really true.  Yes, death comes to all, but it comes because of a curse.  Death came into this world because sin came into this world.  Sin brings death and decay to all things.  Death is only natural in the same sense that the flu is natural, or hurricanes, or mold, or rust.  Death is a curse, and that is why everyone fears it.  Death is cruel, and that is why everyone weeps at it.  Even our Savior wept at the grave of his friend, Lazarus.  Death rips apart bonds and relationships that we had enjoyed.  Death brings about a separation that we cannot repair and a loss that we cannot replicate.  It is a bitter reminder that we are sinners, that all are sinners.  And that reminder often comes in sudden and tragic and merciless ways.  That is life in the kingdom of the world.  And, sadly, life in this kingdom means death. 
     And so we pray, “Thy kingdom come!”  The coming of the Lord’s kingdom means that sin, death, and hell are exterminated.  Jesus baited sin, death, and hell into taking him in your place.  Satan had hoped to destroy the Son of God—and then ultimately the whole world—with sin, death, and the grave.  And so Jesus let Satan swallow him up at the cross.  But it is Jesus who destroyed sin, death, and hell once and for all.  As the great fish had swallowed up Jonah, so also death swallowed up Jesus in the grave.  But as the great fish had to spit out Jonah on the third day, so also the grave had to give up Jesus on the third day. 
     The risen Savior has exterminated sin, death, and hell.  Jesus’ death is the full payment for sin, so sin cannot condemn anymore.  Jesus’ resurrection renders the grave an empty threat.  Death has been conquered.  Hell has no hold on him, either.  Jesus declares, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!  And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:18)  These are not just big words.  Jesus demonstrated that this is a fact by his descent into hell.  Jesus victoriously descended into the very depths of hell to declare his victory to Satan’s face.  He crushed the serpent’s head.  Jesus holds authority over all things.  Even death must answer to him.  And that means that those who die in Christ are not lost at all. 
     You do not need to despair at the death of one who dies in the faith.  Death has won no victory.  Jesus still calls them his own, and they still live in his presence.  You do not need to fear your own death.  Sin cannot condemn you.  Hell cannot claim you.  And death cannot hold you.  Jesus holds the keys to death and Hades.  He will come for you to set you free, to raise you up, and to grant you life forevermore.  
     “Thy kingdom come,” so that sin, death, and hell may be exterminated forever and ever.  St. John had received a glimpse of it—the death of death.  The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.  Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death. (Revelation 20:13-14)  Though you may feel helpless at the bedside or the grave side of a loved one, you are not hopeless.  Your Savior still has all authority.  Jesus will summon all the dead, and the grave must give them up.  Ashes and dust will become body and soul.  The weak will become glorious.  The dead will be raised immortal.  Those who had succumbed to death will see that death succumbs to the words of Jesus who will raise you up to glorious, everlasting, victorious life.  That is because Jesus has the final word.  Since you have received full pardon for all of your sins, you need not fear the flames.  They have been doused in the waters of baptism.  Your faith saves you.
     This is the faith that pleads, “Thy kingdom come.”  We pray for Jesus’ coming because we know that we will receive good things in his glorious kingdom.  When Jesus comes again, we will not merely say, “Good-bye,” but shout, “Good riddance!” to a world that is stained with sin and infested with death.  We will be done with a world where death and mourning and crying and pain are considered natural.  Jesus will take sin, death, hell, and everything associated with them and heave them once and for all into the lake of fire.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26), and Jesus will finally put death to death.
     But you, dear Christians, will receive life and blessing and salvation from your God.  You will receive a kingdom whose glories cannot be measured and whose joys cannot be diminished.  It is impossible to try to describe what unending and uninterrupted blessings will be like in his heavenly kingdom.  Perhaps it is easier to ponder the extermination of sin, death, and hell and everything that comes with them.  You are receiving a kingdom that knows no problems.  You will never again have to pray for patience with strangers or plead for forgiveness from loved ones.  Never again will the bonds of loved ones be strained or severed.  You will never need to take a pill or grab a Kleenex.  You will never suffer the frustrations of bad hair days or spilled coffee or paper cuts.  And you will never run out of time.  For, the blessings will not expire.  The curse is done.  All the enemies will be destroyed.  Eden is restored.  Paradise is open again.  The wedding feast is ready, and the Lord has given you the appropriate garments.
     The Church cries out, “Come, Lord Jesus.  Thy kingdom come” so sin, death, and hell shall be exterminated, and so that God’s redeemed shall rejoice without end.

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