Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of End Times (November 18, 2018)

DANIEL 12:1-3


In the name + of Jesus.

     What does a Christian look like?  I suppose your answer will vary depending on what has been going on or who you ask.  If you ask people who despise the Church, they will say that Christianity is about persecuting people who are different.  They will talk about the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition or some misguided fool who thought it was his God-given job to blow up an abortion clinic.  I'm sure you've heard the charge before: “Christians are a bunch of hypocrites.”  Since some Christians have done horrible things over the years, unbelievers insist that this image represents all Christians.  It is not a fair description at all, but people use this image as the reason they don't want to be Christians.  They insist that they are better and more loving. 
     When you ask Christians what a Christian looks like, our answers might be as flawed as those who hate the Church.  We could look at the worst behavior of an unbelieving world.  It isn't hard to find.  Scripture warns us:  “In the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)  We might insist that Christians are better and more loving than that.
     But if we boast about how good Christians are, we might do nothing but heap guilt upon a lot of Christians.  We are all sinners, and sometimes we prove that in rather disappointing ways.  It is like saying, “Real Christians forgive like Jesus does.  Real Christians do not show favoritism or practice bigotry.  Real Christians do not get divorced or twist the truth or withhold charity.”  If we say things like this, then we will all have the same conclusion: “I guess I am not a real Christian, then.”  Now, if you want to talk about what a Christian should look and act like, then it is true.  We are supposed to direct our lives according to the Ten Commandments.  They are God's will for our lives.  They show us the good we are supposed to do and expose the evil we are to avoid.  We should obey them.  But we don't.  Real Christians are still real sinners.  The point is not that we have overcome all sins; the point is that we repent of them and, more importantly, we are forgiven for them.
     The prophet Daniel spoke about what Christians will look like.  He wrote: “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 12:2-3)  You will shine in glory.  The day will come when you will look like the children of God.  But note the verb tense.  It is future.  You will shine in glory.  You are not there yet. 
     We are the children of God.  This is what we confess because this is what God says.  “How great is the love our Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God!  And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1, NIV (c) 1984)  We believe we are children of God because God says so, not because it looks like it or feels like it.  Even if there are days when you feel unbelievably blessed by God, there will be plenty of days when you will be hounded by guilt, regret, and shame.  You will wonder if you really are a child of God, or if God really forgives you.  Others might challenge you: “How can you call yourself a Christian when you act like that!?”  What can we say?  Sins are sins.  Wrong is wrong.  A hypocrite will insist otherwise.  Instead, be honest: Confess your sins.  Amend your wickedness.  Repent.  And flee to Jesus.  He has a word that sustains you.
     You will shine in glory, but not yet.  Now, we live by faith, not by sight.  Now, we take God at his word.  The children of God always come to hear the Father speak tenderly through his Son, Jesus.  This is what the Lord says through the prophet Daniel: “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 12:3)  You will shine in glory.  Never mind what it looks like now.  God has made you wise for salvation.  He has revealed Jesus to you as your Savior.
     What does God see when he sees you?  God tells you.  “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:26-27)  Through baptism, you have received all that Jesus Christ has done for you.  Jesus did perfectly order his life according to the Ten Commandments.  His enemies could not find fault with him, no matter how much they tried to entrap him or how severely they accused him.  The Father in heaven also declared that with his Son, he was well pleased.  Jesus' holy, obedient life was lived for you.  That is what covers you.  At your baptism, the Lord put his name upon you to mark you as his own.  He has made you a child of God, covered in the righteousness of Jesus, and cleansed you of all sin.  Since you are all sons of God, you are also heirs of the heavenly kingdom.  You are children of the resurrection.  You will shine in glory. 
     While your glory will come when people are raised from the dust of the earth, your place in God's family is already secure now.  You are the children of God because you have God's word on it.  Of course, we also want to live as children of God.  God's Commandments are good.  They direct us to what a good and godly life is supposed to look like.  Jesus has encouraged us, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)  In other words, it is God's will that we already begin to shine and to reflect Jesus' righteousness in our lives now.  The children of God are set apart, and we pray that it would look like it.  This is to God's glory, not ours.
     Nevertheless, our true glory does not come yet.  We still struggle against temptations.  And worse, we still give in.  Then we have to deal with shame, regret, and frustration.  There is a reason we still confess our sins.  We still have them.  We do not look like the children of God yet.  There is a reason we flee to hear God's word over and over again.  We live by faith, and our faith is informed and sustained by God's word.  He continues to declare his love for us, to absolve us of our sins, to feed us with the heavenly feast, and to encourage us to continue in godly living, no matter how much of a struggle that is.  He puts away our shame and regret, and he reminds us that we are his.  Even if you don't feel like it, you are.  The Lord says so, and we take him at his word.  We live right now by faith, not by sight.
     But Daniel's words are also true, for they are the word of the Lord: “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)  You will shine in glory, for the Lord has written your name in the Book of Life, just as surely as he has written his name upon you through your baptism.
     What does a Christian look like?  A Christian is one who hears God's word, kneels at his altar, confesses his sins, confesses the faith, and strives to put God's word into action in his life.  How good that looks like to other people, or even to yourself, does not prove anything.  The world may define you by your flaws; the Lord does not.  Salvation belongs to those who are wise for salvation; for they hear God's word and believe it.
     But you will shine in glory.  On the Last Day, you will be raised from your grave, and you will look and act like the children of God he says you are.  You will be forever free from regret and shame.  You will be delivered from struggles against temptation and the frustration of your sins.  You will serve the Lord in perfect obedience and rejoice in doing his will without fault.  You will even be delivered from pain, sorrow, deformity, disability, disaster, and death.  For it will be an everlasting age of glory and peace.  This is your inheritance, for you are the children of God.  That is what you are now; for God has said so.  And soon, you will look like it; for you will shine in glory forevermore.

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

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