Sunday, November 22, 2020

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of End Times: Christ the King (November 22, 2020)

1 CORINTHIANS 15:20-28


In the name + of Jesus.

      There is a segment of Christendom that professes a doctrine called Millennialism.  While there are a number of variations on this doctrine, the short of it is this: Jesus will come again to establish an earthly kingdom where he will reign for 1,000 years, that is, for a millennium.  It is taught that in this earthly kingdom, wars will cease and everyone will live in peace.  Unbelievers will either be converted or destroyed.  Basically, it is the idea of heaven on earth.

     There are numerous problems with this teaching.  First, it dismisses Jesus' own testimony before Pilate when he states, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)  An earthly kingdom of 1,000 years cannot be an exception to that claim; it is a contradiction.  Millennialism is a misunderstanding of a passage in Revelation (20:4) which refers to a 1,000 year reign of Christ.  Since all other numbers in Revelation are symbolic, we recognize that the number 1,000 is symbolic in that verse, too.  Perhaps the most egregious error in teaching that Jesus will come again and begin to rule is that this doctrine denies that Jesus is ruling right now.  

     All things are subject to Christ the King.  We confess that in our weekly prayer which concludes, “through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”  We also confess in the Creed, “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” (Apostles' Creed)  If he is seated at God's right hand, he is ruling over all things.  All things are subject to Christ the King.

     If the doctrine of Millennialism sounds appealing, it is because we would like to have heaven on earth and all things peaceful.  If the doctrine of Millennialism sounds accurate, it is because it does not look like Jesus is reigning over all things yet.  We see a world that is vile and violent.  We are at the mercy of disease, natural disasters, and death; but they have no mercy.  As long as we are in this world, we need to keep on praying, “Lord, have mercy” and “Deliver us from evil.” 

     The Scriptures, however, are clear on the topic.  “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:26)  In other words, Jesus lives and reigns over all things.  Jesus gave a glimpse of his heavenly kingdom during his ministry.  By healing many, Jesus demonstrated that sickness and disease would not have a place in his kingdom.  When Jesus commanded the wind and the waves which had threatened to capsize the disciples' boat to cease, Jesus showed that natural disasters would not cause harm to people or damage to God's creation in his kingdom.  In our sinful world, these things afflict us and produce grief.  But they will come to an end because Jesus lives and reigns. 

     The most grievous consequence of sin that haunts and taunts us is death.  No one escapes it.  Medicine, diet, and exercise may extend your days on the earth, but death finally comes for all.  St. Paul tells us why.  “By a man came death...  In Adam all die...” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)  We are all children of Adam.  We have all descended from that one man, which binds us together with all people in the human race.  But it also means we are bound together as sinful people who are going to die.  Adam's rebellion corrupted his heart and mind and his very being.  That sinful nature infects us all.  Our very nature is corrupt, which leads to wicked motives and selfish moods.  You cannot improve your sinful condition anymore than you can eradicate the world of lightning strikes or the common cold.  Because of sin, we are marked for death and judgment.  We cannot fix our condition.  We cannot control our hearts and mouths.  And we cannot escape the consequences.  “By a man came death...  In Adam all die...” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)  

     All things are subject to Christ the King.  Jesus demonstrated this when he cured the blind, the deaf, and the lame of their disabilities.  Jesus corrected the ailments that are common in a sinful world.  He demonstrated the perfect healing which would be the norm in the kingdom of God.  But greater than bringing a cure for disease or disasters, Jesus produced the cure for death.  

     “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)  Jesus became a man to undo the curse that effects all mankind because of Adam's sin.  Unlike the first man and every person since, Jesus maintained his holiness and innocence throughout his life.  But Jesus exchanged his innocence for your guilt.  Jesus was convicted and condemned for your sins.  You, since your sins have been taken from you, are pardoned and set free.  Though he died, death could not hold Jesus.  Jesus rose from the dead.  A man has conquered death and will never die again.  And since he has united himself to all mankind, all mankind shall be made alive on the Last Day.  Jesus lives and reigns, and even the grave must submit to him.  So he not only has authority over disasters and disease, he even reigns over death.  All things are subject to Christ the King.

     Still, it appears that death has the upper hand.  Yes, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.  He was seen by his disciples who touched his body, inspected his wounds, and even ate with him.  His resurrection is undeniable.  The apostles willingly gave their lives up in confessing it to be so.  They died bloody and violent deaths for preaching about Jesus' resurrection.  Since then, many who were baptized and believed in Jesus have gone to their graves—some through disease, some through disasters, some peacefully, some martyred for the faith.  And even before death comes, we endure suffering, sorrow, stress, frustration, temptation, and so on.  Where is Jesus' reign in all this?

     Make no mistake: All things are subject to Christ the King.  The realities of living in a vile and violent world still vex us, but Jesus Christ lives and reigns.  And he will reign over all things until the last enemy is destroyed.  Death has, indeed, been conquered, but we will not partake in this victory until the Last Day.  This is what St. Paul wrote: “In Christ shall all be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.  Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:22-26)  

     All things are subject to Christ the King.  Therefore the grave must give up what it has claimed because Jesus has authority over the grave.  Jesus proved his victory at his resurrection on Easter Sunday.  And we will be participants in that victory at the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day.  Just as all die because of Adam, so all shall be raised up from death because of Christ.  All who believe and are baptized will rise to live in glory just as Jesus did.  He lives and reigns, and we will live and reign with him.

     All things are subject to Christ the King.  It is true even now, though we don't see it.  We know what will be—no more death or mourning or crying or pain.  In heavenly glory, all things will look and feel and act right.  But now we do see and feel death, mourning, crying, and pain.  Nevertheless, it is still true: All things are subject to Christ the King.  Nothing happens apart from Jesus' reign.  He knows about COVID and car accidents.  He knows about broken hearts and skinned knees.  He even knows about the number of hairs on your head.  That is because all things are subject to Christ the King.  They have to be, or Jesus is not at God's right hand, not all-powerful, and not sovereign.  But he most certainly is, even when it does not appear to be so.

     All things are subject to Christ the King—whether we regard them as good days or bad days.  All things are subject to Christ the King—whether it results laughter, anguish, or tears.  How do we know this is true?  Because we have a promise: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)  Did you catch that?  “All things work together for good.  All things.”  The only way all things work for your eternal good is if the Lord Jesus Christ is living and reigning for you.  And he is.  Even the evils that you suffer Jesus works for your eternal good.  The promise is not that Jesus will work all things out so that life will be fun or easy or prosperous.  The devil issues promises like that.  And even if he grants a moment of pleasure, it always disappoints.  Eventually it damns.

     But Jesus lives and reigns for you.  If he deems it best that you endure hardship so that you long all the more for the heavenly kingdom, then God be praised.  Those hardships will not last, but God's mercies will.  And when Jesus comes again, all enemies will finally be crushed underfoot.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  And then, Jesus will bring you into the glorious kingdom.  And then, all things will remain perfect and peaceful, not for a paltry millennium, but for a timeless eternity.  And then, the man Jesus will submit all things to the Triune God.  And then, the Son will live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  The Lord God Almighty reigns, and he reigns for your good to give you life and peace and glory forever and ever.

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

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