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Last Sunday of the Church Year PDF Print E-mail

TEXT: LUKE 23:27-43/COLOSSIANS 1:13-20
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

To the saints in Christ at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center: Grace to you and Peace from God our Father.

The church’s calendar is always out of step with the world’s calendar because Christ’s Church is always out of step with the world.  Readings for the last Sunday of the Church year, generally call our attention to the end of the world – to Christ’s return in judgment – to the need to be ready for our own deaths.  So perhaps the account of Jesus’ crucifixion seems misplaced.  After all, it’s not Holy Week – it’s not Good Friday – it’s the Last Sunday of the Church Year.

But in truth – those hours – reaching back 2000 years also reach forward to Judgment Day and to this day.  Those hours - the saddest hours the earth has ever known are also the most glorious hours the earth has ever known.  In truth, those hours are your sure and certain hope in the hour of your death and on the Day of Judgment. 

The Journey is over – Jesus has reached His goal! When they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the evildoers, one on his right and one on his left.  The image of the invisible God - the One by whom all things were created – the One in whom all things hold together – was slowly and brutally put to death as a holocaust – a burnt offering!  The fire of God’s wrath burned against Him – the Christ of God – the one in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  The crucified criminal may have gotten everything wrong in His life, but his judgment of Christ was correct.  Do you not fear God, since you are under the same condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.

This is Judgment Day – this is the day when the sin that infects you receives its due!  This is the day when God in human flesh – died for us sinners – as our substitute!  In grossest humiliation – accused – condemned – naked – the object of utter contempt: He had just spoken His last beatitude (His last “blessed”).  Daughters of Jerusalem – weep for yourselves - behold the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’    

Addressing the destruction of Jerusalem and the horrific suffering that would come, Jesus speaks a shocking reversal!  Those who were childless – who would therefore not have to witness the agony and destruction of their own children would suffer less.  So staggering would the suffering be – “Blessed are the barren!”  The nucleus of His warning and call to repentance is this – “Do not weep for me, the suffering, righteous, Messiah upon whom God must pour His fiery wrath.  Weep for yourselves – for God’s end-time wrath will be kindled against those who continue to reject God’s Messiah!  

His words of judgment and His call to repentance are also for you and me.  There is so much to weep for in this passing world – so much suffering!  The physical need in this city alone is overwhelming – yet consider all the cities in all the countries of the world.  The threats against health in this congregation alone are abundant – the cancers, the heart ailments, the blood and breathing issues.  Yet, consider the tens of thousands of grave health issues in the members in just our synod.  The disappointments and afflictions and uncertainties in the extended family of any of us can be consuming.  And Jesus would use all the world’s tragedies and all of the reports of destruction and death and all of our own afflictions and weaknesses to direct our hopes away from ourselves and this passing world.  

You see our natural perspective is to anchor our desires in what we see – in how well we’re doing at the moment.  As in Malachi’s day, your Old Adam may whisper – “It is vain to serve God.  What is the profit of…keeping his charge…we call the arrogant blessed…Evildoers prosper…they put God to the test and they escape.  Satan chimes in…and while evildoers prosper – look at your disappointing lot!  And even if God is giving you good years and good decades now, you know it can’t last.  He will hammer you in the end!

But dear Christians – God will not hammer you in the end!  Even death is a defeated enemy (I Cor. 15).  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things…making peace by the blood of his cross.
It was in the midst of that scene of bloody sacrifice that the criminal said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  He deserved capital punishment and he knew it!  He was hours from death yet he sought no earthly reprieve!  He offered no excuses!  He compared himself with no one but Jesus.  He was an evildoer who was not prospering.  

From that position – hanging naked on his stake of execution – getting what he deserved – he had heard the most astounding words of absolution.  The one everyone was talking about in Jerusalem – Jesus of Nazareth – the one now impaled next to him beneath the inscription, “This is the King of the Jews,” had uttered extraordinary, even unthinkable words.  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  The “them” - the “they” - surely applies to the soldiers who has just driven spikes through His limbs.  But as Jesus earlier predicted His passion, He had named Jewish groups as responsible (9:22) and “the Gentiles” (18:32) and “men” in general (9:44).  Therefore when Jesus prays for the Father to forgive “them” He is ultimately praying for the entire human race.  Since the sin of all is responsible for His death.  His plea, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” includes you!

Jesus anticipates in His words what is about to happen in His death – atonement for the sin of the entire world.  This is Judgment Day – the day when the sin that infects us receives its deadly, damning due!  There is therefore now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  

Now, in the blood of His cross – God is at peace with you (beautiful - objective - outside of you - in the heart of God -peace)!  You may not be at peace with yourself this morning – there may be much at work robbing you of a peaceful feeling (sickness, suffering, sadness, serious need) – your earthly peace may be shattered in the days ahead, but God is at peace with you through the blood of Jesus’ cross.

Who are the ones robed white in heaven?  These are the one coming out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  In our text Jesus is addressing one of those who are now holy and blameless in heaven.  When Jesus addressed him he was still on earth – unrobed – in severe agony - and by his own admission – full of blame.  Yet, in response to His appeal for mercy Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”   

Beloved - God is at peace with you and paradise is open to you by the blood of Christ.  Sinner that you are – you have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son!  In Him you have redemption, the forgiveness of all your sins.  
Risen and ascended – He baptized you for the forgiveness of sins!  Risen and ascended He is present right now to banquet you with His blood of the New Testament – for the forgiveness of sins.  His cleansing of you is no less thorough than His cleansing of the criminal to whom He said, “…today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Amid so many reasons to weep in this troubled world, with so many uncertainties in the new Church Year beginning next Sunday – this is certain.  Your life holds together in Him, now and forever.  Amen.  


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