LAST SUNDAY IN THE CHURCH YEAR – NOV. 24, 2013
TEXTS: LUKE 23:27-43; COL. 1:13-20; MALACHI 3:13-18
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 Son of God 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 wrath.  Your sentimental sympathy is overly concerned with physical suffering and not its cause - sin - and not the great purpose of My present suffering.  Open your eyes for I – the Messiah – am not the one in need of compassion.  Weep for yourselves – for God’s end-time wrath will be kindled against those who continue to reject God’s Messiah!”  Jesus had Jerusalem and its destruction in view when He said, “Weep for yourselves,” but also the suffering of the end times in which we now live and the final Eschaton.  


His words of judgment and His call to blessed repentance still stand.  There is so much to weep for in this passing world – so much suffering!  The physical need in this city alone is overwhelming.  Then consider all the cities in all the countries of the world.  On this day, how does one calculate the causes for weeping in the Philippines alone?   The threats against health and life are always abundant – the accidents, the disasters in nature, the cancers, the heart ailments, the blood disorders, the painful inflammations.  There is ultimately hopeless desperation in human existence apart from Christ.  Jesus would use all the world’s tragedies - all our own afflictions - and the last enemy of death - to direct our hopes away from ourselves and this passing world.

LAST SUNDAY IN THE CHURCH YEAR – NOV. 24, 2013
TEXTS: LUKE 23:27-43; COL. 1:13-20; MALACHI 3:13-18
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 Son of God 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 wrath.  Your sentimental sympathy is overly concerned with physical suffering and not its cause - sin - and not the great purpose of My present suffering.  Open your eyes for I – the Messiah – am not the one in need of compassion.  Weep for yourselves – for God’s end-time wrath will be kindled against those who continue to reject God’s Messiah!”  Jesus had Jerusalem and its destruction in view when He said, “Weep for yourselves,” but also the suffering of the end times in which we now live and the final Eschaton.  


His words of judgment and His call to blessed repentance still stand.  There is so much to weep for in this passing world – so much suffering!  The physical need in this city alone is overwhelming.  Then consider all the cities in all the countries of the world.  On this day, how does one calculate the causes for weeping in the Philippines alone?   The threats against health and life are always abundant – the accidents, the disasters in nature, the cancers, the heart ailments, the blood disorders, the painful inflammations.  There is ultimately hopeless desperation in human existence apart from Christ.  Jesus would use all the world’s tragedies - all our own afflictions - and the last enemy of death - 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 and feeling 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.  Malachi had exposed the priests and the people as robbers of God – withholding their tithes – tossing God leftovers – animals that were blind and lame and sick (Malachi 1:8; 3:8).  It would be like those of us who have (for God does not ask us to give from what we do not have – 2 Cor. 8:12) - spending like troopers in the Christmas shopping frenzy – making first our plans for home improvements and life improvements in 2014 – making sure our eating-out and our travel and entertainment budgets were in order for the coming year – and then thinking – O yes – I should also put something in the collection plate – maybe even a bit more.  You see, gifts returned to God had become just a bothersome afterthought for them – not the joyful expression of fellowship with God.  When Malachi put his finger on this sin of robbing God the people didn’t respond with repentance – but rather with complaint.  “What am I getting out of it?”  “Is it worth it?”  Satan chimes in…“while evildoers prosper – look at your pathetic lot in life!”  The devil’s accusations don’t stop with the present.  He hisses – “even if God is giving you good years and good things now - you know it can’t last.  He will hammer you in the end!”


Dear Christians – God will not hammer you in the end!  Yes, the wages of sin is death but even death is now 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.


That’s why the Gospel appointed for the last Sunday of this Church year connects well to Judgment Day.  For Jesus, the Journey is over.  He 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 pulled apart from bodily life.  He was put to death as a holocaust – a burnt offering!  The fire of God’s wrath burned against Him – the one in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell – God incarnate/man divine.  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.  Beloved of God - this is Judgment Day – this is the day when the sin that infects you and me receives its due! 


It was in the midst of that bloody scene of` sacrifice that the criminal pleaded, “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.  His plea shows that he was led to believe in a bleeding tortured man under the same condemnation as he was.  His trust was in a God who was dying just like himself.  All that the malefactor had going for him was this painful, powerful, profound awareness of his sin and even more of trust in Jesus’ total innocence and immense love for sinners and His authority to help.  


From that position – hanging naked on his stake of execution – getting exactly 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). 


Who then 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 is 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.”   “Paradise” means “garden” as in “Garden of Eden,” – perfect creation.  Jesus tells this man of faith – this man trusting in what he does not see – “this place of the skull is not your end – neither is the pain or anguish or death you are facing – neither is the mess of a person you have made yourself in this world.”  “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”


Beloved – nowhere does Scripture show more clearly that faith is a gift of God – not the product of human reason.  See the gift God has given you!  Jesus’ answer here is the beautiful Gospel at its most thrilling expression!  God is at peace with you and paradise is open to you by His once-for-all sacrifice.  Jesus does the big death that enables pardon like this!  The little death when you heart stops beating is all that lies ahead.  The Holy Spirit was not revealing an optional truth when He caused St. Paul to ask, “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:3).  When Jesus died on Calvary amid darkness, earthquakes and the destruction of the temple’s veil, God’s judgment on sin was being served. Baptized into His sacrificial death – forgiven by Him - the judgment poured out against Christ stands as your judgment!  In Christ you have served your sentence in full.  There is no double jeopardy.  That is also why the Holy Spirit revealed another essential truth inspiring St. Peter to write…”he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)  Luther once wrote – “Would to God that the Day of our redemption and the Last Judgment might come quickly; for I desire this with far greater intensity than any physical liberation.”  (WLS - #2177) Every other change for the better Luther knew was only temporary – just like you know it.  This final change, however, is for keeps. 

 

As we live in the end times, the texts for this Sunday of the Fulfillment do ring out with warning.  We are mightily tempted to complain and to doubt the value of confessing Christ as were those to whom Malachi preached.  In the darkness of this world the power of evil seems to have the most rewards.  However, this day’s texts also ring out with astounding comfort.  From the cross the Son of God pours forth forgiveness and life and salvation!  It is never in vain to serve the Lord!  Yes we are still on the pilgrimage.  Yes, evildoers still prosper for a season on earth.  But you are God’s treasured possession whom God will preserve.  You are treasured now and that treasury will be fully revealed on Judgment Day.  None other will hold court on the Day of Judgment than He who gave Himself for you.  He will not waver!  Who will accuse you?  Who will judge the Judge?  He is your great, sure, security (See WLS #2178).  All Hail the power of Jesus’ Name!


Dear brother and sister in Christ – God will not hammer you in the end!  His forgiveness for you is full and free!   He forgives you not to continue unrepentant in sin but to fight against it as you are doing.  His love for you is steadfast!  Even now the crucified and risen Christ is present to banquet you.  The sour wine Jesus was offered was part of the machinery of mockery!  How different is the wine Jesus offers you – rebel that you are!  It is the master’s making-new wine that is now 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.”  Life after death immediately – not more of the same – but the unimaginable joy of life with God!  God will not hammer you in the end!  His cleansing of you is as ongoing as is His faithful love for you!  Take and eat!  Drink of it all of you!


Amid so many reasons to weep in this troubled world, with so many uncertainties in the new Church Year now beginning – this is certain.  Your life holds together in Him, now and forever.  You are free to fear the Lord – standing in awe of Him – especially awe of His gracious, healing love for you in His Son.  Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord. 


In the Name of Jesus, Amen