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Lindemann on Trinity 26/Second-Last

by revalkorn ~ November 10th, 2010

THE TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

This Sunday is the second of a group dealing with the Last Things.  If it is the last Sunday of the Church Year, the Introit and the Collect for the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity shall be used, according to the Rubrics.  The holy Gospel brings our Lord’s own description of what will happen in the Final Judgment.  Both the Common Service Book and The Lutheran Hymnal offer a choice of two Epistles.  In the first St. Peter exclaims: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening [earnestly desiring] the coming of the Day of God!”  “Be zealous to be found by Him without spot or blemish and at peace.” In the second, St. Paul gives thanks that the church at Thessalonica is growing in faith and love for one another in all their persecutions ind afflictions.  He assures them that the just God will repay and inflict vengeance on the day when the Lord comes in glory to be glorified in His saints.

The Introit. “Save me, O God, by Thy name, and judge me by Thy strength.  Hear my prayer, 0 God; give ear to the words of my mouth.  He shall reward evil to mine enemies; cut them off in Thy truth.”

The text is from Psalm 54.  This Introit first appears in Lutheran sources. It sings of the Christian assurance of salvation.  Reference to the second Epistle for this day is evident in the words: “Vindicate me by Thy might.” Also: “He will requite my enemies with evil; in Thy faithfulness put an end to them.”

The Collect. “O God, so rule and govern our hearts and minds by Thy Holy Spirit that, being ever mindful of the end of all things and the day of Thy just Judgment, we may be stirred up to holiness of living here and dwell with Thee forever hereafter.”

This prayer is unique in that it comes from a Swedish source, first appearing in 1639.  Apparent is the connection with the first Epistle: “In lives of holiness and godliness” and “stirred up to holiness of living here.”

The Epistle, 2 Peter 3:3-14 or 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10.

The Gradual. “He shall call to the heavens from above and to the earth that He may judge the people.  The heavens shall declare His righteousness, for God is Judge Himself.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  The ransomed of the Lord shall come to Zion with everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and weeping shall fly away.  Alleluia!”

Here is assurance for the people who wait for and earnestly desire the coming of the Lord: “He will call to the heavens above and to the earth, so that He may judge His people.”  The heavens will declare His righteousness, be witnesses to God’s judicial rectitude, for on this occasion God Himself will act as judge (Ps. 50:4,6).  The holy Gospel is connected with either of the Epistles: “The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away ” (Is. 5:10).

The Proper Sentence, “Alleluia! O Lord, deal with Thy servant according unto Thy mercy, and teach me Thy statutes.  I am Thy servant, give me understanding, that I may know Thy testimonies.  Alleluia!”

Or: “Alleluia!  Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers; praise Him and highly exalt Him forever.  Alleluia!”

The Gospel, St. Matthew 25:31-46.  This is the conclusion of our Lord’s discourse two days before His death, in which He instructed His disciples, upon their request, regarding the end of the world.  He spoke to comfort and admonish His believers and to warn and to fill with dread the others who might be helped.  This passage may be given the theme “The Last judgment and Its Four Stages”: the gathering of all nations before the judgment seat of Christ; the separation of sheep and goats; the twofold verdict; and the final lot of both groups, eternal punishment and eternal life.  The judgment of the world may also be regarded as the permanent separation of the people of earth and considered under three heads: The Judge of all the earth will determine the eternal weal or woe of all men on that Day; He will separate men according to faith and unbelief; and He will prove the righteousness of His verdict by the works of faith or their lack.  Or the preacher may impress the twofold truth that the merciful will receive mercy, the unmerciful, however, will be judged unmercifully.

The Proper Preface. “Who with Thine only-begotten Son and the Holy Ghost art one God, one Lord.  And in the confession of the only true God we worship the Trinity in Person and the Unity in Substance, of Majesty coequal.”

SERMON ON THE FIRST EPISTLE

With this Sunday we have reached the end of the Church Year.  It reminds us of the end of all things, of time, of life, and of the world.  We consider a portion of the Holy Scriptures which the ancient Church appointed as the Epistle for one of the last Sundays of the Church Year.  The subject is:

The Delay of the End

St. Peter introduces the subject: “This is now the second letter that I have written to you, beloved, and in both of them I have aroused your sincere mind by way of reminder; that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.”  He is referring to the end of the world and reminds his readers that the prophets and the Lord Jesus had predicted the final destruction of this world.  The prophets had spoken hundreds of years before.  This letter was written thirty years after our Lord’s ascension.  Yet there was no indication that the end was any nearer.  Therefore St. Peter found it necessary to arouse the believers.  For the delay was apt to result in complacency and apathy.

“First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, Where is the. promise of His coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.”  We know from several letters of the New Testament that the early Christians expected our Lord to return almost immediately.  Yet the first generation of Christians was dying away, and still the world did not come to an end.  The scoffers asked mockingly: “Should men still look for Christ’s Second Coming?  The laws of nature are still working with changeless uniformity.  There is no indication of any change through all these years.”  This scoffing was done because these mockers followed their own passions.  They would permit no consideration to interfere with their self-indulgence.  Their skepticism was born of the wish that was father to the thought.

St. Peter continues: “They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago, and an earth formed out of water and by means of water, through which the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.”  By their own will the fact escapes them that there was a change.  They willfully ignore the fact that God by His omnipotent Word created the world.  By His Word He caused the dry land to be separated from the water.  This was a mighty change.  The scoffers say that all things have always been as they are.  They deliberately ignore the fact that by the Word of God a stupendous change was once brought about.

They also willfully ignore the fact that a mighty change was brought about through the Deluge, when the earth perished in water.  The word of Almighty God caused the earth to be covered with water and perish.

“But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire, being kept until the Day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”  This same word that brought forth the earth out of water and destroyed it by water is now keeping the world in existence.  God has said that He will fully destroy it by His word at some future time.  But this time the destruction will not be by water but by fire.  By His word God is keeping the heavens and the earth against the day when ungodly men will be judged and destroyed.

How does St. Peter explain the delay?  He is not writing to ungodly men and scoffers and skeptics and agnostics but to believers.  People who do not want to believe God, who willfully ignore facts, who refuse to have any consideration to interfere with their self-indulgence, will brush St. Peter’s explanation aside.  “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.”  The Lord is not bound by the element of time.  He speaks from the viewpoint of eternity, where there is no time, no day, no year.  To Him one day can be a thousand years to us, and a thousand years to Him can be a day to us.

“The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you [on your account], not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance.”  In His own mind God has determined the exact moment.  From His side there is no delay.  What seems a delay to the Scoffers is not that.  Men are slow in fulfilling their promises from various, often selfish motives.  The only motives God has are love and long-suffering.  He does not wish that any should perish.  He has set judgment into the future so as to give opportunity for repentance.  He is willing to receive all to repentance.  St. Peter expresses the same thought in his First Letter when he writes that “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark.”  But in spite of Noah’s warning the ungodly scoffed as the years passed ind the Deluge came upon them unexpectedly.

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.”  The Day of the Lord will come as a Surprise, without special warning, without further previous announcement.  All, believers and unbelievers, will be surprised.  Our Lord impressed the unexpected suddenness of His return upon His disciples, and St. Peter here, and also St. Paul, and St. John twice in the Revelation, emphasize this feature.  Then will come the crash of a falling world and the roar of destroying flames.  The framework of the world will be dissolved.  The earth and all the works of God and man in it will be burned up.

“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening [earnestly desiring] the coming of the Day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved and the elements will melt with fire!  But according to His promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”  Seeing that all these things ( ! ) are being dissolved, that the process of dissolution is even now going on and will be completed unexpectedly, knowing that the end may come at any moment and put an end to all, what sort of people ought we to be?  The natural reaction would be fear and uneasiness.  The unbeliever, the scoffer, willfully and deliberately ignores. all, because he will not be disturbed in his self-indulgence.  In this way he keeps fear from overwhelming him.  But we see and know from God’s Word that all things will be destroyed by fire suddenly.  What sort of persons ought we to be?

Not fearful people!  The believer has nothing to fear.  We shall not come into judgment but shall be removed from this earth before things begin to crash.  St. Paul tells us that if we are alive, we shall be caught up to meet Christ in the air.  The dead in Christ will rise first and go to meet the Lord also.  So there is nothing to fear.  Or should the thought that the things of this world will burn up sadden and depress us?  This would indicate that we overemphasize things.  However, that is why the Lord is waiting, to give time for repentance, for a shift of emphasis to the things that will endure forever.

St. Peter does not mention fear.  We ought to be people in lives of holiness and godliness, people who wait for the coming of the Day of God.  The Day of God will bring fulfillment of His promise to create new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.  Eagerly we look forward to the day when this world, falling to pieces and dying a miserable death, will be replaced by a new world ruled by righteousness.  This life is the school in which we are prepared and trained for the new world of righteousness.  So we live in holiness and godliness.  Holiness is separation from the service of sin and evil, from the godless world that serves sin and self.  Godliness is the service of God, the reflecting of God in our lives.

St. Peter writes that we ought to hasten the coming of the Day of God.  The coming of this Day is being delayed to give men time and opportunity to turn to God.  The Lord is forbearing, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance.  Then the coming may be hastened by making further delay unnecessary, by repenting, by turning from the perishable things of this world to holiness and godliness.

The Day of God may be hastened also by leading others to repentance.  The Lord is delaying with His coming because the number of the elect must be complete.  There are people who must be saved, and this world is still standing for the one purpose of saving them.  When they are won for Christ, the end will come.  Christ works and saves only through us.  So we may make further delay unnecessary and hasten the Day by winning others to Christ and leading them to repentance.  There is a terrible urgency about our mission work.  That neighbor of ours, that relative, that acquaintance, may be the one whom we must win by our personal efforts.  God wants to use us in adding him or her, and then the number of the elect will be full, and the end will come.

“Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these,” since you wait for the coming of the Lord, for the restitution of all things, for the new heavens and the new earth, “be zealous to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace.  And count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation.”  The scoffers say that the delay is slowness.  The beloved count it salvation.  It is for the salvation of the elect that the judgment tarries.  So be earnest to be found without spot or blemish when the Lord appears suddenly.  While waiting for the Lord to come, we must strive to be like Him, to imitate Him who is the Lamb without blemish and without spot, and to be found blameless in His sight.  And at peace!  Peace in its fullest sense, peace with God and man, the peace that Christ gives, the peace of God that passes all understanding.  “In peace” was a common inscription on Christian graves.  In peace, whether you live or have fallen asleep when the Lord comes.

Against the background of these words we celebrate the Lord’s Supper today.  As we in memory enter the Upper Room, we hear our Lord say: “I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s Kingdom.” We recall that St. Paul wrote: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  Our thoughts go nor only to the past but also to the future.  As we do this in remembrance of Him, we look back to the death of the Son of God for our salvation.  But we look forward also to the return of the Son of God in glory, when the heavens will pass away with a loud noise and the elements will be dissolved with fire and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up. We look forward to the day when there will be new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.  We look forward to the day when our Lord will take us home to the marriage feast in heaven and when He will drink the wine with us new in the Kingdom of His Father.

To this coming feast of victory and reunion we look forward as we celebrate the Lord’s death in the Holy Communion at the end of the Church Year and are reminded of the end of all things.  After this life of suffering and sorrow, of struggle with temptation, after the turmoil of strife and the conflict of battle, we shall meet our Savior in the new creation of righteousness, and shall drink of the fruit of the vine new with Him in His Father’s Kin dom.  Today we hear our King say to us: “You weary men and women, I am coming again to take you out of this miserable world into the new world of righteousness.  Let your thoughts go forward confidently and joyously to that hour.  As surely as I meet you here invisibly in the Holy Sacrament, so surely shall I meet you visibly on that Day.”  As we leave His Table, we shall be what St. Peter said we should be: in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for, hastening the coming of the Day of God, waiting for new heavens and a new earth, zealous to be found before Him without spot or blemish and at peace.

SERMON ON THE HOLY GOSPEL

At the end of a year of grace the Church reminds her children of a fact that is ignored and ridiculed by the unbelieving world.  She declares that a day is coming when all things will be destroyed by fire and this great world structure will be reduced to nothingness.  She impresses upon her children that the Day of judgment will bring not only the disappearance of all we see but also the revelation of all that is not seen.  St. Paul calls it “the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”  The Lord Jesus speaks of it so in the text.

On that day, Christ will be revealed.  Now He is not seen.  He was on earth centuries ago as a humble and despised man.  Only few knew then that seeing Him they were seeing God.  Then He withdrew His visible presence and ascended to heaven.  He is now present on earth only invisibly, in and through His Word and Sacraments, in His Church.  It seems as though our Lord does not Iive and rule.  He has His way in the hearts of His believers, but this is hidden from others.  Even His beloved at times feel only little of His abiding presence.  Therefore the unbelieving world ignores, despises, blasphemes the unseen Christ, and all who serve Him faithfully are looked upon as odd and foolish.

When our Lord withdrew the body He had taken from the Virgin Mary, He said He would continue His life and work on earth through another body.  As its invisible Head, He would rule and direct the members of this body.  This body is His Church, the Communion of Saints, the Communion of Separated People.  Every believer is a member of this body.  The Church is the body of the living and invisible Son of God on earth.  The Church is Christ on earth.

This fact is disregarded by most.  The great majority are not in the least concerned about the welfare of Christ’s body.  Even people who profess to be members often fail to function as the Head directs.  Because the Lord’s displeasure is not immediately apparent, they imagine Him either indifferent or powerless.  So they go on, secure in their disregard of the unseen Christ, who is living on earth in the body of His believers.

The text reminds us that this will not continue forever.  “When the Son of man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.”  The invisible Lord will come to earth visibly a second time, as a true man, but this time not in humility.  He will come in His glory, and all His holy servants, all the kingdoms of angels, ten thousand times ten thousand, will accompany Him.  “Then He will sit on His glorious throne.”  Until that moment, He was the great High Priest, pleading men’s cause before God that time and opportunity be given for turning to Him.  But now He comes as the King in majesty and glory, to judge the world in righteousness.  Now He descends from heaven with a shout of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God, and on His robe and on His thigh a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.

“Before Him will be gathered all the nations.”  All who lived on earth from Adam to the end must appear before Him, the angels gathering all before the throne.  We, too, shall stand there, you who hear these words, and I who proclaim this truth to you.  “And He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the. left.”  Here, in this life, believers and unbelievers are mingled together.  True believers may go unrecognized and misjudged.  Some godless may pass for Christians.  But on that Day there will be a clean-cut division, without the possibility of a mistake.  Every man’s true self will be revealed in a moment, all false fronts will be torn away.

The sheep are placed on the right hand.  The picture of the Good Shepherd and His sheep reaches beyond time into eternity.  “The Lord is my Shepherd.”  “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give them eternal life.”  The believers stand on His right.  They are His sheep.  They heard Christ’s Word, they obeyed His voice, they followed His directions.

The goats are put on the left.  Apart from their odor the outstanding characteristic of goats is their unreasoning stubbornness that leads them to butt their thick heads against a stone wall.  They on the left are goats because they willfully, stubbornly refused when God graciously invited them: “Come now, let us reason together; though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”  They insisted on going their own way and would not be led and guided by Christ’s Word.  Whenever His Word threatened to interfere with their selfish way of life, they reared and charged head on.  They obstinately refused to follow the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for them.

This separation and division takes place immediately.  There is no examination, no trial, no presentation of evidence, no sentence by the court.  This is not a trial or the passing of a sentence.  This is a judgment, the carrying out of a sentence already passed.  The trial is over, all the evidence is in, the sentence was determined in this life.  The judgment is merely the carrying out of the sentence that fell here in this life.  You and I may know in this hour where we shall stand on that day.  Our Lord told us on what basis a man is judged.  “The word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.”  Our attitude over against Christ’s Word, the Word we read in the Bible and hear preached by human lips, this attitude here in life determines.  Our Lord also said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.”  Again: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life.”  To hear Christ’s Word means to hear it effectually, to accept it, to trust in it, to act upon it, to obey it.  Our Lord promises with an oath: Be My sheep in this life, hear your Shepherd’s voice, follow your Shepherd’s directions, feed on the pasture of God’s holy Word, and there can be no question where you will stand on the Last Day.

This immediate division, this revelation of sheep and goats, will cause much surprise on the left.  The goats paid no attention to Christ’s Word and, being ignorant to the last, will even now continue to butt their heads against everything they do not like.  They will not like the judgment.  Many will think that they do not belong on the left and that others they see on the right have no business there.  All their life the goats stubbornly insisted that they were at least just as good as the simpletons who heard Christ’s Word regularly.  So the King must justify His judgment and prove before all the world that it is righteous.

He turns first to the sheep: “Come, O blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  In life you believed in Me, followed Me, loved Me.  You were children of God, My brothers and sisters.  Your Big Brother has come to give you your inheritance.  What proof does He present that they believed in Him and loved Him?  They gave Christ food, drink, welcome, clothing, and they visited Him.  Now there is surprise on the right hand.  When did they ever do all this to Him?  They loved Him, yes; and because they loved Him and wished to imitate Him, they showed kindly love to humanity wherever needed.  But they never did it to Him!  Then the righteous will answer Him, Lord, when did we ever do this to Thee?  “And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”  You did it to My brethren, for My sake.  You showed that you loved Me, obeyed Me, followed Me, imitated Me.  You did it because you knew I would do it under the same circumstances.  Your attitude proves that you are My sheep.

“Then He will say to those at His left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  By your attitude you proved in life that you did not love Me.  There was only selfishness.  So your place is where there is no love for Me, for only there will loveless, selfish people be at home.

The goats make an attempt at defense: “Lord, when did we see Thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to Thee?”  If we had ever seen Thee in need, we would have ministered to Thee, for we knew it would pay off and be to our advantage.  But we never saw Thee.  Thou wast far away and absent.  “Then He will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to Me.”  Naturally, you never saw Me, because you paid no attention to My Word, and therefore did not know that out of love for Me you were to imitate Me.  When you saw a needy fellow man, you never asked what your Lord would do under the circumstances.  You were so wrapt up in self that you saw nothing but whatever would bring you profit and advantage.  You belong where you are, on the left, among the goats.

“My brethren.”  The Son of man is speaking, the human Christ.  All humanity is no doubt included in the term “My brethren.”  Yet there are people who are the Judge’s brothers and sisters in a special sense.  They are united with Him not only by the bond of a common humanity but by the bond of a common sonship.  They are His believers, His sheep, the children of God.  They have the same Father with the Son of God, they are members of God’s family, and therefore the Judge’s brothers and sisters in a special sense.  Surely the words apply to them in even greater measure: As you did it to My brethren, you did it to Me.  As you did it not to these, you did it not to Me.

These brothers and sisters of the Judge the Holy Spirit gathers about the Word and Sacraments, and this communion of believers is called the Communion of Saints, the holy Christian Church.  This congregation assembled here today is the outward manifestation of this invisible organism, Christ’s Church.  St. Paul calls the Church Christ’s body and every believer a member of the body whose Head is Christ.  Our Lord called the Church His bride.  He said that on the Last Day He, the Bridegroom, will come to take His bride home to the eternal wedding feast.  Surely, it is in the sense of the text when we say: As you did it to My Church, My body, My bride, you did it to Me; as you did it not to My Church, My body, My bride, you did it not to Me.

Then He will say to those on the left, the goats: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  Hear them as they are hurled down into the pit: “I never dreamed that God was really serious about the Word I heard.  I never thought that my reaction to the Word had anything to do with being a sheep or a goat.  The preacher often warned, but I imagined that he was out to build up the congregation or had a disturbed liver or disordered stomach and was too serious.”  Or: “If I had only realized that a church as that of which I was a member outwardly, is composed of members of Christ’s body in which He continues His life and work on earth, I would have given my time and efforts and money.  But I was so busy looking out for myself that I never thought how impossible a lifeless, deformed member is in the holy body of the living Christ.”  Or: “If I had only believed the word that the Church is Christ’s bride, then I would not have ignored and neglected her and treated her so shabbily.  I would have cherished her as the bride of Christ, tenderly and lovingly ministered to her, taken time to serve her.  But now I must hear: You did it not to her; therefore you did it not to Me.”

Then He will say to those on the right, the sheep: “Come, O blessed of My Father.” As you did it to My Church, My body, My bride, for My sake, you did it to Me.  On this note we shall end the Church Year.  Every minute spent for His Church, every attempt to win a soul, every visit made on the King’s business, every effort to build Christ’s Kingdom, is noted, and the King will on the Last Day acknowledge all profusely.  We have today seen the picture of the text in a local setting and frame.  So ends another Church Year, another year of grace, perhaps our last.  It is possible that also this warning of a righteous judge will not affect the loveless attitude of some toward Christ, toward His body, toward His bride, toward His brethren.  But the indifference of some must not discourage the sheep and cause them to grow weary in welldoing.  There will come a day of revelation when the Christ they love and serve through their fellow men and brethren will declare before the world: “As you have done it for My sake to My Church, My body and bride, you have done it to Me.  Thereby you proved your faith and love.  Blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom which the Father has prepared for His children from the beginning of the world.”  Then the righteous will enter into the life eternal.

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