May 8, 2016 AD
Old Testament: Ezekiel 36:22-28
Epistle: 1 Peter 4:7-14
Gospel: John 15:26-16:4
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Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father, and from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
From the fourth chapter of the first letter of St. Peter, the seventh verse:
The end of all things is at hand.
This Sunday, between last Thursday’s feast of the Ascension of our Lord and next Sunday’s feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, is a kind of “in-between” day in the Christian year. In fact, our whole life as Christians is an “in-between” kind of thing.
It’s a truth so obvious that you might well wonder why a preacher would even bother to mention it. And the truth is this: Earth is not Heaven— although on a perfect spring day earth does come close to suggesting something of that final splendor foreseen and promised in Jesus’ glorious resurrection.
But earth is not heaven. And it is a snare and delusion to imagine that this world will grow better and better until the human race finally succeeds in establishing God’s perfect kingdom here on earth. The Christian worldview is opposed to this kind of naive optimism, this myth of progress, which rests on failure to take seriously just about everything our Lord teaches us in His Word. Christ teaches us that human beings— even Christian human beings— will always remain sinful human beings who as long as we live in this world will have to keep on praying as we do in the prayer Christ Himself taught us, “Forgive us our trespasses,” and will have to go on repenting until our last breath. And since this is so, it’s a terrible delusion to suppose that we will ever be able to create some kind of Golden Age in the world’s history, let alone the perfected kingdom of God! Surely history itself should at least have taught us this much: that every attempt to create some kind of heaven on earth has in fact created a veritable hell on earth. Think of the French Revolution. Think of the so-called “workers’ paradise” of the Soviet Union, China, and other countries controlled by Marxist-Leninist thought.
To be sure, we Christians are called to be a light of hope and joy shining in all earth’s darkness, a leaven of goodness in a cruel and selfish world. In Christ’s Sermon on the Mount He uses the image of Christians as the “salt of the earth” because of salt’s preservative powers. So if we Christians are truly faithful to our calling as Jesus’ disciples, then we can like salt preserve the world from utter rottenness. All of this is blessedly true— and yet! And yet any progress is slow and often painful and any improvement thoroughly provisional— for the time being— always at the mercy of the native sinfulness of all human beings, together with the evil purpose of Satan and his evil minions who never rests in his efforts to subvert everything that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, worthy of praise.
But our Lord Jesus Christ has offered the perfect sacrifice for all sin, no matter how dark, no matter how terrible. He has conquered death and the grave and has ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us. Jesus’ glorious ascension into heaven, which took place the 40th day after His resurrection and which we therefore celebrated this past Thursday, is a most necessary reminder that, as Saint Paul writes to the Christians at Philippi, “Our citizenship is in heaven and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power which enables Him to subject all things unto Himself.”
Our citizenship is in heaven. This earth is not heaven and we Christians therefore remain “strangers and pilgrims” in this present world, people on a journey, a journey through this present life to the heavenly fatherland. Yes, people on a journey. And when we’re on a journey we realize— don’t we?— that everything is only “for the time being”, nothing permanent. And isn’t this a wonderful picture of what it means to live Christianly, as strangers and pilgrims in this world, as citizens of heaven, our true home? Taking pleasure in everything that is interesting and beautiful and amusing. We can relish all the good gifts a truly loving heavenly Father sends into our lives. And we realize that whatever difficulty we meet along the way is only for the time being, it isn’t going to last forever. And so we are on a journey, and we await for journey’s end.
On this Sunday after Ascension Day we remember how at our Lord’s ascension two angels appeared to the disciples and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing into heaven? This same Jesus which was taken up from you into heaven shall come in the same way as you have seen Him go into heaven.” Shall come on that Last and Great Day when the risen and ascended Lord will appear in glory and make all things new. And who in the meantime— all unseen— rules all things for the eternal good of His believing children.
There is also this. During the ten days after Jesus’ ascension the disciples were gathered together in prayer, waiting for the promised coming of the Holy Spirit which took place on that fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection, the day of Pentecost. Jesus gave you and gave me the Holy Spirit in our baptism, the Holy Spirit who continually comforts and strengthens us in our journey, the Holy Spirit who brings Christ to us and us to Christ, and whose coming on the Day of Pentecost we shall next Sunday celebrate with great joy.
Yes, this earth is not heaven. But the risen and ascended Lord Jesus will according to His sure promise come again and usher in a kingdom of light and joy that will have no end. Let us therefore pray for the grace to live in true repentance and in true faith in his atoning death that we may without fear behold Him when He shall come to be our Judge and so rejoice to behold His appearing. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. +Amen.