18 November 2018

The Lord Jesus Christ Endures to the End

The Temple in Jerusalem was a magnificent thing.  It’s no wonder the disciples were impressed.  The massive stones of the Temple buildings were beautiful white marble, adorned with gold and very strong.  Some of the stones were as large as semi trucks.  Certainly, the Temple was the match of any pyramid in Egypt, and it was rightly considered one of the great wonders of the world!

But out of this great Temple steps a Carpenter from Nazareth, days away from being crucified.  Earlier that week He threw the money changers out of the Temple courtyard; and now it sounds like He’s ready to tear the whole place down.  As Jesus leaves the Temple for the very last time, His final words are a cry of anguish: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem.  Your beautiful house will be left a deserted place!”  Not one stone of this great building will be left upon another!

The words of Jesus must have stung the ears of those who heard them, not least of all His own disciples.  The Temple was the heart and center of the Jewish faith.  Not only were the buildings magnificent, but more important, the priests who served the Temple offered up the sacrifices that the Lord had commanded through Moses.  How and why would Jesus criticizes the Temple?

The thing is that God, the Lord, had commanded the sacrifice of lambs and sheep and goats and bulls to prepare His people for the Sacrifice of Christ, the Son of God, for the sins of the world.  The Temple priests came every day to offer up those sacrifices in the Name of the Lord, but none of those sacrifices could redeem the world from sin forever.  They were a shadow and a preview of the sacrificial Lamb of God, who bears the sins of the whole world in His Body on the Cross.

Sadly, when the Christ of God appeared in the flesh, the people of God were largely unwilling to receive Him.  The long-awaited Savior was rejected by the majority of His own nation.  After all those years, the Jewish people by and large missed the point of their own history and religion.

Instead of looking at the sacrifices in the Temple as a Gospel proclamation of the coming Savior, most of the people saw them as a way of buying God off.  Their whole point and purpose had been in preparation for the Christ, the Messiah.  Once He had come in the flesh and been rejected, all that remained of the sacrifices was an empty and pointless shell.  Those who persisted in relying on the Temple and its sacrifices were bastardizing the Gospel into a means of self-righteousness.

But how often aren’t you guilty of doing the very same thing?  How often do you come to Church, not to receive the blessings of God, but rather to appease Him (or impress others) by going through the motions?  How often do you come to the Lord’s Supper, not because you need the forgiveness of His Body and Blood, but instead because you wonder and worry what everyone will be thinking if you do not?  How often do you blasphemously treat your Holy Baptism as a license to continue in your sins, instead of exercising its real significance in repentance and confession of your sins?

Do not allow the shadows of the Temple to eclipse the Gospel of the Lord.  For you are a sinner, and what you need is His forgiveness.  As a son or daughter of Adam, you are born in bondage to sin and death, and only God can set you free.  There is nothing you can do or give to save yourself.  Christ alone has done it all.  Everything else, like the Temple, will be left deserted and torn down.

The sacrifices of the Temple were brought to an end in the Year of our Lord 70, when the Roman army destroyed the city of Jerusalem.  To this day, the Temple has not been rebuilt, the sacrifices have not been restored.  But even if men were to rebuild the Temple and attempted to offer the Old Testament sacrifices as before, it would all be for nothing and a sinful rejection of Christ Jesus, who has already offered Himself once-for-all upon the Cross.  There is no other sacrifice for sin.

Jesus Christ alone has stood the test of sin and death, and only those who endure steadfast in Him will survive until the end and be saved.  There is forgiveness and salvation nowhere else.  Not in the massive stones of magnificent Temple buildings.  Not in the good works that you or anyone else might do.  Not in the spiritual charade of a pietistic life.  But only in the Sacrifice of Christ.  By His voluntary suffering and death, He has made Atonement for the sins of the entire world.

God’s wrath and judgment against sin have thus been set aside forever, having been spent upon the Son in His Cross and Passion.  And yet, as the words of the Prophets and Christ Himself have warned, there will be a Day of Judgment for the living and the dead.  The destruction of Jerusalem is only the beginning, a miniature foretaste of that devastating final judgment at the end of days.

Christ has made Atonement for the sins of the world by His holy and precious Blood, and by His innocent suffering and death.  The final Judgment will thus turn on where you stand in relation to that same Lord Jesus Christ.  Jerusalem was destroyed because the majority of its inhabitants rejected Him and His Gospel.  So, too, those who will be condemned in the Day of Judgment are those who have persisted in their rejection of the very One who died to redeem and save them.

In the meantime, to be sure, your sin is still sin.  It offends the holy and righteous God, and He calls you to repentance for it by the preaching of His Word.  He also disciplines you, as a father disciplines his children, in love.  He punishes your sin in this body and life, not to the extent that you deserve, but that you might recognize its wrongness and its danger, and that you might turn away from your sins to the mercies of God in Christ, that you might live in faith and love.  For the fact is that persistence in your sins — in doing what you should not and failing to do what you should — is destructive of your faith and life and drives the Holy Spirit from your body and soul.

Those potential consequences of sin in your body and life are evident in the signs of the end that Jesus describes in His Word this morning.  It is a sinful world, and the consequences of sin are all around you: wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines, hurricanes and devastating fires.  There are no lack of nations rising against nations, of kingdoms rising and falling.  Ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed the Word of the Lord and fell into sin, the history of their children has been full of death and destruction.  And all who cling to this perishing world perish along with it.

Dr. Luther, considering the trials and tribulations of his tumultuous day and age, remarked that, “The world cannot stand long, perhaps a hundred years, at most.”  But really, truth be told, every Christian from the Twelve Apostles onward has looked for the Day of Judgment to come at any time.  The signs have certainly been there all along, and they continue going on even to this day.

Those signs of God’s judgment should keep you mindful of your sin, and of your need for the Lord Jesus Christ.  The tragedies of life call you to repentance and drive you to the Gospel of His Cross.  And all the sufferings of this body and life are reminders that this present evil age is coming to an end, and that salvation is on the horizon.  As labor pains alert a woman to the time of her delivery, so do the pains of this world remind you that God is giving birth to new heavens and a new earth.

Even common sense should therefore warn you not to place your confidence and hope in anything but Christ and His Word.  For just as the massive stones of the beautiful Temple were finally thrown down and wrecked, so are all things of this earth eventually thrown down and destroyed.  Kingdoms do rise and fall, nations come and go, buildings collapse, and even the most powerful of people die.  The good works of today give way to the wickedness of tomorrow.  Christ Jesus alone stands head and shoulders over everything, always the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Despite what such logic and sound theology should tell you, it is still too often the case that you end up drifting, taking your stand on shifting sands instead of resting yourself in Christ.  You rely on your own wisdom, reason, and strength to secure God’s favor and forgiveness, even as the Jews relied on the Temple and rejected the Messiah.  And you are too easily persuaded and led astray by the flash and fiction of those who reject the Gospel in favor of the monuments of this world.

How on earth shall you endure in Christ alone, and finish the race, and make it to the end?  How shall you resist the temptations of those who would lead you astray?  The answer is surprisingly simple.  It is by going to that place where Christ Himself has promised to protect you.  By hiding in the bosom of His Church, the House that He has established on the Rock of His own choosing, which He has promised to guard against even the powers and gates of hell itself.  That Rock is the Ministry of His Gospel-Word and Sacraments, by which He comes to you and deals with you in mercy, in order to grant you faith and forgiveness, to give you Life and Salvation in His Body.

Beginning with His Twelve Apostles, Christ Jesus has sent His preachers into all the world.  And what a joy it is to preach and minister in His Name, to bring His means of grace to those in need, to forgive sins in His Name and stead.  As you have heard this morning from the Prophet Daniel, those who thereby lead the many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever and ever.

So it was that, already in your Baptism, you were crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ Jesus, united with Him in His Cross and Sacrifice.  As the called and ordained servant of Christ administered the water in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, you entered the tomb on Good Friday and rose with Christ Jesus on Easter morning.  You emerged from the water, a member of Christ’s Church, a beloved child of His God and Father, and a partaker of His Spirit.

Likewise, in the Holy Absolution spoken by your pastor, it is the gentle voice of the Lord Jesus that you hear and receive, granting you the forgiveness of all your many sins, and sustaining you with His Peace and with the sure and certain promise of the Resurrection.  What greater comfort could there be for those seeking shelter from the storms of life?  For we believe, teach, and confess that, when the called ministers of Christ deal with you by His Word, it is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ your dear Lord dealt with you in Person.  That is not “make believe” or “let’s pretend.”  It is in fact precisely Christ who is with you and gives you life in this way.

And in the Lord’s own Holy Supper, you receive again and again the very same Body and Blood that He sacrificed for you and all upon the Cross, here given and poured out for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Here you find and receive the Lord Jesus Himself, in the flesh, in the Breaking of the Bread.  Here at His Altar, with His own flesh and blood, He strengthens your faith to keep you standing steadfast in His Word until the end.  Your sin is covered by His Righteousness, and your guilt is washed away forever by the working of His Holy Spirit.  For here is your robe, your refuge, and your peace, the Blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, which cleanses you of all your sins.

It is all quite steady and strong, because the Church of Christ does not stand on massive stones, she is not girded by concrete and steel.  She rests and remains upon the Ministry of Christ in His Gospel-Word and Sacrament.  There is no army that will ever penetrate that Mighty Fortress.

With what, then, has that magnificent Temple in Jerusalem been replaced?  With the Body of the Lord, crucified and risen from the dead.  And so also with you and all the people of God, who are collectively the Body and Bride of Christ Jesus, our Lord.  In the waters of Holy Baptism, by His Word and Holy Spirit, you have become one of those living stones which, by the Ministry of His Gospel, are being built into a spiritual Temple, with Jesus Christ Himself the Chief Cornerstone.

As you belong to the living Temple of the living Lord Jesus, you now live wherever God has put you on this earth, proclaiming the praises of Him who has called you out of the darkness of your sin and death into His marvelous Light; who has called you from the false hopes and misleading lies of the world to endure until the end in Christ. For He has endured in perfect faith and holy love, even unto death, and in His Resurrection He has entered the Holy of Holies on your behalf.  In His Body and His Blood, by faith in His Word, you now live and abide with God in heaven.

And so it is that the disciples of Christ Jesus, living by faith under His Cross in the hope of His Resurrection, now stand back in awe and admiration of the living stones and the spiritual Temple which are His Holy Christian Church, on earth as it is in heaven:  “Look, Teacher.  What massive stones!  What a magnificent building!”  Yes, indeed.  For these are they who have come out of the great tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.  And those who are righteous by faith shine like the Son in the Kingdom of His God and Father.

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

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