Thursday, October 27, 2016

Mark's thoughts: Take comfort, the end has begun

Recent events on the baseball field have people talking about the Last Day. The Chicago Cubs have not only made their first World Series since 1945, but even seem capable of winning their first World Championship since 1908. The prospect that this year the Cubs may end more than a century of futility has people joking that if this happens it will be a sure sign of the second coming of Christ!

If the World Series goes six games, it will extend into November. However in the life of the Church, November is a month that every year makes us think about the Last Day. The Last Sunday of the Church Year falls in November. The Church Year leads us through the whole scope of God’s saving action in Jesus Christ, and so the end of the Church Year focuses our attention on the end – on the Last Day when Christ will return in glory. We are reminded that Jesus’ return will happen. And when it does, it will be sudden and unexpected. In the Epistle lesson the apostle Paul says, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2 ESV). In the Gospel lesson Jesus tells the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins as he describes his return and concludes by saying, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13 ESV).

The events of the present have many Christians longing for Christ’s return. We see a world where the Church faces the greatest persecution, both in geographical extent and in the number of believers who are suffering, that has ever occurred. In the public square, the Sexual Revolution has all but erased the Sixth Commandment and we now live in an Alice and Wonderland world where we are told that a man is really a woman, and a woman is really man.

The month of November is also the time when the new Church Year begins. The last Sunday in November is the First Sunday in Advent. During Advent we begin our preparation to celebrate the birth of the incarnate Son of God – we prepare to celebrate Christmas. Yet the Second Sunday in Advent may give us a sense of déjà vu. The Gospel lesson for this Sunday is once again a text in which Jesus talks about his second coming. The Church simply cannot think about the first coming that has occurred without also thinking about the second coming for which we wait and keep watch. 

We watch and pray for the second coming of Christ. Yet as we do so, we take comfort in what the first coming of Christ means for us. We take comfort in the knowledge that the end has begun. Jesus proclaimed that in his person the kingdom of God – the reign of God – had arrived. He told the Pharisees, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28 ESV).

God’s reign has broken into this sinful world. By his death on the cross and resurrection , Jesus Christ has redeemed you. He has freed you from sin. Through the work of the Spirit he has called you as his own in the water of Holy Baptism. And by his resurrection from the dead he has defeated death and begun the victory of the resurrection that will be yours. You already know for certain it yours because of your baptism. As Paul told the Romans:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5 ESV)
Already now, everything is different. That’s why Paul described Christians as those “on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11 ESV).

This fact encourages and sustains us. We look for the return of Jesus Christ which will bring an end to all suffering and vindicate God’s people. Yet we live now as those who have already received God’s saving work in Christ. We already know the verdict of the Last Day, because as Paul tells us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV). We live knowing that in Jesus Christ, the end has already begun.

1 comment:

  1. Very good summation. I had thoughts of doing something along these lines as well, but you beat me to it!