We are at the end. The Sunday of the Fulfillment. The last Sunday of the church year. Next week, if there is a next week, we start all over again with Advent, looking toward the second appearing of Christ as we prepare to celebrate His first appearing. But today marks the end.
The Bible begins “in the beginning,” when God created the heavens and the earth. The Bible ends at the end, when the heavens and the earth God made in the beginning come to their end. What has a beginning must also have an end. God made the heavens and earth out of nothing, ex nihilo, in the beginning. What’s left at the end will not be not nothing, but a new heavens and a new earth, a new creation, which has already come in the crucified and risen body of Jesus. His salvation will last forever, Isaiah says. His righteousness will never fail.
Can we be sure of it? As sure as Jesus is sure. Jesus predicted only a handful of things. He predicted His own death and resurrection. At least three times He said that He would suffer at the hands of the religious leaders, be crucified, and on the third day rise from the dead. And He did, just as He said He would. That fact alone should cause us to sit up and take notice of everything He said, because let’s face it – resurrections don’t happen every day. In fact, this kind of resurrection happened only once.
Jesus predicted that Peter would betray Him three times before the rooster crowed, and he did, just as Jesus said He would. Jesus predicted that Jerusalem would be overrun and the temple destroyed, and it was in AD 70 by the Romans, just as Jesus said. Jesus said that the world as we know it, the sun, the moon, the stars, the constellations, the planets, the galaxies, the vast reaches of space, in inner reaches of the earth, will all be destroyed. It will happen just as He said it would.
There is no reason to doubt what Jesus is saying. He is the expert on beginnings and endings. Jesus is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. He was there in the beginning when God made the heavens and the earth. Through Him, the creative Word, all things were made. And He will be there at the end, reigning over all things, raising the dead, dispensing salvation, doing justice to sin, judging the world in His righteousness.
The prophet Isaiah spoke about the end, which he saw through the lens of Jesus’ coming death and resurrection. He preached to Israel to prepare them for what was coming. “The Torah will go out from me.” Jesus is the Torah, the Word of God, incarnate, in human flesh. He came from the right hand of God to save us, to suffer, die, and rise for our salvation, to fulfill the Torah and the prophets with Himself.
“My justice will become a light for the nations.” Jesus came to do justice to our sin, to bear the burden of our guilt and our shame, to take the punishments of the Law on Himself.
“My righteousness draws near speedily.” Jesus is the righteousness of God, who was made sin for us, even though He himself knew no sin, so that in Him, by God’s own declaration, you and I and all who trust in Christ might become the righteousness of God. A sinner doesn’t stand before God on the basis of his own righteousness. He doesn’t have any. You don’t have any, nor do I, no matter how good you’ve been lately. We stand on Christ’s righteousness, a righteousness that drew near to us, became one with us, and brought us in His own flesh to the right hand of God.
“My salvation is on the way.” Salvation is coming to a world that doesn’t even seek it. Oh, it’s a very religious world, but the religious world is trying to deal with God on its own terms. You don’t earn salvation, God sends it, delivers it, applies it. The world didn’t ask for Christ, He came to this world without invitation. And He came to you without waiting for you to decide it would be nice to be saved. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we were enemies of God, Christ reconciled us to the Father.”
“My arm will bring justice to the nations.” In Jesus, God stretched out His hand, He extended His arm, He reached out and down to a down and out world. He brought justice, perfect justice, the kind of justice you will find in no courtroom on the face of this earth. “The wages of sin is death,” and He died for it all. There is God’s justice in fullest measure. The gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ. That too is God’s justice – He justifies the ungodly in His Son Jesus Christ.
He does it not just for a chosen few, but for the many, literally for all. When Jesus said, “Disciple the nations,” He didn’t mean, “Make disciples of a representative few,” a kind of diverse country club on a quota system. He meant the nations, as many as He died for, and He died for all. As many as are covered by His blood, and HIs blood covers all. God’s right arm embraced all on the cross, as Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all to myself.”
Old testament Israel always need to be reminded that it wasn’t some kind of country club of Yahweh’s favorites. “Even the distant islands will look to me,” God says. People as far away and removed from Israel as you can get will look to the true and living God and wait in hope for my arm, for Jesus Christ, God’s Son and the world’s Savior.
Isaiah says “Look.” Look up in the heavens, look at the earth. It all looks so permanent, so solid, so sure. But the heavens will vanish like a puff of smoke, the earth will unravel like an old shirt, the world’s population will perish like flies. A disturbing image? You bet it is. We rely on permanence and predictability. We make certain assumptions, like the sun comes up in the morning, and the least bit of unpredictability throws us for a loss. We can’t even handle a surprise rain storm around here. Coming from the Midwest, I always have a little laugh when we have a half inch of rain and the tv news goes on “storm watch.” If it ever snows here, I’m going into hiding until it melts.
We’re on “Jesus Watch.” Watch. Wake up. Be alert. Salvation is coming, a salvation that will last forever. Righteousness is near, a righteousness that will never fail. Jesus said, “No one knows the day or the hour.” The angels don’t. They stand ready, watching, waiting for the word to go out and harvest the earth. Even Jesus didn’t know at the time He was speaking. He does now in His glory, but He didn’t then in His humility. He told His curious disciples, “It’s not for you to know the times or the seasons.” That’s a corporate secret between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“Be like household servants,” Jesus says. The master goes away; he leaves his servants in charge, each with his or her own assigned task, and he tells the servant at the door to keep watch. What he doesn’t tell them is when he’ll come back. What if he had? What if the master had said to his servants, I’ll be back a year from now, on November 23rd. What do you think would happen? You know how workers are. You know how we are. We’d kick back, relax, hang out, have a party, polish off the master’s wine collection, let the house run down, the grass grow. And as the day drew near, we’d start to panic, trying to get the house in order, and being the procrastinators that we are, we couldn’t do it. Instead of greeting our master with joy, we’d be in a panic.
Jesus disappears, and says, “I’ll be back in a flash. Keep watch.” We don’t know when. Jesus names the unlikely times, the four watches of the night – evening (9 pm), midnight, the crowing of the rooster (3 pm), dawn. When most people are asleep, when the world is dark, when the world least expects Him. There He is.
“Don’t let him find you sleeping,” Jesus says. Let’s not go literalist here, or we’ll all have a case of insomnia. Sleep is a picture for unbelief, something done in the darkness. Don’t let him find you in unbelief, rejecting His goodness. That’s why Jesus never told His disciples the day or the hour of the end. The old Adam and old Eve are natural born procrastinators who would say, “Let’s live it up, do as we please, eat, drink, party till we drop, and we can repent on Tuesday before He returns on Wednesday and everything will be in order.
Jesus declines to give us that luxury of security. Today is the day to believe. Now is the time of your salvation. Don’t look to tomorrow; you don’t know that you have tomorrow. Don’t say to yourself, “I have time, I’ll look into it when I have a chance.” Today, now, this moment is a saving moment for you, in which Christ comes to you and forgives you, feeds you His own body and blood, keeps you in the faith, washes away your sin, prepares to present you holy, spotless, blameless on His big day.
So then, how do we live as servants on the watch, waiting for the Master to return at an unspecified day and hour? Not in a panic, not in fear or dread. He’s coming to bring salvation and righteousness. He’s coming to raise the dead, to vindicate faith, to give eternal life to His believers. This is something to look forward to.
Jude, the brother of James, the other brother of Jesus, has a few words for life in the last days. Build yourselves up in your most holy faith. Not your faith, the faith. Don’t focus on your believing, focus on what you believe. Grow in your knowledge of God’s Word and doctrine. The end times are a time of bad religion and false messiahs. God’s people need to be wise and discerning. These are no times for ignorant believers. The choir sang 1 Cor 16: Be watchful. Be ready. Stand firm in your faith (know what you believe), be courageous, strong, and let all you do be done in love.
Pray in the Holy Spirit. Watchful servants pray. They pray for each other, for the world, for those who do not yet believe. The words “watch and pray” go together in the Bible. The wonderful thing is that you are never alone in prayer. You pray in the Spirit, who prays for you and carries your prayer to the Son who offers it to the Father.
Keep yourselves in God’s love. How do you do that? By hearing His words of love to you, by receiving His gifts of love that Christ died to win for you. As things go from bad to worse to unbearable, it will not be easy to know that God is love just by looking at the sky or the earth. God will not look like love when the heavens vanish like smoke and the earth unravels. The face of God’s love is the face of Jesus. The sound of God’s love is your Baptism, the Word of forgiveness. God’s feast of love is the Supper of His sacrificial body and blood. Keep close to these things, cling to them as you wait for mercy, the mercy of Jesus that will bring you eternal life.
Don’t think only about yourself. It’s not just about you. Faith has peripheral vision. Jude says, “Be merciful to those who doubt.” Help the weak in faith. Those of you who are strong and knowledgable, help those who are weak and doubting. Grab as many as you can. We are God’s Israel for the end times. Our work, as servants in the Master’s house, is to prepare the world for the appearing of its Savior. Do it with mercy mixed with fear. If you see someone in a boat about to go over a waterfall, you would warn them, wouldn’t you? You might throw them a rope. You might even attempt to swim out to them, but not without first tying yourself off to a solid rock. Be anchored in Jesus, the Rock of your salvation, when you swim out to others. By no means would you climb in the boat with them. That would be reckless and foolish. Don’t join others in their sin; instead rescue them. You have the good news in your ears and on your lips. Jesus Christ died for your sins and was raised for your justification. That applies to everyone and anyone, and you, as a baptized believer, have the privilege to say so.
And so, on this last day that celebrates the Last Day, the watchword is “Watch!” Watch soberly, watch eagerly, watch expectantly – salvation is coming in Jesus,
To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of His glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all the ages, and now, and unto all the ages. Amen.