In a book, good beginnings make for good endings. The Bible begins with a very good “in the beginning,” when God created the heavens and the earth. The Bible ends at the end, when the heavens and the earth come to their appointed end. What has a beginning must also have an end. God made the heavens and earth out of nothing in the beginning. And those same heavens will vanish like a puff of smoke, and the earth will wear out like an old piece of cloth. The last word of the old creation is death, but God’s last word is always life. His salvation will last forever, Isaiah says. His righteousness will never fail. A good ending, which is also the beginning of something even better.
Can you be sure of it? You need to be. You need to approach the end – whether the end of the world or the end of all things – with boldness and confidence. And you can be as sure as Jesus risen from the dead is sure. Jesus is the expert on beginnings and endings. He 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 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. “The Torah will go out from me.” Jesus is the Torah, the Word of God in human flesh. He came from the right hand of His Father to save us, to suffer, die, and rise for our salvation, to fulfill the Torah and the prophets in 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 Jesus 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 bargain with God on its own terms. You don’t earn salvation, God sends it, delivers it, applies it, embraces you with 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.
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? Sure it is. We rely on permanence and predictability. We live by certain assumptions: the sun comes up in the morning, the moon in its cycles, the tides, the cycles of the season. When surprises come our way, we’re unnerved, edgy. Think about the last time someone tried to predict a major earthquake. It set people on edge; they prepared; they watched.
Watch. Wake up. Be alert. Salvation is coming. Righteousness is near. Jesus said, “No one knows the day or the hour.” The angels don’t. They stand ready, watching, waiting, chomping at the bit 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 secret between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus compares it to household servants. The master goes away leaving his servants in charge, each with his or her own assigned task, and he tells the one 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, “I’ll be back a year from now, on November 29th.” What do you think would happen? You know how it is. He’d kick back, relax, hang out, have a party, polish off the master’s wine collection, let the house run down, the paint peel, the grass grow. And as the day drew near, panic would start to set in as he tried to get the house back in order. Instead of joy, there’s panic and fear.
Jesus disappears, and says to His church, “I’ll be back in a flash. Keep watch.” We don’t know when. Could be evening (9 pm), the dead of midnight, the crowing of the rooster (3 pm), dawn. The most unlikely of hours, everyone is asleep, when the world is dark, when the world least expects Him. Then suddenly and without warning – there He is!
“Don’t let him find you sleeping,” Jesus says. (Now don’t go literalist here. This isn’t supposed to give you case of end times insomnia.) Sleep is a picture for unbelief. Don’t let him find you asleep in unbelief, rejecting His goodness. That’s why Jesus never told His disciples the day or the hour of the end. The old Adam is a natural procrastinator who would say, “Let’s live it up, do as we please, eat, drink, party. We can repent on Tuesday and clean up the house before He returns on Wednesday.
Jesus leaves no such luxury of security. Today is the day to repent, to trust, to watch. Now is the time of your salvation. Don’t wait for tomorrow; you don’t know that you have tomorrow. Don’t say, “I have time, I’ll look into it when I get 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.
St. Jude 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, on whom you believe. 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. Be built up in the faith. Know what you believe and why.
Pray in the Holy Spirit. Watchful servants pray for each other, for the world, for those who do not yet believe. The words “watch and pray” are paired together. 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 won’t be easy to know that God is love just by looking at the sky or the earth. God will not look like a lovey-dovey Deity when the heavens vanish like smoke and the earth unravels before our eyes. The face of God’s love is the face of Jesus. This is how God loved the world – in His Son Jesus. God’s love is seen in your Baptism; it’s heard in the Word of forgiveness; it’s tasted in the Supper of His sacrificial body and blood. Stay close to these things, cling to them as you watch and wait.
Faith has peripheral vision. We forget that when we focus on ourselves all the time. The church is a team effort. Jude says, “Be merciful to those who doubt.” Help the weak in faith. Help those who are weak and doubting, grabbing 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 and 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. Don’t join others in their sin; instead pull them out. You have good news. Jesus is the Savior of sinners. That applies to everyone and anyone, and you, as a baptized believer, have the privilege to say so.
The last word for these last days is “Watch!” Watch soberly, watch eagerly, watch expectantly – God’s salvation is on the way; His arm will bring justice; His righteousness is closing in fast. Good news! The end is near! And in Jesus, the end of the old is the beginning of the new.
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.