Here we are at another Last Sunday in the Church Year. We observe this appointed day because we need to remind ourselves that any day may be the last for this present earth. Soon enough, the Lord will shake the heavens and earth and reveal a new home of righteousness for us, His saints.
Isaiah the holy seer shows us glimpses of the new heaven and new earth that we will see and live in forever. Yet at the same time, some of what he reveals by the Spirit shows us what the Kingdom of God is like now.
In the new creation, wolves and lambs will graze together, and no bloodshed will mar the perfect harmony of nature. Lions will eat straw, rather than terrorize men. Snakes will eat the dust, so to speak, still echoing the curse upon them as a visual reminder of the devil’s attack upon Adam and Eve. But serpents shall not use their fangs to poison men.
But in the Church today, there are also wolves and lambs together. Gentiles and Jews, who formerly were hated enemies, have lived together in the same holy Church. Persians and Greeks who were mortal enemies in life have both adorned the Body of Christ. In the Church, mighty lions have become meek and stood next to the weakest, for all are one in Christ.
The Church today is a glimpse of the new creation to come. We who live under the shadow of God’s wings of grace are a picture of the harmony of the future world that will have neither death nor warfare.
We do not always live up to that harmony. We sometimes falter when we do not work for doctrinal unity. We may pretend that differences in Biblical teaching do not matter. We may turn a blind eye when teachers teach things that endanger souls.
At other times, we bite and snap as if we want to devour one another. Gossip, hateful words, and unloving actions too often happen among God’s sheep. We act more like wolves at times when we look out only for ourselves without a care for who gets hurt.
But the spiritual reality remains. In Christ, even if not in our actions, we are at peace. We must wait for the days of the new heaven and new earth to see a fuller manifestation of harmony.
In those days, when death will only be a memory to us, we may happen to look back at this present life. If we think of a man who died at a hundred, he would seem to us to have died as a young man. This is not to say that there will be death in the new heaven and new earth. Death will indeed be permanently banished for all believers. Yet in our minds, the lives of men will be so extended by immortality that the lifespans of this current life will be pathetically short in comparison.
On the other hand, we might happen to think of a wicked man from this world of sin who lived to a hundred. He may have lived the most lavish and successful life from this world’s standards. Yet we will regard such a man as accursed. The sparse blessings he scrounged for in this life were pale and paltry compared to a single day in the new heaven and the new earth. In the end, his blessings did not help him, and he died the death of a sinner, to enter eternal death. That is a truly cursed life.
Even now, life in the Church is life to its fullest, although it may not seem that way at first glance. We may seem weak and poor and afflicted. Yet we have been washed in a bath that gives eternal life and fills us with the Holy Spirit. We eat the Food of God, the Meal of Immortality. We taste these things now, things that point to the coming, endless life. We hear God speak to us words of tender love and compassion. Later we shall see and hear Him face to face, yet it is the same voice, the same God.
In the new creation, you will not hear the voice of distress or weeping. Why would there be distress when there is no trouble? Why weep when there is no sorrow? Our lives will be so filled with joy and gladness because God will delight in us and rejoice in making us joyful. All sin and all curses of sin will be forever banished. Nothing will get in the way of the full enjoyment of all that God wants to give us.
In our present lives, there is a foreshadowing of perpetual rejoicing, but we cannot always experience it. For it is true that Christ by His death and resurrection has so securely accomplished our inheritance that we should be able to rejoice always, without ceasing. If Christ has conquered death, then we may rejoice and sing in the face of the grave. If Christ has overcome satan, we should be able to mock that crippled serpent as the beaten loser that he is. Or shall we, who are more than conquerors, live in dejection as if we are defeated?
Yet it is impossible to fully do this. Our sinful weakness, for one thing, prevents it. We also experience genuinely profound and devastating pain in this life. The Lord understands that we must sometimes mourn in this vale of tears. He also shed tears at His friend’s grave. It is no sin to do so as we fight and struggle and suffer all we must before we are relived of the burdens of this life.
But do guard yourselves against too much sorrow. Doctor Martin Luther was sometimes known to fall into deep fits of depression, as Christians sometimes do. One day his wife Katie went around the house dressed all in black, so Martin asked her, “Who has died?” She replied, “Apparently God died, the way you are carrying on.”
We also may act as if God has died. Or we may act as if we believe that God does not love us. Or perhaps we may feel that our sins have separated us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, as if the atoning Blood could not pay for our redemption. In such moments of doubt, we may start to push away our faith because our grieving may begin to deceive us into thinking that all is lost, and even God cannot help us anymore.
To say that our sins should separate us from the love of God is true. Our sins are heinous and filthy. We deserve damnation for them. Those feelings have some basis in fact. But it is a huge error to not see that Christ is far above and more powerful than our sins. What we deserve cannot be the last word, since Christ made Himself the payment for all sins by His Passion and Crucifixion. Nothing can be greater than Christ’s payment, who is the eternal God in human flesh.
But feelings are such a hideous swamp that wants to mire and trap us. Our feelings want to lead us into deep darkness and horrible snares of sadness, as if God was dead, or as if He was still angry at us and our sins unforgiven.
To such thoughts and feelings Luther wrote this, “He who must enter the kingdom of Christ must pass beyond all feeling and be carried into a region where sensation is nothing. For we are not to judge by feeling. Therefore if conscience accuses you of sin, if it sets the wrath of God before your eyes, if it tears Christ, the Redeemer, from you, you must not assent but must judge against your conscience and feelings that God is not angry and that you are not damned. For Scripture says that the kingdom of Christ lies beyond the domain of feeling. Therefore we must judge against our feeling.”
When you fall into sadness, as you surely will sometimes, do not make your bed there, as if sadness is the last word for your soul. Say, “Yes, soul, you are downcast for now, but it will be temporary, because in time Christ will give you all things, if not in this lifetime, then the next.”
Although our sinfulness sometimes leads to sadness, do not let guilt take you over. You should surely admit that you are a sinner who cannot always feel the appropriate emotions, and if it troubles you, come confess it and be released by Christ’s Holy Absolution. Meanwhile, cheer yourself with this thought: “God, even now, rejoices and delights in me. Christ my Lord, who suffered far more than I could ever do, loves me more than I can understand. Even now, the Persons of the Holy Trinity are preparing a place where I will never be troubled again.”
And do listen for the voice of the Comforter. The Word is our primary consolation, since it points us to the Cross and open grave and the life to come. Seek the Lord’s voice, who delights in you and wants you to receive His peace and joy.
Meanwhile, your sufferings are real, but they are temporary. This Last Sunday reminds us of that. The wedding feast awaits where the Holy Jerusalem, which is the Bride of Christ, will celebrate for eternity. We will never be frustrated there, never beginning a project and not completing, never forced to leave our property to a next generation. Instead, what we plant we will eat. What we build, we will enjoy. All will work out as it should.
This is because the Lord will remove all the effects of sin that ever troubled us. From the small frustrations of life even to the grave itself, all that is wicked or destructive or sorrowful will be taken away forever. Why? Because Christ took the curse upon Himself on the Cross, and has purchased for us a curse-free existence. Therefore all will be as it should be.
The Lord keep us in faith until that wonderful Day. Amen.
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