Sermon for the Twenty-six Sunday after Pentecost
November 18, 2018
As the Day Draws Near
Some of you, I know, think about retirement and being prepared for it. Some more than others. If you are twelve, you probably have not given it much thought. If you are thirty, you have probably begun saving in some type of plan. If you are forty, you have checked your social security statement and began wondering if you have been saving enough. If you are sixty, you’re not so sure about what you have saved and you realize that the day of retirement is just around the corner. It is not that you are anxious but you do realize that the day is soon coming.
The wonderful thing about preparing for retirement in this traditional way is that there is plenty of time to plan, plenty of time to make a few mistakes and recover, plenty of time to be prepared. It would be an entirely different experience if we woke up one day at about age 65 and discovered that we are going to be retiring soon and we hadn’t done anything up to that point to prepare. I think we would all agree that things would be quite anxious for the one in such a situation, as it would be for the student that tries to write a term paper on the day that it is due, or the project manager that didn’t put any fore thought into the latest project.
The author of our epistle reading today makes clear that the Day of judgment is drawing near. He doesn’t give an exact day but he doesn’t suggest that there are millions or even thousands of years to prepare. Quite the contrary, he suggests that the Day is soon. The Day is sooner than any of us thinks. For many it comes before retirement as they pass from this life and come unto the judgment. The Last Day may be appointed for some time in the next millennia or it may be today. Our individual Last Day may be sooner than any of us expects but for the one that has prepared, it is not a day of anxiety but a day of joy in being welcomed into the heavenly kingdom.
Our text puts forward two ways in which to be prepared. One way will never work but the other way is guaranteed to work. The false way is the way that too many people unfortunately trust. It is a way of Law. It is a program of depositing and withdrawing. It is an attempt to save more than one will spend or need for the rest of their days. It is that program that we hear from far too many: I’m a good person, I’m spiritual, I pray, or I read my Bible. All of these statements reflect good things but the way in which they are put forward is just like the priest that daily offers his service of sacrifices that will never take away sins. Such works of the Law will never make the sinner prepared for the Last Day. Such dependence upon one’s own works can never deposit enough to cover the expense of sin. Just as it was never the animals and their blood spilt that forgave sins in the old Testament but always that faith in God’s promise attached to those sacrifices, so too, it is never by our works of obedience that we are saved but by His promise bestowed upon us.
It is by the promised Son of God, whose sacrifice completes all those preparations for those who are being made holy. It is by this one sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross that the perfection of the saints is accomplished. That means that there is nothing left to be added to our accounts. The heavenly IRA of 401k is bursting at the seams. Jesus has brought to completion the redemption of mankind and reconciliation of God to man. It is not just that we are incapable of doing meritorious works or add to our salvation accounts but there is no room for any additional deposits. Where sin is forgiven, there can no longer be a sacrifice for sin. Where sin is dealt with and put away, additional sacrifices for sin are actually a repudiation of the one sacrifice made by Jesus.
I guess one way of looking at it is that we are already retired. We are retired from having to satisfy God through the Law. We are retired from having to please God so that He can be pleased with us. We are retired from that looming fear of not knowing if we have done enough good in our lives or not. We are retired from trying to store up our good works for the day in which we might need them to pay back for some wrong we have committed. As we stand under the cross of Jesus, covered by the blood of His sacrifice, we stand forgiven and fully reconciled to God. Our retirement is not our worry any longer. We are freed up to consider the retirement of our brother and our sister.
We are given a new and living way by which we can approach God and through which we can have the confidence that all sin has been addressed and that we are prepared for that Last Day. You will notice that our reading takes a turn in verse 19. Therefore, the author writes, because sin has been forgiven and our status before the holy God has been addressed in Jesus, we live before God in a different manner. We live not as those that are afraid or those that are estranged but as those that are members of the household. We have the privilege to enter into the house of God as members of the house that belong there instead of as outsiders that are either slaves or try to buy their way in.
We call this the house of God and by that we don’t mean that God simply lives in this building but that in this building God does make Himself to dwell. He is truly here. Have you ever really thought about the fact that God and men dwell together here? Or that when we gather in His name that we are brought into the holy places of heaven? It is a mystery but we can know that we don’t see everything that happens here with our eyes but rather it is grasped or comprehended through faith.
It is the blood of Jesus that has been placed upon the mercy seat of God and that is our assurance of God’s reconciliation, our forgiveness. It is the very blood that is presented here at the altar that gives you confidence to approach God. It is by the flesh of Jesus offered upon the cross that the curtain of the Old Covenant that shielded God from man was torn and the New Testament is made inviting man into the presence of the Holy One. It can all become so mundane and ordinary for us but how wonderful that the assurance of God’s acceptance can be offered to us not just once but regularly and continually. The sacrifice is done but the assurance of the forgiveness in that sacrifice and it’s bestowal is continual.
If the deposit has truly been made in full and we cannot even add to that principal, to what end do we do the good works of which the author speaks? Why do we need to worry about anything if our salvation is complete and our heavenly retirement assured? It is those good works and our love for others that encourages and gives testimony to our faith and the faithfulness of Jesus. People talk about friendly and inviting congregations. There is something to be said about them, for a cold and distant congregation is not very loving or stirring. Such does not encourage others to see what you see and to receive what you receive here by God’s grace. A congregation that will not boldly confess in creed and song, in action and posture, in liturgy and devotion is a congregation that is more conscious of their doing than of what their great High Priest has done for them and is doing for them.