Sunday, November 16, 2014

The sweet reward for patient faith.

THE DAY IS COMING

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.  The day that is coming shall set them ablaze says the LORD of hosts, so that it it will leave them neither root nor branch.  But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.  You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.   Malachi 4:1-2

As the church year winds down it reminds us that our lives are winding down, and so is the whole cosmos.  It tells us that the day is drawing near when our Lord will hand us the "exceedingly great and precious promises" that we pray for in today's Collect.  But in today's gospel lesson Jesus warns us not to be deceived by the signs of the times.

Why does he say that?  Because He knows how desperate we are to quit the wretched condition of this hopeless world.  He knows that we are easy prey to anyone who promises us deliverance, anyone who says, "I am he," or "the time is at hand."  One of the devil's surest weapons is, as we sing in the hymn "deep guile."  He is pure deception, pure evil and there is no goodness in him.  He has only one desire: that you should share in his everlasting misery in the Lake of Fire.  To this end he is at work day and night convincing all men, Christians included, that they can find "happy ever after" by pursuing the things that God forbids in the Commandments.

Now the devil does not need to get his hands dirty in the process, for he has a large contingent of evil angels who prowl about like roaring lions, seeking someone to devour.  St. Peter fortifies us with this word, "resist him standing steadfast in the faith."  That means to do exactly what you are doing now; to run with all due haste to God's house where you obtain the only help there is for such a struggle as this.

He also has his minions in the world.  Malachi calls them arrogant, evil-doers.  Who are they?  They are the ones who reject Christ crucified and who would deceive you into doing the same.  They are found in government, entertainment, education, fashion, industry...and in churches too.  They write books for teens, produce pornography for the Internet and create products that promise you heaven on earth...if only you will fall down and worship them.  They are the ones who turn fathers from their children -- a plague that has reached epidemic proportions in our day.

But Malachi bolsters us with his prophecy.  He refuels us and prepares us for the battle of the seven days ahead until we will meet here again with Jesus to be cleansed by the Word He speaks to us, and he reminds us of a future day when the Lord will appear, in recognizable form by every eye, in order to set right all that is wrong, to burn up the arrogant, and evildoers like stubble 'til there is nothing left of them, neither root nor branch, top or bottom.

Malachi's prophecy was first fulfilled by the Lord's death on the cross.  The burning wrath that Jesus suffered is God's judgment against sin!  Yes, the cross means our salvation, but we must not forget that first it is judgment with extreme prejudice.  It is the retribution that all people merit for their wrongs.  We are those people.

Among the most mis-understood words of Scripture are the Lord's so-called "end time prophecies" that we heard in today's gospel reading, but we should learn today that the things Jesus says there are first a prediction of His passion and death which was only now days away.  It is the Desolation He speaks of, for no greater crime ever was committed than for sinful men to crucify the Lord of Glory.  No greater assize ever convened, or terrible sentence ever passed.

It is His death that quaked the earth!  His death that set kingdom against kingdom: Christ's against Satan's.  His crucifixion that darkened the sun, moon and stars so that blackness covered the whole earth for three hours, so that no human eye should behold the appalling transaction now taking place, the awful cost paid by One Man to make many righteous and loose them from Satan's death grip.  It is not without reason that Jesus tells His hearers to flee the scene, and to ask the mountains to fall on them and hide them from the wrath that is to be revealed on Calvary.

Do you think of Christ but lightly, a Savior for others, but not for you?  God forbid.  For since the Lord's death God no longer judges men on the basis of their deeds, but on the basis of their believing, or their refusal of the same.  St. John writes, Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  Thank God that we do believe with Spirit-born faith and are no longer under condemnation!

Malachi's words have two other applications as well.  The immediate one is the Eucharist which is not only salvation but also judgment:  Judgement against the unbelieving world, condemnation against those who scorn the Lord's body and blood, then and now, and against any who dare to receive the holy sacrament without repentance, and without faith in these words given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  But for those whose confidence is in the cross, whose hope is in Jesus and not in their own righteousness, it is the remission of sins, life and salvation!  Remember those words, dear Christians!  Remember them for your daily struggle with sin, with sorrow and with suffering, and for your last hour, for none will be more precious then!

The prophet's words do also speak of the Last Days of the cosmos when the Sun of Righteousness will arrive with healing on His wings, to obliterate every enemy that can now hurt you, and to eradicate all who will not avow Jesus as Lord.  It is then that the last words of the prophet will come true, that we, filled with unending joy and overflowing gladness, will go out leaping like calves freed from their stall.

Come quickly Lord Jesus.  Amen

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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