Wednesday, March 4, 2015

By the same words, both a warning and a promise; an invitation and a departure


And people will come from east and west and from north and south and recline at table in the kingdom of God.  And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.  Luke 13:29-30

THE world justifies us in our sin.  It wants to relieve us of our guilt and make us feel good, and it expects us to return the favor, but Jesus is not of this world.  He does not minimize or justify our sins, but atoned for them.  He liberates us from all that could harm us and fills us with the joy of salvation, but He never stops warning us about the spiritual dangers we face because he knows what we are made of.  He knows that we are dust.  He knows that Satan wants to sift us like wheat, but Jesus will not allow it to happen!

He who once came in the form of a servant for our salvation is still factually present with His church.  As He taught people then, He still teaches us now, still warns us, and still gives us new power by this promise, "And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.  And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."  With these words Jesus turned the world upside down, and not just the Jewish one that considered itself to be "first," but the Gentile world, which the Jews considered to be "last!"  He added nails to his own coffin and further sealed His own fate.  The Jews who already hated Him with a perfect hatred and who had already decided to rid the world of this blight, only garnered more fuel for their fire.  The Lord knew it but He did not hold His tongue because He loves all men, Jew and Gentile alike.  He continued to warn people as He made His way to Jerusalem where He would become the sign on the cross that Isaiah predicted centuries earlier.  There He would be locked out from the mercy of men and for a time from the mercy of God as He tasted of death for all men.  There He would bear the sins of the world in His own flesh, God saving His people.  He would become the scapegoat by which we escape the shocking scenario the Lord foretells in today's gospel lesson.  He would weep and gnash His teeth as no man before or since as He absorbed the wrath due to us for our transgressions.  Truly, He is our redemption and by Him we are saved.

The Lord had a harsh message for the Jews who thought they could find life without Him; who thought that they were spiritually sufficient by virtue of their citizenship in Israel, or by their own righteousness, but no one can be redeemed except by faith in the cross.

One of the opiates of our day is for people to boldly proclaim, "I am not afraid to die."  It's an easy thing to say when you are healthy and well, but not in the throes of death!  Then all confidence vanishes and men despair, but when our hope is in Jesus the Son of God, Jesus the crucified and risen Lord, then we can be confident.

Yet, it was not only to the Jews that our Lord directed these harsh words of warning, but to us as well, for we are the new Israel.  Like Israel of old, we too, can become complacent.  We, too, can let down our guard and easily lose sight of the high calling to which we are called.  We can suddenly -- or ever so gradually -- learn to "think of sin but lightly," become weary of the daily battle and impatient with the troubles of this life which are the Lord's discipline meant for our benefit.  We, too, can become lethargic and absent ourselves from the mercy the Lord dispenses in His holy house.  When the Lord says to us today, "Depart from me, all you workers of evil," His words are like a sudden explosion that makes us jump out of our skin, but they serve to awaken us from our spiritual slumber and restore us to the narrow way.

That strong word of Law is not by any means the final word that Jesus has for us.  There is still the promise that we, who are last because of our sins, are made first by Jesus who made Himself the last on the cross.  What does this mean?  It means that we, along with the believers of the ages, from the north, south, east and west, will "recline at table" in the Kingdom of God.  This last word, "recline at table" is an awe-inspiring promise that Jesus gives us.  In the Lord's time people did not sit at tables and chairs when they ate as we do today.  Instead they reclined on a type of chaise lounge.  They would lie on their side with their head towards the U-shaped table, their feet jutting out and they would be served by those charged to do so.  The whole arrangement indicates that meals eaten at table were not only nourishment, but also much needed rest from the daily troubles and pressures of life.  This promise is fulfilled in a small way now as often as the church gathers for holy worship where we hear the voice of Jesus in His Word and where we "taste and see that the Lord is good" in blessed sacrament.  Yet however surpassingly wonderful this table is, this table that He sets before us in the presence of our enemies is only a foretaste of the feast to come in the Kingdom of God.  There, like St. John the beloved disciple, we will recline at table, leaning on our Lord's breast.  Then our troubles will be over and all the blessings our Lord gained for us by His death and resurrection will be given to us in full.  That is the promise He speaks to us today.  AMEN.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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