Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"The End is Near" (November newsletter article)

“The End is Near.” So says the proverbial sandwich board sign carried by the unkempt man wandering the streets of downtown … not to mention the hundreds of other prognosticators who have come down the pike over the years. The so-called Christian networks on television are rife with false prophets proclaiming their visions of what is to come. Now the internet and YouTube have made it easy for anyone to upload their wacky proclamations and bizarre interpretations of the Bible and claim to be the latest in a long line of “End Times Prophets.”

Our first reaction may be to laugh at these individuals and mock them for their foolishness. Perhaps a better response would be to pray for them … for the ones who are mentally ill that they would receive help, for the ones who are deceived that they would learn the truth, and for the shysters that they would repent of their hypocrisy and greedy deception.

Besides, the sandwich board sign guy is actually right. “The End” IS near. We must be prepared. Every second that ticks off of the clock is another second closer to the Last Day that is promised in the Bible, with all of its fire and wrath and judgment (see, for example, Matt. 25:41; Rom. 2:5; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Thess. 1:5-10; Heb. 10:26-27; 2 Pet. 3:7-12). And every beat of the “ticker” inside each of us means we are drawing closer to our own personal end … that is, if in death our souls are taken to heaven before the Last Day comes and wait to be reunited with our buried bodies in the resurrection of all flesh (1 Cor. 15:51-57; 1 Thess. 4:13-18).

Our Church Year calendar winds down to its end in November. As it does so, we are reminded that “The End is Near.” The assigned Scripture readings remind us about the culmination of all human history, the visible return of the Lord Jesus, and the final judgment promised in Scripture. This theme of the Second Coming of Jesus also overlaps with Advent, the beginning of a new Church Year, even as we consider the meaning of the First Coming of Jesus at Christmas.

We begin the month by celebrating All Saints’ Day on the first Sunday of November (transferred from November 1). On this day we give thanks for the mercy and grace God showed to the departed during their lives here on earth, most importantly for giving them faith in their Savior Jesus. At the same time, we look forward to the day when we will be reunited with them in the resurrection of all flesh when Jesus returns.

Unlike the prognosticators, we do not make any predictions as to when Jesus will return. After all, he made it clear that “you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13). Therefore, Jesus gave us plenty of instructions about the importance of being prepared (Matt. 24:42, 44; 25:13; Mark 13:33-37; Luke 12:35-40). The apostles of our Lord did so, too (Rom. 13:11; 1 Thess. 5:1-6; 1 Pet. 4:7-11; 2 Pet. 3:8-13).

St. Peter concludes his second epistle with these words: “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these [the new heavens and the new earth mentioned in the previous verse], be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Pet. 3:14) How do we do this? Not by our own efforts. Apart from Christ, we are soiled and stained by sin and at war with God. The return of Jesus fills us with fear, because we know we have disobeyed his commandments and offended his holiness. But in Christ, we are washed clean and are at peace with God. Now, we can await “The End” with joyful anticipation. Our diligence consists in this: in remembering our baptismal identity as those who have been united to Christ’s saving death and resurrection (Rom. 6) … in regularly hearing the word of absolution that declares the forgiveness of sins to us which is “just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself” (Small Catechism) … and coming often to the Table of the Lord where we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation. These are all God’s Gospel gifts to the Church, the Bride of Christ. And on the Last Day, when Jesus our Bridegroom returns and the eternal wedding banquet begins (Rev. 21:2, 9), he will indeed “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27).

And then, “The End” will only be “The Beginning” of eternity.

In Christ’s service and yours,
Pastor Onken

Cartoon HT:  David Sipress, The Phoenix

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