November 15, 2015 • Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost • Audio
Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16:1-11; Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-13
I really like this building. The first time Susan and I saw this church was on your website. We loved it even then, just seeing a small photograph of it online. It is our idea of what a church should look like. But we couldn’t see enough of it on the website, so we drove over from Graham, just to drive by on all sides, to park and gaze awhile. We still love this church.
Of course, each time that I have mentioned the church, some of you have been thinking, “But that’s not the Church; that’s the church building. We’re the Church.” Of course, you are correct. Well, sort of. You are part of the Church. There are also those folks down the street or across the county who meet in other styles of building and have different kinds of worship. There are those who worship the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, forever one God, but who worship in other countries, singing and praying in languages that we do not understand. Then there are all of those Christians, ranging back through a score of centuries to the time of the Apostles. Those people, with their different languages, different kinds of worship, and different building styles, are all the Church. But we are not finished describing the Church yet.
In his writings, Luther calls the believers during the Old Covenant times the Church too. I think this is part of what the Apostle Paul means when he speaks of, “the Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16. It was to those people that Jesus said the great buildings of the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. The same thing will occur on the corner of South Park and Holly streets. Just like the temple in Jerusalem, one day, this church building in Asheboro will no longer exist.
Nevertheless, I love this Church—not just this building on South Park Street in Asheboro, NC, but the people in this building, and in other congregations, other countries, and other times. I love the Church because Christ loves the Church. Jesus loves the Church so much that he laid down his life like one would for a friend, making an offering for sin that would never have to be repeated. His offering is so complete that it needs nothing added to it—not our good works, not our love, nor any other sacrifice or offering. His sacrifice is complete; the work is finished, as he said on the cross. This is why we say that he is seated at the right hand of the Father. The work is over, so he has sat down.
That is the Church: those who have faith in Christ.
His single, perfect offering perfects everyone who has holy faith in Christ. And that is the Church: those who have faith in Christ. We are the new bold and confident ones, a people that has not been seen on earth since the days of Moses. That great Patriarch used to draw near to God in the tent of meeting. The people could only watch as Moses went into the tent with Joshua to meet with God. What a fearsome thing! The Lord would descend in the pillar of cloud and enter the tent to meet with Moses face to face. Sinful people would not dare to do this, as coming face to face with the holiness that is God would result in their death.
Because of Christ’s sacrifice for us, we are now as bold as Moses. We draw near to God because we have the complete assurance of faith. We stand firmly and confidently before God, confessing Christ in this tent of meeting. He descends to be in, with, and under the bread and the wine. How dare we draw so near, to eat this flesh and drink this blood, to incorporate the living grace that is the Almighty God? Yes, because he said, “Take and eat.” Nevertheless, how can we be so brash, so bold, so sure? We are able to be this confident because his sacrifice is so perfect and complete that we know that our sins are forgiven, that we have been made holy and righteous by the command of God. Now if we imagine that we approach God because of our own virtue, then we would have every reason to fear.
If we imagine that we approach God because of our own virtue, then we would have every reason to fear.
Do you think that you come to Christ’s table because you deserve it, because you have earned the right, or even because it is your religious tradition, something your family has always done? If so, in what could have been grace to you, you eat and drink judgment instead. We may draw near only because we have been absolved by the High Priest, Christ himself. If you come to the table without consideration of your sin—and your Savior—you do not draw near to grace, peace, and life. If you come to the Lord’s Table, arrogantly supposing that you can cover your own sins, either through your efforts at being righteous or by ignoring your sin, then you have come to a place of judgment, torment, and death instead. For only Christ can cover your sin; only the Son makes you able to stand before the Father. If you have such faith, you may come near with true hearts in full assurance of mercy. If you do not have faith in Christ, having instead a faith in your own goodness and merit, your evil conscience will own you, and the temple you have constructed will be destroyed.
You have no good apart from God. Have you set the Lord always before you or have you propped up the idols of religion, the pride of an alleged personal worth or virtue that says, “I am a good person because of the good I do,” or worse, that exclaims, “I’m just as good as anyone else”? If you are just as good as me, you are already condemned. If you are just as good as the other people in this sanctuary, you are damned. We have no good apart from God. That is the reason Christ came and died—for poor sinners like us.
If you are just as good as me, you are already condemned.
Oh! The joy of and peace of knowing that Christ died for you. Not only are you able to lie down each night and sleep in peace, but even if you die in your sleep, that too is joy. Everyone will die, or as Daniel phrased it, they will sleep in the dust of the earth. But they will not sleep forever. Everyone will wake from the sleep of death, but to what will they awaken? Some will awake to eternal life, and some to everlasting shame.
Better to wake up to life in Christ this morning than to awaken under a blanket of dirt and discover that perpetual contempt is all that waits you. In his presence is fullness of joy. Do not squander his joy in exchange for silence about your sin. As the Church comes forward, maek sure you have confessed. Know that Christ does forgive you. Then be bold to draw near to God. Come to the table of grace that Christ has prepared for his people, the Church whom he loves.