Nov. 14 “The Gospel Must Be First”
And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. In the name of Jesus.
Wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines oh my! Sounds like lions and tigers and bears, oh my! from the Wizard of Oz doesn’t it? Yet this is no fantasy. As was then, has been before, and is now – we have always been gravitating towards the end times, the eschaton.
The disciples, ever since Jesus ascended, on up to Luther in the Middle Ages and now people today, have always assumed that Jesus’ second advent would happen in their lifetime. It is nothing new. But we have to be reminded of it now and again as we soon approach another season of Advent in a couple weeks from today. The church, is preparing us for that season of contemplation. Yes, Advent does have to do with the annual celebration of the birth and incarnation of God in flesh, come down from heaven – but it also has to do with our preparing for the second advent of our Lord, the final one, which hasn’t happened yet. We’ll get some more readings in the beginning of the Advent season about the end times to point out that fact.
It is anticipation talk. Jesus begins to talk about the end of the world. But if you haven’t figured out by now by the title of the sermon, first the Gospel must be proclaimed. First, as in before the ending of the world. Jesus starts by quickening Peter, James, John, and Andrew with the prediction of the destruction of the temple which happened in A.D. 70. They gawked in amazement and longed to have some privileged information. When will this be and what will be the signs? They are interested in more than just a timetable. They are looking for an edge, a way of preparing for what was predicted.
The disciples then, like us now, were living in the in-between. Recall last week’s message about “the space between,” liminal space and time. It was a petition of: prepare us O Lord for this major collapse. And so, Jesus does, He does for them and He does still for us. And notice the steps, the order, He does it in. It’s first theological, then social, then political. Jesus dismantles those worlds. And yes, change and transition traumatize the human heart. They are something that we can’t simply skate through. This living in-between entails grieving over what has been lost, feeling we are without our bearings, and looking forward to something new. The problem with transitions though is the inability to envision the new. T.S. Eliot said it well: “I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing.”
At the same time, we are a character driven people. So, we must embark on the character in whom we’ve become with or without filters. That means, especially for the Christian, that our theological, social, and political worlds are going to inevitably collide. We are silent when we should talk and talk when we should be silent. We start things we don’t finish, and we try to finish things we didn’t start. This in-between living is so discombobulating that it is difficult to see any values with which to deal with, adapt to, and continue in.
Yet, time marches on. We hear the unhelpful phrases: “Hang in there. You’ll get through it, life goes on, and so will you.” But those are words of spiritual fluff, as Jesus predicts there will be many false teachers in the world – spiritual, psychological, or other. Many dissonances that distract. But get this dear saints in the Lord: Our souls are not only related to the changing temporal order but they are also related to the unchanging eternal order. While we are in earthly stabilities, you must shift your awareness to heavenly abilities. They are the unexpected gift and they give it through the Gospel, the Good News.
Jesus says things are going to get worse before they get better, and these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Yes, it is a warning of the coming troubles we have to face. But along with the warning, Jesus brings encouragement: do not be anxious, you don’t even have to say anything, for in that hour it will not be you who speaks but the Holy Spirit. You will be hated for My name’s sake but the one who endures to the end will be saved. Maybe you think Jesus is sounding like a glass half empty kind of guy….But oh no, Jesus’ words are in the Psalm which says Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
The reason why Jesus hasn’t come back yet (when all the generations before us thought He already would) is because first the Gospel must be proclaimed to everyone. Therefore, do not rely on all these false evangelist on the t.v. spreading lies about how it’s going to be, very false predictions, deceiving people with their really poor understanding of the Scriptures; that they are first all about Jesus, not all about us. Not about raptures and more temples and the timetables of nonsense that they speak. For Jesus says there will be no more temple, not a physical building type anyway. The temple in Jerusalem then had been the embassy of heaven on earth but with the birth of Jesus, that temple would no longer serve that purpose. Now in Jesus Christ, the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily among us (Col. 2:9). That sounds like crazy talk to the world. That is because they do not believe the benefit of the Gospel; it is of no avail to them. It’s just rumors, just stuff that needs to be fact checked. Who are these crazy Christians? But we have the truth – fact checked by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit when the will of the Father, the work of the Son, and the power of the Holy Spirit went out before the foundation of the world and will still be going strong in the foundation of the world to come.
That’s the Good News and it needs to be proclaimed first, above and beyond anything else. That when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. A footstool for His feet, it’s written right there in Scripture – the Epistle for today. If anyone thinks that sounds silly then what do you think about our Old Testament Reading, Daniel chapter 12: And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever. Daniel, all the way back from chapter 10 is receiving a word, getting revealed to him, that says in 10:1 “the word was true, and it was a great conflict.” Michael the archangel over the Lord’s army, is charged to care for the Lord’s people, His faithful. The conflicts, the battle, lions and tigers and bears oh my! Enemies a footstool. No wonder why Peter, James, John, and Andrew’s heads are spinning. I’m sure I’ve given you enough images today too to overload your thought processes. How do you think they felt? It’s cosmic drama at its best. However, now, the boys are alongside Jesus being at the right hand of the Father and along with the angels who are intrigued and as scripture says – long to look into these things. The good, the bad, and the ugly. It must be a great show. Yet through it all, as they watch, likely with popcorn in hand, Jesus turns to them and says “you think that was good, then watch this;
For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Catch that right there: Those who are being sanctified. That right there is the image of the birth pangs. The birth pangs of sanctification but where there is forgiveness of sins, there is no longer any offering for sin. It’s a one time deal. Winner take all and He did, just outside the city walls, still with the once standing temple in view, “the new and living way was being opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh.” That we may draw near with full assurance, new hearts, a confession full of hope, so let us not waver, for He who has promised is faithful. That’s what must be proclaimed. First the Gospel then the end.
We’re moving into the calendar months of the year where we draw near to family, the holidays, the best gathering days of the year. We move into another transition time with time changes, climate changes, age changes, body, soul, and spirit changes. So let us consider in all these changes how to stir one another up to love and good works. And just what are the good works? First the Gospel. And it is that good work that we meet together for. It is and must come first. The gathering of the saints. That no matter what critical situation develops in the days, weeks, and months to come. No matter who seems to be in charge of our temporal world. That we do not neglect the Word, Sacraments, praying, singing and giving thanks. It is a command of the Lord regardless of anything that invades our atmosphere and those who despise the church will fall. The Day is drawing near. It’s starting to get cold outside. So I urge you to blanket yourself with the Gospel. It is the Good News for the oh my’s and the something new. The aspect of our nature coincides with a higher reality than anything we can be swallowed up in. We have the privileged information, how to be ready and it’s no more a secret. The grounding of our lives in God (which is faith) is not a lament or a fleeting state of affairs, that we do not know the outcome to. It is a gift; grace foretold. You’ve heard it proclaimed and by it you are guarded, guarded by the Gospel first so that no matter what happens on any given Sunday, the church will prolong the New Testament age. To Him alone we owe the survival beforehand and through Him alone the Gospel must be first. Jesus says “take heart, in the world you will have trouble but I have overcome the world. Overcome buildings, overcome stones, kingdoms, wars, rumors, earthquakes (natural disasters, which by the way aren’t natural because they are under God’s control and His finger tips. Christ has overcome the birth pains, the birth pains of the tomb, in a resurrection out of the tomb that encapsulated Him, and burst forth into new life. Yes, that was the beginning. We have been in the end ever since. Do not be anxious brothers, fathers, and children. It is all for Jesus’ name sake. The Gospel first, for endurance to end. Now may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus now and forever. Amen.