Preached February 13, 2011
1st St. John 3:1–8
St. Matthew 24:23–31
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today is the sixth Sunday of the Epiphany season, the last Sunday of the complete season. As such, it deserves some comment. As all of you know, the Church Kalendar is constructed on two major feasts, Christmass, fixed on December 25th, and Easter, with a variable date. For this reason then, the Church year always begins with the first Sunday of Advent four Sundays before Christmass, but the time between Christmass and Easter is variable, depending upon when Easter falls in a particular year. The adjustment is made by shortening the Epiphany season as required in order to begin Pre–Lent and Lent at the appropriate times to arrive at Easter on time. The result is that typically Epiphany lasts only about four Sundays, with the fifth and sixth Sundays of Epiphany moved to the end of the Trinity Season.
In the ancient lectionaries and Missals, there were typically lessons provided through five Sundays of Epiphany, with the instruction to simply repeat the fifth Sunday propers when a sixth Sunday occurred. The current propers are primarily the work of Bishop Cosin of Durham and were incorporated into the 1662 Book of Common Prayer to provide appropriate propers for this day.
When we review the themes of the Epiphany season to this point, we have these:
Epiphany Day shows the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles with the visit of the Magi;
Epiphany 1 was the first manifestation to the Jews with the boy Jesus in the Temple;
Epiphany 2 was the baptism of Jesus by John in the river Jordan and the voice of God;
Epiphany 3 shows the power of Jesus in his first miracle at the wedding in Cana;
Epiphany 4 shows Jesus healing the leper and the servant of the centurion; and
Epiphany 5 was the parable of the wheat and tares, showing the patience of God.
When we look over this list, we might be inclined to ask, “so what is missing?” Indeed, nothing is completely missing because the matter of the last days has been considered to some extent in the parable of the wheat and tares, the Gospel for Epiphany 5. Even so, there is much more to be said about this matter because it shows such an important attribute of our Saviour Jesus Christ, namely His role in coming as Judge at the end of time. This is the matter that we take up today.
Jesus as Judge is not a comfortable image for any of us. Think for a moment of the number of pictures you have seen of Jesus Christ in the Judgment Seat as comparted to the pictures you have seen of Christ the Good Shepherd with the lamb thrown over His shoulders. Or perhaps pictures of Christ preaching to the crowds on the hillsides? These last two are comfortable, appealing images that make us feel at ease, Jesus is welcoming us, and we are at ease with the image. But Christ in the Judgment Seat always arouses profound discomfort with us, even though this is the same Jesus Christ. Why are we so afraid?
We turn to the Epistle lesson for the day for some words of guidance here. 1 John 3:1-2 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. First note that this is written to those already within the Church, not to those outside the Church. The writer, St. John or someone writing in his name, is telling the readers that we are now, even as we are in our present state, sons of God. This is a great reassurance, and it is true because we are washed clean by the blood of Christ, daily made new, as long as we strive to continue in the path that leads to eternal life. We can turn aside from that path at any time, but as long as we endeavor to remain on the path, our Saviour continues to renew our salvation day by day. We are assured that when Christ comes in Judgement, we will recognize Him and we will be made like Him.
The Epistle lesson continues 1 John 3:3-4 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. Every man that hopes in Christ purifies his own life, removes sin from it, even as Christ is pure. If we place our hope in Jesus Christ, we will want to be like Him, and that necessarily means eliminating sin from our lives. As the lesson states so clearly, sin is the transgression of the law, and our Lord Jesus has explained elsewhere that it is more than simply the letter of the Law but the spirit also. It does no good at all to create a situation wherein we simply do not get caught by earthly authorities. Avoiding getting caught does not make a person without sin at all; it simply makes them devious. Thus the fact that one may be able to cheat on their spouse, steal time and/or materials from an employer, use pirated software, abuse an employee, etc. without getting into trouble with the law simply means that the sin becomes embedded in the heart and more difficult to root out. It most certainly remains sin, and a cause for separation from Jesus Christ.
The Epistle lesson wraps up the result for us 1 John 3:5-8 And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. There was no sin in Jesus Christ, and if we remain with Him, we will act in righteousness, even as He is righteous. That is the key right there. If we turn aside to the devil, we will be destroyed with the devil who is ultimately going to be destroyed by Christ. It is a simple choice, even though we sometimes treat it as if it were difficult and agonize over it.
A few days ago, I received something by e–mail telling me that some famous evangelist — so famous that I’ve never heard of him, but that does not mean anything — has announced that the world will end on May 21st of this year. Presumably that means that the Second Coming will occur at that time, and we are truly in the last days right now, and indeed we may well be. I certainly do not want to dispute the idea that we are in the last days; I see many things that make me think that myself. I question the announcement of a precise date because of what was said in Matthew 24:36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
Even so, whenever such an announcement is made, the response of some is invariably to panic and say, “this is it! what shall we do?” Then they begin to look for a saviour, someone to protect them in the coming cataclysm. It becomes a time rife with false saviours, false prophets, frauds all of them because there is one, and only one, true Saviour. Jesus warned about this in the opening verses of our Gospel lesson, Matthew 24:23-26 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. They are going to be many and very dangerous, and they will manage to deceive all except those who are truly the elect of God, those who truly belong to God. This is where we need to think back to the Epistle lesson to remind ourselves whether or not we truly do belong to God. But as devious as these false messiahs and false prophets are, they will not be able to turn the elect because that would indicate that they had more power than God Almighty. Thus we are assured that they will fail, they must fail, it cannot be otherwise. Therefore, do not fall for their tricks!!
When Jesus Christ comes at His Second Coming, it will be sudden, like the bolt of lightening, and without prior announcement. This is in contrast to His First Coming announced by John the Baptist, the herald prophet. The Son will come with such brightness that the sun, the moon, and the stars will all appear to go dark in His presence. When He is seen, all the tribes of mankind will morn because they will recognize the error of their ways, but it will be too late to change at that point. He will come in the clouds with power and great glory which will cause a general terror on the earth.
Then comes the final comfort, Matthew 24:31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. The elect of God, those who were chosen by God from before the foundations of the world, who have remained true and faithful through all, are called together before Jesus Christ. As it said in the Epistle lesson, it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. Let us rejoice and wait with confident hearts for the day of our deliverance, staying faithful and focused on Jesus Christ until that day.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.