Holding on to the Kingdom and Losing the World. 3rd Last Sunday of the Church Year 2014
Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 25)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 24:14-28
November 9, 2014
“Holding on to the Kingdom and Losing the World”
Beloved in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Gospel reading for today is preaching about what you hold on to, what you cling to. You can try to hold on to the things you already have in this world, and things will be easier for you—for a time. But then they will suddenly be taken away, just like the temple was taken away from the Jews.
Or you can hold on to the Gospel. If you do that you will experience tribulation for a little while. But you will have an eternal kingdom that can’t be taken away. It is yours now during the tribulation and forever.
At the beginning of this Gospel, our Lord says, “This Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world.” The Gospel of the Kingdom was what Jesus had been preaching for three years among the Jews. He was saying that God’s kingdom had arrived on earth. Soon the time would come when all sin and all sinners would be cast out of it and all that would be left would be the true God living among His people in righteousness, peace, joy. But the kingdom was here now. All that was necessary to be part of it was to believe the message. That meant repenting of everything you had been and done up until then, and be baptized. Then you were part of God’s kingdom on earth and would share its joy and glory when the kingdom was revealed.
You would think that everyone would have accepted this message with joy, especially with all the mighty wonders and signs that Jesus did as witnesses to His message. But as you know, the leaders of the Jews did not accept it? Why? Because they wanted to hang on to what they thought they already had.
The leaders of the Jews thought that they didn’t need to repent. They thought they were already prepared for God’s kingdom to come, they were already holy people. They had God’s temple where He dwelt among them. They kept up the services of His house, bringing the offerings at the appointed times. And they strove to keep God’s law.
But Jesus, in preaching the good news of the kingdom, said, “No, no one is righteous.” He didn’t criticize the Jews for keeping the laws of God outwardly, but He said that it wasn’t enough. It is necessary to be completely righteous to enter God’s kingdom. A person’s inward heart, thoughts, and desires must also be clean. And this was the righteousness God was giving in Baptism—the forgiveness of sins, so that even though one still had an unclean heart, his uncleanness was not counted to Him. It was the same righteousness Jesus offered to the tax collectors and to the priests, to the harlots and to the teachers of the law.
Jesus knows that the Jews have already rejected Him in their hearts, hardening themselves against Him. It’s only a matter of time before they act out the thoughts of their hearts by putting Him to death. They have rejected God’s righteousness and insisted on their own. That’s why in the chapter just before this Jesus said, “You sons of the devil, how can you escape being condemned to hell?” That’s not just harsh language on the part of Jesus. That’s the truth of the matter. When the Jews, or the world in our day, rejects the Gospel of the Kingdom, rejects Jesus as King and the righteousness He gives, wanting to hold on to the things they have in the world, they are acting out the will of the evil one. When someone rejects Christ, he is a son of the devil and doing the devil’s wicked work. That’s true even if he lives a moral life, even a religious life.
Jesus also knew that God would not stand idly by when the Jews rejected Jesus and God’s Kingdom and put His son to death. He would certainly pour out His wrath and punish them in His fury for this wickedness. That’s why He told His disciples that the temple would be torn down—not one stone left on another.
That’s true today too. God punishes in this life for sin. But if God is angry because of sexual immorality or greed or murder and will punish for those—and He does and will—it is nothing compared to His wrath when people refuse to listen to the word about His Son.
Jesus’ prophecy came true. About forty years after His crucifixion, the Romans came in and ravaged the whole land of Judea. An ancient historian tells us that in the three months Jerusalem was besieged, one million, one hundred thousand Jews died—of starvation, plague, being cut down by soldiers, who showed no mercy. The temple was set on fire and its golden adornments were taken away to Rome as spoils. Hundreds of thousands more died in other battles. Thousands were sold into slavery. It was a time of great tribulation for the Jews, the likes of which the world has never seen. Even in the Holocaust, so many were not killed in so short a span of time.
All this came from the Jews’ wanting to hold on to what they thought they had and not holding on to the kingdom of God.
Jesus said, “This Gospel of the Kingdom must be preached throughout the whole world as a witness to the Gentiles.” And this has happened. Today Jesus preaches the Gospel of the Kingdom and says not only that the Kingdom has arrived but shows how it has come.
It has come in Jesus.
Today He proclaims that God’s kingdom and righteousness appeared and arrived on earth in His birth as He lived under the law and fulfilled it for sinners. He proclaims that He established righteousness for all who believe in His death on the cross. Because as the Jews handed Jesus over to Pilate and his soldiers to be beaten, mocked, and crucified, the Father ordained that Jesus, the Son of God, should bear His wrath and fury against sin. So it was not that Jesus was being killed by His enemies. He was willingly, together with His Father, making His life the sacrifice that would establish the kingdom of God, that would provide the forgiveness of our sins and enable us, who are still sinners, to live in the kingdom of God.
And the Gospel of the kingdom proclaims more. It tells us that God raised up Jesus from the dead and seated Him at His right hand to reign. He has shown in His resurrection that He is the king of kings, who has an everlasting kingdom that cannot be shaken or perish. And He has shown in His resurrection that hIs suffering and death is the payment, accepted by God, that allows us to be washed of our sins in Baptism and enter the kingdom of God, participating in the reign and kingdom of Jesus through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, the Gospel of the Kingdom that has been proclaimed to every nation declares that this Jesus who suffered and died in weakness on the cross will come again with power and glory to judge the living and the dead and to glorify those who have held on to the good news of His kingdom.
We have been placed into this kingdom that is going to be revealed in the last time through no doing of our own. God placed you into the kingdom of Christ through proclaiming the good news of Jesus as our Savior-King and having you baptized into Him. He has kept you in His kingdom through preaching the gospel of Jesus the king and savior of sinners into your ears. No preparation and no works got us in. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, with unclean hearts—even if our lives on the outside were upright and moral. And He transferred us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son through faith in this king and Savior alone.
So you who are baptized in your king Jesus do not have to fear that God your Father is storing up wrath for you, like He does for those who reject His Son. Your sins are forgiven for His name’s sake.
But here is where the tribulation sets in for us. Believing in Jesus and holding on to His kingdom means losing and letting go of other things pertaining to this life. When we hold on to the Gospel, we hold on to Jesus, and we have His eternal kingdom, even though we don’t see it. But as we hold onto Jesus, god through various trials makes us lose the things of this life. Sometimes it’s through persecution, and then we lose honor and reputation, maybe even wealth for not denying Christ. Other times it is through calamities that happen to us—the loss of loved ones. The loss of our possesions through accident. The loss of jobs. Financial hardship. Sickness or ongoing health problems. Gradually all of us are losing our most precious possession in this world—our body and life. We are getting older and every year closer to leaving this world.
None of these things can change the fact that you have Christ’s eternal kingdom. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall fire, or tribulation, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long. We are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us…For I am persuaded that neither life nor death..nor things present nor things to come..nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So says St. Paul in Romans 8. If we have Christ our Savior and King, nothing can separate us from His kingdom and from Him—no tragedy, no hardship, no loss. We can lose earthly things—even our lives—and we are still more than conquerors. Or as we sing around this time of the year:
And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child, and wife
Though these all be gone
Our victory has been won
The Kingdom ours remaineth.
But the tribulation for us is that we are tempted to turn back. Either to refuse to let go the things that we think we have in this world, or to turn to false messiahs and false prophets who claim that we did not believe in the right king, and they will show us another who will really provide salvation.
Yes, pay attention to this—we think when we are suffering and we lose things in this life, when we suffer tragedy, calamity, tribulation—we are tempted then to think that we must not really have Christ and His kingdom either.
That’s why Jesus so urgently warned His disciples not to be deceived by false prophets and false Christ, even though they might work great miracles.
The same temptation is there for you and me. We aren’t, it’s true, seeing our city burned to the ground, and a million people killed in the space of a few months.
Yet we live in the last times. The love of most has grown cold. Most of our society has rejected the good news of the kingdom of God. Churches are closing up. There are only the beginnings of anything like persecution of Christians in our country, yet we feel the rising antagonism of many toward the church.
We can only expect things to get worse as rejection of the Gospel results in God’s punishment.
But already many of us feel taxed, tired, weary, wondering how much more God thinks we are able to bear.
This is when the tribulation comes—the temptation to look to a different Christ or a different Gospel.
Many have already done that. They looked at the difficulties and weaknesses we experienced at St. Peter and they went and joined a church with a different doctrine.
Or pressures inside the church or in their own lives drove them to just top coming to hear Jesus and receive Him in the sacrament of His body and blood.
But even when we are still here, haven’t we often grown weary or susceptible to voices that are not Christ’s because we have not been willing to flee this world and lose things on earth in order to hang on to the kingdom of God, which is given to us in the Gospel of Christ?
Let us return to our king and savior, who does not reject us for our unbelief, unfaithfulness, for the hardness of our heart. He tells us, “Don’t be deceived by false Christs. When the Son of Man appears it will be like the lightning that starts at one end of the sky and lightens all the way to the other side.”
Our Lord Jesus’ appearing in glory will be glorious, majestic. There will be no question about who the true Christ is then. Every 3eye will see Him. Every tongue will confess Him Lord. Every knee will bow to Him, even those who had rejected Him.
But then our Lord with a word will summon the dead to life and gather all flesh to judgment.
And then those who believed in Him who was crucified and raised will be glorified before all the world—before all those who denied Christ, before the devil and his angels who tempted and accused us.
Then Jesus will summon us and those who went down into death believing in Him. He will honor us and show that we possessed His kingdom on earth when we were weak and suffered tribulation.
He will show that we are declared righteous by God and that His suffering, death, and weakness were for us and our justification. Because of His great love for us.
It looks like we are holding on to something weak when we hold to the Gospel of Christ our Savior. The world looks at us like we’re holding on to children’s fables and old wives’ tales.
My beloved, you are holding on to the word of the living God. You are holding on to the great and exalted King Himself, and to the riches of the glory of His Kingdom.
It is that glorious Lord Jesus who speaks to us from His exalted throne in His Word and declares us righteous and free from accusation before all the watching angels.
It is this glorious Lord Jesus who comes among us and give us His own body to eat and His blood to drink that we may not perish in our spiritual trials.
Something greater than the temple is here. Something greater than all the wealth and honor of the world, all the praise of men.
It is Jesus. He tells us we have His eternal kingdom, even if they take our life, goods, fame, child, and wife.
We have His kingdom and the love and favor of His Father through His blood alone.
He predestined us to share in His glory, and He will not allow any suffering or cross to separate us from God the Father’s love.
O Lord Jesus, establish and strengthen our faith in You, that we may regard only Your word and Your cross. When we suffer tribulation, cause us to see the eternal love of God which has covered us through Your death for our sins, so that we may not regard the sufferings of this present time, but only the glory to be revealed to us and in us when you return to claim all who are baptized and believe in Your name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria