13 November 2013

Kingdom Hidden, Kingdom Revealed

Here's my homily for this past Sunday, the 25th Sunday after Trinity (3rd Last Sunday in the Church Year). Yes, we do a little "skip" at this time of the year so as to hear and appreciate our Lord's teaching and preparations for the Last Day.

Today we begin “End Times Sundays.” We look to the Last Day, when Christ will return. As we wait and watch, here’s a vital question for you: Which is more important for you, the Christian—the sense of sight or the sense of hearing? What takes priority in the Church—the eyes or the ears? The Bible says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). It also says, “Faith comes by hearing” (Rom. 10:17). For the people of God, ears are more important than eyes; hearing more vital than seeing. The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts through the words of the Gospel of Jesus, words that He speaks into our ears. Christians are all ears.

So in our Gospel reading, Jesus speaks against the Pharisees for being all eyes. They demanded special signs. Signs are seen instead of believed. The Pharisees did not trust in the Lord’s spoken words. They wanted to trust their own vision and experience. They walked not by faith, but by unbelief that said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

The Pharisees ask Jesus about “when the kingdom of God would come.” They think it’s still to come because they cannot yet see it. Jesus must tell them not to rely so much on their vision. They don’t see that the kingdom has already arrived. Instead, Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of God is here. It’s a present reality. It may be hidden and veiled from ordinary sight, but it’s still here. Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, there it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

God’s kingdom does not come with observation, Jesus says. We need to remember this in our culture of TV, Netflix videos, and computer games. We like to see things. That’s how we like to know what’s real. But the kingdom of God cannot be observed or analyzed with natural eyes. It cannot be identified with visible signs of power or prosperity. No, this side of eternity, God’s kingdom is hidden from normal human sight.

So Jesus tells the Pharisees that God’s kingdom is already here: “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” It’s already here, already present, because Christ the King is here. Since He’s the King, it’s His kingdom. We can even say that He IS the kingdom—the kingdom of God in the flesh. God’s kingdom hides behind and within Jesus’ true humanity. All of God’s fullness dwells in Him. He is God’s kingdom with all of its blessings. So, where the flesh-and-blood Jesus is, there the kingdom of God is present. Wherever Jesus speaks His words to His people, wherever He gives His Body and Blood to His people, wherever He forgives sins and gives a share in His life, there is the kingdom of God. When you have Jesus, you have the kingdom of God.

But our fallen nature prefers to have something of its own making. It wants something it can see, rather than trusting what Jesus says. We are very much like the ancient Israelites at Mt. Sinai in our first reading. Moses had gone up the mountain to receive the Word of the Lord. The people grew impatient as he delayed coming down. So they told Aaron, “Make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses…we do not know what has become of him.” They did not want to walk by faith in an unseen leader. They wanted to walk and live by sight. And Aaron failed to be a faithful high priest as he gave in to the people’s demands. He took their jewelry and fashioned a golden calf—a fertility symbol, an idol for sight, not for faith. They traded the true God for their own version of what they wanted God to be.

We also like to walk by sight. We also have our “golden calves” as we await the Lord’s return. We may not bow down to a symbol of fertility, but we do bow down to things we can see, things we think will lead us out of the wilderness of our emptiness, our sin, and our death. We might bow at the feet of growth and success and try to measure God’s kingdom and life in the Church by numbers and excitement we can see. We might bow at the feet of popular pastors and leaders who can draw great crowds. We might bow at the feet of making sure our 401(k)s and the stock market are always growing and shining with success.

But remember this: when Moses came down from the mountain, when he saw the false worship and immorality, he took down the calf, burned it, and ground it into powder. Then he scattered the powder on the water and made the Israelites drink it. Even our golden calves—the things we trust instead of Jesus the Christ—will be torn down and crushed. Just as Moses came down from the mountain, our Lord Jesus will come down unexpectedly on the Last Day. We may be “eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage”; we may be “eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building,” but the Lord will still come to judge the fallen world. And our Lord’s coming will be quite a surprise for all who ignore Him and live by sight.

However, for you who repent and believe, for you who walk as yet by faith, our Lord’s return is not something to dread. Instead, you may welcome it. You see, your judgment day has already happened. It took place when Jesus was nailed to the tree. There He suffered the judgment for your sin and unbelief. There He took your place and, out of great love and mercy, endured the weight of your sin and death. That’s why Jesus says in our Gospel reading, “first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” His great love compelled Him to redeem you from your idols of sight. His shed blood purchased you as His own so that you can “live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”

Yes, your judgment day has come. It came on the day when Jesus said, “It is finished.” Just as the Lord provided deliverance for Noah and his family, and for Lot and his daughters, He has also delivered you from sin and death and brought you into His kingdom. His kingdom comes in Christ crucified and risen. All you can see in the cross is a bloody execution, but in that very cross your Lord reveals His kingdom of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. In that instrument of death your Lord reveals His victory over the grave. Yes, you can trust these words you hear. After all, Christians walk not by sight, but by faith.

God’s kingdom does not come by observation, but Jesus still reveals it to you. He is truly present, and He reveals Himself by “hiding behind” ordinary water that washes away sin and death.   Martin Luther said it well: “Wherever anybody is being baptized according to Christ’s command we should be confidently convinced that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is present there, and that there is pure delight, pleasure, and joy in heaven over the fact that sin is forgiven, the heavens opened forever, and that now there is no more wrath but only grace unalloyed.” (in TDP, Nov. 8) And today we get to rejoice that He reveals His kingdom this morning for Caleb George!

Your Lord Jesus also hides behind an ordinary man’s voice that proclaims His mercies and forgiveness. He also hides behind common bread and wine that serve as His heavenly food. The kingdom of Jesus may not come by normal observation, but when you let your ears do their hearing, you recognize that the Kingdom is in our midst—Christ Himself is in your midst. As Jesus says, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (Jn. 6:63). His water is “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). And He also says, “My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him” (Jn. 6:55-56).

The kingdom of God may not come by observation, but it is revealed to us in Jesus Himself. So, we learn to trust our ears. Our eyes may see only sin and sickness, trouble and death. But when we listen to and trust the Lord’s words, we hear the hidden reality that we are His chosen people, His royal heirs of eternal life. When we listen to and trust the Lord and His words, He sustains us and strengthens us to endure these last days in His kingdom revealed. We walk by faith, not by sight. After all, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1, NKJV). Amen.

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