“The End Is Coming” (1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Matthew 25:31-46)

Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 22, 2020

“The End Is Coming” (1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Matthew 25:31-46)

The end is coming. The end of the church year, I mean. In fact, today is the Last Sunday of the Church Year. Next week we’ll begin a brand-new church year with the First Sunday in Advent. But the thing is, the church year mirrors the life of Christ and the course of history. That’s why, in these darkening days of November, our readings and hymns deal with the last things, the end times, and the return of Christ on the Last Day. Think of the hymns we’ve been singing this month: “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying”; “The Day Is Surely Drawing Near”: or the one we just sang, “The Clouds of Judgment Gather.” The point is, the end of the church year serves to focus our attention on the very biblical teaching that “The End Is Coming.”

The end is coming, and we need to be ready for it. We don’t know when that day will come, but we do know that it is coming. And what will happen when the end comes–that we know also, for the Bible tells us. We heard about it in our readings today. These things will happen, all together: the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, and, for the righteous, entering into eternal life.

If those events sound familiar, it’s probably because we confess them every Sunday in the church’s creeds. As we just said in the Apostles’ Creed: “From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” And later we have the phrases, “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” These are the things we’re talking about when we say that the end is coming.

The end is coming. Usually when we hear the term “the end,” we think, “That’s the end of the story; there’s nothing more.” The movie screen shows “The End,” and that’s it. End of story. The end. But that’s not the thought here when we’re talking about “the end.” No, here I’m using the term “the end” in the sense of “the goal” that we’re heading toward.

“Then comes the end,” it says in our reading from 1 Corinthians 15:24. “Then comes the end”: The Greek word that’s used there is “telos,” which means “goal.” The goal, the destination that we’re heading for, will have been reached. All of history is moving toward that goal. Life on this planet is not a series of random events with no purpose or direction. No, God has a plan, and he is moving things toward that goal. You and I may not see how he’s doing that, but rest assured, we’re moving toward the goal. There is an end purpose to all the seeming craziness that’s going on in this world. God has a plan. He has an end in sight.

And his plan is for our good. The end that God has in sight is for your blessing and benefit. It’s good stuff that we’re talking about today: Christ’s second coming, our being raised from the dead, the final judgment, being welcomed into eternal life. This is our hope. This is what we have to look forward to. Lift up your heads, dear friends; your redemption draweth nigh!

The end is coming, and it is focused on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The events that will happen at Christ’s second coming are the result, the outcome, of Christ’s first coming. What Jesus accomplished by his coming in the flesh 2,000 years ago–his suffering and death for our salvation, his resurrection from the dead, his ascension into heaven–the results of all that will reach their consummation when Christ comes again on the Last Day.

This is why we have nothing to fear about the end. On the contrary, we look forward to Christ’s return with great excitement and expectation. It’s going to be wonderful what will happen when the end comes. Because Jesus makes it so.

Think about what Christ has done to make us ready for his return. You and I were lost in our sins, with only death and the grave and hell staring us in the face. That is a truly terrifying prospect. But Christ came to undo all of that. Jesus came to reverse the curse, to save us, to rescue us from God’s wrath. God’s own Son came in the flesh and dwelt among us, calling us to repentance and faith. Jesus calls us to follow him, which is the only way out of death and hell. We are not able to rescue ourselves. God has to do it.

And so Christ came, making God known to us. In Christ, we know God as our kind and loving heavenly Father. God has had mercy on us, and sent his Son to save us. Jesus shed his blood on the cross, taking the punishment for our sins and paying the price for our forgiveness and redemption. Jesus then rose on the third day, to show that death could not hold him. Life is the result of what Jesus has done. And so, through faith in Christ, we have what we need to stand as righteous on the Day of Judgment.

What Christ did at his first coming is the basis for our hope at his second coming. Trust in Jesus, and you will be alright at his coming–literally, all right, right in body and soul, right with God, right forever. Your “rightness” comes from Christ.

The end is coming. When Jesus returns, it will all come to light, the results of what he has done. One result will be the resurrection of the dead. Paul writes about it in 1 Corinthians 15: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

It’s like this: Christ rose from the dead, and so we who belong to Christ will be raised also at his coming. Christ is the firstfruits. “Firstfruits” means there’s more to follow. Jesus leads the way; we will follow. Jesus rose, in victory over death. So we too will rise, bodily, because Jesus shares his victory with us. You were joined to Jesus and his resurrection in your baptism.

Your body is in need of a divine restart. You can feel it; so can I. This old bag of bones is falling apart and racked with aches and pains. This mortal body is subject to disease and death. If the coronavirus doesn’t catch you, something else will. No mask can shield you from death.

But God has redeemed your body. That’s why God poured the water on your body in Holy Baptism. That’s why Jesus puts his own life-giving body into your body in Holy Communion. God has redeemed your body, not just your soul. And God is going to do something new with your body, long after it has been laid in the grave.

At Christ’s return, the trumpet will sound, and Christ will raise you up, whole and complete and better than ever. We don’t know exactly what that will look like in every respect. The Bible doesn’t give us all the details. But the Bible does tell us that you will be you, that you will have a body–your body, raised and restored and made glorious–and that your body will no longer be subject to all that ails and afflicts you now. No more sin, no more sorrow, no more tears or headaches or heartaches. Friends, I am looking forward to that day!

The end is coming, and what else will happen? Clustered together, biblically speaking, are the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment. The judgment scene is portrayed for us in the reading from Matthew 25. Christ the King comes and is seated on his throne. The sheep and the goats are gathered before him, the righteous and the cursed. There will be a separation, a sorting out. The difference will be faith or unbelief. On the one hand, Christ will welcome into his kingdom the righteous, that is, those who are righteous through faith in him. A true faith, a genuine faith, is one that is connected to Christ. And to show that it was a living faith, the evidence cited will be works of mercy flowing from faith in Christ as its natural fruit. On the other hand, the cursed will be those who rejected the only Savior from sin. They will be judged because they had no connection to Christ and thus no works done from faith. It’s not that our works save us. No, we are saved by grace through faith, apart from works. But a true and living faith in Christ will naturally produce good works as its fruit.

By God’s grace, you have faith in Christ your Savior. Sustained in this faith by the Holy Spirit, strengthened in faith by Word and Sacrament, your life will produce works of love and mercy done in connection with Christ. And these are what will be cited when you stand before the throne of judgment. Not your sins. No, they have been forgiven and forgotten. The good works you have done–these will show that you indeed had a genuine faith.

So you have nothing to fear on the Day of Judgment. Christ has taken care of that. Your judge is also your Savior. The end is coming, and that will be a day of joyous welcome, a happy homecoming, when we enter into the eternal kingdom God has prepared for us.

The end is coming, but when it comes, that will be only the beginning. Death–destroyed. Eternal life, with glorified bodies in a restored creation–this is what we will behold. Safe and secure, like sheep with their Shepherd. What a joy it will be! All the company of heaven, gathered together for an unending Thanksgiving feast–no mask mandates, no social distancing needed–praising God, in perfect peace and fellowship. And you will be there!

The end is coming. The end, the goal, is this: Christ will deliver the kingdom to God the Father, having accomplished everything he set out to do. Christ will have destroyed death. He will share with us his resurrection victory. And he will welcome us into his eternal kingdom. That is the end, that is the goal, that’s what we have to look forward to . . . namely, The End.

Published in: on November 21, 2020 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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