Monday, November 12, 2007

"The Eleventh Hour." Luke 20:27-40

In the Name of Jesus
Dearly beloved, baptized into the very resurrection of Christ our Bridegroom:

It is the eleventh hour. On this Lord's Day, the eleventh of November, God gathers his own to speak his name over us, to assure us that in Baptism our sin has been drowned in the once-for-all sacrifice of his Son and — that by his grace — a new nature has been created by his Word and Spirit. By faith in the promises of Christ our Redeemer, we are God's own dear children, even in these last days, these last hours before he sends his Son in all glory to end this age of separation and suffering, this age of war and rumor of war, this age of a world gone terribly, terribly bad and a humanity that will do nothing but interrogate Christ and refuse to believe his unexpected way of saving us.
And so it is appropriate on this, the third-last Sunday of the Church Year that we hear and read and take to heart the things of the last days, as we wait for the advent — the coming — the final appearance — of our salvation.
The Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke, the twentieth chapter:
There came to him some Sadducees (those who deny that there is a resurrection) and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.” (Luke 20:27-33 ESV)
The occasion: the last days of Jesus' public ministry. The place: the temple grounds in the holy city of Jerusalem. The participants: the Pharisees and Jesus' disciples listening in as the Saducees have their turn at gathering evidence to later be used against this self-proclaimed prophet from Nazareth.
The situation concocted by the Sadducees is almost comical in its improbability. One wife married eight times and widowed eight times, all without resulting children. "In the resurrection," the Saducees ask, "whose wife will she be?" This question from a group of religious leaders who openly denied belief in any resurrection from the dead; this question from a group of religious leaders who had no desire to be students of this tradition-breaking, crowd-pleasing miracle worker.
The battle lines are set as everyone waits to see if Jesus will say anything that can later be used to convict him of blasphemy against God, the holy prophet Moses and his five holy books.
What will Jesus say about the last things when it comes to marriage and children and family obligation to continue the family name? What will Jesus say about the last things of life and what awaits after death?
And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this [present] age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised — even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he [says,] the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live [in] him.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question. (Luke 20:34-40 ESV)
As is his custom, Jesus goes to the point of the matter, acknowledging himself as not only the Teacher of Israel but the last word when it comes to Moses and the inspired writings of Moses.
You see, Jesus accepts even from unbelieving Sadducees the title Rabbi, Teacher, and begins to teach all who would listen to him. Jesus teaches a clear word of Law to sinners who are unrepentant and rebellious and unbelieving, in order that he might then teach a clear word of Gospel (unmerited grace and undeserved gift) to sinners who have become broken and contrite and repentant.
"Marriage is a present-age shadow of something that will be fulfilled at the end of this age," Jesus is saying. "It is a lesser institution that has something greater, something heavenly as its fulfillment. Marriage and the demands of marital obligations are for the fallen sons and daughters of a fallen world. The demands to continue the family line are for the wilderness journey of this life outside the gates of paradise — this life continually threatened by rebellion against God's Word and the forging of idols to receive the devotion and allegiance reserved for God alone. Marriage will give way on the last day to what it has actually pointed to all along," Jesus declares.
Here Jesus shows that he is Lord of the Old Testament prophets and even the Spirit-inspired Word of the Old Testament prophets. For Saducees who feebly attempt to judge Jesus by Moses, Jesus has something to say, something definite, something that will shut mouths, something said with an authority greater than even great Moses. Here Jesus says the last word on last things and their relationship to marriage and the future of family and the outcome of everything dying and fading away.
Our Lord announces something we should have realized a long time ago: the institution of marriage is a temporary marker, a road sign, a pointer that will, finally, give way to the eternal thing it points to, its fulfillment, its perfection, its terminus — its consummation. This biblical understanding is echoed at every wedding performed in this sanctuary as the pastor announces at the beginning of the ceremony:
We are gathered here in the sight of God and of his Church to witness and to bless the joining together of this man and this woman in holy marriage. This is an honorable estate, which God himself has instituted and blessed, and by which he gives a picture [a foreshadowing] of the very communion of Christ and his bride, the Church. (Lutheran Worship Agenda 120)
The last word on marriage is the last day consummation of the wedding of the crucified, risen and ascended Lord and his bride the Church. The obligations and demands and laws and impositions of extending and continuing the family name find their completion in the vow of our Bridegroom.
For you see, even though God has demanded that we provide a son to continue the family name, we are powerless to carry out our duty. Born with weak intentions and the complete inability to carry out God's holy and perfect will, we cannot provide a son to continue the family line, to continue our legacy, to continue our life in this world, not to mention the next. Outside of Christ, we find ourselves spiritually impotent and barren and under the crushing verdict of a divine Law that declares: "Only those who are found righteous will be worthy of the title "Child of the Resurrection," "Child of God."
It is the only-begotten Son of God and Mary's son who knows the slavery of our sin in the same way that he knew the slavery of his children under the crushing hand of Pharaoh. For those who could not rescue themselves, for those who were bound to the deadly consequences of their sin, Christ came and, through his servant Moses, spoke a word, and pointing to his sacrifice and the shedding of his blood, delivered his people that they might be his bride, washed in his righteousness and cleansed for the eternal marriage feast.
To all who refuse to believe in the possibility of a resurrection of those declared righteous before almighty God, to all who have given up on climbing a self-constructed ladder into the eternal wedding chamber, to all who have been driven to despair of extending the family line of our first parents, to all who haven't a shred of righteousness of their own that the family name might be redeemed, Our Lord Christ has a gracious invitation, a word of sweetest comfort, a promise that seems too gracious to be true.
He is the messenger that speaks salvation to Moses from the burning bush. He is the Bridegroom who will buy back his enslaved bride with his sacrificial death and resurrection from the dead. He will be for you and me Righteousness and Life and the final Word at the end of this age — on the last day when he will take us, and all who have put their trust in him, to himself.
It is the eleventh hour. And Christ's coming is as sure as his coming at Bethlehem, his coming at your Baptism, his coming in the Word of the prophets and apostles, his coming at his holy Table, the foretaste of the wedding feast to come.
God in Christ through the Holy Spirit has placed his redeeming name upon you. He has sealed you as his child and heir. You are his and he is yours. And he will, on the last day, take you to himself.
God grant us the faith to believe in Christ as our Resurrection and our Life, as we say with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, "Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus, come, and raise us to eternal life."