A sermon preached at St. John's Episcopal Church, Massena, New York
on Nov. 21, 1999
I want to focus on the first verse of our reading. "When the Son of Man comes in his glory" (Matthew 25:31). The word Advent means Coming, and the Bible has hundreds of references to the coming of the Son of God among the nations.
The Son of God is given many names. He is the Good Shepherd and also the Lamb. He is both Lord and Servant, Lion and Little Child, the Water of life and the Rock of salvation. He did not become Shepherd, Lamb, Lord, Servant, Lion, Little Child, Water of Life and Rock of our salvation when He took birth in our world. He performed all those functions throughout the Old Testament.
His most prominent name in the Old Testament was the King over the nations. And from the time of both Saul and David kings were anointed with oil. The Hebrew word for anointed is mashiakh from which we get the word Messiah.
The problem is that the Jewish people still expect the Messiah to come. And many Christians have been tricked into thinking that He made one coming when He took birth the first as a baby the first Christmas, and He is sitting up there doing nothing much till His Second Coming.
What the New Testament tells us is that the Shepherd, Lamb, Lord, Servant, Lion, Little Child, Water of Life and Rock of our salvation, is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Since His ascension the Son of God is reigning among the nations, and He will reign till He has put all enemies under his feet (1 Corinthians 15:25).
It is also clear that our King reigns by coming (making visitations). In the Old Testament there are frequent references to the Lord's interventions. There was wrath for nations that behaved abominably. And there was vindication and blessing for others. And each of these comings of the King is called a day of the Lord. For the Jews the most memorable intervention was in the Exodus. The Jewish feast of Purim commemorates the intervention of the Lord in the days of Queen Esther when every Jew was about to be slaughtered.
Let me read to you the account of the day of the Lord when Babylon was destroyed. On October 539 BC the ruthless empire that had enslaved the Jewish people in exile was toppled for ever. As I read, notice the word comes, and see how Jesus used these images of destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Matthew 24).
"The oracle concerning Babylon . . .Wail for the day of the Lord is near . . . See, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger to make the earth a desolation . . . For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not give its light . . .Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of host . . . And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gormorrah when God overthrew them" (Isaiah 13:1-19).
Jesus used exactly those images of the sun being darkened, the moon not giving its light, the stars falling from heaven, and the powers of heaven being shaken (Matthew 24, the chapter before our text). He used those words from the destruction of Babylon to refer to the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem and the city of Jerusalem in that generation (it actually occured in AD 70). What he was implying was that when you see those things happen you will know I have come as I announced to you. And the implication was "Similarly you will see me intervening in human history again and again till I finally roll up this space-time world."
Whenever great cities fall and mighty powers are toppled the Old Testament prophets called such events Days of the Lord. Similarly the city of Rome fell to Alaric and the Goths in 410 AD. A hundred years after Muhammad the Muslims were defeated at the gates of Paris in the Battle of Tours, 732 AD. Constantinople fell in 1453. The American Revolution was in 1775, the French Revolution in1789, and the Russian Revolution under Lenin in 1919. The Old Testament prophets would have called each of these momentous events Days of the Lord.
Just last week the people of Europe were celebrating the toppling of the iron curtain exactly ten years ago (1989). People were praying and marching in silent candlelight processions, but not a single politician or commentator predicted the sudden freeing of a dozen countries from communism within six weeks. Those who look in faith can see how the Lord reigns and he intervenes in history among the nations.
But the Lord also reigns among the churches. The first three chapters of the Book of Revelation are addressed to the seven churches of Asia. "Grace to you and peace . . . from Jesus the Messiah, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth" (Revelation 1:4-5). Concerning the church in Ephesus, "I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent" (2:5). And concerning the church in Pergamum "Repent then. If not I will come to you soon, and make war against them with the sword of my mouth" (2:16). The church of Laodicea was lukewarm. To them the Messiah said ""Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold not hot, I will spew you out of my mouth" (3:15-16).
Actually all the seven churches of Asia Minor (present day western Turkey) were soon to be decimated. And the same happened in the huge churches of North Africa. The Russian Orthodox churches were closed down under Stalin. Just now the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada have been held liable by our high court for the abuse which took place in their native schools. When they have to pay millions of dollars, both denominations will be banrupt.. That day of the Lord is likely within two or three years.
But the good news is that it is never too late to welcome the Messiah, the Son of God. This morning we are celebrating His gracious coming in this communion service. As He said in the words to the church in Ephesus : "I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come to you and eat with you, and you with me" (3:20).
Finally we remind ourselves that, in addition to coming to intervene in nations, and in churches, the reigning Messiah wants to come to us as individuals. You remember how the Lord came to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He wanted to go for a walk with them in the cool of the evening, but they went and hid themselves. He also came to Abraham, and to Moses, and to many others in other nations. Job for example was an Arab, and after the disasters in his life the Lord Messiah came to him.
After the Ascension the Messiah came to Paul on the Damascus Road. And throughout the past two thousand years He has come to many Christians in many countries. Some of you have had the experience of Him coming to stand by your bedside. And eventually when our time comes to move on from this world He will come personally to each of us to raise us with the body we need for heaven.
Today is the Feast of the Messiah King, and as we look forward to Y2K,
January 1, 2000 we can say Hallelujah, the Lord God omnipotent reigns.