Eve of Destruction
"You tell me over and over again you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction," so goes a 1965 song. Well on this the 2nd Last Sunday in the Church Year I'm here to tell you we are on the eve of destruction. It isn't right now but it could be tomorrow or tonight or hours from now that the Lord takes you. Then again it could be many years from now.
This is the situation the parable addresses. Jesus tells it because "the people thought the kingdom of God was going to appear at once." No, the king will go away to be crowned and later return. That's what happens in the parable, and that's what happened in Roman times. Those listening would be familiar with would-be kings going to Rome to get their crowns. They were also familiar with citizens going to Rome to protest someone being made king.
Jesus is the king in the parable. They thought He was going to Jerusalem to be crowned king in just days. In a way He was. He was crowned king of the Jews but with a crown of thorns. He was lifted high but on a cross. People did hail Him as king but received him with spit, slaps, punches, and mockery. He would go into the grave apparently conquered by sin, death, and the devil, but He would rise on Easter as the victor over these unholy three. Then He would ascend into heaven and there, as a Man, receive the kingdom of God. Later He would return to publicly claim the earth He bought and paid for with His holy life and His innocent suffering and death.
The events of Lent, Easter, Ascension, and Judgment Day are the facts behind the parable. The parable itself is a story about a king who calls His servants and leaves them all the same amount of money to put to work until He comes back. The servants are Christians. The only thing Jesus has left all Christians the exact same amount of is the means of grace. He has not left us the exact same amount of money or abilities. This is not a parable about how you use your money, talents, or time. It's a parable about how you use the Bible, Baptism, and Communion on the eve of destruction.
Do you remember the "No Fear" slogan some years back? You saw it on vehicles, t-shirts, and coffee cups. The third slave, the one that didn't study his Bible, remember his Baptism, or commune regularly, claimed just the opposite when he met his Maker. He claimed he was deathly afraid of Jesus, and that's why he didn't go to Bible class, didn't go to the font, didn't go to the altar. He thought of going to Bible class as doing something for God. He thought God got more from him in Baptism then he got from God. He thought his body and blood lost something by communing with Jesus' Body and Blood.
The man's a liar. He has no fear of God. He lives by the slogan "No Fear." True fear would have led him to do something with Bible, Baptism, and Body and Blood. True fear would've been afraid to speak so bluntly. Here's your Bible; here's your Baptism; here's you Body and Blood; I laid them away in a sweat cloth. Unlike we chanted in the Introit, he didn't believe there was forgiveness with God and so he had no fear of Him. He didn't see that God had anything to forgive him for. So what that He commanded, "Study your Bible;" "remember your Baptism," "take eat; take drink in remembrance of Me." He didn't have any fear of having to answer how he has used the Bible, Baptism, Body or Blood his king had left to him. On this eve of destruction, may you have this fear. See what happens to the servant of Christ who doesn't use Word and Sacrament. These are taken from him, and apart from them no one goes to heaven.
Bravo! is another word for this eve of destruction. It's a wrong translation of this word that skewers the interpretation of this parable and your feeling toward it. Instead of "Bravo!" the insert has "well done" as does the NASB and the ESV. Only the KJV gets it right simply having the Lord Jesus say, "Well." It is contrary to ordinary Greek usage to translate "well done." It doesn't mean to act rightly. The Greek has two other words to say that. This means to be well off, to fare well, to prosper (Thayer, eu; BAG, euge).
You hear "well done" and you think the point is that the first slave who gained 10 minas by using his one did something. And since you've been convicted of being a slave with "no fear" of not using Word and Sacrament, you think the answer to your wretched sin is to start doing. By golly, you'll make yourself study the Word; you will not fail to remember your Baptism and you will use Communion rightly. But trying to be saved by doing only serves to compound your sin and worsen your judgment.
In the parable, note the slaves who did use Word and Sacraments don't claim to have done anything. They both say, "Your mina has earned." Once when Luther was praised for what he did in the Reformation, he responded, "I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends.I did nothing; the Word did everything" (LW, 51,77). Jesus does not praise what the slave did saying, "Well done." And thanks be to God because I know when it comes to my doing, I always come short. I always pollute any good with much bad. What the Lord really says of the ones who study their Bible, remember their Baptism, and worthily commune is that they are well off; they are in a good state; they are prosperous.
And isn't that the truth? The Word of God, as the Collect says, which is actually heard, read, marked, and inwardly digested gives comfort and the blessed hope of everlasting life. Go ahead; spend hours pouring over hobby books or even the books of your earthly trade and you'll probably put out more than you'll ever get in return. That will never happen with the Book the Lord left you to use. And return to water repeatedly because you're a clean freak or a germaphobe and you'll put more into water than you'll ever get out. Not so with baptismal water: it regenerates; it rebirths; it cleans consciences. And be a foodie if you want, but you'll never get out of food as much as you put in. At the end of the day, you know where all food ends up. Not so Jesus' Body given to you for Bread and His Blood given to you for Wine. These give forgiveness, life and salvation. Bravo!
I have 2 final words for you on this the eve of your destruction: "Merciful greed." Augustine uses this concept in two different sermons related to our text. In one He says, "We are well aware of the threats made by the Lord's merciful greed. He is everywhere seeking a profitable return on His money." And have no doubts about what Augustine regards that return as; in another sermon He says, "God is greedy for our salvation." The profitable return on the Lord's Bible, Baptism, Body and Blood is your salvation. That's what He hopes to gain by leaving them for you to put to use. That's why when He returns for you and finds you have put them to use He says, "Bravo!"
As sinful people are greedy for money, things, power, so holy Lord Jesus is greedy for your salvation. You know what it means to "burn" for something. You know how every waking thought can be consumed by something you got to have. Translate that oft times unholy feeling in us to a meet, right, and salutary one in the heart of Jesus. This is how He's described in the 19th century poem "Hound of Heaven." As the hound follows relentlessly on the heels of the escaped prisoner, so the Lord Jesus bays after the sinner fleeing from His salvation.
Jesus came into this world to keep God's laws, all of them. Count them up. Think of them all. Think of all the musts, have to's, should's, and ought's that God requires. Jesus kept them all. Whether you be a father, mother, brother, sister, butcher, baker or candlestick maker, Jesus kept all the laws of God that pertain to your situation in life. And you know the rest of the story but you need to hear it again. Having kept all God's laws, all of our law breaking, all of our sinning, all of our filthiness, all of our ugliness, all of our wickedness was piled up on Jesus. And then with all the wrath and rage that is rightly due our sins and sinfulness, God the Father punished His only beloved Son.
Jesus went through hell for you. Jesus shed blood, sweat, and tears just to redeem you. Jesus gave up not only the best years of His life for you but all the years of His earthly life. He was a man of sorrows; He was acquainted with grief. All of His days and His sleepless nights were spent focused on redeeming you. Now having done that, Jesus wants all the benefits of His keeping the Law, all the blessings of His paying for sins to come rushing home to you in a flood of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
And where do the flood waters of the Gospel reach you? All that Jesus did for you, all that Jesus won for you, the certainty of your salvation; the assurance that you're going to heaven; the peace of mind that you have been saved is in the minas Jesus left to you. It's in that Bible on you bookshelf. It's in that long ago Baptism. It's in the Body and Blood of Communion every Sunday.
Jesus pursues you like a hound dog so greedy He is to have mercy on you when destruction eve gives way to destruction. The only answers when Death knocks, when destruction breaks in upon you, are the things of God. You set your excuses against Death and it will laugh. Earthly waters can't wash away the stench of Death. And Death easily devours your body and blood back to dust. Death however has no answer to Words of God, and baptismal waters do wash away not only the smell of Death but Death itself, and since Death couldn't swallow Jesus' Body and Blood but had to spit them back out, having them in you means Death can't swallow you either.
Believe me; it is the eve of destruction not as the song said because of war, hatred, or atom bombs but because once Jesus ascended to be crowned He could return any day for us all or just you. But destruction eve can last a lifetime. What are you doing with yours? Bravo! Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year (20101114); Luke 19: 11-27