PENTECOST 23, A – November 12, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Psalm 116; Deut. 33:1-3; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Matt. 25:1-13

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Psalm 116:15

 

You know, we can see so much today, so much more than those who lived before us. With telescopes we see, and look into, stars and galaxies and planets. Technology enables us to explore and look into the depths of the earth and of the seas. We use x-rays and microscopes to look into the human body and even see the intricacies of individual cells. But, with all our wisdom and all our technology we cannot look beyond this life and see what lies beyond the death that ends our lives.

 Only God, the Lord and giver of life, can do so. He gives us a glimpse of it in today’s readings. Psalm 116 sums up what He shows us: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” When you look at the death of God’s people as He looks at it – and only as He looks at it – you will you see its preciousness, its true value.

 God uses a very familiar word to refer to the death of His people. He calls it a sleep. Three times in 1 Thess. 4 the dead in Christ are referred to as “those who have fallen asleep.” Now, many questions can arise as we think of them sleeping, questions which God does not answer in His Word. What we can be sure of is that those who die in Christ sleep with Him, safe and secure, untroubled by anything of this life.

 There is even a sense in which we who are alive share in their sleep. Notice in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25 that He speaks of the virgins falling asleep as they await the bridegroom. Now, this doesn’t mean the sleep of death, of course; but we all know that even in this life the sleep of death is within us and is doing its destructive work. Aches and pains, wrinkles, and age spots are but a few of the many things that tell us this. Tragedies and disasters and evil people committing atrocities speak even louder, saying that the sleep of death can come at any time, even to the young and healthy.

 And we fear because of this, don’t we? We should. Will you be ready? Jesus spoke in His parable of ten virgins who were all waiting for a bridegroom. They had all been invited by him to carry torches in the procession to his wedding feast, and so they all must have been close to him. And yet, five were fools who brought no extra oil, in case they had to wait a while. They ended up being shut out of the wedding feast and hearing him say, “I don’t know you.” Jesus was talking about people who are part of His Church in this life, who go to church and listen to His invitation and consider themselves His friends. This is no guarantee of ending up in heaven with God. You must be ready!

 This is a scary thought; and it should be! For, we all know our sins and the weakness of our faith. How many times do we sleepwalk through worship and our Bible readings, hardly paying any attention? How many times do other things interest us more than God’s Word and worship, or tempt us away from following Him? We are weak and sinful!

 If you are worried about being ready for your death, or for Jesus’ return: good! Being troubled by your sins and uncertain of your own readiness and worthiness is the mark of a true Christian. Those wise virgins knew what they did not know and could not control: the time of the bridegroom’s arrival. But, they believed He would come, and that he wanted them in His wedding procession. So, they did not trust in their own ability to stay awake and alert. They brought extra oil, and so could fall asleep and not worry.

 Does Jesus want you at His eternal wedding feast in heaven? Your Baptism assures you that He does, for in it He put His name on you and took you to Himself, even as His very bride. He constantly speaks His love to you in His Word, and even feeds you with the blessed food of eternal life, His very body and blood which bore your sins and death and rose triumphant over them. Don’t trust in your own strength of faith and your own readiness, but fill your life with them, and He will keep you ready! You can then be at peace in this life, even though sins plague you and death sleeps within you, and not be afraid. Jesus will hold you, His holy one, in His hand. (Deut. 33:3) And when He returns, you will see what death is for God’s people, His saints. It is precious, like a valuable jewel that shines with beauty.

 How we must listen to our God! For, death certainly does not look like a precious jewel to us. It can be very ugly. It can disfigure the body with disease or injury. When it comes violently it harms the thoughts and memories of those who remain. It can bring great grief, sadness, fear, outrage, and division. It can burden with debt and suffering because of the loss of a provider and protector. How fearful and ugly is death!

 Your God not only knows this; He is your Bridegroom who long ago came and took these burdens, and every burden of your sins, on Himself. Jesus gave Himself into death for you, a death as a sinner that was all of the terrible things that we sinners experience… and more. On the cross He endured God’s righteous hatred of your sins! And when He died He put to death all of the terrible things sin and death bring. He left them buried forever in the grave when He burst forth from death and bodily rose to life again. As your heavenly Bridegroom, He shares this victory with you in your Baptism, and as you gather to hear His Word and receive His resurrected body and blood. He gives you His eternal life, guaranteeing that one day He will transform even your physical death into a precious thing, a great blessing.

 How? Death will deliver you out of the ugliness and trials and sorrows of this life and bring you to God. You will arrive asleep, without even a body, and so utterly helpless, without any power or ability to do anything but sleep – kind of like you are now when you are sleeping in your bed and are not aware of or doing anything. But, you will be sleeping with Him. And then, suddenly, you will hear the cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” God will wake you and clothe you “with fine linen, bright and pure—the righteous deeds of the saints.” (Rev. 19) He will first clothe you with a new body, the fine linen prepared for you by Jesus, the true Saint and Most Holy One, when He bodily rose from the dead. Your new body will be like His: bright and pure, without any weaknesses or pains and, most blessed of all, with no sin or death within. And then He will clothe you the good you did in your life, cleansed and purified by the blood He shed for you. You will be “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,” God says in Revelation, ready to go into the wedding feast, the eternal celebration of your union with and new life in Jesus, your Bridegroom. Nothing could be more beautiful, more precious! This is why Holy Scripture says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”

 Look with the eyes of faith and see this! Yearn for this, especially when you see and are overwhelmed by the evils and sorrows of this world and the fear they bring. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord!” (Rev. 14) Blessed indeed, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who died, but now lives and rules for His people forever! Amen.