“Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble.” These words from the holy prophet Job are about himself. But they are also about us: “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble.” Our days are numbered, yet in our folly we do not count them correctly. Your days are determined; the number of your months is with God; He has appointed limits for you that you cannot pass. And so the fear of death that every man experiences is not a fear of pain in dying, but pain in life escaping, slipping away. Like a flower, man blooms, then withers and decays. Like the leaves of an autumn tree, so beautiful in vibrant color, only to fall to the earth, destined to be carried away, burned or buried.
So our lives are slipping away, and we do not experience life as we would like; and the advertisements we see, and the representations others give us of their lives, fill us with envy, covetousness, regret. No one has the home, spouse, children, and job he would exactly like, and so our experience of life is marred by regret, anxiety, a sense that time is running out. Our days are full of trouble because of the sins we commit, and the sins committed against us. And sometimes we suffer for reasons unknown, unexplained: Job lost his children and property; Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth were childless for many years, shedding tears and suffering ridicule on account of their barrenness; and all experience the creeping of mortality, gradually robbing the body of sight, sound, memory, and mobility, until breath is choked out and warmth gives way to death’s icy chill. “[Man] comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.”
But there is something greater to be feared than the death of the body. The Son of Man is coming, and He comes to judge. Which means your sins, the secret sins that you have kept hidden from others will come to light. You imagined, with the passing of time and the lack of immediate retribution, that God Himself had forgotten. But your words and deeds have been recorded, and as the lightening comes from the east and flashes in the west, so will it be, when suddenly you are set before the Lord of heaven and earth to be judged. Who can withstand the severity of that judgment?
“Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” Job asks. He’s talking about birth. All children are born sinful, because no one can bring a clean thing out of an unclean. This is why Henry is baptized today; this is why we hurry to bring our children to Baptism, which is to say, to Jesus. For no mother can bring a clean child from her unclean body; no mother can bring a sinless child from her sinful self. No mother, that is, except the one mother who conceived without knowing a man, the one mother whose Son was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Of the entire race of man, of everyone born of woman, there is only One who was not tainted with the guilt of original sin, and who Himself committed no sins.
And so in that day of judgment, the day that is surely coming for you, you cannot hope to stand on your own goodness. Put no trust in your own merits; the Psalms teach us how to pray, and today they put on our lips these words: “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame…. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.”
That is how you go to sleep each night; that is how you go to your death; that is how you go to the judgment: putting no trust in your own merits, you place all your trust in Christ the Lord. All your trust is in His merits, His righteousness, His resurrection, His pardon, His blood, His life.
So St. Paul told you this morning not to be ignorant, uninformed, about those who have gone before you to the judgment. They died in Christ, he said, meaning they died members of the one, holy, Christian and apostolic church, they died believing that in Jesus they had received the one Baptism for the remission of sins, they trusted in Christ's merits and not their own, and so they died looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. All that is what St. Paul summarizes by saying they are dead “in Christ.” Which means, they are not really dead. He calls them “asleep,” for that is what they are. Their souls are with the LORD, and their bodies sleep in the earth. They will awaken again on the last day.
Do you want to know what Christ will say to you on the last day? His verdict has been given to you in advance; when you confess your sins, the pastor replies with the word of Jesus: “I forgive you.” That is the verdict that we cling to, that is the judgment we trust, so we may die unfearing. “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.... and the dead in Christ will rise first.”
Have you ever noticed the language that people use when someone has died? They speak about the person going to “a better place,” the body as a “shell,” and generally using language alien to the Word of God. But we have this pattern from the Holy Scriptures: “Encourage one another [comfort one another] with these words.” What words? Words about the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the return of Jesus, when the dead in Christ will rise in their bodies, and those who are still alive will join Him in His kingdom. “Encourage one another [comfort one another] with these words…. And so we will always be with the Lord.”
We have one Sunday left in the church year; these last weeks bid us think about our death, our judgment, and the end of all things. The degradation of the world suggests the end of all things is very close.
But the end of all things is for the Christian a thing of joy, for the redemption of the world will soon be brought to completion. And in these last days, as sin abounds and love grows cold, there is but one thing for us to do, as Jesus spells out in the Gospel: “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” The word vultures is the same word as the ancients used for eagles. The eagle was the emblem of the Roman Empire; the Roman soldiers, eagles, gathered around the corpse of Jesus, whom they crucified. His crucifixion is the great sign of the judgment; in Jesus, sin is judged; in Jesus, death is defeated. Where His body is, there the Church still gathers. That is the one thing for us to keep on doing, we sinners who come to hear the verdic
Regardless of what sorrow comes upon you in this life, you have a hope that soars above the grief. This simple statement, “Jesus died and rose again,” is your hope. It will not fail. +INJ+