Last Sunday in Trinity November 23, 1997
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord; that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
In the name of Christ crucified, risen, and ascended up to heaven, who also promised to return again, dear fellow believers in Him, dear fellow redeemed.
In the last few years, you may have noticed a series of commercials for the Energizer battery. It’s the commercial where the pink bunny plays the drum and keeps “going and going and going.” It’s an effective ad because it leaves you with the impression that Energizer batteries last a very long time. But even the manufacturer would have to admit: at some point the battery runs out of juice. You have to replace it eventually. Very few things in life are permanent. People use the old cliché. “Nothing lasts forever,” they say. They’re almost right. Things produced by human factories, ideas and theories produced by human brain power—they have their day in the sun, and they all fade away. But the plans and goals of our God, the accomplishments that He achieves—those last forever.
When the accomplishments of our God apply directly to you and me, then we receive a permanent benefit. When Judgment Day comes at the end of time, your property, your Energizer batteries, your material wealth will burn up and no longer matter. But your soul will continue to live. Your body will rise from the grave. If we happen to be living at the last day, our bodies will be changed and become immortal. That’s because God has given us a great gift. God has planted faith in our hearts. And that faith is supposed to keep going and going and going. Based on the message of our text, we take comfort from a very important fact.
In particular James shows us four keys to the endurance of our faith:
In our discussion of Christian faith, we have to remember what faith is and what faith is not. It is not a good work that we do. It is not a decision that we make. Faith is simple trust. In the heart we trust what Christ has done for us. Or to put it a slightly different way, we receive and hold onto the gifts that Jesus provides for the soul. We take and possess God’s gift of forgiveness. Sounds pretty simple, right? As simple as faith might be, it is still too much for the human heart to do. The Bible plainly says that we can not make ourselves believe. We can not exercise our will power and choose to accept Christ. We can’t even lift a finger to help in the process of our conversion. God must change us from within. God must do a spiritual resurrection in the heart. God must raise us from the dead by putting the faith within us. You people have gone through the miracle of conversion, even as Paul told the Ephesians, “God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” (Eph. 2:4-5)
At one time in the past, we were totally dead in unbelief. Right now, by the power of the Spirit, we are definitely alive with faith. So what about the future? James would have us focus on the final goal. Our faith is meant to last until the very end. Specifically, we should realize this: our faith endures by hopeful expectation.
The apostle doesn’t say it in so many words, but he does imply a positive, desirable outcome. He says, “Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain.” We all know what farmers do. They plant a crop and expect a harvest at the end of the growing season. Once the crop is in, they depend on the rain—something out of their control, something sent by God. In spiritual terms, we can relate. We expect the final harvest of eternal life. We expect it to happen for us, because all the necessary steps depend on God.
I noticed in the sports page that several high school championships were decided this weekend. I wonder how many of those teams were able to guarantee victory before the game was played. How many players could say with absolute assurance that they were going to win? It’s rather uncertain before the game is contested. Of course, our faith is never a game. It’s a serious matter that requires constant care and attention. But the final outcome should never be in doubt. We can be confident of eternal life. We can be sure about going to heaven. Does that sound arrogant? It would be if we ever think that the final outcome depends on us. But if we realize that victory is in the hands of our God, then heaven becomes a sure thing.
God wants you to be sure about your final destination. It’s true because of all the action God has taken. Because of our sin, we brought the curse of hell on ourselves. We only have ourselves to blame for the possible outcome of eternal death. But God was patient with our rebellion. God had this unconditional, unbelievable love which moved Him to offer up His Son. The Son of God left His glory for a time, came down to this earth, became one of us, and lived the only perfect life there ever was. He established the righteousness that would count before God as a perfect record for each one of us.
You know how the story continues. Jesus offered up His perfect life as the supreme Sacrifice. Under God’s justice He took the full punishment of our sins and bought our release from the curse of sin, death, and hell. That story of the Gospel that we focus on every Sunday… that true, amazing story of salvation and free forgiveness… that is the reason why heaven is a sure thing. You don’t do anything to take away your sin or make yourself acceptable to God. Jesus did that for you. And His work was truly effective. Your hope of heaven is tied directly to the forgiveness of sins. And the forgiveness of sins comes to each one of us as a free gift, purchased by the Savior and delivered through the Word and through the Sacrament.
Now as far as our faith is concerned, God has decreed that His forgiveness be received by each one of you. God has laid out a plan of salvation where faith is to exist in the heart of the individual. But even so, God is the one who puts that faith within you. Every step on the road to heaven is something that God has done either for us or in us. So you can face the end of your life on earth with hopeful expectation and great confidence. You can be confident that you are not guilty of any sin in the eyes of God. You can be confident that God has accepted you because of His Son. You can be confident that you are His child through the faith that He created. You can expect to live forever because of all the work that He has done in your behalf.
This expectation of eternal life is a very hopeful thing. It’s the greatest reason to praise God, to serve our Lord with daily joy and grateful amazement. But you know from experience how the joy and the gratitude will often fade. As believers in Christ, we take our lumps. We go through the school of hard knocks. Our faith is meant to last—it’s true—not only by hopeful expectation but also through patient waiting.
James uses the word “patient” or “patience” several few times. “Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.” (v. 7) “You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (v. 8) Patience is necessary because we have to wait. The Lord will come back to judge this world and take us into heaven, but we don’t know when. So far, the Lord has delayed His coming. That delay should never lull us into sleep. It should make us all the more watchful and ready for His return. He has promised that it will happen. Remember what Jesus said to His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2-3)
So the last day is coming. We can be sure of that. Meanwhile, our Christian faith is put to the test. Satan takes his shot at stealing us away from God. Because we live in a sinful world, we face many troubles and afflictions. When James wrote this letter to the Jewish believers of his day, he was talking to people who had to endure persecution and oppression. We should expect a similar thing in our life too. God permits all of His believers to go through sickness, conflict, the loss of a loved one, and other forms of trouble. In virtually every case Satan is hoping that we stumble and forsake God. The devil tempts us to think that God has left us to suffer the problem by ourselves. That’s why you need special encouragement. We need to be told: God doesn’t abandon His people. Yes, He permits the trouble to happen. But He’s going to use it for a greater good. He’s going to use this trial as a way to strengthen our faith.
When trouble sets into our life, we need the patience that James brings up in our text. Waiting for the Lord is never easy. We’re tempted to give up. We’re tempted to despair. We need strength on the inside. We need God to help us endure. Our faith can endure and will endure only by the strength that He provides.
Just a few minutes ago, we pointed out the confident hope that we are going to heaven. But let’s realize something. Confident, yes. Careless? No! Our faith has to survive a very hostile environment. There are many potential faith-killers out there in the world and even within ourselves. For example, if we stop hearing the Word for whatever reason, that could starve our faith. If we did not repent of a certain sin, that could strangle our faith. If we refused to forgive our brother, that could damage our faith too. James says in v. 9: “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” In a previous sermon we talked about the real danger of not forgiving other people. The Bible brings these matters up to show us the need to repent, as well as the need to seek spiritual care and spiritual life support. Our faith is present in the heart, but that faith is often weak. We need strength if we’re going to survive.
The apostle tells us to “establish”, or strengthen the heart. Can you do it? Can you strengthen your trust in Christ? Can you pump up your own faith? Not by your own efforts, you can’t. The strength that we need is a power that we do not have in ourselves. The strengthening of our faith is an act that God must accomplish.
Think of it this way. Let’s say we go outside and find a small twig. You snap the twig in half with little or no effort. Then you pick up a very thick branch that you can’t break. You find another twig and put the twig right next to the thick branch in your hand. You try to break both branches lined up together. You can’t even break the smaller twig, because the bigger branch supports it. You understand the symbolism, right? You and I are like the twig. We break very easily. We break under pressure. But if we’re lined up next to Christ, if we stand continually under His cross and rely on His blood to wash us clean of our sin, if we use Jesus as our Anchor, Refuge and Strength, we will gain the support that we need. The pressure will still come. But He will keep us from breaking.
That makes the final outcome very promising. Our faith is meant to last until the very end. The spiritual strength that we need will come to us through Christ. And so our faith will also endure by the mercy of our God.
Here’s the key to survival. We know what we’re up against. We recognize Satan out there railing against us. We have our own sinful nature pulling us down. We understand our many weaknesses and our great potential to fall. But we also know from God’s Word that the Lord has tremendous power to overcome the adversity. He can make your faith last, even as Peter says, “You are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Pet. 1:5) God not only has the power to do it; He has the will. His grace is committed to the task of picking us up when we stumble. His mercy is committed to giving us strength when we weaken. His grace will preserve our faith, because God practices the fine art of “follow-through.” When God created our faith, He made it to last. He will follow through on His creation and preserve it until the very end.
Let’s imagine a future scene that is truly going to happen. We stand before Christ on Judgment Day. We hear His gracious invitation to join Him in the glories of heaven. Here’s what we’re not going to do. We’re not going to pat ourselves on the back and claim any credit. We’re not going to think that we accomplished something that others failed to accomplish. Rather we will stand in great awe and realize full well that the Savior did everything to save us. He conquers our sin and removes it once and for all. He overcomes our rebellious heart and turns us into His believers. He keeps our faith going in spite of our many weaknesses. He’s the one who makes our faith last until the very end. For that great gift, for that awesome grace we will be eternally grateful and perfectly satisfied. Amen.
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