27th Sunday of Pentecost - End Times November 13, 2016
1 Chronicles 29:10-15
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
1, 37, 370, 472
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, so govern our hearts and minds by Your Holy Spirit that, ever mindful of Your glorious return, we may persevere in both faith and holiness of living; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
Dear Fellow Redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son,
Would you agree that there is very little that brings comfort and a sense of well-being to the Christian in the world we see? From the increase of crime and the political and social upheaval in our own nation, to the elevation of godless rulers and the persecution of Christians throughout the world, we surely recognize that the “end times” of the “Last Days” are upon us! Where is the hope that we or our children and grandchildren will live out our days in the comfortable America we cherish?
But let’s get real! Let’s not seek comfort in an empty hope of a regenerated America that shall become “great” and glorious again. The whole world is dying, not from “climate change,” but by the hand of our God, who is winding down the time of mankind! When people bring up the depressing condition of a sinking “ship of state,” a Christian friend of mine expresses a better hope: “I am getting off this ship!” What does he mean?
Many years ago I traveled from St. Louis to Bald Knob, Arkansas to serve a little group of Christians five or six times a year. One of these believers we called, “Uncle Harold,” A humble and happy fellow, who became very ill and bedridden. After my last visit and not long before Jesus took him, I sent Uncle Harold a postcard. On the card was a little boy flying a kite. The caption read: “Keep your faith in God and your hopes high.” I wanted Uncle Harold to keep in mind the reason Christ died to save him—for THE HOPE that one day his wretched weakened body would be raised to glory and eternal life!
You and I, and all Christians have this same hope. The older we get, or the more we suffer in this life, the more difficult it becomes to wait for the hope we have been promised—the hope we cannot see! How far away, even unreal THE HOPE seems to be at times! It is then that the words of our text have special meaning to us, for they speak to us of
Our first comfort is knowing that the Spirit of God intercedes for us. You fathers and mothers will, no doubt, remember those times when your children were hurting inside. They had a pained look or were shedding tears. But when you asked them what the problem was or where it hurt, the smallest ones were often unable to tell you where the hurt was or why he or she was crying. In that frustrating moment you may have said to your little one, “If you can’t tell me what is wrong or what you need, how can I help you?”
We Christians do the same thing to our heavenly Father. As we struggle here with our earthly trials, we hurt, we are troubled and confused. Sometimes we cry. We know we need our heavenly Father’s help; but what to pray for as being necessary for us—that we often don’t know for sure. We are so weak in many ways, how can we know what kind of help we need first or most? Sometimes we even worry that we have asked the wrong thing, or prayed the wrong way. What happens then?
All this time, something wonderful has been going on without our knowledge! Our Christian hearts have been “groaning.” We have not been able to express or hear these inner “groanings,” but the Holy Spirit knows and interprets them, and then prays for us with these very groanings! And God “who searches the hearts,” (v. 27) also “knows the thoughts of the Spirit.” The Spirit makes no mistakes in His prayers for us. God knows that every time the Spirit prays for His believing saints, He prays “according to God”— He prays for exactly what God wants for His children!
What a comfort this ought to be for us. The Spirit Himself comes to our assistance as we pray, so even our groanings, which cannot be spoken, are interpreted and brought to the heavenly Father on our behalf! This fact ought to encourage and strengthen us as we wait in great weakness for THE HOPE.
The second source of comfort as we wait for THE HOPE is that all things work together for our good. Read v. 28: “For we know that for those loving God, all things work together for good—for those who are called according to purpose.”
Love for God is the first fruit of our Spirit-worked faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian loves God because of what He has done for us in Christ. “We love Him because He first loved us,” John writes in his first epistle (1 Jn. 4:19). Now, if God has loved us in Christ so that we love Him back, will He not care for our needs at all times? Oh, how we would like to really believe what Paul says, that “ALL things work out together for our good!”
But Paul says we may believe this because we “know” it is true. How do we know it? We know from God’s Word. How did it turn out for Joseph when his jealous brothers threw him into a pit and left him for the slave traders? (Read Genesis 37!) Later, when Joseph had risen to a position of power second only to the Pharaoh in Egypt, he was able to save his family from the famine in Canaan. What did he say to his brothers? “You thought evil against me, but God meant it for good…”
Remember how a terrible storm and three days in a fish’s belly brought the prophet Jonah to his senses so that he repented of his rebellious ways? The great persecution which broke out in Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen did not seem good to the Christians who had to flee for their lives. But these lovers of God were able to bring His Good News to the whole Roman world, because “they went everywhere preaching the word.” (Acts. 8:4)
Hebrews 12:11 says, “No chastening seems to be joyful at the time, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields a peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” We know that every kind of suffering in our bodies or in our spirits, even every seemingly “bad” circumstance in our lives—all those things which press groans from our hearts and lips—all things are working together for our good and for the good of all God’s believing children. What comfort this brings us as we wait for THE HOPE of our final redemption from the earth! But there is still one final comfort in our text:
God has chosen us for eternity!—We are “the called according to purpose.” Read verses 29-30: For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brethren; moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also declared righteous; and whom He declared righteous, these He also glorified.”
Every true Christian knows that he has been called by God into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:9). For “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1Cor. 12:3). Our faith in Christ and our fellowship with God is NOT at all our doing. If it were our work, then all sorts of doubts would arise in our hearts. Our faith is a gift of God’s grace alone. This is our comfort at all times!
Now Paul wants us to know that the strongest pillar that supports salvation by grace alone is the foreknowledge of God which predestined us to be saved from eternity. Even before “the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1) God foreknew us for the purpose of saving us, and He predestined us to believe in His Son as our Savior and to finally obtain THE HOPE of heavenly glory.
Please notice that this passage only teaches the doctrine of predestination unto salvation for the comfort of the Christian. There is no predestination unto damnation here, nor anywhere else in the Bible. What is clearly taught in the Bible from passages like 1 Tim. 2:3-4 is that “God our Savior would have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” We know that Stephen did not blame God when the Jews refused to believe in Jesus. Instead, Stephen charged the Jews saying, “You always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do you.” (Acts 7:51) We know that when Jerusalem refused to believe in Jesus, our Lord responded by saying, “You would not!” (Mt. 23:37)
God has stooped down from heaven to reveal in His word that which is to be comforting to His believing people. He gives us a peek into eternity, so that we may see clearly that we believe because we have been chosen by grace alone before the world’s existence, before we could even think of doing good or bad! God has not said that we are to understand all that He is revealing about our election in eternity, but we are to be comforted by it. This is another place where we must bow in humility before our Lord and say with Paul in Romans 11:33: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”
So, let us be comforted! For what God purposed in eternity when He “foreknew” us and predestined us to be “conformed” to Christ and to follow Him to heaven, He has already accomplished in us! Think about it! Have you been called by the Gospel with the result that you believe in Christ as your only Savior from your sins? As long as you hear the voice of Your “Good Shepherd” in His Word speaking to your heart, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28), you must be one of the sheep He has chosen and called by the Gospel. For only chosen sheep hear the shepherd’s voice! (see John 10:27-28) If this is so with you, then you are entitled and encouraged to know that God called you to believe already from eternity!
But those whom He called, these same ones He also “declared righteous” because of Christ! But those whom God declared righteous, these He also “glorified.” How can it be otherwise? For in eternity before the mind of God Almighty, all time and all that takes place in time were entirely finished!
Dear Christian, if you have been called by the Gospel and declared righteous by the Spirit’s working faith in your heart, then you may wait with patience for THE HOPE of final glory in the coming of our great conquering King, the Lord Jesus Christ! Your God already regards you as “glorified!” Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.