The Last Sunday after Pentecost November 21, 2010
609, 660, 604, 344
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
“You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God; what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked as mourners before the Lord of hosts? So now we call the proud blessed, for those who do wickedness are raised up; they even tempt God and go free.’” Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name. “They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, on the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.
In the name of Jesus, who urges us to keep watch, dear fellow Christians:
45 minutes to an hour each day, seven hours a week, 30 hours a month…It represents a large amount of time. It is also the average amount of our lives each of us spends just waiting: waiting for a light to turn green, waiting for door-buster specials after Thanksgiving, waiting in a doctor’s office, waiting in line at the grocery store.
Is it worth it? We tend to decide that by weighing the amount of time we wait against the value of that for which we are waiting. Would you wait an hour for a haircut? Maybe not. But none of us would hesitate to wait an hour for a life-saving operation. But what if we never receive what we are waiting for? Then, no matter how short or long the wait, it would be wasted time.
That is just what many of the Jews in Israel were saying at the time of the prophet Malachi. They were complaining to God that they had been waiting and waiting and had received nothing. They had waited 70 years for the opportunity to return home from captivity. Once they were back home they rebuilt the temple and thought that now God would finally restore the glory and power to Israel which they had not seen since the days of David and Solomon. They waited, but nothing was happening. Israel was still an insignificant backwater of the Persian Empire.
Now we are the waiting ones. As children of God, we are waiting for the end of time and the final fulfillment of the Lord’s promises regarding our salvation. Have you ever wondered whether it is worth it? Has anyone ever questioned you about it?
If we judge by appearances, it could seem as though it is not at all worth the wait. Does hearing the Word in church and reading it at home guarantee a better job? Does giving generously to the Lord’s work mean more money in your bank account? Does keeping the commandments lead to an easier life? Does witnessing to others about Christ and their need for His forgiveness help to win friends and influence people? Hardly!
Meanwhile, the unbeliever goes his own way and often seems to have a much easier life. He is not concerned whether the language he uses or the movies he watches are God-pleasing. He willingly goes along with the immorality of the times, and so fits in well and is accepted by others. He may joke about God and defy His Word, and what happens? He dares God to step in and do something and nothing happens to him. He seems to thrive!
It has always been that way. God-fearing Abel is murdered and his guilty brother lives. Joseph refuses the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife and is thrown into jail. Naboth is victimized by slander and wicked King Ahab confiscates his vineyard. Elijah courageously testifies to the one true God and winds up running for his life.
Appearances can be very discouraging for believers. hen the psalmist Asaph observed his world, he wrote in Psalm 73: “I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong…They say, ‘How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?’ This is what the wicked are like—always carefree, they increase in wealth. Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure.” [Psalm 73:3-4,11-13 NIV]
Looking at appearances and making outward comparisons between the lives of believers and unbelievers has caused many Christians to give up waiting, and to forsake the Lord. Young people take note of friends and neighbors and how they seem to enjoy so much more freedom when they don’t think about God’s will for their lives. These children then can hardly wait to be on their own so they don’t have to go to church and follow the rules of Christian parents. They don’t want to be left behind while their friends go along with the world. It happens when Christians get tired of being different from coworkers and decide that they are missing out on too much. They want to fit in and enjoy what others are doing. It takes place when believers become disillusioned with fellow believers, and conclude that they are just as well off apart from the church. It happens when the wait seems hopelessly long and the Christian despairs of anything improving.
If you have ever wondered whether it is worth the wait you know what a difficult temptation it is to deal with. Look back over the past year. Do you see signs that you are beginning to waver? Have you been spending less time in prayer and in meditation on the Word? Do you feel more resentment than gratitude toward the Lord?
The waiting can be hard. Appearances tell us that it is not worth holding onto our faith. That is why the Lord takes us behind the scenes to show us that, despite appearances, waiting is well worth it. It is worth it because, first of all, we have a blessed bond with each other through it. The unbelieving world races by and is caught up in the adrenaline rush of trying to get as much excitement and pleasure out of life as possible while ignoring God. We might envy people of the world for their popularity. They never have the problem of being outsiders. We are the ones seen as odd and out-of-step.
Yet the life of the unbeliever is not really as wonderful as it is made out to be. It is a shallow, flimsy life based only on temporary earthly ties such as family or common interests. All of them will come to an end at Christ’s return just like everything else connected with this world.
We are blessed because we have a much stronger bond with one another and with God Himself. We are told, “Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them.” [v.16] When you get discouraged with the believer’s life of waiting, you have people to go to. We are joined to one another with a bond stronger than that of an earthly family—the blood of Jesus. We share a common faith in Him as our Savior from sin. We have many differences, but our lives have the same foundation, outlook, and purpose. We are anchored on God’s Word. We are waiting for Jesus and we want to live for Him while we wait. That gives us the confidence to share with one another our deepest hopes and concerns. We know that a fellow believer will understand and encourage us with God’s Word.
The world does not understand and will suggest that our gathering around the Word as a congregation is not nearly as important or attractive as meetings at work, social gatherings, or ball games. The world tries to convince us that our first priority should be self-fulfillment, not Christ-like concern for others. But then listen to what God says: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily…Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful…Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:23-25 NIV).
The Christian life is worth the wait for by faith we also have a close bond with the Lord. We are not outsiders but His own special people—His precious jewels. He is not going to forget us. Our names are recorded in His book of remembrance. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:14-15 NIV).
Is it worth the wait? It doesn’t always appear that way now, but one day it will be obvious to everyone. On that day, “I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him. Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked.” [vv.17-18] Here in this time of waiting believers and unbelievers grow together, Jesus says, like weeds and wheat in the same field. But then comes the harvest. (cf. Matthew 13:24ff). After all the waiting the day of judgment will arrive, and there will be a final accounting and separation. Those who were too busy, too impatient, too disinterested to wait for the Lord in faith will be put at His left and told, “Depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41). Those who faithfully waited, trusting in Jesus’ blood for forgiveness will be pronounced righteous. The Lord will turn to them and say, “Come, you blessed of my Father, take your inheritance” (Matthew 25:34).
In our daily lives most of us are not very good at waiting. We quickly tire of standing in line and lose interest. Sometimes when we do wait it turns out to be a waste of time. In our faith lives is it worth the wait? Is it worth the struggle, the time, the sacrifice, and the animosity of the world to wait for the Lord? Don’t rely on appearances. Heaven and earth and everything in them will pass away. Appearances are deceiving. Listen to the Lord. He loves you. He saved you. He is faithful. He says, “Wait! Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14). Whether that wait is five minutes or five thousand years, it is well worth every minute! Amen.
O Christ, who diedst and yet dost live,
To me impart Thy merit;
My pardon seal, my sins forgive,
And cleanse me by Thy Spirit.
Beneath Thy cross I view the day
When heav’n and earth shall pass away,
And thus prepare to meet Thee.
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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.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.