Dear “church of God..., sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2-3).
We have come to the Last Sunday of the Church Year and so today we contemplate the last things, dealing with the culmination of all that God has been working and doing since mankind first fell into sin. It has all pointed to what is revealed today and it will not all be accomplished until these last things come to pass, then it will be complete.
“For He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death... when all things are subjected to him, then the Son Himself will also be subjected to Him who put all things in subjection under Him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26, 28).
We are living in this time when the King, Jesus, has accomplished everything necessary for our salvation through His death and resurrection but not everyone has gotten the message. He has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. The victory is won, the work is done, but there is more to come. He is to come and to subject all whom He has conquered beneath His feet.
It is reminiscent of the tribunal at Nuremberg following the Second World War. Even though the war was over, the Axis powers defeated, the cruel Nazi regime destroyed, things were not yet complete until there was a public trial and justice was carried out. In the meantime there were still those who believed the Nazi ideology was correct, that their actions were justified, and that they would rise again and eventually triumph. It had to be publicly and definitively declared that their ideology was evil, their actions inexcusable, and the proper punishment imposed upon the condemned perpetrators. Until then, the victimized would not be avenged, the victory would mean little, the conquest over evil would not be complete.
That is a little like where we find ourselves. Jesus’ death and resurrection has secured the victory. The devil is defeated. We have been liberated from our sins. As He declared from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of majesty and power. We have been set free. And yet we await something more. And there is more to come.
Jesus will reign at the right hand of God the Father Almighty until all enemies are placed under His feet. And we still have this enemy of death squealing and screaming and kicking up a fuss, upsetting us and causing us pain and heartache, along with the devil and the wicked in the world who still seek to do us harm, who are not able to concede defeat, and who still brazenly strut about spewing their poisonous, cocky, pretentious darts at us, giving us no inner peace.
You see, the wicked just don’t want to let go. The oppressors don’t want to give up pushing people around and trampling them underfoot. Death does not want to give up its hold on your loved ones. And you don’t want to give up your sins either, do you?
You want to keep the power grab in your grubby little fist. You want to keep others beneath your feet. You want to maintain your hold on them, your advantage over them. You want to continue to call the shots. That is why you need this conqueror to come. You need Him to come and put a complete end to your sins, your wickedness, your evil fallen nature. And because the wages of sin is death, you need Him to come and conquer death for you.
The good and glad and welcome news is that He has come for you and conquered through His death and resurrection for you. He comes now for you with forgiveness, grace, and mercy to conquer your sins as you receive Him by faith in His gifts of life and salvation. And He is coming again to put a complete end to all wickedness and all of its effect, even in you.
Just give it time. The final judgment and declaration is coming. A tribunal has been called. The judge is on His way. “When the Son of Man comes in glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...’ Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels...’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-34, 41, 46).
Not only will the devil and his angels receive the punishment prepared for them, but they will be joined by the wicked who would not receive the blessing of the Father in the forgiveness of sins secured through the death and resurrection of His own Son. All enemies of the King, who have harassed and oppressed His people, “those who push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with [their] horns, till [they] have scattered them abroad” (Ezekiel 34:21), will receive their condemnation and just punishment. We will be rescued from the wicked, gathered by our Good Shepherd, and brought to safety, serenity, and peace.
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26), that foe that has taken so much from us and still holds us in fear by its threats and sneak attacks and long drawn out tortures. But it will be completely, utterly, and publicly destroyed by the One whom it could not keep down. Death attacked when Adam sinned. Through the disobedience of Adam (one man) death entered the world as the punishment for sin, and spread to all mankind because all sinned, all save one.
Jesus Christ, the holy Son of God and Son of Mary, broke death’s hold. He died only because He took our sins upon Himself, and He broke death’s hold over all of mankind when He rose from the dead. All who are connected to Adam have been subject to this last enemy, but all who are connected to Christ have been vanquished from this enemy.
Through the obedience of one man (Jesus Christ) death has been defeated and the victory belongs to all who are one with Christ Jesus through faith in His death and resurrection for sinners. In Holy Baptism you have been united to the Victor so that you were crucified with Him and you have been raised with Him (Romans 6).
Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection, guaranteeing that the rest of the harvest is coming. He has been raised from death and at His coming those who are His will rise also, then the kingdom will be completely consummated, the conqueror acknowledged by all, His gracious rule unopposed to bring complete peace of body and soul to all who trust in Him for their salvation. God will dwell with man in the new creation and He will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
From the beginning of His ministry Jesus had proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matthew 4:17). It is in His hand and He was right here with His people. It is secure in His hand. It is coming with Him in His hand. The kingdom is yours in Him. It is at hand, in your hand in the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation that He has given to you in His holy Word and Sacraments. In Holy Baptism you have the kingdom of heaven at hand. In the body of Christ placed in your palm you have the kingdom of heaven at hand.
This mighty, victorious conqueror subjected Himself to the Father’s will in order to die for your sins and was raised to life again. He continues to rule in subjection to the Father’s will that “all people be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), that sinners be called (Matthew 9:13) to repentance and faith so that they might enter into the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world. The mighty King Jesus is a subject before His Almighty Father, trusting in His love and mercy and grace for mankind.
So we, as loyal subjects of Jesus, submit to His reign and rule, waiting for the day when He comes again, remaining faithful to Him and merciful to our fellow man, bearing the oppression and attack of the wicked, while we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, welcome the strangers and clothe the naked, visit the sick and go to those in prison (Matthew 25:36). In subjection to a King who gave His all to save us from our sins of oppression, hatred, violence, and wickedness, we give ourselves to care for the oppressed, for those we have oppressed, and even for those who continue to oppress us. For in subjection to this, our King, we see that He desires all people to be saved, even as He has desired us to be His own.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” (1 Corinthians 16:23).