11 November 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 17:20-30 (Ex 32:1-20, 1 Thess 4:13-18)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
“For behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” promises our Lord Jesus. “In the midst of you.”
This is a startling pronouncement of our Lord. It undoes thousands of years of sin, and brings to an end millennia of warfare between God and man. For when our first ancestors Adam and Eve were created and placed in the Garden of Eden, they were given dominion over all that the Lord had created. And in the midst of that lush paradise was a single and solitary tree that they were instructed to avoid.
For all the trees were given to them to enjoy for food, but in the midst stood the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – a knowledge that was best left alone, a knowledge that brought with it the consequence of sin, of death, and of a broken and fallen universe.
And from that time, man has lived in the midst of sin and corruption, in the midst of decay and degradation, or as we sing in the ancient funeral hymn: “Media vita in morte sumus,” – “In the midst of life we are in death.”
We are in death, dear brothers and sisters, for that cursed tree stands symbolically in our midst, mocking us with our great “knowledge” which is really our desire to “be like God,” our rebellion, our rejection of the eternal life given to us by our all-loving and almighty Father.
And it is in the midst of this stark reality that our Lord Jesus pronounces: “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
The reason He can say this is because He has come into our midst. He, the eternal Word, “Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and merciful Savior,” God the Son, eternally begotten of the Father, took flesh. He dwelt among us, in our midst. He walked among us, in our midst. He preached to us, suffered with us, and died for us – in our midst and on our behalf!
And even in the midst of death, He came once more to life, dear friends. That is the “kingdom of God in the midst of you.”
Our Lord tells us that we are not to be fooled by false claims, by false teachers, by false Christs. “And when they say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them.”
For the Kingdom is in our midst, dear friends. The kingdom is among us, in our hearts that have been converted by the Gospel, in our lives adorned by the forgiving grace of the Lord whose promises never fail, at our baptismal fonts wherein we receive new life, in our pulpits through the Word proclaimed, and at our altars where the Lord is in our midst in His very flesh and blood!
“For behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
But what do we see with our corrupted and fallen eyes? What do we perceive with our corrupted and fallen reason? Anything but the kingdom of God, anything but the real presence of Christ, anything but the transforming power of the Lamb and His blood that makes all things new. While in this fallen existence we see the golden calves that we install on flimsy pedestals and abominable altars. We see the “stiff-necked people” that we truly are. We see broken commandments and the bitter waters corrupted with the powder of the curse of our own making.
For “the kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed.”
And thanks be to God, dear brothers and sisters, for God is too clever to be held at bay by our fallen nature. It is precisely to sinners that He comes, beckoning us to repent, exhorting us to turn away from the gilded idols of our own making, encouraging us to place our faith not in what is seen: in the brokenness of this world and the corruptness of our hearts, but rather to place our trust in the unseen: in His Word and promise that even as He is in our midst, the kingdom is “in the midst of you.”
For when the time comes for the “Son of Man” to be “revealed,” when the veil is removed and the truth is made known in a way that “can be observed,” there will be no secret about it. “As the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in His day.”
And when the day of the Lord comes, it will happen suddenly, with a shocking rapidity, and there will be nothing anyone can do to stop it – and again, thanks be to God! For we live for that day, dear friends, holding on to this hope, this promise, this actuality that the kingdom in our midst that is now unseen will, on that day, become seen by all, in all its glory, and in all of His love.
And although this will be a day of judgment for the fallen world, let us remember the Lord’s promise and declaration: “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” For “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.”
“The kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
That, dear brothers and sisters, is the true power of this kingdom: “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”
“We will always be with the Lord.” “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
We have traded a cursed tree in our midst for the single and solitary blessed cross in our midst. We have exchanged knowledge of good and evil in our midst for the knowledge of the forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, and the kingdom of God in our midst. We have made the happy exchange of life over death, of righteousness over sin, and of our blessed Lord over the cursed devil.
“Therefore, encourage one another with these words.”
“For behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” now and forever.
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In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.