Sermon – Pentecost 24 November 24th, 2019
Text: Malachi 3:13-18 – “The End”
Timelines. Timelines are a curious thing. When you read a novel or watch some movies or TV shows you’ll find some writers doing a curious thing with timelines. You’ll be reading the book or watching a movie about a character doing something, like getting in a bar fight when he’s forty years old, and after the fight he slowly gets up and then BAM! the timeline totally changes. He is now thirty years younger as a kid being beaten by his father and being told he deserves this beating. Then BAM! We switch to another timeline when he is forty, a few days before the barfight. We see him realizing his big gamble with his family’s life savings did not pay off and he finally has to come to grips with the fact he did something wrong and deserves to be punished – but no one is punishing him! Everybody around him keeps on being so supportive and forgiving until finally BAM! After a few too many drinks at the bar he picks a fight with some big tough biker so that somebody will finally physically punish him like his dad did when he was a kid so he gets what he deserves.
All these timelines working together switching back and forth help us to get a better sense of the character. These timelines help us to sympathize and help explain to us why the character is the way they are. Maybe we even get a flash forward to the man’s son who also beats his own son and tells him he deserves it. This clearly communicates to us that this is a deeply ingrained character flaw that gives us a deep sense of who these people are. We can often see a pattern right from the beginning of the person’s story to the end which helps define who that person is.
Origin-movies are popular now which tell us the history of a seemingly well-know character like Maleficent (the bad sorcerer from Sleeping Beauty), Wolverine or X-Men Origins which all take us back to help flesh us the complexity of characters and show how they have changed and grown, but also how they have stayed exactly the same. Movies that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Iron-Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, etc.) all weave various timelines together and all connect on multiple levels.
The story of the Bible is the greatest work ever composed which weaves together characters, histories and timelines from across thousands of years in a way only God Himself could write. The whole thing points to God as its greatest character and, lucky for us, gives us a glimpse into the character of God Himself. In the Bible, it is often when a character forgets to look at all the timelines that they get mad at God for something.
Layers of God’s Justice
For example, our Malachi text tells about people who were ripping into God for claiming to be a just God but letting all this evil happen and not really being just! It leaves us with the question, was God ever just? Is God just? Will God be just? Looking at the timeline and going back in time BAM! We see God justly banning Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden for their sin, God promising to bring the Israelites into the promised land and then fulfilling that promise, God destroying people for their sins against Him like the Kohathites who were swallowed up by the earth which God opened up in order to devour them for stealing and lying to God, God punishing the Assyrians by destroying them using the Babylonians for hurting the Israelites. Then we see ALL of God’s promises to destroy all evil on the earth through His messiah who will rescue His people which come constantly throughout all the Old Testament.
When we, as readers, stop and look backward to God’s justice, and then forward to His promises of justice, we see that Yes, God is Just. There are many layers that show us this core characteristic of God.
True on All Timelines?
The Bible will do something else that is really cool. It will tell us about God’s promise and the same promise will be fulfilled on multiple timelines. For example, the prophesy from Isaiah “the virgin shall conceive and give birth” was a prophesy given back in 700BC to King Ahaz that a young woman will conceive and give birth and before that child, named Immanuel, is old enough to know good from evil God will deliver Judah from the two big enemy nations which were threatening them. That prophecy was fulfilled back in the 700’s BC when a maiden (Hbr ‘almah’) conceived, gave birth to a son, and before that son was too old God rescued His people from those enemy nations.
BUT! We also know this prophecy from God was fulfilled when a real, true virgin, Mary conceived and gave birth to a son who is called Immanuel. Immanuel in Hebrew means “God with us” and this child’s name best describes who He was as literally, God made man who lived with us. The book of Matthew picks up on this double fulfillment of this prophecy when it quotes this verse showing how Jesus is the true fulfillment.
Not only do we have multiple timelines to go back and forth on in the Bible, but we also have multiple prophecies and multiple fulfillments of those prophecies! Still with me so far?
Centrality of Christ
The point of showing you all of this is that it helps us see God’s Word on multiple levels. In the Gospel lesson, we hear a criminal shout to Jesus “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” We can look at this and see the irony in the man’s “railing” on Jesus. Yes, Jesus is the Christ. And Yes, right at that moment He was saving the whole world; and becoming the “firstborn of the dead” as Colossians puts it. Jesus, the Christ, was saving sinners and Himself by defeating death.
Jesus was saving humanity by His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, but it also points us to the fulfillment of this salvation at the end of time. People still die (what gives!) I thought Jesus saved us from death! People still are in slave to sin (I thought Jesus defeated evil!). So far, the only person to have defeated death and become the firstborn of the dead is Jesus. Why bother specifying if Jesus is “firstborn” if we are not expecting a second, and third, and fourth-born, and so on and so forth from the dead? We specify Jesus as firstborn because our salvation from the dead is yet to be fully realized and fulfilled at the last day! We are still victims of sin because the last day has not yet come when Jesus will come back and fully remove all evil and the hold the devil has on us. We have not enjoyed the fulfillment of Jesus defeating death because we have not yet all risen from the dead at the Resurrection.
Yet, our sins are forgiven right now and we are freed from the power of the Devil in the Lord’s Supper God has given to us which forgives us our sin. We live our new life knowing that in our baptisms we have died to sin and have been raised to eternal life that will never end even when we depart this earth we will keep on living.
Despite all these things not yet being fulfilled, God has promised them to us and makes them somehow fulfilled right now.
When we look at the timelines of the past to see who God has been, we see God is someone who always fulfills His promises. We see in Jesus the evidence that God can overcome sin and evil in the world and that He can raise humanity from the dead.
We come to the end of another church year. We have loved God and our neighbour and lived another year in His constant undeserved forgiveness – waiting. We wait for the fullness of God’s promises in His return on the last day.
Yet Jesus spoke to the criminal who hung by His side “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” What is Jesus talking about? That day the forgiven criminal will be with Him in paradise? What about at the end of time at the resurrection when we’ll all be raised and be together in paradise?
Which is it? Perhaps the answer is simply “both.”
At the beginning of time when God first created us, what happened? We were with God in paradise.
For us, at our death, we cannot truly die because we have eternal life. We go to be with God in paradise.
At the resurrection, what happens? We go to be with God in paradise.
Those of us who are still on the earth when Christ comes again, what happens? We go to be with God in paradise.
There are so many layers to Scripture. There are so many timelines we are thinking about. Prophecies and fulfillment of them that have been fulfilled and are still yet to be fulfilled on the last day. As we look to the past in Scripture, may we see God’s promises being fulfilled for us right now. As we see our lives now through Scripture may we look forward to the promises He will fulfill at The End. As this Church Year comes to a close, may we, with hearts forgiven by God, pray in eager anticipation of this end, “Come, Lord Jesus.”