Monday, May 13, 2013

Easter 7 of Series C (Revelation 22:1-6, 12-20)

“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price… He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this final Sunday of Easter, the Sunday of waiting, is from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the final chapter of the Bible, Revelation twenty-two. Dear friends in Christ, in a garden stood a tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree stood at the center of a place, paradise, where God provided for every need out of His gracious abundance. Every gift flowed from Him, the Creator, who had established all things and set them in order to bring to His creatures whatever they needed. This tree was beautiful, this tree had abundant fruit, but it was not for us. The God who had given us every good gift withheld this one tree from man. But we transgressed, our hand stretched forth to take the one thing in all creation that had not been given to us, and the garden was cursed. We were cut off from the other tree of the garden, the tree of life, by which we would’ve lived forever, and we were driven from that garden into a world of death. For our sin, for our rebellion, creation itself suffered, it was placed under a curse by the God who created it.

This is the same God who declares in our text, the last chapter of Holy Scripture: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.” His return is swift, His return is soon, His return is certain. He has kept every other promise, and He will keep this one. He is bringing His recompense, His reward, His wages with Him. He will come to repay everyone for what they have done, for the rebellion of the garden. Are you ready? Do you live as if this day is coming? The last chapter of the Bible is a warning, a warning to be prepared. The righteous are ready, they are prepared. They are attentive to the words of their Lord; they worship Him and seek His will; they constantly pray to the coming One. They live as if the Lord could return at any moment; they wait in constant expectation, but this waiting doesn’t distract them from their tasks in this world. On the contrary, they live as those who bear God’s name upon their forehead, serving their neighbor in love, seeking always to do the works of the light. Their waiting makes them even more ready and willing to serve those around them, because they know that the Lord is coming, and the old order will pass away. The righteous are prepared: do you?

Or do you live as the wicked live, as if Revelation chapter twenty-two had not been written? They live as if the Lord who created everything, who subjected this creation under the curse, was never coming back. They live as if He never existed in the first place. They do the works of darkness, they live only for themselves. “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” The Ten Commandments have no bearing on their lives, they revel in their sin, living according to their own sinful desires, living how they want to. They refuse to heed the warning given by John: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” The wicked add to and take away from the Scriptures each and every day; making their own rules and listening to the devil’s first temptation, “Did God really say?” They are unprepared, they are unready, and so they will be excluded on the Day of the Lord, they will remain under the curse of the garden, the curse of the tree.

In a garden stood a tree, but this was no ordinary garden, and no ordinary tree. The tree was dead, and the garden was called Golgotha, the place of a skull. But in that desolate garden, that garden where death dwelt, God provided life. He provided for a humanity who was woefully unprepared for the Day of Judgment, for you and me who live as if that day will never come. In that barren garden, God gave every good gift, for in that garden, upon that tree, hung His Son. The same One who declares, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end,” is pierced hand and foot. The One who was present at creation, by whom all things were made, who watched us rebel with tears, is nailed to the tree in our greatest act of rebellion. This is the promised Messiah, who says about Himself, “I am the root and the descendent of David, the bright morning star.” Jesus hangs upon that tree, the Messiah come to shine in the darkness. Jesus hangs upon that tree, the Lamb come to shed His blood.

He dies in that garden so that the curse of the garden will be reversed, done away with, destroyed. The curse of one tree is overcome by another, for as Saint Paul declares, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” Christ was cursed to abolish the curse. Satan plunged us into sin and death by enticing us to eat of the forbidden tree; Jesus dies on another tree to deliver us from Satan’s tyranny. The proper preface for Holy Week trumpets forth the victory of Christ’s tree over the curse of Adam’s tree: “[Jesus Christ] accomplished the salvation of mankind by the tree of the cross that, where death arose, there life also might rise again and that the serpent who overcame by the tree of the garden might likewise by the tree of the cross be overcome.” Satan has been toppled from His throne; this garden is His undoing.

For in that same garden also stands a tomb, an empty tomb; the tomb into which Jesus, the Messiah, the Lamb, the Alpha and the Omega, the bright morning star, was laid dead and then rose in victory. The victory in the garden of the cross and empty tomb overcomes the defeat in the garden of Eden. The same Jesus who gave His life to deliver us, who became a curse to destroy the curse is the same one who rose in victory, who ascended into heaven, and who says, “Surely I am coming soon.” His return is swift, His return is soon, His return is certain. He has kept every other promise, and He will keep this one. The night is soon ending, the time of the curse is almost finished; the suffering of this world is only temporary, the curse will end. He is coming soon: thanks be to God! When He returns, all evil will be abolished, and we will see our Savior face to face forever. “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more.” So if you are sick, if you are suffering from your sin or the sin of others, if you are afflicted by the darkness of this world, hear this promise and rejoice: “Surely I am coming soon!”

How are we prepared for His coming? Only by faith. The righteous, who rejoice at His coming, who wait for it, are those who believe, who trust in His promise. They are not those who are perfect, but those who are forgiven. They have washed their robes, but not in ordinary water; their robes have been made white in the blood of the Lamb. They have Christ’s name upon their forehead because it has been placed there in their baptism. The wicked, on the other hand, refuse the light, and so they remain in darkness. They are those who are kept outside the gates, they remain under the curse because they have rejected the cure. Christ declares that when He returns, He will “repay everyone for what He has done.” Those who reject Jesus have refused forgiveness, they are left with their sins and judgment. But for you, me, and all who belong to Christ, who bear His saving Name upon our foreheads, “Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.”

In a garden stood a tree, the tree of life. We lost the privilege of eating from that tree when we ate what was forbidden, and the Lord cast us out of the garden. But that curse, that penalty, has been overcome by Christ Himself upon the tree of the cross; now the tree of the life has been given back to us, and through faith, through our baptism, we will eat of its fruit forever. In that garden, God will once again provide for all of our needs, He will be the source of eternal blessings. “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” We will eat from the tree of life, and death will be no more; its leaves will heal us from the curse and corruption of sin. And we will drink freely from the water of life that flows from Christ Himself, yes, even from His pierced side. 

“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” We who suffer, who struggle in a world of sin and darkness, who labor under the curse, yearn for that healing, we thirst for that water. And they are coming soon. That is Christ’s promise. “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’” The night is soon ending; your suffering is only temporary, it will soon be over. We long for the fulfillment of the promise, for the abolishment of the curse; our prayer is the same as Christians of all ages. Jesus promises, “Surely I am coming soon,” to which we cry, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

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