All week, as is the custom of our chapel, the seminary family relives day by day the lessons of the previous Sunday. On Tuesday morning, here was the first stanza of the hymn that was sung in solemn cadence: “Day of wrath, oh, day of mourning! See fulfilled the prophets’ warning: Heav’n and earth in ashes burning” (CW 209:1).
What a necessary message Last Judgment Sunday proclaims in a world where too often even in pulpits any mention of God’s wrath is either muted or absent. How important for the “prophets’ warning” to be sounded also for me. How critical to drive my cynical sinful nature to his knees since he scoffs at the reality of God’s judgment.
But what a glorious shift occurs this next Sunday. That’s true even though this Sunday’s gospel from Mark 13 begins where last Sunday’s left off: with a disintegrating universe’s final death throes. For suddenly our attention shifts to the Son of Man’s appearance and then shifts again suddenly to his angels – his holy messengers. We see those angels spread out like lightening “from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens” as they gather the Son of Man’s elect to his eternal wedding feast!
Have you ever envied the glorious task of the holy angels on the Last Day as, with the inner calm of knowing God’s reign and the outer zeal for accomplishing God’s will, they gather the elect so not one is lost?
Don’t! For you see, if perfect angels could envy (which they can’t and don’t!), those angels would be envious of other angels who have an even more glorious task. That would be you, my dear brothers!
For all the majesty of what God’s holy angels do on that Last Day as they gather God’s elect, they know God did not use them to prepare those elect for that day. What they do simply puts the exclamation mark on what the angels of the churches – the sinful flesh and blood messengers – have had the privilege of doing beforehand. If it were not for what the flesh and blood angels of the churches were called to do in God’s economy, there would be no elect for the holy angels to gather.
It’s like the manager calling in the reliever from the bullpen to finish off the ninth when it was the sweaty work of the starter toiling for eight innings that the manager used to gain a “W” for the team. Yes, the non-flesh and blood angels get to do the visibly majestic work of finishing off the victory, but you, my brothers, are God’s tools to share the gospel that wins the victory by bringing the elect to faith and keeping them in faith.
Picture it on that last day. See that child over there in that unknown corner of the world? As the angel swoops in on that Last Day to gather up that child, it was not that angel who baptized that little one into the name of Father, Son, and Spirit. It was you. And over there, in that other corner of the world, that man just gathered up was a sheep over whom you mourned because you thought he had gotten away. But little did you know that the final rebuke of love – the words you thought were spoken in vain – in time won that brother over. And so the angel swoops in to get the “save” of the victory that God used you, a jar of clay angel, to gain. And over there, do you see that family the angel just claimed including mom, dad, and the kids? Yes, that’s that family you followed up on after VBS. God used you to make sure what they gained was more than a couple days of free childcare. Through your stammering tongue they learned to delight in the Spirit’s message and now they are on their way to delighting forever at the Lamb’s final wedding feast!
Treasure such images now, dear brothers, when the days of ministry seem long, the triumphs few, and the eternal fruit of means of grace ministry hidden from us. Yes, God has asked you to bear the heat of the work in these last days. But all of this will pay off far beyond your imagining when in the midst of the heat of that Last Day God’s holy angels fly in to finish off what God accomplished through your work.
And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again and arms are strong.
Alleluia! Alleluia! (CW551:5)