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“And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” Luke 21:34-36

Jesus tells us what will happen before He suddenly appears, coming in clouds of glory to judge the living and the dead. He speaks of what would happen to Jerusalem and what would befall His disciples (Luke 21:5ff.; cf. Matt. 24:1ff.; Mark 13:1ff.); and then he speaks about what will take place immediately before His coming.

“And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26).

He tells us that, “when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (v. 28). And He adds the parable of the fig tree: “Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand” (v. 29-31).

Jesus said (v. 32-33): “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.” And, indeed, these signs were already fulfilled in the first century after Christ. There were wars and commotions, false Christs and false prophets. Christians were betrayed and persecuted, and Jerusalem was destroyed for its impenitence and unbelief as Jesus had warned (cf. Luke 19:41-44).

And, Jesus warns us: to “take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”

Instead of living in drunkenness and excess, and being wrapped up with the cares of this life, we are to be watching and praying that we not be caught off guard and, like the rest of the world, be found living in sin and impenitence and not ready at Jesus’ return. Rather, we are to live in continual repentance, confessing our sins and holding fast to Jesus and His cross for pardon and forgiveness that we might be found ready to stand before Him when He appears.

The Bible tells us in Acts 3:19-21: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”

If we are found acknowledging our sins — agreeing with God about our sinfulness — and looking to Jesus and His cross in faith for pardon and forgiveness, we will be ready on that day. Instead of being condemned, we will be given eternal life for Jesus’ sake (cf. 1 John 1:7 – 2:2; Psalm 32:1-6; John 3:14-18). But, if we are found continuing on in our sinful ways, impenitent and unbelieving, that day will find us unprepared and bring upon us God’s wrath and judgment (cf. 2 Thess. 1:7-10; John 3:18; Mark 16:16).

O gracious and merciful Savior, grant that we continue in daily repentance and faith that we might be found ready on that day when You come to judge the living and the dead. Amen.

[Scripture quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:16-17

The words of Gabriel to Zacharias echo the Word of the Lord recorded by Malachi the prophet: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:5-6). And, as we prepare for the second advent of the LORD, our Lord Jesus Christ, we carry on the ministry of John the Baptist in calling all to repentance and pointing them to Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross for the sins of all (cf. John 1:29).

While many think lightly of Christ’s return and the final judgment and see no need for repentance, it is indeed a serious matter. If the LORD judges us according to His law, who can stand (cf. Mal. 3:2ff.; 4:1,6; Ps. 130:3ff.)? Indeed, none of us, for we have all sinned and come short of what God, in His law, demands (cf. Rom. 3:19-20,23). It is for that reason that John the Baptist came, to call upon sinners to repent and look to Christ the Lamb of God for pardon and forgiveness (cf. Luke 3:2ff.; Ps. 130:4ff.). And the Church, through its ministers, still preaches the same message today (cf. Luke 24:46-47; John 20:20-23; Acts 3:19ff.).

Both John and the Church seek to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Through the preaching of God’s Word, the fathers and their descendants are united again in the true fear of the LORD. Those who were disobedient to the true faith are awakened to their sinfulness by God’s Spirit and turned to the wisdom of the just – to the wisdom of those who acknowledge and repent of their sinful ways and look in faith to the LORD God for mercy and forgiveness for the sake of the promised Messiah and His redeeming work.

The only way for you and me, or for anyone, to be ready for the Lord’s return and to escape the curse and condemnation of God’s holy law is to repent and trust in the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of Christ Jesus for the sins of the world (cf. Gal. 3:10,13; Acts. 4:12).

O LORD God, we have sinned and come short of the righteousness your law demands. We are guilty and justly stand condemned. Have mercy upon us and forgive us our sins for the sake of the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of Christ Jesus, Your Son and our crucified and risen Savior, that we might be found in Him just and holy and acceptable in Your sight on that day when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“Remember, O LORD, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O LORD.” Psalm 25:6-7

Ad Te Levavi is the traditional name for the first Sunday in Advent. It is the Latin title for the introit of the day, from Psalm 25:1: “Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul.”

As we prepare for Christ’s second advent – His triumphal entry into this world as eternal King and Judge – we lift up our souls unto the LORD and pray that He would remember and look upon us in His mercy and not according to our sinfulness under His law.

We pray that the LORD God (Jehovah God) would remember His tender mercies and His lovingkindnesses which He promised from of old – to Adam and Eve in the Garden, to Abraham, to David and to all the Old Testament saints (cf. Gen. 3:15; 22:18; Ps. 51; Isa. 53; 55:1ff.).

If the LORD were to deal with us according to our sins, none of us could stand in His judgment. We would all be condemned to the everlasting torments of hell because of our sinful hearts and our sinful thoughts, desires, words and actions (cf. Psalm 130:3ff.; Matt. 15:19; Rom. 3:9ff.; Gal. 3:10).

As sinners, condemned by God’s holy law, we flee in faith to the grace and mercy of God for the sake of His Son, the Lamb of God who made atonement for the sins of the world (John. 1:29; 1 John 1:8 – 2:2; Rom. 3:19-26). We pray: “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O LORD.”

And, because Jesus Christ died for all our sins and rose again on the third day, those who look in faith to Christ and His cross for mercy are pardoned, forgiven, justified and accepted of God (cf. Rom. 3:21-26; Eph. 1:6-7; Gal. 3:13, 26-27); and they have a place in His everlasting kingdom (John 3:14-16; Mark 16:16; Rom. 5:1-10,17).

Jesus Christ is coming again! Though He entered into Jerusalem, the center of the Old Testament church, humbly and riding on a donkey nearly 2,000 years ago with some hailing Him as the promised Messiah and King and others rejecting Him, He now is coming as King of kings and Lord of lords and every knee shall bow (cf. Phil 2:9-11; Rev. 19:11-16). He will judge the living and the dead.

How do you wish to be remembered in that Day? According to your sins and many transgressions, or according to His mercy for the sake of His blood shed upon the cross for the sins of all?

“Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul.”

O LORD God, our gracious Savior, do not deal with us according to our sins as we justly deserve under Your holy law, but deal with us in Your mercy and lovingkindness for the sake of the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of Christ Jesus, Your dear Son and our Redeemer. In His name, we pray. Amen.

[Scripture quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish….” Matthew 25:1-3 Read v. 1-13

Are you ready for Jesus Christ to return on the last Day? Jesus told this parable to admonish us to be watchful and ready at all times for His return.

Jesus here compares the kingdom of heaven to ten virgins who “took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.” The wise virgins took extra oil for their lamps so that they would be ready even if the “bridegroom tarried.” The foolish took only the oil in their lamps and did not consider the possibility that their lamps would go out before the bridegroom arrived.

As a result, these foolish virgins were not prepared and ready when the bridegroom came; and they did not enter with the bridegroom into the marriage feast.

With this parable, Jesus warns us against being foolishly unprepared for His return on the Last Day. It is foolish for us who believe in Christ today to fall asleep and not be watching for His return. It is foolish not to have our faith continually nourished and kept burning through the regular use of the Word of God and the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper).

If we do not make such provision by continually using of the Word of God in our homes and hearing the Word and receiving the Lord’s Supper in our church, we may find our lamps empty and gone out at Jesus’ coming. Our faith in Christ will have waned and died because we did not continue to hear the warnings of God’s Law or the comforts of the Gospel and we no longer placed our hope and confidence in Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for our eternal salvation!

Those who have no living, saving faith in Jesus Christ when He returns in Judgment will be shut out of heaven, for it will be too late to repent and rekindle faith at that time! But those who have wisely provided oil for their lamps – those who continue to nourish their faith by remembering their Baptism, reading and hearing the Word of God, and receiving the body and blood of Christ given and shed for the remission of sins that the Holy Ghost may, through these means, keep their faith burning and assure them of forgiveness for all their sins and of life everlasting for Jesus’ sake – will enter into heaven with Jesus and enjoy its blessings forever (cf. Revelation 19:7-9; 21:24).

With my lamp well trimmed and burning, swift to hear and slow to roam, watching for Thy glad returning to restore me to my home. Come, my Savior, Come, my Savior, O my Savior, quickly come. Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn #606, Verse 4)

[Scripture quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Jesus Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead! We confess this in our creeds and we hear it in our Scripture readings. Jesus said, “As the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:27; cf. Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew’s Gospel). We are to be ready by repenting of our sinful ways and looking in faith to Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the cross.

The believers in Thessalonica “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). They had come to believe the Gospel and to trust in Christ Jesus for their salvation, and they were awaiting His glorious return to take them to be with Him forever in heaven.

But what of those who have died in the faith before the coming of Christ Jesus? If a believer dies before the return of Jesus, have they lost out? St. Paul tells us the answer in chapter 4, beginning at v. 13.

We do not have to sorrow when a fellow believer falls asleep, or dies, trusting in the Lord Jesus. We do not need to sorrow as others do, who have no hope. Why? Consider the inspired words of Paul’s letter: “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

This is no secret rapture or snatching away of believers as some suggest. The apostle says: “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God” (cf. Matthew 24:29ff.; 25:31ff.; Revelation 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:1ff.; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Matthew 13:47ff.).

Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3ff.), will bring with Him the souls of all the saints who have gone before us, the souls of all who have trusted in His name. This, of course, means that when believers die, their souls are taken to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven. Consider poor Lazarus, whose soul was carried by angels into the “bosom of Abraham” (Luke 16:19ff.), or the thief on the cross whose soul was that day taken to paradise (Luke 23:43). Consider the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21ff. He desired to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.

When Jesus returns, all who have died in the faith will be raised up. It won’t matter whether the body is preserved through embalming, decayed to dust or turned to ashes, all the dead will rise and stand before the LORD God. The Bible says: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works” (Revelation 20:12-13).

How will we be judged? According to our works. The Bible says: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10; cf. Matthew 25:31ff.). But our works do not measure up! According to God’s Word, we’ve all sinned and come short of what God requires of us to enter into His glory (cf. Romans 3:23; Ecclesiastes 7:20).

So, how is it that we sinners can be acceptable and righteous in God’s eyes? We read on in the chapter (2 Corinthians 5:19-21): “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” It is through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus! It is by fleeing to the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of Christ Jesus in our stead. It is by washing our robes and making them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1; cf. v. 34). Or, as Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).

Believers who are living in this world when Jesus returns will not go before those who have died. The Word of God says: “that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [precede] them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.”

It is as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54: “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

And, “so shall we ever be with the Lord”! When Christ returns, the dead are raised up and we are changed, we will be forever with the Lord. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” ( John 14:2-3).

It is described this way in Revelation 21:3-4: “And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” It is then that we will serve our God “in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Second Article; cf. Third Article and Luke 1:75).

So, why do we have hope when a fellow believer dies? And, why can we face our own deaths in hope and confidence? It is because of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again! By His death He made full atonement for all our sins – indeed, for the sins of all (cf. 1 John 2:1-2) – and by His resurrection, we have the assurance that His sacrifice for sins was acceptable to God and that all who place their faith in Him are also justified and forgiven and acceptable to God (cf. Romans 4:23 – 5:2; Ephesians 1:6-7). And we have the assurance that, as Christ was raised from the dead on the third day, so we also will be raised from the dead to spend eternity with our God and Savior!

We have the confidence of Job, who confessed: “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me” (Job 19:25-27).

O gracious Savior, grant us faith in You and Your cross that we might have a certain hope of forgiveness, life and eternal salvation. Amen.

[Scripture quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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