Sermon for Epiphany 3B, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, January 21, 2018.
Many of us are procrastinators. Our tendency is to put things off. I’ll start exercising next week. Cleaning the house can wait till tomorrow. That school report isn’t due until the end of the semester; I’ll start on it next month. We assume there’ll always be more time. Why do it today when I can do it tomorrow? Procrastination may not be a big deal or have major consequences when it comes to cleaning out the garage, but when it comes to repentance, we can’t put it off. The consequence of this is life and death. Repentance can’t wait till tomorrow. The time for repentance and following our Lord is now.
Two weeks ago we heard John the Baptist out in the wilderness proclaiming the coming of the Lord. The Mightier One was going to follow after him. But now John was in prison and Jesus, the revealed to be God’s Son, was on the scene.
Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God. He preached repentance, just like John. But unlike John who always pointed forward to the Christ who’d fulfill God’s salvation, Jesus pointed to Himself. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). The time was fulfilled; the time when God would keep His promise to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to Moses, to King David, and to all His people; the time when He’d send the Savior who’d crush Satan’s head and free His people from sin and death. That time was now. The kingdom of God was here in Christ Jesus.
All of the OT, all of the time between the Garden of Eden and Christ’s birth in Bethlehem was a time of preparation. God was directing His people to the Savior who was coming. He was showing them the salvation He planned for them. This salvation was seen in the Flood, when God saved Noah and his family from the condemnation and destruction of the sin filled world. This salvation was seen in the Exodus, when God freed His people from the slavery of Pharaoh. This salvation was seen in all the sacrifices of the temple by which the people were declared clean. All of this pointed forward to the time when God would send the promised Savior who’d fulfill the salvation of His people.
The time of waiting was over. Jesus, the Son of God, was fulfilling the plan of salvation. He came to His people and proclaimed the good news of the Gospel. He came to take their sin upon Himself. He came to sacrifice His life on the cross to pay for their sin, to suffer the judgement of death so that they might be forgiven, so that they might be God’s holy people, so that you’d be God’s holy people.
The salvation of Christ isn’t just for the people of old. It’s for you. It’s for all who suffer under sin and Satan. We’re in the same condition as the people of Scripture. We’re sinners, trapped under Satan’s rule. We need to be set free from this kingdom of death and brought into God’s kingdom of life. That’s why we pray “Thy kingdom come.” We need God to initiate His kingdom among us, to bring us into it, so that we can live godly lives here in time and there in eternity. We look to this promised kingdom of God.
Today, when we think about the coming of God’s kingdom, we think of the second coming of Christ on the Last Day. On that day the salvation Jesus won for you on the cross will be fully revealed. On that day you’ll be free from sin, you’ll be free from death.
In expectation of that day many people have searched the words of Scripture hoping to find out when this day will be. They look for signs of the last day so that they can be ready for our Lord. This search is in vain. No one knows the exact time of Jesus’ return, not even Christ Himself. Only the Father knows when this will be. We may not know when that Last day will be, but we do know when the last days leading up to this day will be. These last days are now. We’re living in them. The last days began with Jesus, in His bringing of the kingdom. The kingdom of God has already come in Christ, and it will come again on the Last Day. And sense we don’t know when our Savior will return, we need to be ready for Him to come back at any moment. We can’t procrastinate. We need to be prepared through repentance.
There’s no time for us to delay in turning from our sin and following our Lord...time is fulfilled. We can’t say, “I’ll repent tomorrow. I’ll start following Jesus next week.” There may not be a tomorrow. There may not be a next week. Christ could come back before then. We may die and have to stand before the judgement seat, and the threat of punishment for our sin is very real. Like the people of Nineveh, we need to repent now.
Jonah was sent to these ungodly people. They were enemies of Israel, wicked and evil pagans who worshiped false gods. Their evilness reached preflood proportions and God was going to destroy them and their city. So He sent Jonah to proclaim this message of condemnation and punishment. Going a day’s journey into the city Jonah said, “Yet 40 days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jnh 3:4). Hearing this, the people believed God. All of them, from the greatest to the least fasted and put on sackcloth, they repented, and God relented of the disaster.
D0 you notice how the people of Nineveh didn’t put off their repentance? Even though they knew when God was going to destroy their city, they didn’t procrastinate. They didn’t wait till day 39 to repent. They repented right away. They believed God’s judgement was real and serious, and they realized there was no time to delay. The time was fulfilled. They needed to immediately turn from their sin, just as the disciples immediately followed Jesus.
When Jesus called to Andrew and Peter, to James and John, all of them immediately left their fishing nets and followed Jesus. Not one of them procrastinated in this. They heard the Word of the Lord and believed. The time of God’s salvation is fulfilled. His kingdom is at hand in Christ. These are present realities, not just for Andrew, Peter, James, and John, but for you.
The time of repentance is now, and so is the time of God’s forgiveness. We can’t put off turning from our sin and God can’t put off forgiving your sin. In all His grace, mercy, and love, God the Father is here, right now, to forgive your sin for the sake of His Son. He’s here, right now, absolving you of your sin through His almighty word. Your Savior is here, right now. He’s coming to you in the Sacrament of the Altar to give you His salvation. He’s here, right now, calling you to follow Him, to receive His everlasting life. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Receive God’s forgiveness and life. Receive the gifts of His kingdom in Christ, so that on the Last Day you can receive Him when He comes again. In Jesus’ name...Amen.