"A FORETASTE OF THE THINGS TO COME"
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10)
July 15, 2018
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
In Him you also, when you heard the Word of Truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the Guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.
Ephesians 1:13, 14 (ESV)
Back when I was a vicar, a woman at the congregation where I served used to reprimand me because I had a habit of telling people: “I’m not too smart.” Every time this lady heard me say that she would say to me: “Don’t keep putting yourself down!” “I’m not putting myself down,” I would explain. “I’m just lowering the expectations.” My reasoning was that if people thought I wasn’t very smart to begin with, then any intelligence that I could muster would make me look really good. What I had come to learn in life up to that point was that a great deal of disappointment in our world comes about as a result of unrealistic expectations. Everything that we experience in life is ultimately measured and judged in comparison to what we expected beforehand. The employee beginning a new job, the bride or groom entering marriage, or the consumer who has just purchased a new car are all setting themselves up for a big disappointment if their expectations are so grand and glorious that no one or nothing could possibly live up to them.
With these thoughts in mind, I suppose it’s only fair to ask: “What are your expectations about heaven?” It’s probably not something that you spend a whole lot of time thinking about, but you have to admit that the images of heaven that enter most people’s minds are all earthbound. They concern the same things that we find to bring pleasure and contentment in our present life, but without all of the imperfections. I guess it should come as no great surprise that we think this way, since the experiences of this life are all that we have to work with. However, as Christians we should be aware of the fact that the greatest joys that exist in life are spiritual. It seems only natural, then, that the joys that await us in our Savior’s presence will also be spiritual. The text before us makes mention of two spiritual blessings in particular--the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit--both of which have been given to us now as a promise and guarantee of what awaits us in heaven.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is by far the greatest blessing that we have been given in this life. It is through the Gospel that the Holy Spirit works to create saving faith in the hearts of sinners. It is through the Gospel that the same Spirit causes that faith in Christ to grow. It is through the Gospel that we receive the forgiveness of our sins and the hope of everlasting life. And what is the Gospel? To us that may seem to be obvious, but in this pluralistic and confused world we need to keep defining it constantly. The Gospel is not, as some people think, just any religious message. Neither is the Gospel to be thought of as anything that brings good news to a bad situation, as some people suppose. The Gospel is the story of God's redeeming love for lost sinners, revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, who lived a perfect life before His Father in the sinner’s place, died an innocent death to pay for human sin, and rose again from the dead to prove to all that everything that He did and taught is valid and true.
The joy of God’s acceptance of us that is ours in the Gospel will be even more profound when we celebrate it in the Lord’s presence. In this life our joy must always be tempered by all of the sadness that surrounds us. Even though we know that we are forgiven and have the hope of heaven always before our eyes, we still have to contend with all of the harsh realities of life, including death itself, which we have brought upon ourselves by our sin. But when we finally rest in the Lord’s arms, sin, pain, death, and sorrow will all be things of the past for us. We will be done with them, once and for all, and free to enjoy perfectly the unobstructed glory of our Lord's redeeming love for us.
We are also told in the passage before us that we have been given the Holy Spirit as a Seal of our redemption and as the Guarantee of the inheritance that awaits us in heaven. Surely the Spirit that we have received brings blessings to us in this life already. Our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the washing of Holy Baptism, the Word of God and the Lord’s Supper, our fellowship with God and one another--all of these are evidence that the Spirit of God is at work within us and among us. It is He who makes it possible for us to hear, understand, and believe the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. It is He who calls us to be the people of God--as individuals and as a community--making us one with Christ and with one another. All of this is an indication of what we have to look forward to as we anticipate the glory of heaven.
It doesn't take a whole lot of effort to make the point that the fellowship that we have with God and with one another here on earth is less than perfect. Even for the Christian sin is a very real part of life. Christians, no less than anyone else, offend their God and hurt one another on a routine basis. We can't even go so far as to say that the Christian sins less than the unbeliever or that the Christian's sin is less offensive than that of the unbeliever. The only thing that sets the Christian apart from the unbeliever as far as sin is concerned is that, while the unbeliever, when confronted with his guilt, desperately tries to justify himself or to make his sin seem irrelevant, the Christian is dissatisfied with his sin, confesses it in humility and grieves over it, and finally ask for and receives in faith God's full and free forgiveness in Christ.
It is to God's glory that He forgives us and will ultimately give us the joy of heaven, and it is to His glory that in the meantime He gives us foretaste of these joys. He is glorified when the preaching of the Gospel of His Son Jesus Christ touches the hearts and lives of sinners with forgiveness and hope. He is glorified when His Holy Spirit brings sinners to saving faith and New Life in Christ. He is glorified when His people come to Him in worship and prayer. He is glorified when His people love and forgive one another even as they have been loved and forgiven in Christ. And He is glorified when His people face every adversity of life and even death itself with a confidence born of the hope of heaven that is theirs through the death and resurrection of their Savior. By the power of His Spirit, who comes to us in Word and Sacrament, we have that hope, that confidence, and that power in Him, so that in all of these ways He is daily glorified in us.
May the Lord bless your hearing of His Word, using it to accomplish in you those things for which He gave it. May you be enriched and strengthened in faith that you may leave here today to go out into our world armed with the whole armor of God, prepared to be able ambassadors of your Savior Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.