—by John T. Pless
Editor's note: Prof. Pless preached this homily in the Chapel of SS. Timothy & Titus at Concordia Seminary for the Ethics of Fertility Symposium. He preached it on November 8, 2014.
“Some live in the light of the Last Day, others in its shadow,” says Werner Elert (Last Things, 28). Jesus’ words were spoken to his disciples. Disciples are those who live in the light of the Last Day. They and we are amazed at Jesus’ words: “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” It’s an easier project, the Lord says, to thread a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that getting a camel through the eye of a needle is not impossible, but it is going to be very hard on the camel. Indeed, it is through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom as Paul said in his sermon in Antioch (Acts 14:22).
Now if you are living in the shadow of the Last Day, and not its light, you can only perceive what is lost or what is taken away. The heart that lives by attachment to its wealth, whether that wealth comes in the form of money, reputation, or even children, is doomed to disappointment. Idols of whatever size or shape are good gifts from the Father of light that end up taking his place so that they and not him are feared, loved, and trusted above all things. And so they block entrance to the kingdom. No wonder the Lord’s disciples cry out: “Then who can be saved?”
What is impossible with men is possible with God. Salvation will not come through human capacity to renounce and conquer the desires that overwhelm and hold captive. Peter, ever the impetuous follower of Jesus, doesn’t get it yet: “We have left everything and followed you.” Jesus doesn’t scold the man who had left behind his nets. Yes, Peter, but there is more. Those who have left the familiarity of house and home, or the security and productivity of land for the sake of Christ and his gospel, will receive a hundredfold in this great exchange of the kingdom. Now in the present age, there will be houses and brothers and mothers and children and land! Earlier in his ministry, Jesus said that anyone who does the will of his heavenly Father are his brother, sister, and mother (Matt. 13:46-50). Those who are Jesus’ brothers and sisters are yours. To have Christ Jesus as Lord means that you get his church, a family created by the Word of the cross, extended to you in your Baptism, and nourished by his body and blood. To live in Christ is to live in the communion of his saints; it is to dwell in the land of the living. It is to be knit together in companionship with prophets and apostles. It is to be built together into a house of living stones with Christ himself as the cornerstone. It is all gift without any merit or worthiness in you. Gifts are never entitlements that you can demand for yourself.
There is more. Jesus words give no space for any theology of glory that would equate his saving gospel with health and wealth prosperity gospels, with name it and claim it schemes. Did you notice the gift which Jesus throws into the mix? He reminds his disciples that his kingdom also comes with persecutions. Luther reminds us that the holy and blessed cross is one of the marks of the church. Where the gospel is preached, the holy cross will not be far behind. Yes, in the age to come is the gift of eternal life, but in this age life in the family of God is lived under the cross. You do not choose your own cross as though you knew best what suffering and loss would serve your eternal good. There are no designer crosses; only crosses crafted by our Lord to conform you to his own blessed image. Faith receives all things—the good and the bad—from his merciful hands. That is how we live in the light of the Last Day.
Living in the light, not the shadow of the Last Day, does not mean that all the questions evaporate or the voice of lament is prematurely silenced. We walk in the light that God gives us in his Son, that is, we walk by faith, not sight. We are enabled to confess with the hymn writer “what God ordains is always good” and that there is no poison in the cup my good physician sends me. Amen.
Prof. John T. Pless teaches Pastoral Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN.
As an extension of LOGIA, LOGIA Online understands itself to be a free conference in the blogosphere. As such, the views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LOGIA's editorial board or the Luther Academy.