“People of Zion, behold thy salvation cometh!” This was the call of the prophets. They were calling on a people weighed down by the cares and concerns of this life, by sin and death, to look up and see their Messiah coming to them, gentle and lowly, riding on a donkey, riding on in majesty, in lowly pomp riding on to die.
This is still the call of The Scriptures. “People of Zion, behold thy salvation cometh!” – not has already come, but is coming still. It has already come, yet it is still coming. Your redemption has taken place, yet your redemption is nigh. It is now, yet not yet. It is yours already, but you hold on to it not by sight, but by faith. It is your hope.
What am I talking about? Christ was born in Bethlehem in order to win for us forgiveness for all our sins. He came to crush death. He came to give us everlasting life. He comes to our hearts today to personally deliver these His Easter gifts to us. But we still die. We see this very clearly, especially when we stand by the casket of a loved one in the cemetery, like I did on Tuesday. That dead body has eternal life already but not yet. It is waiting to be raised from the dead on the last day to live forever with Christ.
Why do we need to be redeemed? The Introit says that when we hear His glorious voice we will have gladness of heart. That means that without His voice our hearts cannot be glad. As I thought about this, I started to think about this time of year. It’s a sad time. We miss family members who aren’t with us anymore around the holidays. It’s cold and dark all the time and wet and dreary. It’s depressing. I’m convinced that’s why we have Christmas lights outside our homes especially way before Thanksgiving, not just to celebrate the birth of Jesus, The Light of the world, but also to cheer us up!
The darkness and dreariness of this time of year is a good picture of what God says we’re like by nature. We’re caught up in darkness. Darkness isn’t just the lack of light. It controls sinners. That’s why we pray throughout Advent that God would help us to cast off the works of darkness. Darkness is something imposed by Satan. It’s the inability to see the way to eternal life, the inability to do what is good in God’s sight. It’s being ruled by Satan, utterly unable to escape him. It goes so far as to think that everything’s all right, that there’s nothing to escape, and then desires to get worse and worse, less and less moral, less and less godly. It tells us we can work our way into the next life, or that after this life there’s nothing left, or if there is a next life you don’t deserve it.
The darkness doesn’t realize it’s dark, but God says it is. It thinks it’s doing all right, but He says otherwise. Without Him there is no way to heaven. And He’s been at war with the master of darkness, Satan, ever since that devil fell and led us into darkness. Now He wants to bring us into His Light. He wants to rescue us from that wicked master. He wants to deliver us from sin and death. He wants to buy us back, purchase us from all wickedness and pay off our sin’s debt. He wants to shine His light on us, light that shines forth from The Cross, light that leads us to repent of our sins, light that comforts us in every distress and trouble of life, light that leads us to everlasting life by trusting in Him.
That’s why He gives us His Word. His Sacred Scriptures are written to give you hope and comfort. They do that by telling you what your Savior did for you. They tell you He suffered far more than you ever will suffer in this life, suffered so you wouldn’t have to suffer hell, suffered so that you might not be punished for your sins. This message is what gives you joy. It shows you life after death, pardon for sin, and God’s love for you. It shows you He is with you, never forsakes you, and will not let you down even when the whole world, including family and friends, does. His Word breaks through the gloom to tell us Christ is risen, your sins are forgiven, eternal life is yours, Satan cannot take it from you.
Christ Jesus came to redeem us from sins. He came to rescue us from them, to pay the debt we owe for them, to give us eternal life. But death still exists. We believe in Christ, but we still die. Our bodies still take their last breath and our souls still leave them. Why? Why do we still have to die? He uses death to rescue us from this sinful world and bring us to His side. This is truly merciful, because we would not want to see wickedness and sin around us for hundreds and thousands of years. But there’s something else. He lost everything, died, and was buried and only then rose from the dead. We are members of His Body. We are following Him on His path. So it’s OK for us to lose everything, die, and reach the grave. Jesus has made these things holy for us. He has made holy our sorrow and slumber. It’s a privilege for us to endure what He endured. It shows us not that He’s abandoned us, but that He loves us very much and is very much our Immanuel, our God with us!
But He didn’t stay dead, and He doesn’t intend for us to stay dead either. Since He’s risen, He needs to raise us from the dead too. He’s going to do that on the last day. It’s His promise to you. “He who believes in Me shall never die. He has passed over from death to life. The day is coming that all who are in their graves shall hear the voice of The Son of Man and come out, some to the resurrection of life, and others to the resurrection of judgment.” Faith in His Blood is what rescues you from the resurrection of judgment and brings you to the resurrection of life. Through faith in Him you will live forever with The Shepherd of Israel, Who even now is leading you and all the faithful like a flock to life everlasting.
So Jesus tells you to prepare for His coming. He is coming. He hasn’t forgotten us. He reminds us of this every high tide, every comet and eclipse, every disaster and tragedy. Those are the sorts of things He’s talking about in the first couple verses of today’s Gospel. He even tells us that’s the message we should get every year as winter turns to spring, and I suppose we could add every time autumn turns to winter! When these things happen, remember that your Lord is coming to rescue you from this sinful world, and live like it.
Live like it? How does that look? “Straighten up and raise your heads.” Watch for Him to come, and don’t be bent over. He’s not talking about your posture though. Don’t be bent over means this: don’t get caught up in the things of this world. Don’t let your sins get the better of you. Don’t let them control you or let the world seduce you. Don’t let the cares and pleasures and anxieties of life keep you away from your Savior. Don’t let your mind get impure.
So how should you live? Hold fast to Jesus and His Word. Keep His Commandments before you and serve Him as a dear child of your heavenly Father. Live like one who has been redeemed from sin, who has been rescued from sin to live a life that pleases not the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh, but that pleases our Savior. For He has promised to gather us, His saints, together to Him. He will do this when He comes again in glory. “People of Zion, behold thy salvation cometh!”