“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” Jubilate 2023

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30. April 2023


John 16:16-22

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me?” Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Goodbye, cruel world. I’m leaving you today. There seems to be a prevailing sense of nihilism in our current era. This can be attributed to the rejection of God the Holy Trinity as the true God, a disdain for His Word, and a sense of hopelessness regarding His promises. History and empirical evidence consistently show the negative effects of rejecting God and His teachings. This path is never prosperous, and those who refuse to repent often face immense challenges, such as hardship, loss, suffering, exile, and ultimately, death.

If there is no God, then it is entirely up to you to master your destiny, and it’s yours for the taking. If there is no God, then the future of humanity and this world—climate, culture, government, and natural resources—is on your shoulders. If you don’t do something about them, there is no future, hope, or comfort. If there is no God but the gods of this world and the god you’ve set up in your heart, then you are left only with your sin and its murdering, lust, hate, reputation destroying, greed, and coveting. So if there is no God, you might as well pack it up and punch out.

Anxiety and despair leading to nihilistic, hopeless nothingness are not new to us. A Christian may have many reasons for longing to leave this world. Scripture and our own experience bear witness to this. “As long as we are at home in the body, we are apart from the Lord,” (Rom 7:22ff) writes Paul. We are daily aware that there is a sinful law in our bodies that is at war with the desire of the heart to serve God. The will to do right is with us because we have Christ’s Spirit. But when it comes to fulfilling it, we fall short. None of us is ever exempt from the daily struggle between the Spirit and the flesh.

And our struggle is not simply against cowardice, indifference, or all other evil characteristics of our old Adam. We have the enmity of the principalities and powers in spiritual places that would destroy the work of God and thus crush our faith. Since this spiritual power “is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” we will often have to meet challenges and sometimes vulgar and evil persecutions from people in our world. Remember that as long as you are in the world, you will not lack sin and trouble, along with the devil with his lying and murdering day and night, yielding no peace. 

And in sharp contrast to life in this world is the life of the kingdom of Christ, where there is neither temptation nor persecution, but instead an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison that endures to all eternity” (2 Cor 4:17). It is not strange, therefore, if we “would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8ff). This life is yours now by God the Holy Spirit in His holy church where you are given the sacred gifts of Word and Sacrament and made Christ’s holy bride and promised resurrection and life with Him forever. No wonder we would instead leave this cruel world and move on.

But there is another side to this matter. God has determined that we should live here in this world. He has a purpose in it. Set before us are “good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10). As long as the Lord gives me life, I must believe that he needs me.  Even when all my physical powers fail, my intercessory prayers or my example may still be required among those still living here. 

It is good, therefore, when a mother wishes to live among her children as long as they need her. It is good when a man prays to fulfill the life work to which he is called. It is God-pleasing to labor and toil at the tasks God has laid before you. A Christian remains faithfully at the place where he is needed. The Christian lives in the world, even contrary to the world, for as long as God the LORD would have him do so. And then, at the time appointed by God, he goes thankfully through the gates of life when the portals open to the joy of the Lord. 

Thus, St. Paul writes: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose, I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless, to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith” (Philippians 1:21–25).

God exists and has revealed Himself to you and for you in His Word. God’s election of you to salvation in Christ Jesus proves your eternal value. Nothing is meaningless, but God is working everything together for your benefit. God is at work for you, even moving mountains and stilling the seas for your good. We rightfully despair of our flesh and its ability to think, say, or do what is good, right, and trustworthy. We despise the lies of this age and the Deceiver who promotes them. We know the future is not ours to make but God’s to give. 

This is the encouragement, confidence, and hope our LORD Jesus gave His disciples when He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” Even while we weep and lament as our flesh sees disease and entropy, the world slides into gross hedonism, and our nation collapses. There is yet hope. He gives you a purpose and future even as He leads you through the valley of the shadow of death. Today in Divine Service, Jesus is giving you to taste and see the joy and goodness that awaits you.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin