The Lutheran Church of the Triune God

Last Sunday of the Church Year                                                                    November 20, 2016

 

Luke 23:27-43                                     God's Handwriting on the Wall

 

Dear fellow redeemed,

To declare that “I see the handwriting on the wall!" is to acknowledge, “I will soon suffer some

unfortunate circumstances!"

*   Someone is anticipating losing his job or losing his girlfriend.

            Or a person senses he hasn't much time left; that he'll soon die. 

*   But sometimes the handwriting isn't very clear, or it's plainly giving you the wrong message. 

            Ten days ago, I attended a conference on Grief and Grieving here in Brooklyn Center.

            Most of it was pretty helpful.  But some of it raised more questions than it answered.

*   The presenter spoke of “death bed visions", what you might describe as seeing God's handwriting

            on the wall.  It occurs among some who are close to death.

*   People report seeing someone who's deceased, to whom they had been quite close.  Or it could

            be a religious figure, such as an angel or Christ.  Some report even visiting heaven.

*   In any event, these visions are said to offer the dying a sense of comfort and peace as they prepare

            for the afterlife.

*   But what I never heard mentioned is that this same phenomenon may be explained in a way

            which is not spiritual at all, since even atheists have spoken of such visions.

*   Scientists will say they're hallucinations that can occur when the body is severely injured or

            if the heart stops for a brief period and the brain is deprived of oxygen.  It results in the impairment

            of the brain's neurons, which transfer information to other brain cells.

*   In other words, something happens to information delivered from point A to point B. 

            So, it may be said of the atheist that he saw the handwriting on the wall, but the handwriting clearly

            delivered the wrong message, for what's coming will in no way offer him comfort or peace.

 

So, what about God's handwriting on the wall? 

*   It may be acknowledged from the start that God's message is reliable in every case.

            If his handwriting reveals you're about to spend eternity with Christ, you can trust his message.

*   But if his handwriting communicates that death and judgment are coming, you can trust that message.

            You will die!  You are sure to face your judge! 

*   Today's reading reveals that there are three possible reactions to God's handwriting on the wall. 

            Some will react with despair.  Others will react with blame.

            But the believer may react with repentance and faith.

 

The first reaction to God's handwriting on the wall is to despair.  (I)

*   Jesus had said to those mourning for him, Do no weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your

            children."  He spoke of the need to repent.  God would soon carry out his judgment on Israel for their

            unbelief as he set into motion the destruction of Jerusalem. 

*   But instead of repenting, many would give up all hope in a gracious God and Savior.

             Then they will begin to say to the mountains" Jesus predicts, "'Fall on us,' and to the hills, 'Cover us."

*   It will be so horrible in that day that people would prefer to be crushed under the mountains than to face

            the wrath of God.[i]

*   And sadly, Jerusalem's destruction would serve as merely a preview of the Lord's destruction of the

            entire world.  On the last day, when the Lord withdraws his protective hand over his creation and people

            see the universe collapsing, they will despair.

*   Instead of placing their hope in the returning Savior, they will hope to die; to be covered with the earth's

            remains. It will be better to die here in time, will be the thinking, than in hell for all eternity.

 

It may not surprise us that many pretend it will not happen.

*   Hollywood enjoys producing movies that center on the earth's impending doom.

            A major element of the world's population is about to be wiped out by a huge crater that's slowly closing in

            on the earth. Or it's a surge of earthquakes or volcanoes spreading across the entire globe.

*   To be sure, there are those who despair, as they attempt to drown their sorrows and turn off the outside world. 

            So, they party, they overdose, they commit suicide.

            Up to that point the movie's portrayal of people on the last day seemed somewhat realistic.

*   But the story line always manages to zoom in on those who manage to look death in the eye.   I'm not afraid. 

            I've lived a full life!  Or, “If for just a few and for just while, I've made this earth a better place. 

            Or, “As long as I'm with the love of my life, I can face what comes next!"

*   The next scene may be a tidal wave overwhelming them or the ground engulfing them. 

            But the movie never shows what really happens on the last day for the unbeliever.

*   John speaks of it in Revelation, when the unbelieving will witness the coming, not only of the earth's

            end but the earth's judge.  Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those

            who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him" (Revelation 1:7).

 

But you're wondering about the relevance of John's words.

*   The mourning are the unbelieving. 

            They mourn over their life which will now be judged.

*   But we're going to be taken to heaven!

*   That's true. 

            However, we're still going to be given the chance to see God's handwriting on the wall.

1  You receive the news that you have cancer.

            You elect not to undergo radiation or chemo treatments.

            God's handwriting is clear.  Death is near.

2          Or your kidneys are shutting down.  Dialysis will not lengthen your life significantly but only

            decrease the quality of life.  So, you opt to skip it.  God's handwriting is clear.  Death is near.

3  Or you undergo quadruple bypass surgery, knowing the risks involved.  You don't know for sure. 

            But you can read God's handwriting. You might not survive the surgery. 

*   Even if you argue that you could die in an accident or by an unexpected heart attack and have no

            time to prepare for death, you're given the chance each time a dear friend or loved one is called home.

 

Can you see God's handwriting on the wall?  (II)

*   Many others will react with blame, even uttering curses again their Lord.

            We fast forward a few hours and Jesus is crucified between two criminals.  One of the criminals

            who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!"  

*   In his opinion, he had every right to express his outrage.  Was Jesus not the Christ? 

            Was he not the man who had had performed innumerable and wondrous healings? 

*   This was simply not acceptable! 

            He should use his power to save all three of them from this humiliating end.

*   And don't think your religious bystanders would be any more sympathetic.  It wasn't enough that

            they had rejected him as the Christ, refusing to believe in his divine powers.

*   There they stood mocking him in unison, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ

            of God, his Chosen One!'"  

*   Today people witness the gruesome and humiliating nature of death and react in much the same way. 

            They despise the message of Christ crucified; that anyone could possibly find any meaning in this.

*   Rather than connecting the death of a sinner to the death of our Savior, and trusting that the blood of Jesus

            atones for all sin, they scoff at the Gospel.

*   They'd have us believe our faith is something to laugh at.

            But underneath they're angry at the One we believe in; that he'd let them be so degraded by death.

 

And if we think we're above it all, we should know that Christians too are tempted to live out their last

few days in anger and bitterness.

1          You're angry because your wife died before you both had a chance to enjoy your retirement.

2          Or you're angry because your loved one's cancer not only deprived him of a longer life but caused

            him such suffering.

3          Or you're angry because you were unable to say good-bye to your dear friend or sibling or parent or

            child who died quite suddenly.

*   Now you may object, claiming, “at least I'm not blaming my Lord and issuing curses against him!"

            No.  But you are blaming the doctor for his failure to get the diagnosis right.

            Or you're blaming that spouse for not insisting that he be taken to emergency.

            Or you're blaming that drunk driver for thinking that his drinking was more important than the life of

            your cherished family member.

*   Maybe you're not acknowledging it, but you want the luxury of being angry.

            And here's the thing.  Inasmuch it was God who did not intervene it's really God whom you blame.

 

Can you see God's handwriting on the wall?

*   Let's consider the third reaction.  We needn't despair.  We needn't place blame.

            You and I can respond with repentance and faith. (III)

*   We turn from the first criminal on the cross to the second.

            His words are sincere and a true expression of trust in his Savior.

            He answers, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

*   Unlike the first criminal, who calls into question Jesus' identity, objecting “Are you not the Christ",

            the second criminal calls into question his own identity.  “We are receiving the due reward of our deeds"

            he says. “But this man has done nothing wrong."

*   “I'm just a sinner!" he was declaring to Jesus. 

             “But you are my Savior. For by God's grace you may remember me in the life to come!" 

*   What brought about this incredible confession of faith?  Very simply, he could read what God's

            handwriting on the wall was really saying.  The message wasn't about death and everlasting judgment.

            It was about life and everlasting salvation.

*   If you're wondering what sermon was he listening to, Christ had delivered it from his cross,

            "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

*   No.  The criminal didn't have the chance to be baptized and see the life-giving water combined with

            God's Word.  He didn't have the chance to see Christ's body and blood delivered to him in the forms

            of bread and wine. 

*   But he certainly did see his Savior's body and blood given and shed for him.  Watching the passion

            of Jesus Christ from a cross adjacent to the Lord's he could see his salvation!

*   And that's when he heard Christ's message, “Father, forgive them."

             “Do not remember their sin" he was praying.  “Remember my mission. 

            Let my death serve the purpose you have intended, that sinners may be saved by my blood!"

 

What an amazing conversation by two on their death beds; words of forgiveness answered by words of

repentance and faith.

*   We pray that such an exchange might take place when we die.

*   Many families, as it is, would rather say very little and prefer feeling sorry for each other.

            The grieving are sorry that this loved one will soon die, and the dying loved one is sorry for the

            grief it's causing them.

*   Some, to be sure, try to be more upbeat, telling happy stories of their memories together.

            But they avoid talking about what's next. 

            This believer isn't simply dying.  This very day he will be with Christ in paradise!  

 

Would you like to be a little more upbeat as you get the family together for the death of a loved one?

*   Ask me about the service which may take place in the home or wherever you gather for those

            last precious hours.  It's called “Commendation of the Dying."

*   It begins with the Invocation, is followed by the confession of sins and the absolution, and

            continues with the pastor reading an assortment of Bible passages concerning the resurrection

            and eternal life.

*   This is followed by The Litany for the Dying, a beautiful responsive prayer which calls on the

            Lord to have mercy on us in death, on the basis of his redeeming death and his resurrection.

*   Finally, those gathered sing to their loved one the Song of Simeon and join in singing many

            other hymns, where they continue to confess their faith in Christ and his resurrection. 

*   Yes.  The service will generate tears. 

            But what really matters at the time is that this loved one will soon join Christ in everlasting glory,

            where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

*   As that day draws closer for all of us, it's not a time for us to dread.  

            As Jesus says of that day, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near"

             (Luke 21:28).

*   It's a day to welcome in faith.  For God's handwriting on the wall doesn't communicate judgment.

            It communicates forgiveness and everlasting life.  

 

How are you at deciphering another person's handwriting?

*   To be a good handwriting analyst takes a certain amount of training and experience.

  1        High pressure strokes suggest the writer is intense or outgoing.

  2        A right slant suggests assertiveness and confidence. 

  3        Writing that heads downward from the baseline may be a sign of discouragement or fatigue.

*   It's all very interesting, but it's assuming that you're able to read a certain person's handwriting. 

            Have you ever tried to read my handwriting? 

*   I can't even read it afterwards.  It's why I print my notes.

*   And I better come back to those notes within 24 hours when they're still fresh in my memory,

            or I won't be able to even read my own printing. 

*   The Lord wants us to be able to read his handwriting.

            That's why he not only makes it very legible, but enables each of us to analyze it by faith.

*   There's no need to anticipate the worst. 

            You're not about to suffer some unfortunate circumstances.

            Not at all!  When you read God's handwriting on the wall, you may truly look death in the eye and

            know even this day that he receives sinners into his kingdom.          Amen.

 

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

 

                        God's Handwriting on the Wall

   I -      Many will react to God's handwriting on the wall with despair.

  II -     Many others will react with blame and blasphemy.

 III -     You and I may react with repentance and faith.

 

 



[i] Arthur Just quotes I.H. Marshal, The Gospel of Luke, 862.