Text: Psalm 16
Date: Pentecost XXV + Proper 28 + 11/15/15
“The day is surely drawing near” declares our Hymn of the Day (LSB 508). For the last two Sundays of the Church Year our attention is drawn to that day, the Day of Judgment.
A review of the books most recently published by Evangelist Billy Graham reveals a Christian man (who recently celebrated his 97th birthday) thinking more and more about the Last Day, the Day of Judgment and of human existence beyond the grave. Listen to the titles. “Angels” (1995), “Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well” (2011), “The Heaven Answer Book” (2012), “The Reason for My Hope: Salvation” (2013), and his most recent work and possibly his last, “Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond” (2015). Today we heard Jesus predicting the Last Day saying, “Be on your guard…. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mk 13:9, 13). The teaching that there will be a Last Day of Judgment is not only a New Testament one. We heard the prophet Daniel say of those who have died awakening, “some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:2-3). So today we listen and learn and grow wise in the faith, as we say in the creed, the faith that “looks for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” How shall we confront our own last day, our death to this world and entrance into eternal life with God?
The Psalm of the Day caught my interest, first of all because a portion of it I use privately at every Divine Service when setting aside the chalice for the Holy Communion. “O Lord, my goodness is nothing apart from you. Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god; their drink offerings of blood I will not offer, nor take up their names on my lips. O Lord, you are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; you maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good inheritance.”
These are the words of prayer as David of old contemplated facing his own death. They are words of a confident faith. These are words given to us to encourage our confidence in the face of death. But it was as I was looking at Martin Luther’s study of this psalm that he reminds us how these words speak of Christ and especially His own facing of His death by crucifixion.
In His earthly ministry, His state of humiliation, Jesus was constantly dependent on His divine Father. As St. Paul reminds us, “though he was in the form of God, [Christ] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8). Such humble, dependent, obedient faith the apostle urges us to have. In this psalm we pray with King David and with our Lord, “Preserve me, O God, for in You I take refuge. I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You.’”
God’s gift of faith discerns between what is of God, what is spiritual and what is not. This is what Daniel means when he says “those who are wise shall shine,” that is the wisdom of faith, faith created in the heart by God through His Word. Faith hears and delights in God’s Word, both Law and Gospel. Faith delights in God’s Law because only in this way can we identify, know and confess the slavery and death of our sin. St. Paul said, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass” (Rom 5:20). And in Romans 7 he writes, “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin…. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:7, 12). For this knowledge of sin becomes true wisdom when it leads to repentance.
The unbelievers, those who reject anything of God, do not have this knowledge, this wisdom. To reject God is to run after another god. Their concerns and hopes deal only with things of the flesh. On the other hand Christ here calls the Lord the portion of His lot and of His cup and the portion of my inheritance. Because we belong to Christ life and salvation is ours because we, too, have a share in His cup, His cup of suffering.
The “lot” or beautiful inheritance is ours as a gift and a result of Jesus’ suffering on our behalf. We learn this from the Gospel of Christ where the Lord gives counsel and instructs us in the way of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. It is to this verse that St. Peter in his Pentecost sermon points predicting the resurrection of Christ, saying, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced, my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the path of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence’ (Acts 2:24-28). And St. Paul preached in the synagogue in Antioch, saying, “God raised [Jesus] from the dead…. Therefore [God] says also in another psalm, ‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:35-39).
When we pray “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup…I have a beautiful inheritance,” it is not wrong to include with God’s revelation in scripture also this cup called the cup of blessing, the cup of the Lord. For “when we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26). It is by faith in the death and resurrection of Christ that King David had the confidence of faith and of heaven. So for us who share in the death and resurrection of our Lord for, in Him, our death is but a sleep, a sleep in the joy and presence of God. “Then we shall see Him face to face, With all His saints in that blest place Which He has purchased for us” (LSB 508:6).