Sermon referencing Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Psalm 90, Hebrews 13:5-8, 14, Matthew 25:1-13 for New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2018
- What is time? How would you define it? Someone might say time passes in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years progressing from past to present to future. That’s how we measure time. That’s the flow of time. That doesn’t tell us what time is. A popular song I used to hear said “Time, flowing like a river.” That’s a little closer to a definition. Time flows. In Ecclesiastes King Solomon lays many opposites in front of us and says there is a time for everything. I think Solomon is defining time as a state of constant change. In Psalm 90 Moses is more pointed and direct and shows us what time does—the ravages of time. God is eternal, existing before the mountains were born. But people?… God calls them back to the dust. Because of sin in the world death and decay affect us all.
- Tonight we’re going to consider what time means more than what time is. From a Christian perspective, from a biblical perspective, time means grace. Think back to the very beginning. In his goodness, God created everything, put Adam and Eve in his world, and told them to enjoy it. When they did the one thing God told them not to do, eating the forbidden fruit, think of what God could have done. He could have said, “Because you have done this, abusing and rejecting my goodness, your time is up. You will return to the dust right now.” That would have been just. In his command he said, “When you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). But God’s goodness displayed itself in graciousness. He gave them many years—but they weren’t entirely happy years. In their long lives, Adam and Eve got to see what they brought into the world with their disobedience. By being gracious, God was giving them and all their descendants the opportunity to turn back to him. Time equals grace. When we look at the history of Israel, we see that again and again. The people rebel, but God remains faithful to his promise—a promise we heard in the lesson from Hebrews, but it was repeated in Israel’s early history: “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5, Deuteronomy 31:6, 8, Joshua 1:5, 1 Kings 8:57). Because of sin in the world, we are both victims of sin and villains because we sin. That doesn’t change God or his nature. God gives us time because he is gracious.
- This year on All Saints Sunday we read a list of thirty-five names—people who had died in the last year. What happened? God gave them their time, and he determined when that time would end. That’s what Moses was talking about in Psalm 90. That’s what God was talking about at the beginning when he told Adam, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). God’s mercy endures forever, but our time does not endure forever. God’s grace is infinite, but our opportunities are not.
- That’s the point of Jesus parable of the bridesmaids. We usually read that parable during End Time, but it fits when we’re talking about time. The foolish virgins had the same opportunity as the wise virgins to buy lamp oil and be ready. When the bridegroom came, the opportunities were gone. The prophets said, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). This life is the time the Lord may be found. There is no reincarnation where you get another chance at life. There is no purgatory where you can sit in heaven’s waiting room until you’ve paid your penalty and are ready to come in. You don’t float around like a ghost until you finish your business and move on. The writer of Hebrews also reflects on this: “People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). No. This life is the opportunity you have to hear the Word of God, believe it, and live it. We are experiencing the time of God’s grace now. That’s why life is so precious—it’s God’s gift to us. It is also the opportunity God gives us to find him. Life is precious. Time is precious.
- That’s why John the Baptist’s preaching had such urgency: “The ax is already at the root of the tree.” (Luke 3:9). We don’t know how much time we have. We do know that we enjoy the time of grace God has given now. St. Paul says, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). We have time—what are we going to do with it? The phrase we use so often, “spend time,” hints that time is a limited commodity. You have a finite amount of it. Use it wisely—for your own good: receiving and learning from God’s means of grace; for your neighbor’s good: what opportunities does time give you to spend time with friends, family, neighbors, to help and serve them—perhaps even lead someone to Christ? And use the time to glorify God in all you do.
- When we look at our Lord Jesus Christ and his life and work, in some places it reads as if he had no schedule at all—but he was using every moment. He’s entering one house, and Jairus says “Come, help my daughter.” On the way a sick woman touches him and is healed. Then someone comes and tells him the girl has died, and Jesus teaches a short lesson on faith. He used every moment. (Luke 5:40ff). Whether you schedule every moment on your Google calendar or Day-Timer, or if you don’t, still see every moment as an opportunity. This is why God has given you life and time. He either has work for you to do or something for you to learn—or maybe he gives you time to give opportunity for someone else to serve you. Regardless—time is precious, just as life is precious.
- What does our God tell us about 2019? It will be a time that God gives us because he is gracious. It will be “a time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to uproot. … a time to laugh and a time to weep.” It will be a time lived under his promise, “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.” There is so much we do not know, but God already knows. “So we say with confidence: ‘The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid.” … We do not have a permanent city here, but we are looking for the city that is coming.” In the next year, there will be some of us taken to the heavenly city. For them, it will be a move from grace to glory. In the next year, whatever happens, we have our good and gracious King, Jesus, who is with us all the way. He is “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), whose goodness and holiness covers all our sin, whose righteousness empowers us for righteousness (Philippians 3:9, see also Hebrews 12:11 and 1 Peter 2:24). We will experience good and bad, but with him it is all good (Romans 8:28). We go forward with faith and trust in When all other things are in a state of constant change, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”