Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Mountain of the Lord

Christ the King
In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken. All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever (Micah 4: 1-5).
According to many theologians, the phrase "last days" can refer to the future in general terms. However, the term "last days" is usually used, or at least understood, in one of two ways: 1) The end of time at Christ's Second Coming or, 2) The Messianic Era as a whole. These two ideas are unified in the pages of Scripture. Evangelical Lutheranism, in contrast with American "main-line" Protestantism, sees the last days as beginning with Jesus' first coming; these last days will be consummated at his Second Coming. The Apostles certainly viewed themselves and believers to come after them as living in the Last Days, as evidenced by their calls to remain watchful for Christ's return. St. Peter writes in his first epistle, "The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray" (1 Peter 4:7). In his second epistle, St. Peter explains even further.
First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." ...Therefore dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position (2 Peter 3: 3-4, 17).
St. Peter understood that the times in which he was living, after Christ's First Coming, were different in nature from the time before Christ came to earth. The previous times (Old Testament times) were preparatory - looking forward to the coming of the King who would sit on David's throne forever. Now, in these "last days" as St. Peter calls them, it is only a matter of time until Christ returns and brings complete fulfillment to what the prophets foretold. He also knew that false teachers would come - they had already shown themselves while the Apostles were still alive - and that Christians must, in the words of the negro spiritual, "keep their lamps trimmed and burning" lest they be caught unawares. While Micah is most assuredly pointing toward the promised ruler's first coming (5: 2-3), he is also describing the entire Messianic Age - the Last Days.
Micah, in his prophecy, goes on to describe what will take place in the Messianic Age. He writes, "In the last days the mountain of the Lord's Temple will be established as chief among the mountains;" (v1). In other passages of Scripture, like Psalm 2:6 and 2 Chronicles 33:15, where God's Holy Hill or Mountain is mentioned, it is a reference to the site of the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was the earthly counterpart for God's heavenly throne room. Since the mountain is representative of God's throne in heaven, this passage tells us that during the last days (Messianic Age) God's power and authority will be, as it always has been, the ultimate power and authority and will be recognized as such. St. Paul understands this as well, and quotes Isaiah to make the point in his epistle to the Romans:
By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear (Isaiah 45:23).
Micah also says that peoples, or nations, will "stream" to the mountain of the LORD. In Psalm 86, David makes a similar statement when he writes, "All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name" (Ps. 86:9). In Jesus, these passages have been and are being fulfilled. Christ, by his life, death and resurrection, established the mountain of the Lord's Temple as chief among the mountains. All those people who believe - the nations God has made by faith - turn to Jesus, the Messiah. In Old Testament times, believers had faith in the promise of the Messiah. New Testament believers trust in the same Messiah - we, however, know his name. As Jesus himself said:
But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (John 12:32).
St. Peter also explains:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9).
What can we who are living in the "last days" take away from the words of Micah? In one word, hope. We know that God has created faith in our hearts through our baptism and that he sustains that faith and causes it to grow through Word and Sacrament. We can know that we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever, and that, even now as we believe in Christ Jesus, no one can snatch us out of his hand. Speaking to the unbelieving Jews at the Feast of Dedication, Jesus said this:
...I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand (John 10: 25-28).
One of the first adventurers on the mighty oceans who sailed to South America went around a cape on a stormy sea. His ship threatened to go to pieces; so he called the place the Cape of Storms. But Vasco da Gama, who came later, changed the name to the Cape of Good Hope, for the saw ahead of him the jewels and treasures of India. You can call this a life of storms if you wish. But if you can see the glorious redemption of eternity ahead of you, you can call it what it is in Christ - a life of good hope.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
Our hope comes from God - it is His gift by his Spirit, given to us through his means of Word and Sacrament. Any hope we may conjure up by our own efforts is merely illusory. We should not, however, live our lives the way the world would have us - focused on worldly things and preoccupied with how to please our human nature. Since we have peace with God as a result of being justified through faith in Christ we, by the Spirit's power, focus our attention and energy on how to please our spiritual nature. That is what we do this Advent season - we focus on Jesus Christ and prepare for his coming. We heed St. Peter's words and seek to, "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever!"