Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent 2 (Luke 21:25-36)

The end is coming. It is coming soon. You know it; you feel it in your bones. It seems that deep in the heart of every human being, whether they believe the Scriptures or not, there is some awareness that all things will one day come to an end. Apocalyptic movies and books are as popular as ever; Christians do not corner the market on end-times teaching. The end is coming. It is coming soon. You know it; you see the signs. Every natural disaster, every war, every instance of mass human suffering, starting with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, is a sign, a reminder that the end is coming, just as every disease, from the common cold to cancer, is a sign, a reminder that your end is coming. When an earthquake destroys whole cities, when a tornado cuts a path of destruction, when Ebola threatens whole nations, the signs are proclaiming, ‘Soon, O world, your end will come!’ The end is coming. It is coming soon. You know it; you hear of it in the Scriptures. You hear the voice of Christ, telling us about the tumult, the terror of that day. The natural order, set in place by our loving Creator, will be torn down in His wrath. The wars and rumors of wars that came before will seem but a footnote to the turmoil of that Day. But these things only precede the great moment, the revelation of the only-begotten Son of God: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” The naked glory of Jesus Christ will be seen by all, for He has come, and He has come, as we sing, “to be our judge.”

Does this make you afraid? Would you rather not hear about the end times, would you rather hear of Christmas, of joy and light, of Santa Claus and reindeer, of mangers and stables? Do you want to hear about the Christ child instead of Christ the judge of the living and the dead? The last days are not days we hope for, but days we hope to avoid. Have you been taught by the popular media or even the church to view the last days with terror, to fear Christ’s return, to pray that you would die safely in your bed rather than see those days come? This earth is writhing in birth pangs; it has been since the moment Christ ascended into heaven, and the delivery is coming. “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” The terror of those days will be so great that people will faint because of them, they will live in distress and perplexity, trapped in a prison of fear, consumed by anxiety.

And no terror is greater than the climactic sign: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” At that point, the time of repentance is over; God’s gracious patience has come to an end. Christ has come, and He is the judge of the living and the dead. Christ has come, and His enemies weep. Malachi shows us the judgment of almighty God: “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.” Are you afraid, as I was in my youth, that the Last Day will catch you committing a sin? Are you afraid, as so many are, that you will be ‘left behind’ when Christ returns in glory?

Do not be afraid; have no fear. The terror of that day is not for you; the turmoil of these latter days will not destroy you. Do not be burdened with fear and anxiety, do not faint from the terror. Instead, when this world demonstrates that its end is near, stand tall, for that means that your salvation is coming, and it is coming soon. “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” These signs are not signs of your judgment, they are not signs of your destruction, they are signs of your deliverance, they are signs that the victory is near. Every labor pain of this fallen world proclaims to you that your Savior is coming, and He is coming soon. Your redemption is drawing near. Straighten up, raise up your head, receive the Last Day with joy, because the Last Day brings your crucified and risen Savior to give you all that He won, because the Last Day brings to you final and ultimate deliverance from this corrupted world, from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

The old order of things will pass away; thanks be to God, for the old order was filled with sin and death. On that Day, whether you are dead or alive, you will see your Lord in all of His glory, coming to make all things new. He comes to judge between the sheep and the goats; thanks be to God, you know that verdict already: not guilty, for Christ was declared guilty in your place! The comfort that you have if you died tonight is the same comfort that you have on the Last Day: Christ died for you, He rose for you, He has baptized you into His Name, He has forgiven your sins, He has fed you with His very Body and Blood. Do not fear, on that Day He will not cast off those whom He has made His own, the ones He has clothed with His righteousness. Lift up your heads; have no fear!

Look forward to that day with eager anticipation; yearn for the deliverance that will come; cry out for Jesus to come quickly and make all things new. Do not be burdened by the sin that so easily entangles, the sin that keeps you from diligently watching. Instead, keep a watchful eye on the signs: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” Keep watch for the signs, so that you will be prepared for that Day, so that it will not come upon you suddenly and your faith be shaken, so that in His long delay you will not be lead into impenitence and unbelief.

Do not let the sin of this world distract you from watchful waiting, from eager anticipation of that Day. Do not let this sinful world convince you that there is more joy in the things that are passing away, that the world to come is to be dreaded, not anticipated. Do not let sin consume you, deadening your senses and your conscience so that you are prevented from keeping a careful watch. “Watch yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that Day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” The New Testament condemns drunkenness because it is the enemy of watchfulness, because it is emblematic of how all sin consumes us, fixing our eyes on the things of this world rather than on the Christ who will return. The addiction of sin bows our heads down, down to the dust of this fallen world. Repent and stand tall; do not be burdened by sin, let not your eyes be fixed on the things of this world, let not the cares of this life take over, like the seed was overwhelmed by the thorns.

Lift up your heads; do not be weighed down, but remain alert and watchful. “Stay wake at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Be prepared, be watchful, not by your own efforts, not by looking busy or by making sure He won’t catch you sinning, but by living a life of repentance and faith, by hearing Christ’s Word of promise. “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all this has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” The generation of unbelievers will endure until that day, only to pass away into eternal judgment. But Christ’s Word to you will endure, and because of those promises you can stand before the Son of Man on that day with head raised and back straightened.

You see, the whole point of Jesus’ incarnation was to enable you and me to stand before Him on the Day of His return. He suffered, He died, and He rose again so that when the end comes, it will be a day for victory for you and all who believe in Him. That is the only reason why the Gospel of Luke, or the New Testament, or the entire Bible was written, and it is the only reason this place exists. Both Church and Ministry exist for the sole purpose of making people ready to stand before their Lord on the Last Day. How? By washing away the stain of sin and bestowing the robe of righteousness in the font, by proclaiming boldly the forgiveness of sins through the redemption of Christ from this pulpit, and by placing Christ’s Body and Blood into mouths here at this altar. In this place you hear the Word, its promises are applied to you, and you have Christ’s guarantee that this Word and all who believe it will endure even the fires of the Last Day. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” You have received Christ’s gifts, you have been made His child, your sins have been forgiven, and this day I proclaim to you again that your sins are forgiven. In this place you are made ready to stand before your Lord, in this place the chains of sin are cut away, in this place you keep prayerful watch, until that Day when all that Christ’s Word promises comes true.

The end is coming. It is coming soon. The only thing that will endure on that Day is Christ’s Word of promise. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” His promise is that for you and me, for all who believe in Christ, who wear the robe of His righteousness, who have been claimed by His blood, the Last Day is not a day to fear and dread, but a Day to yearn for, a Day to anticipate, a Day to rejoice in. As Malachi proclaims, “For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” The sun will rise on this darkened world, and all things will be made new: the heavens and the earth, even your own body, as your mortal remains are raised up in victory to stand before the Son of Man forever. Body and soul you will go leaping from the stall; His resurrection will reach its fulfillment in your own. On that Day will come to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? You were conquered by the crucified and risen Christ and your end is coming, along with the end of sin and Satan. Your end is coming. It is coming soon. Christ our Lord says in the last verses of the Bible: “Surely I am coming soon,” to which the Church replies, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” Yes, yes, we cry, it shall be so. In the Name of Jesus, our crucified, our risen, our returning Lord, Amen.

No comments: