“Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ: is the world prepared for the Last Day? Does the world know that it’s end is coming, that the Savior it rejected is returning to judge both the living and the dead? The strange thing is, I think this world knows that the end is coming, this world has an inkling that progress will not continue unabated forever, deep down this world knows that eventually the institutions and technologies that we trust in will fail. My evidence? Movies, books, TV shows, and video games. Our popular entertainment is filled with stories about the world falling apart, about the end of our current way of life, the destruction of those pillars of society that we cling to so tightly. The vision of the future presented in movies is not utopia anymore, but dystopia, a ruined future, populated by villains and zombies, a world devastated by war or ecological disaster. From Wall-E to the Hunger Games to the Walking Dead, this world has some sense, deep down, that the end is coming. Maybe these movies and shows are meant to be prophecies, maybe they simply give expression to our deepest fears, but in some limited way, the world is reading the signs of the end, and the world is terrified.
“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 with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” The world fears the end because all the world can see is the sweeping away of everything that it holds dear. There is no safety in these dystopic futures; there is tyranny and oppression, there is violence and poverty. This is not a world that you want to dwell in, this is not a reality that you want to have happen to you. So people are spurred on to seek solutions, to safeguard themselves from apocalyptic disaster. Everything from stronger governments to powerful medicines, to things like recycling and doomsday shelters are all enlisted to avoid the disaster that is coming.
There’s a fundamental problem with these solutions: the end of the world isn’t coming from any action of man, and so no solution of man can halt it. The end of the world is an act of God Himself, and the only solution, therefore, is repentance, crying out for deliverance. Every minute that this world endures is due to the patience of God over the corruption wrought by sin, but eventually, that patience will run out. The only answer is to turn from the sins that fix your eyes on this doomed world and lift up your head toward God, begging for salvation. “But 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. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” This world, as much as it might fear the destruction of all that it holds dear, steadfastly refuses the only hope that is has been given to it: repentance.
Their hope comes from somewhere else. You see, these doomsday stories always have the ‘good guys,’ who are working their way through that terrible, destroyed world, and they will be the ones to rebuild. There is the potential of a new day, a resurgence of human culture, that from the ashes society will rise again. At the end of the movie, The Book of Eli, Denzel Washington’s character reaches an island where culture is preserved, and he gives them a copy of the Bible, to shelve next to the Koran. The message is clear: humanity will survive. What these stories try to get across to us is the same as any war movie: the triumph of the human spirit, that we as humans can overcome anything, even the utter destruction of our society. Yes, there is much to fear, but there is hope, and it is founded upon you and your fellow man, the heroism that dwells within. Salvation comes from you, and only from you; and together with other heroes, you can overcome.
That is where all of these stories fail so utterly. When the Last Day comes, you cannot save yourself, no matter how much ammo or canned goods you have stored in your cellar. No band of spunky humans will have the ability to rebuild anything, for everything will be destroyed. “The powers of the heavens will be shaken,” Jesus says; they will indeed be shaken, shaken apart. All that God so carefully put into place; the order that once characterized creation, will utterly fall apart. This is no disease, no ecological disaster, not even World War Three; this is the unraveling of creation itself. Environmentalists claim that we can destroy this world; they’re wrong—man can’t do it, but God can, and He will. The Last Day is complete, and it is total, and the only savior on that Day is the Savior that is coming on the clouds to greet His own.
“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” The world should fear; it is bowed low, engrossed in its sins, refusing to repent. When that Day comes, there will only be fear, “people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” But for those who repent, those who believe, those who cling to the One who is coming on the clouds, that Day will be a Day of victory. “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Lift up your heads, straighten your backs, dear friends. Do not be bowed low with sin, do not let this world drag you down into the filth, but stand tall in repentance, in faith. For the One coming on the clouds is the One who descended once before, who descended from heaven for your salvation. The One who is coming on the Last Day is the One who shed His blood for your sins, who rose again from the dead. The One who is coming is your crucified and risen Savior.
The angels told the disciples as they gazed into heaven, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” The One who is returning from heaven on the Last Day is the One who ascended into heaven having destroyed sin, death, and Satan. So rejoice, dear friends, rejoice to see the signs that are coming on this earth. We do not rejoice that these terrible things have happened to us or our neighbors, we rejoice in what these events point to—the end of all sin and suffering when Christ returns in glory. The world is coming do an end because your Savior is returning. Rejoice to see this world hasten toward its end; rejoice that your redemption is drawing near. The One who is coming is your Savior, your Lord, who forsook His rightful place at the right hand of God to take on human flesh for your salvation. The One who is coming is Jesus, who suffered at the hands of evil men, who faced the whip and scourge for you. The One who is coming is the One who loved you so much that He would not leave you in your sins; when the Last Day comes, so does your redemption: do not fear, rejoice!
There is no fear for the one who is in Christ, only joy. There is no fear for the one who is in Christ, only anticipation of what is to come. The tumults and terrors of this world, as horrifying as they are, as much as they may impact your property, your health, even your life, are signs that Jesus is drawing near. “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.” Every natural disaster, every market crash, every outbreak of disease should cause us to rejoice that Christ is drawing near—again, not in the disaster itself and the suffering it causes, but in the promise that the disaster points to. We cry out, ‘O Lord, how long?’ and rejoice to know that He is drawing ever nearer; the signs tell us that this world will not last for long.
There is no need for fear; the end of all these signs is your redemption. There is no need for fear; the end of all these signs is your Savior returning on the clouds. Jesus’ advice? “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Straighten you backs; raise your heads. Stand tall, not bowed down with fear, not troubled by the terrible events described in the Scriptures. These signs must happen, but they are precursors to a reality that is indescribable, a reality without sin, a reality without evil, the new heavens and the new earth where you will dwell with Jesus, body and soul, forever. That is what the Last Day will bring, that is what we anticipate, that is what Christ brings with Him when He returns upon the clouds.
Are you ready? You must be, for all the signs point to Christ’s return at any moment; every sign of the end that Jesus gives us has happened and is happening right now. There is nothing left to be accomplished. Jesus can come at any moment, before the end of this sentence or the end of this sermon. He says it best Himself: “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 very point of a trap is that it goes off suddenly—are you ready? The world would keep you drowsy, with your head down; the advice of Jesus is to be awake, alert in prayer, with your head lifted in anticipation of His return. “Stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Are you ready to stand before Jesus? The answer is found in our text. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” You are ready because you are in Christ, you are covered by His blood, you are redeemed by His death. The only shelter on that Day is to be in Jesus. You are ready because you have a life in Christ that is indestructible, you have been claimed by the Word which endures even when all else passes away. His Word will not pass away, and neither will you, for the One who is coming is Jesus, your Savior, your Lord. In His Name, Amen.