Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost (C)
November 18, 2007
Text: Luke 21:5-36

Beloved in Christ, do you really believe that the Lord could return at any moment? Do you really believe that we are living in the last days? Are you prepared? The question is of eternal significance. Do you take Jesus and His promise of a speedy return seriously? For He has left us a warning. He has interpreted the signs for us. His coming again in judgment is imminent. The time is short. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17; ESV).

It is so easy for us to be complacent, to lull ourselves into a false sense of security. Jesus has not returned in the nearly 2,000 years since His resurrection and ascension. Why would He come back today? But He could. Don’t let Him find you sleeping. “‘Wake, awake, for night is flying,’ The watchmen on the heights are crying; ‘Awake, Jerusalem, arise!’” (LSB 516:1). Awake, for the Master comes. “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes” (12:37). Keep watch. For you do not know the day or hour. It is true, it could be a thousand years from now. But it could be today. Be vigilant. “(W)atch 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… But 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” (21:34, 36). “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).

For this reason it is so important that we heed the signs of the end and of our Lord’s return. “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 near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:29-31). You know how to read the signs that signal a change in the weather. Therefore read and heed the signs that signal the end of the age. What then are these signs? What things tell us of the Lord’s impending return for judgment?

For one, the destruction of the temple and of the city of Jerusalem in AD 70. Jesus prophesied the destruction of both in our text, nearly 40 years before the events took place. The disciples thought Jesus should be impressed by the majestic temple and all of its trappings. But “As for these things that you see,” declares Jesus, “the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (v. 6). The temple has become obsolete with the incarnation of Jesus. The dwelling place of God is with men, not in the temple, which was a shadow of the reality to come, but in the true Temple, the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of Mary, and Son of God. It is of this Temple that Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). “(H)e was speaking about the temple of his body” (v. 21). God dwells with men in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the Temple of God. So the temple of bricks and stone is no longer needed and was destroyed by the Romans as a sign of the end.

Likewise the city of Jerusalem, which was thoroughly sacked by the Romans at the same time that the temple was destroyed. Nearly 40 years before this, Jesus declared that the sacking of Jerusalem would be so great and terrible that the usual blessing of pregnancy and little children would become a great woe! The children would hinder the escape of the women from the city in that great and terrible day! But Jerusalem as the Holy City was also a shadow of the reality to come. Jerusalem was holy because the temple was in its midst. But the earthly city of Jerusalem pointed forward to the New Jerusalem, the Church Triumphant, “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb… coming down out of heaven from God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal” (Rev. 21:9, 11). When St. John saw the vision of the New Jerusalem, He declared, “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (v. 22). Jesus is the Temple of God, and He dwells in the midst of His New Jerusalem, the Church triumphant, and His new Israel, the Church on earth, the Church militant. The Church is holy because the Temple of Jesus’ flesh is in her midst.

The destruction of the earthly temple and the earthly Jerusalem in AD 70 was therefore a sign of the consummation of all things. Jesus is making all things complete. Therefore the end is near. Jesus was declaring what signs the disciples should look for with regard to the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem when He declared, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:10-11). Indeed, all of these things took place. Likewise a great persecution of Christians broke out, just as Jesus predicted: “before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake” (v. 12). These signs are not unlike the signs that precede the end of the age. In fact, Jesus springboards off of His warning about the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem in order to warn His disciples about His second coming.

The signs of Jesus’ second coming are terrifying: “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. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (vv. 25-27). Great and terrible is that day. We see these signs even now, for example, in the devestating tsunami and the flooding of New Orleans after Katrina. These are signs of the end. But how should God’s people, Jesus’ disciples, regard the coming of the Son of Man?

“Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (v. 28). While everyone else is cowering with fear at the coming of the Lord Jesus to judge the quick and the dead, Christians stand tall and face that Day with confidence. You do so not because of any merit or worthiness in you. You do not claim your own righteousness, but the righteousness of Jesus. Because you know that Jesus died for you and lives for you. You know that He paid for your sins on the cross and was raised for your justification. You know He fulfilled the Law for you. You know that you are baptized into Him, into His life, into His death, into His resurrection. You have put on Christ. Your robes have been washed white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore when you come before His throne of judgment, you have nothing to fear. You have already been declared righteous on account of Jesus. That’s what it means to be justified. And when Jesus judges you, He will say to you, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).

It will not go so well for those who are not found to be in Christ, who have not believed in Him and are not baptized in His Name. They will be cast out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Jesus will say to them on the Last Day, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41). “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch” (Mal. 4:1). The judgment is real, and it is coming swiftly. That is why it is so important to keep watch and be prepared.

You are prepared by remaining in Jesus’ Word and faith. Heaven and earth will pass away, but Jesus' Word will never pass away (Luke 21:33). Believe His Word. For your redemption is coming. “But 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” (Mal. 4:3). Trust Jesus and you do not have to fear that Day. It will be a Day of great rejoicing for you. For on that Day the Lord will call the bodies of the dead out of the grave and reunite them with their souls. Those who are left alive will be caught up with Jesus and those who have preceded them in death. All the fetters of this fallen world will be shed for perfect freedom. No more sickness. No more pain. No more sin. No more devil. And most of all, no more death. All believers in Christ will be given eternal life in the new creation. They will dwell with God and bask in His glory, and He Himself shall wipe away every tear from their eyes. This is not just a pious wish. It is the blessed reality for every one of you who are in Christ.

The Lord could return at any moment. But the Church awaits His coming with eager anticipation, for His coming signals our deliverance. In an age of wars and rumors of wars, disturbances in the heavens, and overwhelming floods, the very creation testifies that the Lord is coming soon. So the Church watches and waits and communes and prays, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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