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 17, 2013

Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost


 

Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 28)
November 17, 2013
Text: Luke 21:5-36

            Judgment Day, the Day of our Lord Christ’s second coming, His coming to judge the living and the dead, is understandably scary to most people. Books and movies from Ghostbusters to Left Behind capitalize on the sinner’s natural fear of the end of the world and the notion of standing before the judgment seat of a righteous and holy God. And so our Gospel lesson this morning can be one of the scarier readings of the Holy Scriptures. To complicate matters, many of us don’t understand what Jesus is talking about. And so to the fears already mentioned, we add the fear of the unknown. What does all of this mean? How should we regard the Judgment Day? What will happen on that Day? Should we be afraid? How do we prepare? These questions are imperative, for our Lord Jesus is coming again, and He is coming to judge. That Day will be the end of this fallen creation and the full manifestation of the new. On that Day, which will come when we are not expecting it, like a thief in the night, in the twinkling of an eye, everything will be changed. The books will be opened, and all will have to give an account of themselves to God. Those who have believed in Jesus need not fear this Day, however. For their sins have been covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. They have been forgiven. In Christ, they have the sure and certain hope of eternal life. None of their sins will count against them, but the perfect righteousness of Christ alone will be counted as their own. But those who have not believed in Christ should indeed fear a great fear. For they have rejected their Savior’s salvation. They have refused His blood and death as their atonement. And so even though Jesus died for them also on the cross, His death cannot benefit them. They will be cast into hell with the devil and his demons to suffer the wrath of God for all eternity.
            It’s not a nice thought. And so there is good reason for many people to be scared of this impending Day of Judgment. But again, how should we as Christians regard this Day, and how should we prepare for it? For the Christian, Judgment Day is not a Day of dread, but a Day of rejoicing. Jesus tells us how we should regard this Day in our Gospel this morning: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28; ESV). Yes, “your redemption is drawing near.” As strange as it may seem, the Christian looks forward to the Day of our Lord’s visible returning. We even pray that it may come quickly. Why? Because it is the Day of our deliverance. It is the Day of our deliverance from our old Adam, the sinful, fallen flesh. It is the Day of our deliverance from this fallen creation that groans under the weight of our sin. It is the Day of our deliverance from sin and death, from pain and sadness, from suffering and persecution, from the crafts and assaults of the evil one, and from any possibility of spiritually perishing. And it is the ushering in of the full manifestation of the new creation brought about by Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is the Day of our own resurrection from the dead, to enjoy eternal life with Jesus Christ in a new heaven and a new earth with all believers in Christ, including all of our loved ones who have died in the faith. It is the Day of a new order. The old order of things has passed away. No more hunger and thirst. No more anger and malice. No more suffering and sighing. We will have come out of the great tribulation. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev. 7:17).
            That we may keep the joy and hope of this Day before our eyes, it is helpful to understand Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel lesson. There are actually three things Jesus speaks of in His prophecy, all related. To begin with, Jesus is speaking of the actual siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the Jewish Temple that would, and did, take place in AD 70, at the hands of the Romans under emperor Titus, to punish the Jewish zealots who had taken control of the city. Thus a little less than 40 years after Jesus spoke the words concerning the Temple, “the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down”(Luke 21:6), His prophecy came true. Many of the things Jesus speaks of in our Gospel this morning have to do, not first and foremost with the end of the world, but with the siege of Jerusalem, including Jerusalem being surrounded by armies (that’s the Romans!), the people of Judea fleeing to the mountains (again, from the Romans!), and the woes to the women who are pregnant and nursing (because fleeing from the Romans would be harder for pregnant women and those who had little children to worry about!). Thus the Jewish Temple was destroyed, and has not been rebuilt since. This was God’s judgment against the Jews who had rejected the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Nor need we Christians be concerned with any rebuilding of the Temple, for the Temple, the dwelling place of God with men, is no longer a temple built by human hands, but the Temple that is the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Emmanuel, God with us, God in human flesh, and He dwells in His Church in His Word and Holy Sacraments.
            Jesus says that the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the earthly Temple were signs, however, of the Last Day and the coming of the Son of Man. And this is the second thing He speaks of, His coming to judge. He points to other signs as well: nation against nation, earthquakes, famines and pestilences, persecution of Christians, great fear and foreboding. These are all signs of the end, and beloved, they have always been a part of this creation since the fall of man into sin. These are not terrible signs that will happen just before the Last Day. They have always been happening. And they are always a sign of the end. 9/11 was a sign of the end, and a call to repentance. Hurricane Katrina was a sign of the end and a call to repentance. The typhoon in the Philippines was a sign of the end and a call to repentance. Every tragedy, every natural disaster, every sickness, is a reminder to us from God Himself that our death, and the end of the world, is immanent. Therefore we should repent of our sins, confess them to God, and believe that on account of His Son’s suffering and death on the cross, all our sins are forgiven and we have eternal life. For the Day is coming. “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). But this is a Day for which Christians long. We pray for it to come quickly. We greet it with joy. “Now when these things begin to take place,” when you see the signs, “straighten up and raise your heads.” Do not be overcome by fear and despair. The Lord who is coming is gracious to you. He became flesh for you. He fulfilled the Law for you. He suffered and died for you. He is risen and lives for you. He gives you His righteousness. He loves you. So straighten up. Raise your heads. For “your redemption is drawing near.”
            Finally, when Jesus speaks of the destruction of the Temple, He is looking forward to the destruction of the true Temple that is His body. He would be surrounded by armies, arrested, mocked, spit upon, tortured, and destroyed on the cross. And His disciples would flee. These things had to take place. It was divinely necessary. It was as Jesus said: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). He was speaking of the temple of His body, of His death, and His victorious resurrection on the third day. And beloved, it is because of this destruction of the Temple of Jesus’ body, and His resurrection on the third day, that we can approach the Day of Judgment with every confidence. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are already judged. Our sins have already been punished on the cross. The resurrection is God’s verdict upon the whole world that we are justified, righteous, with the righteousness of Jesus.
            So we need not fear. But we do need to be prepared. For no man knows when Jesus will return. It will come unexpectedly, at any moment, perhaps even today. So how do we prepare? We prepare by remaining in Christ, by remaining in His presence by continual use of His gifts in His Word and Sacraments. We remain with Him by remaining in the Holy Church. By remaining with Jesus and His gifts, we are able with the Spirit’s help to watch ourselves, lest our hearts be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the cares of this life. In other words, when we are separated from the gifts of Christ, we begin to be distracted by the affairs and concerns of this earthly life, as if this is what is all-important. And so our eyes are taken off of Jesus and His redemption and salvation, as well as the impending judgment. But when we come to the place Christ has promised to be, His Church, gathered around His gifts, He Himself firmly fixes our eyes upon Himself. And He opens our ears and hearts to hear His Word. And this is so important, because the Word is the only thing that lasts. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). “(T)he word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:25). And this eternal Word conveys to us the righteousness of Christ in which we can confidently face the Day of Judgment.
            Finally, let us avoid all false teachers, for Jesus says “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them” (Luke 21:8). Let’s not give credence to the half-baked notions of the Millennialist crowd about the so-called rapture and the 1,000 year reign of Christ. For these are precisely the false teachers Jesus speaks of. They neither understand the imagery of the Scriptures nor the use of numbers like 1,000 in the Book of Revelation. Beloved, Christ will come once to judge the living and the dead. He will be visible to all. Every eye will see Him. And those who believe in Christ will be raised to eternal life, but the unbelievers to eternal death in hell. No, let us not be deceived, but believe only the simple Word of God, and this will be our comfort. For those who are in Christ, those who believe in Him, will be caught up with Him in the clouds to meet Him in the air. And so they will always be with the Lord. We will always be with the Lord. Let us then believe this firmly, and be comforted by these words, even as we eagerly look for our Lord to come again. And let us join Him where He comes among us even now, in the Supper of His body and blood. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

                                                                                            

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