Signs of the King’s Coming on the Clouds

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Sermon for Advent 2 – Populus Sion

Micah 4:1-7  +  Romans 15:4-13  +  Luke 21:25-36

Last week it was the image of lowly King Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey that filled our vision. Now it’s that other image of Jesus’ Advent—the image of glorious King Jesus riding into this world on a cloud.  That first Advent of Christ marked the beginning of the day of salvation, when He came and made atonement for our sins, and we still live in that era.  This is still the day of salvation when God calls out to sinners to repent and believe in His Son.  The second Advent of Christ will mark the end of the day of salvation, so that all who are found believing in Christ at the end of this long day will join the glorious King in His glorious kingdom, while all those who do not believe in Him will go off to everlasting punishment.  The day of salvation is still here, but it’s swiftly coming to an end.

It is surely God’s will, not only that you should come into His Church through Holy Baptism, but just as importantly, that you should remain in His holy Church through a living faith that perseveres all the way up to Christ’s second Advent. And Jesus is well aware that your enemies—the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh—will do all they can to rip you away from Him before He comes.  So in the Gospel Jesus gives us signs to keep us alert and watchful, signs to remind us that, oh yeah, Jesus is coming.  This earth isn’t my real home.  My home is with Jesus in His heavenly kingdom. This life isn’t my real life.  My life is hidden with Christ, and when He appears, I too shall appear with Him in glory.  The signs are all around us.  Jesus is coming soon.

There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars. Elsewhere Jesus speaks of the sun and moon not giving their light.  But He can’t mean that they just go dark, because God promised to Noah long ago that as long as the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night shall not cease. So these signs have to be temporary things, events that come and go and that aren’t even noticed by everyone.  They include things like eclipses and comets, and falling stars and supernovas—all the heavenly events that break the routine of our daily experience of sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset. The fact that many of these events can be explained scientifically doesn’t change anything.  In fact, it’s all the more awesome that God could program these signs into the very fabric of natural law way back at the beginning of creation.  It’s the Word of Jesus that reveals these things to us as the signs that they are—signs of the coming of the Son of Man.  Just as every rainbow is to remind us of God’s covenant with Noah, so let every one of these cosmic events serve as a reminder of Jesus’ imminent return.

And on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring. Again, Jesus is describing temporary events that come and go down here on the earth. Natural disasters and confusion and distress of nations.  Hurricanes and earthquakes, tsunamis and storms of every kind. These, too, are omens of His coming, and when they happen, God’s people are not to despair, but should recognize—Jesus is coming soon.

Men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Not everyone on earth will feel this fear and dread.  Peter tells us in his epistle that life will be going on as usual leading up to Christ’s return, and He will come like a thief in the night, when everyone is going on with business as usual.  But a good many will be living in fear—fear of the future, fear of what’s coming, even though they don’t actually believe Jesus’ Words, that the Son of Man is what’s coming.  Could it be an asteroid or comet that wipes out all life on earth?  Will the planet be destroyed by global warming—or global cooling—or nuclear war?  Could it be aliens that are coming?  No.  It’s the Son of Man who is coming.

Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.  “They will see the Son of Man coming.”  All people—from one end of the earth to the other.  There will be a gathering as the holy angels go out and gather all people together as a farmer sends out workers to gather his harvest.  Now the world scoffs at the words of Jesus.  “Where is the promise of His coming?” But on that day, their mouths will be shut in terror and awe.

But for you who repent of your sins now and believe in Christ now, that day will not be a day of fear and panic.  It’s a day to look forward to.  It’s the day when you will be rid of all the sin that clings to you, rid of all the wickedness and immorality and suffering of this world.  It’s the day when your King returns to you, not to punish you, but to redeem you from this world and bring you into His heavenly kingdom. This is the comfort for the Christian, that no matter how terrible things may appear at the moment, everything ends well for the one who believes in Christ.

Jesus used a parable of the fig tree, and all the trees as an illustration. The new leaves on the trees in spring are a sure sign that summer is coming. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Again, that’s pure comfort for the believer, who wants to be near Christ and who wants to be rid of sin and every evil.

Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. “This generation” is a reference to the Jewish people, the generation of Abraham.  Many times in history it looked like the Jewish people would be wiped off the face of the earth, especially after they rejected Christ at His first Advent.  But no, Jesus says, they will remain as a witness and as a sign.  They will remain as a living testimony to the history of God’s goodness to Israel and of Israel’s stubborn rejection of God’s mercy in Christ.  They will remain as a warning for the Christian Church, lest we should take God’s grace for granted as they did and suffer the same fate they will. Another sign to take note of before Jesus comes.  Another proof that Jesus was telling the truth when He said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

Then, another warning from Jesus: But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  See, Jesus knows our hearts—that even the hearts of believers are prone to getting “weighed down” because of the sin that still lives in us.  When you’re surrounded day in and day out by an earthly life, it’s real easy to get wrapped up in your earthly life—so wrapped up that you forget, your real life is hidden in Christ.  Things like carousing—partying, “going out”—or drunkenness or any of the many cares of this life pull you down to earth, pull you away from Christ and become a snare for you, a trap.  It can be a job that takes over your life, or friends whose friendship becomes more important than God.  It can be a girlfriend or boyfriend, so that you’re more interested in developing your relationship with him or her than you are in following the word of Christ, or receiving the body and blood of Christ.

Watch, Jesus says!  Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man. Who will be counted worthy?  This is what God says in the last chapter of Isaiah, “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word.” Has the Word of God revealed your sin to you so that your spirit is poor and contrite and sorrowful over your sins? Then you are blessed.  Has the Word of Jesus caused you to tremble—that is, do you take His warnings seriously and flee to Him for refuge?  Then you are safe—safe from the punishment and condemnation that is coming on this world, safe on the day when Jesus comes in a cloud with power and great glory.  You won’t be able to stand before the Son of Man on your own merits or goodness.  You won’t be able to stand before the Son of Man and tell Him what a good life you lived.  But you will most certainly be able to stand before the Son of Man by faith in His goodness, by faith in His merits.  And the forgiveness of sins that is handed out to you now in the body and blood of Christ from this altar will still shield you from wrath on the day when He comes.  His body and blood are what make you able to stand on that day.

Jesus is coming soon.  See the signs all around you.  They point you to repentance.  They point you to faith.  They point you to watchfulness and prayer.  And they signal your final redemption.  Amen.

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