Sermon for Populus Sion – Advent 2
Romans 15:4-13 + Luke 21:25-36
Where is planet earth headed? What’s coming for our human race? There seems to be a growing uneasiness in men’s hearts about the future of our world. Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking—an atheist—recently gave our planet an expiration date, more or less. Within a thousand years, he says, the earth will be uninhabitable for humans. So we’d better get to Mars and figure out how to colonize inhospitable planets! We’d better find another home, somewhere in the galaxy, because this one’s days are numbered!
A lot of people know, or sense, that something dreadful is coming. Apocalyptic visions of catastrophe and destruction, either for our race, or for our planet, or both, are commonplace. Whether it’s due to climate change, or war, an unfortunately aimed asteroid, the loss of the ozone layer, solar radiation, the degradation of earth’s magnetic field, super volcanoes, or alien invasion, the people of earth seem to suspect that something dreadful is coming on the earth.
Of course, we Christians know their suspicions are warranted. Something dreadful is coming—the Day of the Lord, when He comes for judgment, to wipe out, not just the earth, but the heavens, too. And leading up to that dreadful Day, there will be any number of signs, which the Lord Christ told us about nearly 2,000 years ago.
What should we be watching for, leading up to that dreadful Day? What are these signs? Luke’s Gospel mentions several of them, and Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 24, mentions others. Combined, there are nine signs that should keep us awake, focused and ready for the Day of the Lord—nine signs that sound the alarm: The end of the age is coming!
#1: There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars. What does that mean? Asteroids? Sun spots? Solar and lunar eclipses? Supernovae—stars exploding? Maybe. If so, we’ve been seeing these signs for a long time. But Matthew’s Gospel puts these signs in the heavens at the end, after the other things have taken place, just as the Last Day arrives. He writes: Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven. So I’m of the opinion that the heavenly signs Jesus refers to won’t happen until the very end.
#2: There will be distress of nations, with perplexity. Anguish and anxiety, stress and unrest. Not for everyone, not all the time. But enough that it’s noticeable. Have you noticed a growing amount of anguish and anxiety in the world, stress and unrest? It’s not hard to find.
#3: The sea and the waves roaring. To those signs in nature, Matthew adds earthquakes, famines and pestilences. Heard of any of those things recently?
#4: In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of wars and rumors of wars, nation rising up against nation and kingdom against kingdom. Tell me a time when that hasn’t been around! When I was growing up, several conflicts and two World Wars had already come and gone just in the 20th Century, and it was the Cold War and the constant rumor of WWIII and nuclear holocaust. Today it’s cyberwarfare, the Middle East, monetary crises, and growing tensions among the super powers.
#5 Men’s hearts fainting from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth. Do you see that happening? The suicide rate just keeps rising. The global panic over global warming—or is it global cooling? or is it climate change? Over the past 40 years the terms have changed, and the end of life on earth has been predicted multiple times. It’s a wonder we’re still here! To be frank, many climate change alarmists are just hypocrites pushing an insidious agenda to cripple capitalism and to promote socialism and fascism. But many are truly alarmed. Their hearts are fainting from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth. They just don’t believe what Jesus says about what’s really coming on the earth.
#6: Matthew writes that Christians will be hated, persecuted, and put to death. We saw such rabid hatred of Christians in the first few centuries after Christ. We saw it again, to a degree, at the time of the Reformation. But I would suggest that never before in the Christian era has Christianity been as widely and as openly hated as it is today. And you can think of all sorts of examples, big and small, from creation-believing students being ridiculed by their teachers, to bakers and photographers being fined, to synodical suspensions of pastors, to Christians in other parts of the world having their heads removed and their bodies burned. See the signs for what they are.
#7: Matthew mentions the great dissemination of false doctrine and false prophets, many Christians falling away from the faith and many being deceived. There have always been plenty of false teachings and idols in the world. But this false doctrine is a sign within the external Christian Church. It’s true, some churches split over non-doctrinal reasons. But the vast majority of Christian confessions or denominations around the world exist because of differences in doctrine. And any doctrine that is different than that which was passed down to us from the Prophets and Apostles, working under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is false and even demonic. The very existence of so many different churches is a sign that Christ is coming soon.
#8: Jesus says that lawlessness will abound, and because of it, the love of most will grow cold. We see such things happening. We see the lawless side, for example, when people target and kill police officers and loot and burn down businesses. We also see love growing cold as people react to such lawlessness with hatred and rage of their own.
And finally, #9, the one sign of Christ’s coming that’s pure and pleasant and sweet: Jesus says, This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Well, look at that! The Gospel of Christ is still being preached. It has reached into all the world, and it will continue to be preached until the end of the world, no matter how much the devil and the world try to snuff it out.
All the signs are there: this world is coming to a close. The leaves on the fig tree have sprouted. Summer is almost here. None of the signs that we see taking place should give us reason either to fear, or to complain, or to indulge in self-pity—or worse, in revenge. None of it. None of the signs that we see taking place around us should cause us to panic or to try to reverse the course of the world or to save the planet. The planet is unsalvageable. Our race is unsalvageable, un-savable—
Except for the one and only salvation that God Himself has provided: that all men should repent, believe in Christ crucified, and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, now, before it’s too late, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. And for those who have been baptized, God continues to provide for our salvation with daily forgiveness of sins in His Church, with the preaching and teaching of His Word, with the Holy Supper that gives us the body and blood of Jesus to keep renewing us in faith, in hope, and in love all the way up to the day of His coming.
But what can happen? Men can reject the Word of Christ, even those who were once counted among His people. We have a vivid reminder of that held before our eyes: Jesus says, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.
To what generation was He referring? Clearly many generations of men have come and gone since then without the end having come. For the most part, the phrase “this generation” in the Gospels refers to the unbelieving Jews, the physical descendants of Israel who were once the Church of God, but then stopped being the Church of God when they refused to believe that Jesus was God’s Son and their promised Messiah, when they refused to repent and look to Him for salvation. Many of them have been converted to Christianity, but many more remain unconverted and hardened in their unbelief, and you can expect them to remain in that state until the end of the world, as a tragic warning for Christians of what happens when you’re not ready for Christ’s coming.
Heaven and earth will pass away, Jesus says. Sorry, Stephen Hawking, Mars and the rest of the galaxy will offer no shelter from that day. It’s not only the earth that will be destroyed. Heaven and earth will pass away. But My words will by no means pass away. Isn’t that the reason to keep hearing and learning the Word of Christ? His words will outlast even the earth itself. His promises will never fall. His truth will never change or become obsolete.
In that Word, Jesus pleads urgently with His dear people, 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. Carousing can include partying, becoming obsessed with sports, entertainment, obsessed with food, obsessed with clothing and style. Drunkenness includes overindulgence in drink, in drugs, in sex. Cares of this life includes just about everything else: technology, education, career, retirement, buying Christmas presents, etc. It’s easy to become weighed down with all these things and to put the Last Day on the back burner of your heart.
So watch 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. How do you escape all these things? By being preserved in faith and in watchfulness until the end, whether that end means our death before the Last Day, or our being preserved in faith if we’re still alive on earth when the Last Day finally comes. How do you stand before the Son of Man? By faith in Him who died for us and rose again. That’s all. Faith in Him now will make us worthy to stand before Him then. And for those who believe in Christ Jesus, there is nothing to fear or dread on the Day of His coming. Instead, Jesus says, When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near. Christ, our Redeemer, has already paid for our sins and reconciled us with God through faith and made us children of God through Holy Baptism. Only the final redemption awaits, when this planet is destroyed and the rest of the human race is cast out into eternal torment. For those who are found believing in Christ at His coming, there will be no punishment and no condemnation. Only the redemption of our bodies, the destruction of sin and death, and the beginning of a new and glorious life in the New Jerusalem, the home of righteousness. Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.