December 8, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last week, the Holy Evangelist went out of his way to show Jesus’ humility as He entered Jerusalem to reflect the nature of this king and His kingdom. His is a kingdom not of this world, a kingdom that is ruled by grace and not by power. It’s a kingdom hidden under humility, under suffering and the cross. Its King is robed in mockery, crowned with thorns, and enthroned on a cross.
But today there is a sharp distinction between the kingdom that Christ brings on a donkey and the one He brings on the clouds. This kingdom shakes the foundations of the world, the heavens shudder at His coming. This is no kingdom of grace, it’s a kingdom of glory, when Jesus is revealed as He is, and all things are revealed as they are.
Here’s what will happen when Christ comes again in glory. And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of the nations in despair of the sound of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and expectation of that which is coming upon the habitation. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see for themselves the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and much glory (vv 25-27).
First the signs. Last year, I drove to meet my friend for the midnight showing of the new Hobbit movie in Indianapolis. One of the less bright moments of my life was the decision to drive the three hours home when the movie let out around 3 a.m. But the poor decision for my sleep cycle paid off with a fantastic light show from the Geminid meteor shower. Some of the falling stars were quite impressive, actually lighting up the night sky like lightning.
Looking up at a calm sky you feel somewhat inferior in this vast creation, but when something unusual happens you definitely get a sense of foreboding. Even if you know that the eclipse of the moon is caused by the moon passing through the earth’s shadow, to see it happen is a wonder to behold.
These are signs that we are in the days leading to Christ’s return. But the signs aren’t just in the heavens. On earth there is distress of a different kind. Have you ever stood at the edge of the earth in the middle of the night? You can hear the waves, but you look out and see only black. A vast emptiness. And you wonder if at any time the seas might just break their boundaries and swallow you whole. And they do from time to time. Typhoon Haiyan and the Japanese tsunami and Hurricane Sandy have all made headlines in recent years, and despite the experts’ attempts to peg these things on global warming Jesus wants you to know that, whether or not they have anything to do with CO2 levels, they still point to His return in glory.
St. Paul writes to the Romans, We know that all of creation continues groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now (Rom 8:22). There may be an ebb and flow to these signs, but they will certainly be increasing until that day when Christ returns. Because the creation is preparing for Christ to reveal it as it is.
Up to this point God has dealt with His creation in a hidden way. God hidden in man, power hidden in weakness and humility, victory hidden in suffering and the cross, body hidden in bread, saint hidden in sinner. But on the last day He will come with power and great glory. Glory is one of those million-dollar words in Scripture. It’s peppered throughout the sacred writings, but maybe it’s used so often it gets kind of abstracted.
Glory means visible manifestation. In the Old Testament, God’s glory was when He appeared—specifically in Exodus in fire by night and cloud by day. This same cloud settled in the Tabernacle and when the cloud departed, the Israelites knew it was time to move on because God was moving on. In this same sense, Jesus is the glory of God because He is the revelation of God. God in flesh made manifest. But how He truly is, is still hidden under a humble exterior. There are glimpses in His miracles and His transfiguration, and certainly in His resurrection, but you always get the feeling that He’s holding back.
Not so on the Last Day. Much glory. Full glory. The whole creation will see Jesus as He is. And the creation will be revealed for what it is. The sin and corruption on earth will be revealed in such a way that creation itself shudders at the revelation. It will be a dread and mourning.
But, When these things begin to happen, straighten up and raise your heads, for your redemption is drawing near (v 28). This is another instance of the Divine Irony. What appears to be the final victory of the kingdom of the evil one—the world trembling in fear and distress—is in actuality, the Advent of your redemption.
Redemption is a term that St. Paul uses often with reference to the body. “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23). This redemption is the resurrection of the dead. Jesus is the firstfruits of the Spirit, the first body to rise from the dead glorified, revealed as He is. You, too, will be revealed for what you are—sons of God.
And He said a parable to them, “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees, when they at last put out leaves, you see for yourselves and know that at last summer is near. In this way also you, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near. Amen, I say to you, that this generation will certainly not pass away until all has happened. The heavens and the earth will pass away, but My words will certainly not pass away (vv 29-33).
Signs are only as good as what they point to. Like the buds on trees pointing ahead to summer, so these things that appear outwardly to be the destruction of God’s kingdom point to the hidden reality that will be revealed when Christ comes again. And here’s the promise. Amen, I say to you. Jesus only says that when He has something of particular importance to say—say like the main point of this whole thing. This generation will certainly not pass away until all has happened. The heavens and the earth will pass away, but My words will certainly not pass away.
This is the promise. Though you will see signs in the heavens and even more frightening ones upon the earth, though it appears that the evil one is winning the day, this generation will not pass away. That is to say, this present Kingdom of Grace will not end before Christ comes again. Hidden under these awful exterior signs is the grace of God. Why? Because though even the heavens and the earth pass away, Jesus’ words will certainly not pass away. The Word of the Lord endures forever. And because His Word endures, you will endure this present age.
When the Heavens and the Earth Pass Away in God’s Wrath, You Will Endure to Eternity with Christ’s Word
The problem with words of great comfort is that you may also become too comfortable, so Christ also adds these words. Watch yourselves, lest your hearts be burdened in intoxication and drunkenness and cares of life, and that day come upon you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth. Be alert in all times, praying that you have strength to escape all these things that are going to happen and to stand before the Son of Man (vv 34-36).
Drunkenness dulls the senses. That’s why drinking and driving are a deadly combination. You lose sight of things. Jesus compares the cares of this life to a spiritual drunkenness or intoxication. I’m not sure if Jesus intended these words to be assigned to the weeks leading up to Christmas, but surely He knew they would. ‘Tis the season for cares of life. There’s a lot going on at this time of year, a lot that can cause you to lose sight of things. Seems like if that day will come suddenly like a trap, the month of December would be the time that He would come again. Are you prepared?
To be alert for the return of Jesus is to pray. Pray for strength. Usually when we pray, we fold our hands and bow our heads. But that’s not the ancient position for prayer. The ancient way of praying is to stand up straight, and raise your head, and hold out your hands. Straighten up. Raise your head. And pray. Pray that the Lord would make you straight by forgiving your sins, that He would lift up your head to watch for His return, that He would send the Spirit to intercede for you with groanings too deep for words. Because when you have the Word of God hidden in you, you have the work of God hidden in you. And you will be prepared.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard