Sunday, November 28, 2021

The End Times

[Below is the video of worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, for this First Sunday of Advent, November 28, 2021. Beneath that, you'll find the video of our 11:00 AM worship service. That is our modern worship service. We also have an 8:45 traditional worship service. The congregation's building facilities are at 667 Miamisburg-Centerville Road, Dayton (Centerville), Ohio 45459. We presently are worshiping in our Mission Outreach Center on Sunday mornings.]

Luke 21:25-36

Today is the First Sunday of Advent. Advent means coming or arrival. In this Advent Season, we anticipate celebrating Christmas Day, when God the Son, Jesus, arrived in our universe. We also anticipate the Day when Jesus will return. 

In this second coming, Jesus won’t be a helpless baby, come to offer His sinless life on a cross to take our deserved punishment for sin. This time, the risen and ascended Jesus will come in glory to bring the final consummation of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom in which all who have trusted in Him will live, forgiven and new, with God eternally.

The First Sunday of Advent is always about the end times, times that lead to Jesus’ return. After these times, when Jesus returns, will come the single moment when the unrighteous, those who have spurned Christ and His offer of forgiveness of sin and new life through faith in Him, will be sent away from God. 

It will be in that moment too, when the righteous, those who have been made righteous not by their own efforts, but through Holy Spirit-created faith in Jesus, will come to live in the new heaven and the new earth. Death, tears, anxieties, temptations, and sin will all be in the rearview mirror for those who trust in Christ!

In this morning’s Gospel lesson, Luke 21:25-36, Jesus shifts away from teaching the disciples (and us) about the destruction of the temple, an event that will happen about thirty-seven years after He speaks here, to talk about the last days of the fallen universe and all that will happen with it. 

You’ll remember that this entire time of teaching from Jesus began when the disciples asked Him, “[W]hen will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7) Jesus doesn’t say when they’ll happen. As Jesus, after His crucifixion, risen and about to ascend to heaven, will later tell the disciples, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7) 

But as our lesson for today begins, He does talk about the signs pointing to the end: “On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint [die is likely a better translation than faint] from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” (Acts 21:25-26)

According to Jesus, in the end, the whole universe will convulse and thrash and deteriorate as it lurches toward its inevitable end. There will be no escaping it. 

Of course, it’s not just the cosmos that lurches to an end. Each and every one of us, heirs of the sin we inherit from our parents and filled with the death that sin unleashes in us, will one day die. And just as we don’t know when the cosmos will end, we also don’t know when we will end. 

For most people, thoughts of the end of this world or of their own lives will come as entirely and only bad news. And to be honest, I don’t look forward to the process of my life’s end, whether that process is fast or slow. As you’ve heard me say before, I agree with the guy who said, “I don’t mind dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

But, according to Jesus, neither you, I, nor the cosmos have any choice in this matter. In a fallen universe, even the righteous suffer. 

In our lesson and elsewhere, by the way, Jesus does not say that Christians will fly away, O Lordy. In fact, the passage that’s usually cited to support this false teaching which only arose in 1830, nearly two thousand years after Jesus died and rose, 1 Thessalonians 4:17, doesn’t support this notion at all. 

Literally, the apostle Paul writes there, “Then, we the remaining living, together with them [that is, with those who died believing in Jesus, who Jesus raises on the last day] will be caught away in the clouds [not referring, as we’ll see to clouds high above us, but the clouds that, according to Psalm 104:3, God rides like a chariot and which, as happened at Jesus’ transfiguration, will descend to Creation to reveal Jesus and His Kingdom...will be caught away with the clouds where Jesus is King] for meeting [here, the word used here is one usually used of crowds going to welcome people like kings] in the air…” 

And it’s this last word, air, that puts the lie to the non-biblical idea of rapture. The word Jesus uses here is ἀέρα, which specifically refers to the air lower to the ground that we can breathe, not the thin air above the earth. The idea is that we will join Jesus in His Kingdom which will finally come to the earth, answering the petition of the Lord's Prayer He teaches us to pray, "Thy kingdom come...on earth as it is in heaven."

So, when the end time comes, believers in Jesus or not, there will be no escaping the cosmic disruptions. As long as this universe clanks along, the words of Jesus about God the Father remain in force: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45) 

But we need not yield to despair. Jesus’ daunting description of the end things should tell us since there are no exemptions from reality to be found in this fallen creation and there is nothing we can do, no work we can perform, no cave we can run to in order to insulate us or move us beyond the death of the world, we need Jesus! We need Jesus to make sense of our living and dying, to give us hope,  purpose, and an eternal future with God beyond this dying cosmos.

That’s why what Jesus says next in our lesson is so important. “At that time they [that means, the whole world] will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:27-28)

For the follower of Jesus Christ, there is everlasting hope beyond the world’s end times. 

Despair is replaced with hope, not because of what we have done, or because of our supposed goodness but solely because of what Jesus Christ has already done for us on the cross and from the empty tomb! When Jesus said with His dying breaths on the cross, "It is finished," He meant it! There, He took our sin into His body and covered ours with His sinless righteousness.

There’s a lot of despair in our world today. We have a novel virus that continues to kill: two friends of my extended family died of the disease just this past week. And we are right to take appropriate precautions when dealing with it. After all, God calls us to exercise good stewardship over the bodies and lives He has given us and to love our neighbors. But COVID-19 need not lead us to despair. Nor should inflation, disruptions in supply chains, political gridlock, climate change, or anything else in this world lead us to despair. These are all SOP--standard operating procedures--in a fallen creation and have been since Adam and Eve slurped fruit juice onto their birthday suits. But Jesus is greater than all that might drive us to despair--over our own sin which condemns us, over our deaths, over the cataclysms that will befall this world, our temporary home.

Friends, today Jesus tells us that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. 

But then, He says, for those who turn away from despair and self-worship and sin and self-sufficiency and sin and turn instead to Jesus for salvation and life, it will be very much better, eternally better

Our call now is to keep following Jesus, to receive His forgiveness, to daily seek His power to walk away from temptation and despair, to “watch, and pray” that we aren’t swept along by the hopelessness and lazy dissipation of this world so that, by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we will when Jesus comes back “be able to stand before the Son of Man.” And that will only happen when, by the power of God's Word, we give heed to that Word, and the Holy Spirit creates saving faith in Jesus within us.

You've heard me talk about the wonderful way that Martin Luther describes the final judgment. Standing before God will be two groups of sinners. One group of sinners, confident of their own goodness and the belief that they're "good enough" for God's Kingdom, even if they'd never given God any thought, will stand naked in their sin. There will be nothing to commend them for eternal life in the Kingdom and they will therefore be condemned and eternally separated from God.

But God will look at another group of people who don't dare to come before God in their own supposed righteousness or goodness. But by God's grace through faith in Christ are covered in Christ's righteousness. And when God looks at them, He'll see them, not in their sin, but He will see Jesus Christ. He'll see sinners who have been sainted as a gift through faith in Christ.

As we trust in the Gospel Word about Jesus we receive in Scripture and the Sacraments, we are fit for eternity, covered by Jesus and not condemned by our own unrighteousness. 

Jesus is coming back. 

We don’t know when. 

But as we turn to Jesus as our help and hope, we will be ready whenever the end happens.