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Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It would be easy to look around at the state of the world and decide that the end of all things must be near. We see what’s happening in the news, what horrible things people are doing to each other, the effects of unbelief and false belief, and we might well say that things can’t continue on this way. How long can it go? How much worse can it get? Something’s gotta give. For Christians, that “something” that has to give is the appearance of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The fact is, though, that much of our sense of how bad things are is exaggerated because of the things we see, hear, and read in the news. It’s a cliché that if it bleeds, it leads. So of course we’re going to see primarily the horrible, the criminal, the tragic, and the disastrous. And that’s beside the fact that we have more access to more terrible things happening around the world than any generation before us. We see more of the bad than anyone else has ever seen.
And in all those generations that came before us, Christians have believed that the end must be near. They thought things were bad, and they didn’t even have the news from everywhere else in the world. They saw only the bad things happening locally! Think of the Christians in the midst of the plague that decimated Europe; or those who had to endure the Thirty Years‘ War. Think about those who were alive while the Roman Empire collapsed around them. Think of the Twentieth Century with its horrors almost too many to count. And people have said at all those times, and more, that the end of all things must be near. How much longer could it go on? How much worse could it get? Something’s gotta give.
To some extent, we’re not far off when we look at the state of the world and consider that things must be nearing their end. What are the signs Jesus tells us about the end of all things? Earthquakes, wars, chaos; nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom; famines, pestilence; people perplexed and anxious about the things they see happening in the oceans and in the sky (does that sound like anything you’ve heard recently?). All these things are happening now; they were happening when Jesus told about them; and they’ve happened in every age in between. These are the signs that this world will not last forever. It is passing away. It is subject to sin and death, and it’s not going to recover from this sickness. Paul reminds us that the whole creation groans in longing for the revealing of the sons of God, because that revealing in resurrection will mean freedom for the whole creation. It has been subject to futility and corruption until now, and it longs to be set free. And we, too, groan, being burdened. We wait eagerly for our sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
Jesus gives us the signs that this creation, as it is, is passing away. But He also speaks specifically to the Apostles and those who were hearing Him at the time. He tells them not only about things that would always happen as signs of the end, but about things that would happen soon as a sign of the end. The end of Jerusalem in 70 AD would be a small sign of the end of the age. When you see Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem, then you know that its desolation has come near. If you’re in Jerusalem then, you should flee. If you’re outside the city, don’t go into it. Very bad things will happen. People will do horrible things. The historian Josephus recorded some of the things that people did during that siege of Jerusalem. And Jesus tells the Apostles that they will be betrayed, handed over, brought before synagogues and rulers. And they will bear witness to Christ. He will give them a mouth and wisdom that cannot be contradicted, like Stephen proclaiming Christ as he is stoned to death. Like the apostles who were martyred for the sake of Christ.
But whether it is what was happening at the time of the Apostles, or what is happening now, or what has happened around the world at various times in history, Jesus has a single word: do not be afraid. When you see these things happening, do not be afraid. When these things happen to you, do not be afraid. Do not be afraid because, even though this heaven and earth will pass away, Jesus’ words and promises will never pass away. He is risen from the dead, and His words and promises stand, even beyond death, even beyond the end of this age. Do not be afraid, because you belong to this Lord, who has conquered sin and death.
Do not be afraid. And do not be weighed down by dissipation and drunkenness and by the cares of this world, so that you’re not surprised by that Day, so that it doesn’t come on you like a trap that springs on you suddenly. Instead, pray. Pray that you would be kept steadfast in Jesus’ words and promises. Pray that He would keep you faithful until that Day. Pray that you would endure, because by endurance to the end, you will gain your life—eternal life. Endurance to the end of your life, or endurance to the end of the world—it means the eternal life that Jesus gives that does not come from this age and this world. Not a hair on your head will be destroyed. And even if it’s destroyed in death, you will be made new by the Lord who is making all things new.
Do not be afraid. Do not be weighed down. But lift up your heads. Every time you see these things happening, every time you see the sin and death in this world, look to your Lord. Because all of this is, for us, simply reminders that this world cannot be saved as it is. It must be renewed, and restored, and remade. These are signs that this age is passing away. But they are also signs that a new age and a new creation has been promised. Lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near. Day by day, every day the end of this age and your redemption draws near, because Jesus draws near. Every day is one day closer to that Day.
Until then, Paul tells us not to grow weary in doing good, in doing the work we’ve been given to do in the places we’ve been given to do it. And the Jesus who will be soon revealed is the Jesus who has given us to know Him here and now. In each of the days until we see Him, He delivers to us the forgiveness of His death and resurrection work; day by day, He speaks His words to us; He gives us His living Body and Blood, feeding us with the life that will keep us until that Day. So every single day, regardless of what you see around you, or inside you, or happening to you, lift up your heads. Straighten your backs in hope: your redemption, your Lord, draws near.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/15/19