Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 32:40 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As we approach the end of the Church Year, we begin to hear more about “that Day,” the Day of the Lord, the last day of this age and this creation. And along with that, we hear about increasingly fearful things, and we are given terrifying visions. We get them from Jesus through the mouths of the prophets, like Malachi, with a day that will come burning like an oven, a consuming fire; we get them from Jesus in the Gospels; and we get them from Jesus in His Revelation to St. John.
Why does Jesus give us these images and lists of fearful things? Is it just so that we will be afraid, or so that we will cling to Him in fear? There are certainly enough fearful things in the world. It starts with a question as they are around the temple. The disciples and others are admiring the beautiful stones of the temple and the offerings within the temple. And Jesus says, The days will come when there will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down. And so those who hear Jesus say, “When will these things be and what will be the sign when these things are about to happen?”
Notice, Jesus never answers the first question. Jesus never says when all these things will happen. He gives lots of signs that mark their approach, but He never tells the disciples or anyone else when they are going to happen. As He describes these things, He starts off with general things that have been happening nearly since the beginning of creation, things like earthquakes, famines, pestilence and disease; kingdoms rising against kingdoms, and nations rising against nations. We are familiar with all these things.
But then He shifts back to the times of His disciples, to what is going to happen within their lifetimes. “But before all these things,” He says. He tells them that they are going face trouble, betrayal, trials, and persecutions. Some of them will be put to death. And He talks specifically about Jerusalem. When you see the city surrounded by armies, get out of the city. Flee from the city if you are inside it, and do not go back into it if you are already outside it. Horrible things are going to happen. Although Jesus doesn’t say when, these things have already happened. Around 70 AD, Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem, and besieged it, and eventually destroyed the city and the temple. The Jewish historian Josephus describes some of the horrible things that happened during that siege; terrible, horrifying things that happened because they had no food. These things happened during the lifetimes of those to whom He was speaking.
But then He goes back to the general things: There will be signs in the creation, in the sun and the moon. People are going to be afraid, anxious, perplexed, distressed, because of what they see happening in and to the creation, in the oceans, for example. They will faint, or even die, with fear, and with foreboding about what is coming on the earth. This, too, is happening now, as people look around and are made fearful by what they see happening, and how we have to do something before the earth is destroyed completely.
Jesus frames the destruction of Jerusalem with these general brackets about the destruction of this creation. It is as if the end of Jerusalem is the end of all things in microcosm. What happens in this place in 70 AD is what is going to happen to all things at some point. And to those who listen to Him and believe Him, He gives a way out of Jerusalem. He tells them about what to look for, and when they see those things happening, that they should either leave the city or stay out of the city.
When He speaks of the end of all things, there is no way out of the creation, but He does tell us how to escape the destruction of this age and creation: by looking toward Him who delivers us from sin, death, and the devil. He says, “This world will pass away, but My words will never pass away.” While everyone else is cowering, hiding, covering their heads in fear, He says to His people, “Lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
When you are in the midst of fearful, anxiety-producing things, where do you look? There are certainly enough fearful things to go around. We see the same things Jesus describes: war, upheaval in the creation, earthquakes, famines, diseases. We just passed election day, and how many ads were based around fear, from one side of the aisle or the other? If you let this person or that person get elected; if you pass or don’t pass this legislation, you should be afraid! They—whoever “they” are—are going to take everything from you! So vote, because you’re afraid. In the midst of all these things, where do we look? Where do you turn when you are afraid? To the government? To the right elected officials? To your comfortable life? Your financial portfolio? That things may not get so bad, anyway? Because wherever you look, wherever you turn, when you are afraid, that is your god. Whatever you trust in to save or deliver or rescue you, that is your god. We are continually constructing idols, and when one fails, then we make another one.
But Jesus says that this world is passing away, and that means that all those idols are going to be swept away as well. They all exist within this world, so when this world goes, they go too. They are all going to be so much ash and dust in that day. Then what? Where will you turn then? What will you trust? Jesus appears in this dying world in flesh and blood in order to bring deliverance not only from the fearful things around us, but from the idols in which we trust. He appears to die and then give true, eternal life in His resurrection. He gathers people to Himself—He gathered you in your baptism—puts His Name on all those who are His, in order to keep them both now and on the last day.
He doesn’t tell us about these things so that we will have one more thing of which to be afraid. He tells us that when all these things are happening, lift up your heads and look for Him. Every single struggle, sickness, tragedy, war, earthquake, flood—all of those things are markers that this creation is in its death throes. We don’t know when it’s going to happen, but every time these signs appear, lift up your heads. Your redemption draws near! Even today, in the midst of all the things happening right now, lift up your heads. Your redemption—your Lord Jesus—draws near to you today. He gives you His words of forgiveness and His very body and blood. He is your redemption and your life. And even if your life is taken in this creation; even if you lose your possessions; even if some fearful thing should happen to you, none of that can actually take your life. Because your life is hidden with Christ in God. And He is drawing near. When we see Him, who is our Life, then we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is. Lift up your heads in hope and joy! Your redemption, your salvation, your deliverance—your Redeemer, your Savior, your Deliverer 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, 11/11/22
One thought on “Lift Up Your Heads”
Thankyou P Winterstein for this amazing sermon.
Exactly what I needed to hear, especially during this upheaval in our culture.
I am thankful for His forgiveness in Christ.
A Gentile Dog~