Luke 21:29-36 (Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 28—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
November 13, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text this morning picks up the words of Jesus in our Gospel lesson where that reading left off:
29And [Jesus] spoke a parable to them: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30When they sprout leaves, you see for yourselves and you know that now the summer is near. 31So you also, when you see these things happening, you know that the reign of God is near. 32Truly, I say to you that this generation shall surely not pass away until these things happen. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall surely not pass away. 34Pay attention to yourselves lest your hearts should be weighed down with binge drinking and drunkenness and the worries of life and that day should come upon you suddenly 35like a trap. For it will come upon all those who are sitting on the face of all the earth. 36But be alert at all times, praying so that you may have the strength to flee all these things which are about to happen and to stand before the Son of Man.”
For 2000 years the holy, Christian Church has confessed in the Creeds the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. In the Apostles’ Creed, “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” And in the Nicene Creed, “He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.” And finally the Athanasian Creed, “[He] is seated at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” Why does the Church acknowledge this article of faith in each of the Creeds? Because the Church confesses that this is the truth of God’s Word that will not pass away. At Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the angel of the Lord said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 ESV). We heard in the Gospel reading, Luke 21:27, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” We, the Church, believe and confess this fact—Jesus Christ will come again.
Another fact observed in our text is what is seen through the lens of Jesus’ parable about the “fig tree and all the trees.” When leaves pop out on the trees, you know that the Summer season is near. In the same way, Jesus says, when you see “these things” taking place, you know that the reign of God is near. And what exactly are “these things”? They are the observations Jesus made in today’s Gospel: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. . . . And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Lk. 21:10-12, 25-26 ESV).
Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, “I’ve seen ‘these things’ happening during my lifetime. I’ve heard about ‘these things.’ Does that mean that the reign of God is near?” Yes, it does. We have been living in the time of the End, the Last Days, ever since Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after His resurrection. 1 Peter 4:7, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” Paul in Romans 13:11 tells us, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” St. James writes, “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8 ESV). And John the Evangelist records, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour” (1 Jn. 2:18 ESV).
As the Church has been doing for a couple millennia, we wait for that Day to arrive. We wait for Jesus the Lord and King of all to come again. But doesn’t waiting tend to make you a little drowsy or maybe a little lethargic? Waiting can make a person less sharp, less “on the ball.” Think of a child attempting to wait for Santa to come. They get sleepy and eventually visions of sugar plums are dancing in their heads and they miss the visit of St. Nicholas. Or consider a sentry, standing guard at his post for hours longer than he should be on duty. A sentry wearied from waiting is not going to be as alert and prepared for the surprise of the enemy.
The same is true for the Christian waiting for the coming again of Jesus. The waiting day in and day out can lull us into a false sense of security. “Everything is simply going to continue as it always has. It’s not as if the Son of God is coming back anytime soon.” The Christian faces the huge temptation of becoming complacent and lazy. Our spiritual defenses lower. This results in you and I indulging the flesh and catering to its desires. We become tantalized by the intoxicating attractions of the world around us that are contrary to God’s Word but look so inviting to our sinful natures. We set aside prayer time and reading the Word of God to engage in what we consider “more exciting” activities that give us the feelings of pleasure that we seek. Miss church one week—no big deal. Two weeks—hey, I’ll go next week. Three weeks—I should go, but . . . Four weeks—what’s church?
Jesus tells us that “this generation” will pass away. He’s referring to those in every time and place who reject the Gospel, unbelievers. And until the Lord returns, believers in Jesus, the Church, live with the temptations and the allurement of the unbeliever’s lifestyle as well as the pull of the devil and their own sinful flesh. When that happens, we believers can get all caught up in the intoxicating attractions all around us. We tend not to give a thought to Christ and His imminent return or the fast-approaching End. We become lazy in faith and lax in repentance. We may not seek the Lord and His forgiveness, but revel in what has become our new lifestyle. Then, unexpectedly, the Day of His Coming arrives and catches us unprepared in our life of sin.
How horrible it would be for those who have known Jesus Christ by faith to be caught unawares, trapped in sin or even unbelief, weighed down with the sin and guilt that we have brought upon ourselves! It would be impossible to flee from the judgment of Christ. We would not be able to stand before the Son of Man.
So that you and I would not be suddenly surprised at His Coming and so that you and I would not be lulled into a lazy life of faith, the Lord Jesus admonishes us in His Word to beware of the things in this life that can cloud our awareness of His return and distract us from faithful waiting. Jesus lays it out for us today so that we can pay attention to ourselves as we pay attention to His Word.
It is this Gospel Word that gives you and me the perfect forgiveness of sins that God the Son purchased and won for us with His own death and resurrection. Jesus was strong enough for us and He kept God’s Law perfectly for us. Jesus was strong enough for us so that He suffered our death and hell upon a cross so that you and I would have forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation given to us through the Gospel Word and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And Jesus is strong enough to preserve us in faith and in holy living throughout this time of waiting as the Holy Spirit enables us to be ever watchful for Christ’s Coming. Through the Word, the Spirit supplies us with the strength of Christ’s forgiveness and the gift of saving faith that calls forth holy living as those redeemed by Christ the Crucified and Risen Savior.
It is the very Word of God in Christ that will never pass away which empowers us to pay attention and to be alert so that we do not fall into the traps of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. It is the powerful Word of God enurding forever that enables you to pray with the strength of Christ, in the forgiveness of Christ and possessing the righteousness of Christ, so that on that Day when the Lord Jesus comes again, you will indeed stand before the Son of Man without fear.
With faith and trust in Christ through the eternal Word of God, you are ready for the coming again of the Savior. Having your sins forgiven and your faith strengthened in the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, you are set to stand before the King when He comes again in His glory. Now go in the strength of Christ and live the life of faith and holy living to which you have been called. Be ever watchful for His coming, that you may meet Him with joy and enter with Him into the never-ending banquet feast of His Kingdom. Amen.