Sermon for November 13, 2022, Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 21:29-33 (Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)

“A Word of Comfort”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 13, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The text is from the Gospel Reading recorded in Luke 21:

29And [Jesus] told them a parable: Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30When they put out their leaves, you see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also you, when you should see these things taking place, know that the reign of God is near. 32Truly I say to you that this generation shall surely not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall surely not pass away.

          This current Church Year is coming to a close. In two weeks, we’ll once again be in the Season of Advent at the start of another year of God’s grace in His Church. The last Sundays in the Church Year focus us on “last things,” especially the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ at the end of days. On the day when Christ returns, Jesus will visibly appear in glory with His angels. The kingdoms of this world will give way to the everlasting reign and rule of Christ and human history will come to an end. The dead will be raised, the bodies of believers (those who were alive and those who were raised from the grave) will be glorified. Jesus will judge all people. Satan will be vanquished and banished forever. The current creation will be cleansed by fire and the heavens and the earth will be made new again. There will be a great feast with unending rejoicing, and we will see God and God will dwell with us forever.

          And yet, there is still fear among Christians regarding the coming of their Lord and the events surrounding the Last Day. We are generally afraid of the things we don’t understand. We fear the unknown, especially the unknown future. But Jesus tells us of the things to come, not to fuel our fears, but to give us comfort as the day of our redemption draws near.

          Jesus could have left things up to human imagination about the Last Day. And human imagination has come up with some real winners. A 2015 survey reported that, out of 1000 people, 30 were afraid that the end of the world would be brought about by an alien invasion or zombies. Rather than leaving it up to us, Jesus has prepared His people for His return and the Last Day, even as He prepared the disciples for the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in their days. And what Jesus leaves both with is a message of comfort.

          As we read the Bible, we find that we are locked in a tension between the now and the not yet. The disciples were enamored with Herod’s temple in Jerusalem, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings. Mark records in his Gospel the disciples’ words and Jesus’ response, which Luke also gives us, “And as [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down’” (Mark 13:1–2 ESV). The disciples then asked Him when these things would take place—“When will the destruction of this temple happen and are there signs when it’s about to?”

          The Gospel reading that we heard this morning is Jesus’ answer.“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.” These signs would lead up to the destruction of the temple in AD 70. The historian Josephus reported such events before the Romans, under Titus, destroyed Jerusalem and its temple. But before that, the disciples would endure various persecutions because they were Christians. Jesus continued, “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.This will be your opportunity to bear witness. . . . You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death.You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.But not a hair of your head will perish.By your endurance you will gain your lives.”

          Jesus gave His followers comfort in that God would protect them and provide for them in these troubles. The Holy Spirit would even give them the words to use to point to Jesus as the Savior and Redeemer of the world. The Lord then concludes, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it,for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. . . .They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:10–24 ESV).

          In AD 70, the Roman army leveled Jerusalem and much of the population was killed. These were the days of God’s judgment and His vengeance for failure to receive His Messiah. Prophets like Jeremiah, Micah, and Zechariah had issued many warnings about this over the centuries. But if you think this was bad, and it was indeed, consider God’s judgment and vengeance at the Last Day.

          Jesus springboards from the prediction of Jerusalem’s and the temple’s destruction to the Last Day and His Second Coming in great power and glory. The destruction of Jerusalem and her temple is a small-scale version of the destruction of the whole created world on the Last Day as God dispenses out His judgment against sin through the Lord Christ. The message to the disciples of Jesus then and now is that the judgement of the Lord cannot be ignored. It’s going to come. As it did to Jerusalem, so also it will come to this created world. But you can face it without fear. “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28 ESV).

          The Lord’s coming is not simply for the destruction of this present creation. It is not only for the punishment of Satan and his henchman, death. It is for your redemption! So, check out the fig tree and all the trees!

          Martin Luther, preaching on this same text, told his hearers, “These are pure words of comfort. He does not give a parable about fall or winter, when all the trees become bare and the dreary days begin, but about spring and summer, which is a happy, joyous time, when all creation buds forth and is happy. By this He teaches quite clearly that we are to look forward to and take comfort in the Last Day with as much joy and delight as all creation shows in spring and summer. . . . Therefore, the time approaches when we are to be redeemed from sin and evil. In this life it begins in the spirit; but since we must still battle with sin and suffer much evil, and since death is still before us, the kingdom of God is not yet complete in us. But when once sin and death with all evil are taken away from us, then it will be complete. The Last Day will do this.”[1]

          You are in Christ now. And the Lord has begun a good work in you by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. But it is not yet complete. Paul writes in Philippians 1 that He will indeed bring it to completion “at the day of Jesus Christ,” which is the Last Day when you will be raised and glorified. It is the Last Day the brings you the full redemption of your body and soul from sin, death, and the devil. As you see these things taking place: earthquakes and famines and pestilences, wars and rumors of wars, troubles and persecutions, signs in the sun and moon and stars, distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and foreboding, you know what lies ahead. You know that the reign of God is near and that means that your redemption is near! As Matthew and Mark record it, you know that He—Jesus—is near, at the very gates (Mark 13:29).

          And that is a word of comfort. Jesus’ words are eternal words, everlasting promises. And He has already made good on those promises as He Himself suffered on the cross the rejection of both man and God. He was hated and gave up His life into death so that you might live forever. Jesus suffered the punishment of sin on the cross in your place, as your substitute. He faced the wrath and judgment of God so that you would not. By His wounds you are healed from your sin and rescued from the punishment of everlasting death (1 Peter 2:24). You are redeemed. You are forgiven. You have nothing to fear on the Last Day.

          As Jesus’ disciples faced troubles and persecutions before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, we also will face the troubles of this life and persecution for our faith. But Christ’s Word of promise to us shall surely not pass away. By His grace alone we will endure. The Holy Spirit will give us the words to speak in witness to our Redeemer and King, Jesus. He will enable and empower us through His Word and Sacrament to remain faithful and to give the good confession of Jesus, even unto death. By the power of the Spirit, you will have the strength “to escape all these things that are going to take place, and so stand before the Son of Man” without fear (Luke 21:36). By grace, you will stand unharmed in Christ’s judgment, greeting it with heads held high because He has redeemed you and will on that day bring you to the fullness of that redemption in body and soul unto life everlasting.

O Jesus Christ, do not delay,
    But hasten our salvation;
We often tremble on our way
    In fear and tribulation.
O hear and grant our fervent plea:
Come, mighty judge, and set us free
    From death and ev’ry evil.[2] Amen

     [1] Martin Luther, A Year in the Gospels with Martin Luther: Sermons from Luther’s Church Postil (St. Louis: Concordia, 2018), 50-51.

[2] Lutheran Service Book 508:7.

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