Text: Luke 21:25-36
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When the end of the world comes, is it a good thing or is it a bad thing? That all depends on who you are. Or, perhaps more accurately put, it all depends on whose you are. It is helpful when thinking about the end times to compare the Second Coming of Jesus and the events that surround it with other acts of redemption that God did for his people.
Take the worldwide flood, for example. Was the flood good or was it bad? Well, for those who were on the ark, it was a good. It may have been fearful at the time, but they were not destroyed by the flood. On top of that, they were delivered from the sinful world which they had lived in and given a fresh start of sorts. For those who perished, obviously the flood was not good. It was, to them, a source of death and destruction.
Perhaps an even greater comparison can be made, though, to the plagues that God brought upon the Egyptians. The Egyptians were filled with fear and dread as God brought each of the plagues upon them. Their water supply was destroyed as the Nile was turned to blood. The stench of death filled their land after the plague of frogs. Gnats and flies came upon them. They saw crops and livestock ruined. They dealt with painful boils that came upon their skin. People and animals died in the worst hailstorm to ever strike Egypt. Any plant that was left alive after the hailstorm was eaten by the locusts that came after that. Finally, the Lord brought about the death of the firstborn of all of Egypt. The plagues were dreadful, terrible thing to the Egyptians. They brought nothing but death and destruction.
The reaction of God’s people Israel to the plagues is completely different, though. For them, the plagues are a source of redemption. Finally, the death of the firstborn, the Passover, marks their escape from under the heavy thumb of Pharaoh. With a mighty hand and a strong arm, God delivers his people Israel from Pharaoh and sets them on a course for the Promised Land – the land flowing with milk and honey.
Christ is our Passover Lamb. No, we don’t take his blood and smear it on doorposts so that the angel of death may pass over us. But we do Eat his flesh and drink his blood in the Lord’s Supper. His blood shed on the cross covers over our sin. Because the blood of Jesus Christ covers us, the end of the world takes on a whole different character for us. The prophet Malachi highlights the difference between how the world looks at the end of the world and how Christians approach the end: “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.”
To the world, there is fear and dread at the end of the world. It’s easy to see why. Look at what Jesus prophecies in our Gospel reading from Luke for today. First of all, Luke says that there will be external signs above us, in the sky, that everyone can see, that the end is nigh. There is no doubt that we already see many of these signs. Yes, we have scientific ways of explaining things like eclipses and comets and asteroids and meteors, but the fact is that God is in control of every one of these things. With the eclipses of the moon and the sun, God shows that just as easily as he created these two lights to provide light for us during the day and night, he can just as easily take them away. Comets, meteors, and asteroids all provide us with some form of wonder and amazement, but we forget their destructive power. These things, too, are not simply phenomena that happen by chance. The Lord has control of these as well, and could most certainly use them as tools of destruction if he chose to do so.
The roaring of the sea and the waves hits a little closer to home. We certainly see the destructive forces of nature. Each year, people’s lives and property are devastated by hurricanes, tornados, and other storms. The very things that are there to help provide for our well-being – the changing seasons, the rain, and so forth – are the things that bring such destruction upon us and those we love.
Finally, Jesus speaks of the reaction within people to all of these things. There will be “people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Those who have no faith don’t know what to think when they see this stuff happen. Yes, they may try to explain it away with scientific explanations that simply chalk it up to random chance, but those explanations are not satisfying and will not quell anyone’s fears. If anything, they will only enhance their fears as they come to realize that they are completely powerless against the forces of nature.
But while the people of this world are filled with fear and foreboding, Jesus tells us to straighten up and raise our heads because our redemption is drawing near. Noah and his family could face the flood without fear because they knew that God was providing for their deliverance on the ark. The Israelites could observe the plagues that God brought upon the Israelites without fear because they knew that the Lord was using these things to bring them deliverance from their slavery. We can look upon the signs of the end without fear because we know that with the end comes our salvation.
Jesus uses the parable of the fig tree to provide further comfort for us. When the trees start to get their leaves, you know that it’s springtime and summer is near. Do the changing seasons bring fear and dread? Of course not! On the contrary, we see God’s continued providence in the changing seasons. We see that he provides seasonal weather that is ideal for the growing of food, for our health, and for the well-being of his creation as a whole. We aren’t chocked by the changing of the seasons. It’s expected. In the same way, we shouldn’t be surprised by the signs of the end. Rather, we should rejoice that God us bringing about the redemption for us that he promised in Christ Jesus. We should see it as perfectly normal and expected because it is perfectly normal and expected.
Just because we have nothing to fear when Christ returns on the Last Day, though, doesn’t give us an excuse to be lazy. This Christ warns us against. He says, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life.” There is great risk in getting too comfortable. That is, we figure that we have nothing to fear when it comes to the return of Christ, therefore, let’s eat, drink, and be merry. This is the attitude of the ancient epicureans that believed that the goal of life was to be as comfortable as possible and to enjoy as many of the pleasures of life as possible. While the Lord does give us many good things in life for which we are thankful, these good things are not the substance of our lives. When the things of this world become the substance of our lives, we become lazy when it comes to being ready for Jesus’ return. All of our time and energy is spent in the pursuit of worldly things rather than in the hearing of the Word of God and in the receiving of the gifts he gives in the Divine Service. This, ultimately, is the only thing that will prepare us for Christ’s coming. Indeed, we have nothing to fear, Christ has defeated sin and death for us. We need not shake in our boots at the thought of his appearing. But let us be in constant prayer that we may stay awake and be ready for his appearing!
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.