The church historian Eusebius of Caesarea (260-339) wrote that before Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, killing hundreds of thousands of people, the Christian population fled the city and avoided the massacre. According to tradition the church in Jerusalem received an oracle to flee and because Jesus' warned about the destruction of Jerusalem, those who believed in Jesus fled.
Our Gospel lesson is really just half of a talk Jesus had with his disciples. Jesus also warned them of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. For this reason many find it difficult to figure out when Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman troops and when he speaks about the destruction of the world when Christ comes in judgment. Well, this is intentional. Christ purposefully parallels these two events. Those who believed Christ's warning concerning Jerusalem saw the signs and fled to the mountains. And those who believe Christ's warning concerning Christ's return in a cloud with power and great glory will be prepared to lift their heads to receive their redemption.
"There will be signs in sun and moon and stars," Jesus says. You must be able to read the signs or you will not be ready. The Christians read the signs and avoided destruction in Jerusalem. So you too must be able to interpret the signs lest you be found unprepared.
What are these signs? Many make claims about solar eclipses, red moons, and other such nonsense as if gawking up in the sky will prepare you for Christ's return. While Jesus isn't encouraging us to study astrology, he does tell us that we will witness signs of the end times. Rulers both in state and church will rise and fall. The masses will be unsettled. There will be destructive wars and pestilence. Satan and his demonic hordes will quake in anticipation and fear of Christ's coming and will cause many to fall away.
These are warning signs! Christ warns that if you do not watch and pay attention to these signs then that day of judgment will catch you like a trap, just as the hundreds of thousands of victims were caught trapped within the walls of Jerusalem when the Roman legions enclosed on them.
Jesus warns that if you do not keep watch your heart will be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life. What does Jesus mean by this? He means that you should repent of your sins. Put away you filthy gods that will pass away and profit you nothing on that day. Stop avoiding church and hearing God's word. Stop showing disrespect to your parents and other authorities. Stop hating other people. And stop lying to yourself about your own hatred. Stop fornicating and looking at smut. Stop stealing what isn't yours. Stop being lazy. Stop gossiping and hurting your neighbor's reputation. Stop obsessing over what you don't have and wanting what isn't yours. Jesus warns against being stuck in the muck of your own sin. Examine yourself. If you do any of these things, repent. Stop doing them and ask God for forgiveness.
Sin kills faith. It causes you to hate instead of love, both God and your neighbor. It causes you to doubt instead of trust in God. It distracts you from the message God wants you to hear. Jesus' warning is a call to repentance for all.
The signs are abundant. The earth is in turmoil. Nations are perplexed. Wars, unrest, plague, scandal... just as the Bible predicted the world is falling apart. So you Christians must take heed of these signs. Yet, while it is good to recognize the groaning of the creation as a sign of Christ's imminent return, our Lord does not intend for us to dwell on the unrest in the Middle East, the elections in France or the US, or changes in the Vatican. These do not tell you how to interpret the signs.
How do you interpret the signs? Through Scripture. The Bible. The word of God. St. Paul writes, "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (Rom. 15:4) The Christian doesn't gawk at the sky or worry about events out of his control. The Christian looks to God's Word!
Jesus says, "when you see these things beginning to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Well these things are beginning to take place. So we must all straighten up and raise our heads. We do this not by looking to the sky, but looking to Scripture. Scripture was written for our learning, but not simply for us to obtain knowledge, but to give us hope. It is Scripture that records the promise to the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Scripture promised Christ in the Old Testament and revealed him in the New. And as Scripture predicted, "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; Rejoice, O Gentiles with his people; Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope," the Gentiles would hope in Christ Jesus. The Gentiles are the non-Jewish nations, that is all people, you and me. Scripture claimed that we would hope in Christ and it is Scripture that gives us this hope in Christ.
We find hope in the Scriptures, because they are able to make us wise unto salvation. They teach us of Jesus, who died for our sins, who gives us life that lasts forever. St. Paul writes, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." (Rom. 15:13) The Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:15-16). That means that you tap into the power of the Holy Spirit by reading the Holy Scriptures. Not just reading them, but praying them, singing them, and listening to them. Listen to preaching that explains the wonderful hope found in Scripture.
It is in Scripture that we find the Gospel, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper. Scripture is the basis for every God-pleasing sermon. It is your assurance that what you receive in church truly forgives your sins.
The coming of Christ is one event. But it will be received in two very different ways. For those who do not pay attention to the Scriptures, who refuse to hear God's Word and to believe in Jesus as he is proclaimed in the Gospel, that day will be a terror. It will come as a trap. But for those who know Christ from Scripture it will be a wonderful day, a day of Redemption.
If you know Christ from the Scriptures you look forward to Christ coming in a cloud with power and glory. Why? Well, just look at how he comes to you now. In Baptism Christ came in a cloud of water and word and he made you God's child. He forgave every sin you have or ever will commit. He comes liberally and generously to heal your wounds of a guilty conscience, he covers your shame as if to cover your nakedness. He constantly shows you God's grace and mercy. Jesus is your friend, your advocate to God the Father. He even feeds you the food of immortality, his own body and blood, crucified and risen for you and gives you fellowship with God and the whole Christian Church in heaven and on earth. So for you, who believe this, who rejoice in Christ's coming to you today as you have learned through Scripture, you are more than happy to meet him when he comes in a cloud with power and glory.
What does it mean that your redemption is drawing near? It means Jesus is coming to save you. But, I thought I was already saved! I just heard my sins forgiven. I learned in my Catechism, "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins from, death, and from the power of the devil..."
Yes this is true. Christ has redeemed you with his suffering and death. You are forgiven and yet, you still sin. The Pastor preaches forgiveness of all your sins for the sake of Christ's suffering and death, yet you still go back and sin against God, even committing the same transgression you repented of, promising you'd never do it again! You receive the Sacrament that gives eternal life, yet you get sick. And Christians die everyday. Although you are in communion with Christ and the whole Christian Church, you find yourself in conflict with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
You're surrounded by sin. The devil, whom Christ defeated, still seems to know where all the holes in your armor are. You're sick, dying, and you're still a sinner. So, yes, you are redeemed, and yet, not yet.
"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen," so says the author to the Hebrews under inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Scripture gives you lots of hope, faith that your sins are forgiven, assurance that you will live forever, but until that awesome day, you won't see it.
That's why we look forward to that Day. I want to stop sinning! I want the devil to leave me alone for good! I don't want to hear about millions of abortions, sexual assaults, wars, scandals, and genocides. I don't want my kids to get sick. I don't want my parents to die. I don't want to die! That's why I look forward to Christ's return, so that he can take what he purchased, redeem me and take me from this veil of tears to be in joy and peace with him in heaven. This is my hope!
What is your redemption? Redemption means to pay back or to purchase. It requires a ransom payment. St. Peter tells us that we were ransomed not with gold or silver, but with Christ's precious blood. (1 Peter 1:18-19) So the redemption Christ speaks about will be when we finally get to see the benefit of Christ's ransom for us. St. Paul writes, "In [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace," yet our trespasses still haunt us. On the Last Day when our Redemption comes near our trespasses will be forgotten. We won't sin anymore. We won't even be tempted. We'll have no sinful desires, no shame, no regrets. We won't get sick. We will not die. The confidence we have in the unseen will turn into the assurance of Salvation seen and experienced.
Our Introit proclaims from Isaiah 62, "Behold, your salvation comes," and we sang, "Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!" For us who have our hope founded on the promises of Scripture, the coming of Christ is a welcomed event. I love Christ. In the verse before the start of our Epistle lesson St. Paul writes, "For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, 'The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.'" (Rom. 15:3) The reproach, the shame, the insult that I did against God does not fall on me. Rather they fell on Christ. Christ was put to shame, because I shamed my Father in heaven. And Christ did this to redeem me from eternal shame. Jesus reminds me of this everytime I hear the Gospel and receive the Sacrament. So I love Jesus, because he bore my reproach. I want him to return. I want to be with him and live with him for all eternity. So I pray with you and with the whole Christian Church, "Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen."