Luke 21:25-36; Romans 15:4-13
Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
December 5, 2021
“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.”, wrote St. Paul by inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the 15th chapter of his letter to the Roman Christians. St. Paul was teaching them and us that the Bible was written for our instruction. The Bible is God’s Word. Yes, the Bible was written by about forty human authors over a span of over 1,500 years. Yet, these human authors did not write by their own interpretation, but they wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). When you read the Bible, you read God’s Word. When you hear the teaching of the Bible proclaimed, you hear God proclaim his word to you. When we say, “The Bible says,” we are saying, “God says.” The Bible itself makes no distinction between Holy Scripture and God’s Word. In Galatians 3:22, St. Paul wrote, “But Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” St. Paul wrote nearly an identical statement to the Romans in chapter 11, “For God imprisoned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” Scripture imprisoned everything under sin. God imprisoned all under disobedience. These say the same thing. Holy Scripture says what God says. The Bible is the Word of God.
And the Bible was written for our instruction. That means we should listen to it and learn from it. Although even a small child can grasp the good news that Jesus loves him and died for him, a Christian is never done learning God’s Word. St. Paul also writes, “All Scripture was breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 2:16) God’s Word is not only a source of priceless knowledge, but a source of hope and encouragement that cannot be replaced by any human knowledge. This is why the Bible is called the true fountain of Israel. It is the only true source of salvation and heavenly wisdom.
St. Paul uses Holy Scripture to encourage the Roman Christians with the proof that God called the Gentiles, that is, the non-Jewish nations to faith in Christ Jesus, so that they might be united in faith and love toward one another in a common hope. The words of Jesus written in our Gospel lesson from Luke 21 were written to prepare us for the return of Christ, his second advent. This too is so that we might have hope and be encouraged to keep the faith.
Jesus tells us that his second coming will be preceded by signs in heaven and on earth. These signs will be clearly seen and noticed by all people. Yet, they will not be recognized as signs of Jesus’ coming by all people. Most will not believe in the signs. Rather, the effect the signs will have on them will be an increase of distress, confusion, and panic. We see it already in our day. People hyperventilate about drastic changes in the climate, anxious about the roaring of the sea and waves. There are wars and rumors of wars that capture the attention of the masses. People are more concerned about learning about the next coronavirus variant, about its effect on their travel plans and health than they are about learning God’s Word and growing in faith. Inflation, supply shortages, crime, these distract the minds of the masses. Everyone is concerned about their bank account, their bills, their property, the stresses and pleasures of this life. They see the signs in sun, moon, and stars. They see the earthquakes, fires, storms, and wars. Yet, they do not recognize that God has placed these signs in their lives. He’s in control of them all. They will pass away, but not God’s Word. But rather than focus on God’s Word, the masses become even more deeply entranced by the cares of this temporal life.
Yet, Christ tells us that these are signs we should pay attention to, so that we are not distracted. Christ’s first advent came when he was conceived and born by the Virgin Mary. He was wrapped in meekness. He didn’t threaten or flex his might as he was reviled by men. It was easy to mock him as he trudged up Golgotha with his cross, as he hung torn and bloody on that cursed tree. There was no fear in his scoffers’ eyes. Likewise, today, Christ comes to us in his means of grace. He is with us as his Word is proclaimed and his Sacraments received. But there is no terror in the eyes of those who refuse his Word and spurn his grace. It’s easy to ridicule the gospel and the Christians who believe it today. But Jesus’ second coming will not be in meekness as his first advent was. Jesus’ second advent will not be hidden under means of grace as his dwelling is with us now. No, when Jesus comes again, every eye shall behold him. Even those who have died will be raised from the dead to stand before this powerful Judge. Jesus’ return will be a terror to those who rejected him in his meekness and grace. No one will be able to escape his judgment.
Yet, Christ does not tell us of the signs of his coming to terrify us, but rather to exhort us to be prepared. He tells us that when we see these signs that we should lift up our heads, because our redemption is drawing near. Redemption is salvation. It means to be bought back, redeemed from sin, death, and hell. This redemption was not wrought with gold or silver, but with the holy precious blood of Christ and his innocent suffering and death. Christ Jesus has already won our redemption. In fact, he won the redemption for all people by dying on the cross for us. Yet, this redemption is only received through faith. To straighten up and raise your heads means to have faith in the promise of God’s forgiveness for Christ’s sake. Scripture says that in Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14). So, it is only through faith in Jesus and his suffering for you that you can receive your redemption. If you hold onto Jesus in faith when he comes to you in meekness with his grace today, then you will raise your head to receive him in joy when he comes to you with redemption in glory.
This redemption can be lost, however; if faith is lost. Faith is lost when the things of this world distract the Christian from Christ Jesus. The signs of Jesus’ second advent will not alert the world of Jesus’ coming and bring them to repentance. Only God’s Word can do that. Only the one and only true fountain of Israel, the Holy Scriptures, which were inspired by the Holy Spirit, which are indeed God’s holy words can bring a sinner to faith in Christ Jesus our Savior. Unless God’s Word creates faith in your heart, these signs will only become an increased distraction, a source of anxiety, worry, and panic. So also, when a Christian abandons this fountain of Israel, God’s Holy Word, the Bible, then he misses these signs. He becomes distracted. He loses his faith.
Yet, when you continue to hear, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Holy Scriptures, then you abound in the hope of Jesus Christ. The signs become clear. As you recognize the signs of spring and summer, and prepare your house and yard or field for its coming, so you see the signs in the sky and on earth, and prepare your heart for the coming of your Lord, who comes not to deal with you according to your sins, but to redeem you.
Jesus warns the Christians against their hearts being weighed down by three things in the last days, which we currently are in: dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life. Dissipation is when you become numb to God’s Word. God’s Word ceases to have an effect on you. You grow cold. Like birds snatching seed off a path, so God’s Word is taken from your ears. Drunkenness certainly includes drinking too much alcohol and getting drunk. Yet, this also includes any cravings of the flesh, which take over the mind and distract from learning God’s Word, whether liquor, drugs, or sensual lusts. This is why the apostle says, “Do not get drunk with wine, but be filled with the [Holy] Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) And finally, there are the cares of this life. These last things are not sinful, in and of themselves. Yet, when we place our money, job, leisure, friends, even spouse and children above God’s Word, then we become unprepared for Christ’s coming. Christ ceases to be our God. Then Christ’s return will catch us like a trap.
Now, no one knows when Jesus will return. Christians do not have secret knowledge of when the Last Day will be. And when someone claims to know that day or hour, that is a good indication that he is a false prophet. Yet, those who remain faithful to Christ, who turn from their sins daily, who trust in his death and resurrection for them and receive his forgiveness through faith, that day cannot catch them like a trap. Because it will not come to condemn them. When it comes, it will be a joy. Christ comes with redemption. He comes to claim what he has purchased with his own blood on the cross.
Jesus says that this generation will not pass away until all this takes place. By this generation, he means that there will always be unbelievers. Until the end, there will be those who spurn God’s Word, who mock Christ, who misinterpret the signs. Yet, Christ also promises that his Church will remain. Not even the gates of hell will stand against her. There will always be on this earth, until the return of Christ, a remnant of believers, who trust in Jesus’ forgiveness and salvation for them. There will always be a remnant who drinks faithfully from the true fountain of Israel, the Bible, and learns to have hope that endures and comforts forever. We stay watchful, as Jesus warns, by paying attention to his Word, and not interpreting his Word based on what the sinful world tells us, but rather, interpreting the world and the signs in accordance to what Scripture tells us. Christ has not left us alone or unprepared. He has given us everything we need to stand on that awful day, so that that day may be a joy for us.
Dear Christians, straighten up and raise up your heads. Your redemption is drawing near. He comes to save us from sin and death and every trouble. We know him. He has made himself known to us in Holy Scripture. And what joy it will be to know him face to face. Amen.