Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 25)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 24: 14-28
November 11, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The time is short. The end is near.
What should we do?
Last year the man on 91.9 FM predicted the return of Jesus on May 21st. Since then he reportedly has admitted that it was sinful to try to predict a certain day for Jesus’ return, since Jesus said, “No man knows the day or the hour.” Thanks be to God for his repentance.
This year some people claim the end will come because the ancient Mayan calendar predicts it.
Probably most people don’t believe that. But look at the world. Things everywhere are telling us that the world is hanging by a thread. The weather and the oceans—chaotic because of “global warming,” as we’re told. Economic crisis looming over the world. Moral crisis shaking formerly Christian nations.
Or is it that our conscience whispers to us that it can’t be long before the sins of the world are punished? And then we look at the world and see the signs?
It’s both. Our consciences speak to us about sin and God’s wrath. But the signs of the end are also present. Jesus rebuked the people to whom He preached: “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the weather, but not the signs of the times.” We should not ignore the signs by which God warns us of the judgment that is right at the door.
As long as death seems not to be near, and as long as Jesus’ return seems like it will wait for at least a few more years, repentance can also wait. We figure we can enjoy ourselves now and leave serious soul-searching and sorrow for our sins until we are closer to the end.
That is the way unbelievers deal with the last judgment. 2 Peter 3 says: Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation…” But the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise…but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance…The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:3-4, 9-10)
Jesus warned the disciples to pay attention to the signs that would mark the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. When you see the abomination of desolation, then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. The abomination of desolation meant the defiling of the Holy Place—the temple. When this happened, Jesus warned that the Christians in Judea should flee without looking back. And the Christians did flee when the Roman armies gathered to attack Jerusalem. As a result they were saved from the great slaughter that came upon the Jews and the city of Jerusalem.
When the temple was torn down, that was the end of Israel as God’s chosen political kingdom on earth. The stones of the temple were replaced with the living stones of the new temple, Christ’s church.
But just as the Judean Christians were to watch for the signs of the destruction of the temple and be ready to flee into the mountains without turning back, so Christians are to be ready for the coming destruction of the world, ready to leave it without looking back.
So what are the signs that the world’s end is upon us? Jesus names one thing in particular: Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
False Christs and false prophets performing great signs and wonders are the signals that the end of the world is at hand. The signs of brokenness in nature and the economy point to the fact that the world is coming to an end. But false prophets and false Christs—that is, people who put forth man’s word as the word of God, and people who proclaim a false salvation—this is far worse than a hurricane knocking out power in New York. False teaching and false saviors are a worse plague than nuclear war would be. Wars and earthquakes and terrorist attacks can only disrupt earthly life, make it unpleasant or take it away. But false doctrine and false saviors bring eternal misery.
And yet, as bad as the consequences of false teaching is, there is nothing that people seem to hate hearing more than calling out false teachers and false teaching by name. If a preacher slips a little bit of false doctrine into his teaching—that is, a little poison, a little bit of the lies of the devil, the world, the flesh—that shouldn’t be criticized, because no one is perfect. Okay. Try saying that the next time the government makes a mistake that results in the loss of life! “No one’s perfect” is true, but we don’t tolerate it if leaders slip up and accidentally kill people. But if a preacher by his false teaching endangers the souls of those who hear him—that shouldn’t be criticized.
How do you tell false Christs and false prophets? And how do you prepare for the destruction of the world when false Christs and false prophets appear?
False Christs and false prophets direct you away from the true Christ. Sometimes they do that in an obvious way; sometimes in a subtle way. Sometimes false prophets come from outside of the church and sometimes from within.
Then there are Christians and preachers whose teaching is infected by false doctrine, but who do it in weakness. Though their false teaching is evil and destructive, it happens through weakness.
Very early on in the history of the church this spirit of false prophecy and false Christs began to appear. There were some Christians in the days of the apostles who taught that unless the Gentiles began to keep the whole law of Moses—being circumcised, observing the Sabbath day, not eating pork—they could not be saved.
St. Paul opposed this false teaching fiercely and insisted, “A man is justified by faith in Christ alone apart from the works of law.” Of any law! But believing that when the waters are up to your neck is not so easy.
When the people of Israel were out by the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s armies were bearing down on them, they started to be afraid. When it seems like God’s wrath is coming down on the earth—or simply that death is approaching us as individuals—then saying “I am justified by faith in Jesus Christ apart from the deeds of the law” seems to be not so powerful.
But Moses said to the Israelites: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord…The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
That is Jesus’ word to us as the end approaches. “Fear not, stand firm.” That is not the same as the fearlessness people have who are ignoring danger. It is the fearlessness of faith in Christ that sees the danger but sees also the victory of Christ and the firmness of His promise.
A while back there was a movie called “Downfall” which pictured the last days of Hitler’s regime as the allies approached Berlin from both sides. In the film, as the shells were shaking the city, Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun and her entourage were holding a drunken soiree and pretending it wasn’t happening, until finally a shell hit the building they were in and knocked the power out.
That’s oftentimes how we are. Our flesh wants to pretend the party will never end.
But then when death and judgment are on the horizon, then the unbelieving start to run around everywhere looking for help. They run here, and then quickly run there. They go to one church, and then another. They read one book, and then another. Someone says, “The savior is in the desert” and they run there. Someone else says, “The savior is in the inner rooms,” and they run there.
That panic of the unbeliever who fears judgment has been found in the church. In fact it has taken over the church at various periods of history; false prophets have lured people away with miracles and signs into false religions, and they have set up in the church and taught a different Gospel.
Any teaching that says you must run here or there for salvation comes from the spirit of false prophecy or antichrist. Some promise salvation if we run to a monastery or out in the desert to live a holier life than everyone else. Other teachers promise salvation only if we ally ourselves with the right church or religious organization.
But really, you have only to be silent—as Moses said. There is only one salvation. And that is the Lord Himself, who fights for you.
The Lord Himself fought for you when He suffered God’s wrath against all your transgressions on the cross. You didn’t do that. You didn’t earn that. You didn’t receive it by running to this location or that. It was given to you in the Gospel. It was proclaimed to you. Jesus, the Lord, found you and forgave your sins.
When you were a baby, most of you were saved by Jesus. You were baptized into His death and resurrection. You didn’t do anything for that. It was simply given to you. And then you didn’t do any holy works; you were just a baby. And when you got older you had to be taught the faith. Yet you were saved. And that baptism still saves us. We have only to be still, as Zachary W. by God’s grace will be saved today. He will not do anything. He will simply be brought in our prayers and with our hands, and Jesus, according to His promise, will bestow salvation.
How can salvation be that simple? Surely we should run here or there, or do something?
No. Salvation is given. Today Jesus gives it to us in His body and blood. It is His promise alone that saves. “For you for the forgiveness of sins.”
On the last day it will be the same. We will not be heirs of God because we ran here or there. We have Christ’s promise that we are heirs. And so He promises that we do not have to run anywhere. He will appear in great glory, and those who are His own He will rescue and raise from the dead to live with Him in His glory.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria.
- Sermon – All Saints’ Sunday Revelation 7:9-17 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)