1 Advent Proper C1
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 21:25-36 Sermon
December 2, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
68 "The Advent Of Our King"
57 "O Bride Of Christ Rejoice"
609 "Wake, Awake For Night Is Flying"
64 "Jesus Thy Church With Longing Eyes"
THE PURPOSE OF FUTURE PROPHECY
TEXT (vs. 25-28): “ [Jesus said]: 25 And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
I remember getting my first drivers' license. I went down to the DMV and picked up one of those little paperback books that had all of the various rules, regulations, and other information I needed to know in order to pass the written part of my drivers' test. Most of the things contained in that little book I pretty much knew, because I had taken drivers' education in school. And I was also fairly observant of the signs I had encountered most of my life. So I had no trouble at all passing that portion of my first drivers' test.
In later years when I took the test for my CDL to get a bus license, I had to go back to the drivers' manual again. My test contained some questions about road signs. I had been driving for quite a few years, so there was really nothing there that surprised me or gave me too much trouble; that is with the exception of one sign I couldn't adequately explain. I recognized it because I had seen it many times, but I never knew what it actually meant.
The sign is a rectangular shape that sticks up the long way. On the sign is nothing but a series of black and yellow, or black and white stripes at a downward angle. Every bridge you cross has one of these signs right at the beginning of the bridge. I even looked on my way to church this morning at every bridge I crossed, just to be sure of this; and yes, every bridge had one of these signs. I always figured that it was just a sign indicating where the edge of the bridge was. That's partially right.
The sign is actually known as a "stripe object marker." What you are supposed to do is visualize a downward arrow at the end of those stripes. So if the stripes are angled downward to the left, it means that the object is to the right of the sign, and you need to keep left. That's the one you would usually see at the edge of a bridge. And if the stripes are angled downward to the right, it means that the object is to the left of the sign, and you need to keep right. And if you happen to see one of those signs where the stripes are in an inverted "V" shape, it means that the hazard is in the middle of the road, like a traffic island, and you need to be either to the left or right of the sign.
Don't be surprised if this is something you didn't realize before now. I didn't know about it either, until I missed the question on my written test. It wasn't explained in the manual. The man who graded my test had to explain it to me, telling me to visualize the downward arrows. I wasn't happy about missing the question, because the section on road signs had to be passed 100%. But I can guarantee you that I didn't miss it the second time I took the test.
In our Gospel reading appointed for today, Jesus is talking about warning signs. These are warning signs that tell us he is coming back again. In fact, the Bible is full of these warning signs in various places.
Jesus doesn't want us to use the old ignorance excuse. He doesn't want us to complain to him, "Oh, why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you warn me?" And he certainly doesn't want any of us to have the excuse, "Well, it wasn't in the book!" It didn't work when I was taking the test for my CDL, and it certainly isn't going to work here either.
Jesus is very clear. In our Gospel, Jesus says in verse 28: "Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." The things Jesus is describing are indeed taking place. The warning signs are there; we just need to heed them.
With this bit of introduction, I'm going to just briefly explain some schools of thought that take this way too far, and actually distort the message Jesus is telling us.
The biggest contention amongst Christians today is how to read Revelation chapter 20. There have been rather intricate theological systems developed by people over the years that attempt to explain what is meant by the "thousand years" spoken about there. It is almost impossible to explain the various intricate details of these schools of thought in just a few paragraphs, so I'll attempt to give you the general gist of what is going on.
The word generally connected with this is "millennialism," and the people are referred to as "millennialists." In earlier days, the term often used is "chiliasm." Both are terms that mean "a thousand."
The most common group are those who call themselves "pre-millennialists." They believe that Christ will come, rapture all believers, and take them to heaven. Then he will establish an earthly kingdom where he will reign for a thousand years, and Satan will be bound. Then Satan will be let loose for a little while, after which Christ will come again and the world will end.
One type of pre-millennialist is what is called a "dispensationalist," who believe that a certain number of chronological events must take place before Christ comes, or before the world ends. This came into vogue in the mid 1800's, and there are disagreements as to how many dispensations there are. It gets very confusing.
Then there are the post-millennialists, who believe that the thousand-year reign of Christ will happen before he returns to earth again.
I've heard and read proponents of all these schools of thought; and when you take all these various twists and turns people have concocted, it becomes a huge mess. But yet, there are those who will defend to the death whatever school they feel suits them.
The biggest problem of all, is that this tends to fix certain periods of time to Christ's return. If we read Mark chapter 13, verses 32-33 Jesus says: "32 But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come."
So if there is any attempt to put Jesus on some sort of fixed thousand-year time schedule, that's not possible. In fact, Jesus wants us to be kept in the dark about the actual time of his return. He wants us to be ready at all times. Plus, the Bible tells us that Christ's Kingdom is everlasting and eternal, and not of this world. It cannot in any way be defined as an earthly kingdom of a thousand literal years.
That's why the Biblically correct way of understanding the thousand years spoken about in Revelation is a metaphorical reference to the entire New Testament Church, which is the reign of Christ under the New Covenant. Christ's reign began at his incarnation and birth, and will end when he comes again. That's simple, direct, and to-the-point. But most importantly, it's what the Bible teaches.
So that leads us to one very important question. What is the purpose of Biblical prophecy? Why does Jesus give us this warning in our Gospel lesson for today? Why do we need to be concerned about the end times?
First of all, the Christian isn't guaranteed an easy life. A Christian will be ridiculed and even persecuted for their faith, and it can happen even in their own household. Jesus gives this warning in Luke chapter 12, verses 51-52: "51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three."
People often bristle at hearing this, especially in consideration of the Christmas message of "Peace on earth, goodwill toward men." That's the peace Christ established between God and sinful mankind. The division comes between those who are true believers in Jesus their Saviour, and those who are either unbelievers, or those who hold to false teachings. The Christian can expect various trials and tribulations because of their faith.
Secondly, there will be the attraction to desert the true Christian faith of the Bible, and follow false teachers and false Christs. This can be so subdued at times that it's hard to discern. People will use good sounding terminology and motives, but it will be man's logic at the forefront, and not God's will; and the Bible will be reduced to a human work, and not the living Word of our living God.
Listen to the warning Jesus gives in Matthew chapter 24 verses 23-28: "23 At that time 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 appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time. 26 So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather."
Thirdly and finally, we absolutely must keep our faith in Jesus our Saviour alive, active, and strong. The example I have used in the past is one that is important to remember: You can be robbed of everything you own, be stripped naked, and left out in the middle of the desert without food or water. But the one thing that nobody can take from you is your faith. The only way you can be rid of your faith is if you give it up yourself.
Hebrews chapter 3, verses 12-14 gives us some good instruction here: "12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end."
As we prepare to celebrate our Saviour's birth again this year, it is important to remember the purpose for which he came. He came out of love for people the likes of you and me. He came to be the Saviour as a result of our sinful human nature. He came to us because we could not save ourselves or make ourselves holy.
Jesus wants to be part of our lives. He doesn't want to be the object of some dead religion, or just an example of a good person and a moral teacher. Jesus wants to have a relationship with us, a love-love relationship where he is our Good Shepherd, and we are the people of his flock.
Jesus knows us to be the sinful people we are. He knows that we are prone to wander away, and be led astray by others. Listen to what Jesus says in John chapter 10, verses 7-10: "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."
Considering the love Jesus has for us, can you now understand why he takes so much time in warning us about the end times? Our relationship with Jesus is one that exists through faith, and faith alone. Faith in Jesus is where we find forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. When we prepare ourselves to receive him through faith, we know that it is something that changes our very lives. Faith in Jesus our Saviour is what changes us from sinners into saints. We are saved by grace through faith alone.
Jesus gives us warnings out of love for us. We are warned that as Christians our lives won't always be easy, that there will be those who will attempt to lead us astray, and that we'll be tempted to lose our faith.
We can learn a lot from some simple words written by the prophet Jeremiah in Lamentations chapter 3, verses 20-26: "20 My soul continues to remember these things and is so discouraged. 21 The reason I can still find hope is that I keep this one thing in mind: 22 the Lord’s mercy. We were not completely wiped out. His compassion is never limited. 23 It is new every morning. His faithfulness is great. 24 My soul can say, ‘The Lord is my lot in life. That is why I find hope in him.’ 25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to anyone who seeks help from him. 26 It is good to continue to hope and wait silently for the Lord to save us."
As I think about all those people out there who have put their own spin on what the end times will be, I find them becoming so concerned about the prophecy that they forget the reason. That's why it is so important to take one step back, and ask the question, "why?" Why is the Lord giving us all these warnings? The answer is simple and uncomplicated. Jesus wants us to be found faithful, simply because he loves us and he wants us to share heaven with him and all the saints for eternity. What could be easier to understand than that?
I'm going to give you one example of how this interpretation of prophecy has gotten out of hand. In Revelation 13:17, we are told that the number 666 is the number of the antichrist, or "the beast," as this verse says. People have become so superstitious about it, that they will actually search out places where this number is found, and avoid it at all costs.
Anyway, when my dad went to the DMV to get his new license tags, the number 666 was readily available. He took the number, simply because it was easy for him to remember. You should have heard the way some people reacted to it! Of course dad used it as a teaching moment. He said, "My license number has nothing to do with the antichrist; it's just the number between 665 and 667." And even though his car had the proverbial "mark of the beast," I know he is in heaven right now because of his faith in Christ. I just wonder what such people would think if they were to open our hymnal, and see that the musical setting for Psalm 100 is hymn number 666?
Back when I took my drivers' test for my CDL, one of the warning signs I needed to know wasn't in the book. And because of that, I failed my test the first time around. Knowing what the various warning signs are on the highway are important in order to safely operate a motor vehicle. And if you're getting your CDL to drive a bus like I was, you've got a lot of lives in your hands.
Jesus knows how important the warning signs of the end times are. He wants us to be ready to meet him, whenever that time comes, and only God knows when that will be. Therefore he is careful to give us all the warnings so that on that day when we meet him, we will be found faithful, and ready to live with him in heaven for all eternity.