Bible Text: Luke 21:25-36 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus
Heaven and earth will pass away, Jesus says. This means that what you see and taste and feel and smell is going to pass away, the stuff of this earth, the lakes, the mountains, the sky above you, the sun, the moon, the stars, the stuff you enjoy, the coffee you drank this morning, the thrill of the Wyoming wind on a Sunday morning, everything will pass away. All the stuff that gives you pleasure and joy will be gone. It is a false piety, a false sense of religiosity that would look at the destruction of all the stuff of this world and say, wonderful, let it all go, I just want heaven, I just want to see Jesus. It’s false because when you look at Jesus you will be looking at stuff, you will be looking at what your eyes can see and your hands can handle and your tongue can taste and your nose can smell. God has bound Himself to His creation. He has become one of us. We are made up of stuff, and so now is He.
So while it is true that the stuff of heaven and earth will pass away, it is not true that creation will pass away, that we will live in the future life as disembodied souls floating around in nothingness. It is not true that there would be no loss if all the stuff we see would simply disappear forever. Too many Christians think of heaven this way, think of the afterlife as some stuffless place where they don’t really want to go, but I suppose it’s better than the alternative, because anything would be better than hell. And so they conceive of judgment day and what follows as a loss.
The clearest explanation of what happens with the passing away of heaven and earth comes in 2 Peter, where we hear that “the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, … and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved.” So a total disintegration of everything in big fiery mass. But immediately after this, St. Peter writes, “According to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
So when Jesus says that heaven and earth will pass away, He is saying all this stuff is going to go up in flames, in real, God-made, global warming, but only to be reformed, remade, in righteousness. And so the loss will not be the loss of stuff, of beauty, of lakes, of mountains, of cute fluffy animals. The loss will be of everything that corrupts the heavens and the earth. The loss will be of the same sin and corruption that we want gone from us. The remaking of the heavens and the earth is like the remaking of our own bodies. You are dust, O man, and to dust you shall return, but your body will die and return to dust only to be remade immortal, incorruptible, like the body of your Savior. This is what we do, honestly, with unfeigned piety and true religion, look forward to.
We do not love creation more than God. He loves what He made. As it was in the beginning, when He saw all that He had made and said it was good, so it is now, and ever will be. And it is precisely because He loves His creation that it will go up in flames and be remade again. The sin and corruption that we see on this earth cannot be solved by human power and virtue. The UN’s call for ceasefires in Gaza and the sending of another 100 billion to Ukraine won’t bring peace to this world. Get rid of gas and oil, and the hurricanes will still come and so will drought and famine and blazing heat and frigid cold. Combat poverty by making everyone share everything and you will only make everyone poorer and greedier.
As surely as you know that nothing can take away the sin in your heart except death and resurrection, so surely you should know that nothing is going to remove the corruption from this earth except its death and resurrection. This is the great comfort of your Baptism. St. Paul tells you that there you died with Christ. And if you died with Him, you will also rise with Him. He died bearing the sins of the world. He was on that cross, as Luther said, the greatest sinner of all time, because everything that corrupts you and that corrupts this earth, was placed on Him, and after He had suffered it all, he brought all the filth and death and corruption with Him to the grave and buried it there. To be united with Him in His resurrection is to be united to the Conqueror of death and corruption and sin and guilt, to be united with holiness and purity and innocence and power and glory and the new Creation. This is why St. Paul calls Jesus the first of the new creation. He is that which you and all the stuff of this world will be when finally the heavens and earth pass away and only the Word made flesh remains to recreate them.
This is why St. John the Baptist tells you that Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire. There is no purgatory, no purging of sin in some typically medieval place of fiery gloom, but there is the Baptism of fire that comes on the Last Day, when the corruptible puts on incorruption and the mortal puts on immortality. And the Spirit within us who now binds us to Jesus, yearns for that day.
So does all creation. St. Paul says all creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God, which will happen when the Lord comes with clouds descending. Because all creation was subjected to futility because of our sin, and the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. So St. Paul talks about creation groaning and laboring and waiting for this day.
This is why you can’t possibly think of loss when you think of creation going up in flames and heaven and earth passing away. Creation can’t wait for it. It means the end of corruption. It means the new creation. It means that creation is finally made like the first of the new creation, Jesus Christ her Lord. This is why it is not simply poetry when Isaiah says that the valleys will rise to meet Him and the hills will bow down to greet him. This is literally what will happen. When the mountains crash down into the sea, when the valleys rise up, they will be doing homage to their Lord. The burning and crashing of that day will be pure joy and wonder for the children of God.
So the signs that Jesus speaks of, signs of the end, they are all in nature itself, and they are signs that things are not as they should be, the roaring of the sea, the distress of nations. It isn’t a problem we will solve by reducing our carbon footprint or with UN resolutions or with war or with calls for peace. It isn’t a problem we can ignore by turning to drinking and the pleasures and cares of this life. It is the problem that only Jesus addresses. The sun went dark when He suffered and died on that cross. The earth shook. Creation paid its homage there to her Redeemer. And so do we. As the nations are in distress, as the signs abound around us, we will find no answer to death and corruption in drinking or youtubing or food or fun or work or politics or whatever else we can think of to occupy our minds, but that only weigh us down. We will find the answer in our Lord Jesus Christ, who takes the burden off of us because He has borne it Himself. Heaven and earth will pass away, but His words will never pass away.
And this is the Word that He speaks here in His Church to you, His beloved Bride. He has washed you and made you clean in your Baptism. He has presented you to Himself as His new creation. You are now the Bride in whom He delights. He sets a table before you in the presence of your enemies. He tells you to take eat and take drink of the medicine of immortality. His Word declares you righteous and takes away the corruption and guilt of your sin, and this is the same Word that will recreate you and all the world on the last day.
Heaven and earth cannot wait to pass away and we cannot let inanimate objects outdo us in expectation of that great day. Creation waits for the revealing of the sons of God, to see us, and what we will be, when our Lord comes in great power and glory. All creation will be remade around us, the furry little creatures and the mountains and lakes and stars, but it is the first over all creation, the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, and the dear tokens of His passion that will be the delight and rapture of His ransomed worshippers. Come Lord Jesus, yes, come quickly. Amen.