12-4-22 Populus Zion

Bible Text: Luke 21:25-36 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | Series: Advent 2022 | “Straighten up and raise your heads,” Jesus says. This is the posture of the confident, of the triumphant and the joyful. When all these horrible things are happening around you – distress of nations, people fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the earth – Jesus tells you to straighten up and lift your head high. And this is not because you’re simply watching bad things happen to other people while you sit on the sidelines in safety. Not simply because there is some clean separation between your life as a Christian and the goings on in the world, as if you can look with disinterest on the affairs of our government and our society because they don’t really affect you as a Christian. No, the bad things come on the whole earth and they especially affect Christ’s Church. Distress of nations, bad government, these especially hurt Christians. The Disrespect for Marriage Act the U.S. Senate just passed will especially hurt Christians, will criminalize our confession of the Creator who made us male and female. When bad things like this happen, insane things that mark the end times, it is no time for moping, for despairing, and it is certainly no time for apathy, for not caring, for disinterest, it is time to straighten up, raise your heads, and soak up the patience and endurance of the Scriptures. God has always made His people confident, always made them flourish in times of distress and insanity. The Egyptian Pharoah enslaved God’s people, put out the order for the midwives to kill every male child born to them, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty. The Babylonians came and totally destroyed Jerusalem, killed the people and enslaved the rest, and through the disaster the word of God spread even further, to the Gentiles, to nations far and wide, and even the wicked king Nebuchadnezzar, even the Persian King Cyrus the Great, had to acknowledge that the Lord is God and there is none like Him among the gods. And when the Christians meet persecution in Jerusalem, when its government orders the apostles not to preach Jesus and jails them and beats them for doing it, they rejoice that they get to suffer for Christ’s sake, literally sing hymns in the streets, ecstatic, they straighten up and raise their heads, and more and more people hear and believe in Jesus. This is the comfort, the patience, and endurance the Scriptures give. The church may seem increasingly small and despised. When has she not? Read your Bible. She has always grown, always thrived, always raised her head in confidence in the face of distress. Because her eyes are fixed on Jesus. He has conquered our sin and our death. He has used bad government and persecution of the innocent and total insanity to accomplish our salvation, in His own suffering and in His own death. He is in charge and will work all to good for those who love Him and wait for His coming. Heaven and earth will pass away, but His words will never pass away.

So Jesus asserted, but the heavens and earth are still here and now His words meet colder and colder hearts. He said He would come quickly, that earth and heaven would pass away, but the taunt is that heaven and earth remain and his words are passing away. This is the taunt of evolution, of what is falsely called science. It is the taunt that calls us to get with the times and forget that God is Creator, man is man, woman is woman, and Jesus is Lord. This is the taunt that steals our children from the faith. It is a real taunt and it is effective and it pulls at our flesh. But it is a taunt that has always been there. It is nothing new. You are not suffering some crisis in our time that saints have not suffered and triumphed over in the past. 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. What did they say in the time of Ezekiel, when the prophet prophesied the imminent destruction of Jerusalem, “The days keep going on,” they said, “and every vision fails.” “The vision that he sees is for many days from now and he prophesies of times far off.” Jesus tells the parable of the servant who sees his master delayed a long time and so starts beating the other servants, because the idea of his master’s return begins to become unreal to him. And St. Peter complains of the same taunt in his time, “Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”

Jesus meets this taunt head on. He purposefully conflates, combines his talk of the end of the world with his talk of the impending destruction of Jerusalem. When you read your Bible, you’ll see this very obviously in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark and Luke. Jesus will be talking about the end of the world and his coming to judge the living and the dead and then without any transition start talking about the destruction of Jerusalem. The words of our Gospel today, which clearly preach judgment day, the passing away of heaven and earth, Jesus began this whole conversation commenting on the temple in Jerusalem and how not one stone would be left on another in it. The destruction of Jerusalem is the proof that the same destruction will come on the whole world. Jesus says Jerusalem will be destroyed, that this generation will not pass away until it happens, and then it happens. AD 70, forty years after Jesus dies and rises and ascends to heaven, the Romans totally destroy Jerusalem, and its Temple worship is forever wiped off the map. This destruction of Jerusalem is the sign that all Jesus’ words of the end of the world will come to pass. You know by the leaves on the fig tree that summer is coming. You know by the destruction of Jerusalem that judgment day will come as Jesus said it would.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. This is the word that created heaven and earth, it precedes them and it will outlast them. You see this all through the Bible. The word of the Lord makes heaven do what heaven doesn’t do – rain down manna for the children of Israel or throw down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah or refuse to rain or give any dew for three years in time of Elijah, or make the sun stop and stand still for hours in the time of Joshua. It makes the earth do what the earth doesn’t do – makes water come out of a rock and makes rivers and seas become dry in a moment. You read the Bible and see what God’s word has done and you will see what a silly taunt it is that heaven and earth still remain. They remain at Jesus’ discretion, because of His good patience, because He wants more to hear His Word and trust in Him so that all His elect will see the salvation He has planned for them from before the foundation of the world.

And if this word of the destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of the world will never pass away, how much less can the word of our salvation pass away. The destruction of the world has been bought by our sin. Heaven and earth must be destroyed because we have destroyed it. It’s curse is the curse of sin. It’s corruption, its ugliness is what demands the word of destruction that will not pass away. But the word of your salvation has been bought by the blood of God. It is demanded by the groanings and sufferings of your Lord Jesus who pleaded for your forgiveness and for your life as He bore your sin and met your death on the cross. This is the Word that God Himself suffered to speak to you and it will not, it cannot pass away. It is the word of life, life with God that will not end, of uninterrupted joy that will not be taken away from you, that is secure in the wounds of your Savior. Heaven and earth will pass away, but this word will not. Straighten up and raise your heads, because the Jesus who comes to judge the world is not only your God but your Brother, made one flesh with you, whose might and power proceed from the weakness and shame of His cross, and so are worked out for you. The word of forgiveness you hear in this holy place, the words given and shed for the forgiveness of sins, the words of your Baptism that put God’s name on you and declared you a child of God washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, these are the words that will never pass away, founded on the Rock of Jesus Christ the Righteous.

And it is a Word that transforms even the destruction of the world, even judgment day, what must happen because of our sin, even this, it transforms into beauty and joy and a thing to be longed for with all our heart. Creation itself groans for it. This destruction of the last day will be its liberation as much as it is ours. Because the fire will be only to remove the wicked, the evil doers, as Micah says, and the corruption from this earth. And then a new heavens and a new earth, where there is no sin and no Satan and no temptation and no insane warring against God’s created order. Creation itself groans for it and we lift up our heads to expect it. There will be no loss for us here, only gain. We will see our Savior and we will see His beautiful creation, what He has made for us, rid of all sin and rid of all corruption forever, and ourselves transformed to be like He is, to love as He has loved us, and to live as He created us to live.

The patience and comfort of the Scriptures are yours. Use them. When you grow distressed because of the shenanigans of the world, the weak and foolish compromise of God’s word, the blatant attacks on Christ’s church and on basic morality, do not dwell on it as some strange disaster, do not become overwhelmed by the cares of this world, NO, open up your Bible and read it and then come to church and hear the words that have never failed and will never fail, straighten up, lift high your head, realize the victory has already been won, you are on God’s side and God does not fail, and you know it because you know Christ, and you belong to Him, and He has won you an everlasting kingdom, and has poured out His blood in love for you. And so your Redemption comes to you. Even so, come Lord Jesus, yes come quickly. Amen.

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