We’ll know when judgment day comes. It’ll be obvious. The sun will stop shining, the stars will fall from the sky, and we’ll see the Son of Man coming on the clouds. We’ll know when judgment day comes, but we don’t know when it’ll come. The signs of its coming Jesus gives, but these signs are not so specific that we can say they’re only happening in our time. We have crazy weather events; so has every generation. Climate change is a basic constant. We have wars and rumors of wars. This is nothing new. There is now and there has been in the past fear and foreboding of what is coming on the earth. Since the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, there has not been a generation that hasn’t experienced these things. This is why Jesus says that this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. He’s talking about the sinful and adulterous generation, the generation of all mankind, of this world, which won’t pass away until Christ’s coming. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will never pass away.
The hysteria of today, especially surrounding the Covid crisis, is a sign not necessarily that our generation will see the end of the world in the next decades, but that our generation grows more and more absurdly self-obsessed. The “woe is me” attitude of first-world countries in our day is almost comical. We have historical amnesia. People actually think they’re living through the hardest time in human history, because a disease hit the world with a less than one percent mortality rate and because a foot of snow fell in Hawaii. You can see a hilarious example of this in the creatively titled song, “Thanksgiving Song,” which is about Thanksgiving. My sons and I were blessed to hear it on the radio on Thanksgiving morning and near the end, the lyrics go like this, “Because we made it through, I do believe, the longest year in history,” of course referring to 2020. We don’t even need to go back to the Black Death, a pandemic that wiped out half the population of Europe, wiped entire towns off the map, sometimes with a hundred percent death rate, or the Thirty Years War that brought untold death and unspeakable atrocities on German lands for three decades and left a third of the population dead, to see the absurd and insulting privilege of a guy eating turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie in complete safety and singing about how we just lived through the worst year in history. Take a look at the devastation of the world wars, the death tolls of the Spanish flu, the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, reflect just a little bit on the ridiculous wealth in which we live and our expectation to live well beyond the age of 80, and you can understand why we should either cry or laugh at the idea that our pampered generation actually feels sorry for itself. As Livy wrote long ago about Rome, we can handle neither our vices nor their cures.
Now that is not to say we don’t see the signs of the end of the world in our day. We most definitely do. But please don’t participate in or listen to the whinings of this privileged generation or to the so-called Christian preachers out there once again predicting the end of the world because of the Covid-19 virus or the Covid-19 vaccine. It is quite possibly true that we are living in the worst time in history, but if that’s so, it has absolutely nothing to do with loss of health or wealth or bad weather patterns. It has to do instead with the loss of virtue and belief in God. It has to do with this generation’s obsession with material wealth and its total abandonment of its Creator and all sanity. If there is anything new in our age, it isn’t disease or corrupt government or natural disasters, it’s people sitting by and acting like a man calling himself a woman is normal. When 2000 years ago Nero, the crazy Emperor of Rome, dressed up as a woman, everyone at that time at least thought he was crazy. In our day we praise it and encourage it. Lord have mercy.
At the same time as we keep a healthy sense of humor about our ridiculous and pampered age, we should also give constant and reverent attention to our Lord’s words and his warnings about the end of this world. The signs of the end of the world are around us. As they have been in every generation for 2000 years. The question is what we do with these signs. The rest of this sermon is going to deal with two questions. The first is, to whom does Jesus give this warning, to us who believe in Him or to the unbelieving world? And the second is, what should we do in the face of these signs?
First, Jesus tells us about these signs. The signs are for us. A sign is useless, confusing, if you don’t know what it means. You see this with Jesus’ miracles. He calls them signs. But only those who listen to His words get the signs. They don’t convince the hardened unbelievers. Jesus himself asks, when an angry crowd of His own countrymen pick up stones to throw at Him, “I have done many good works among you. For which of these do you stone Me?” And they answer, “Not for a good work, but because you, being a man, claim to be equal with God.” In other words, Jesus teaches that He is God’s Son and so equal with God, of the same nature as His Father, and His miracles are meant to prove this very thing, that God has come to them, but they don’t believe His words so they don’t understand the signs at all. They ignore them or explain them away.
And the same thing goes with the signs of our times. Jesus gives them to us. To those who believe in Him or at least to those who don’t stubbornly harden their hearts against Him. The natural disasters are signs to you. The disruption of politics and nations are signs for you. The diseases and pandemics are signs for you. The abandonment of basic morality, the destruction of the family, these are signs for you. The hardened unbeliever will consistently misinterpret them or totally ignore them. But to you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God. We’ll talk about this more on Wednesday evening, but nowhere in the Bible does it say that these horrible signs will lead to a mass conversion of people coming to faith. It’s quite the opposite. Jesus says that if these times were not cut short they would if possible lead astray even the elect. People will fall away from the faith and away from the church because their weak faith expects only benefits from God and instead God sends pain on the earth. And we ourselves have seen this, as people are constantly abandoning Christ and abandoning His church in favor of health or material wealth or bodily enjoyment. But it is to us that these signs will make sense. Jesus says that He tells us of them beforehand so that we do not fall away.
Why will they make sense to us? Because Jesus tells us what they mean. And this gets us to the second and final point – which doesn’t mean the sermon’s going to end anytime soon, only that there’s only one more point, but it’s a pretty long one, just to give you fair warning: What do we do with the signs? We learn from them that we can’t put our trust in this world. Obviously. I mean this is obvious to faith. Obvious to a realistic view of this world. The world is uncertain. A disease can come and wipe us out. Elections can be stolen. Babies can be slaughtered by the millions. People in suits and ties can play with our material future like puppet masters. The world may just warm up or it may just cool down and cause global devastation, and there’s not a thing we can do about it. You can’t trust in this world. It’s fickle. And that is a sign that it is corrupt, that it will have to be destroyed, as Jesus tells us. And more than that it’s a reminder that you’re corrupt. Not only can you not trust in the world and its stability, you can’t trust in yourself and your own stability. Because you will fail. You’ll die unless judgment day comes first. Because you are a sinner, with flesh that wars against the Spirit of God, that cannot stand in the presence of the righteous God. So the signs are your tutor to Christ, they teach you not to trust in this fleeting world or in yourself but to run to your Creator and your Redeemer.
This is why Jesus says what He says – when all these things begin to happen, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near. Look away from the world, look away from your own guilt, turn yourself from the corruption all around, and look to your Savior. Put your trust in Him. He is perfectly reliable. He is perfectly stable. He won’t let you down. He is the Holy One in whom there is no corruption. He has conquered it all. Death remains dead under His feet. The Father did not allow His Holy One to see corruption. He entered a corrupted world, with a political hack trying to kill Him when He was still a baby, with diseases surrounding Him, which His purity cleansed at even a touch of the tip of His garment, with nations raging and the kings of the earth plotting together to put Him to death, and with the sin that causes all this corruption put onto His innocent shoulders, the shoulders of God Himself in human flesh. And He bore them and He suffered for them and He shed God’s blood for them and He rose triumphant and uncorrupted.
You will not find the solution to sin or death or this world’s problems in yourself or in this world’s powers and elites. You won’t find it in your wealth or in your health or in politics. They will all fail you. That’s what the signs of the end tell you. But these signs also point you to your Savior. Straighten up. Don’t despair. Look reality in the face and then know that Jesus comes for you. As surely as He came for you as a baby in Bethlehem, as surely as He came to bear your sin and your death and to conquer it by His resurrection, as surely as He comes now and speaks peace to you, peace with God, because the Christ who died for you now lives for you, and feeds you with His own body and blood, so surely will He come to rescue you from this world and give you treasures beyond compare. Every expectation on this earth disappoints in the end, the signs prove it. Except Jesus. He doesn’t disappoint. Even now. No matter if bad things happen, no matter that the signs get more severe, no matter if we have to suffer the loss of all things. Jesus is the final proof that God will work all things, good and bad, to the good of those who love Him. If God is for us who can be against us? If He did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not in Him freely give us all things?
The alternative to looking to Jesus, you notice, is not simple despair. It’s addiction to the pleasures of this world. It’s trying to ignore the signs, trying to ignore the corruption of the world, by turning ourselves to drunkenness and dissipation and the pleasures and obsessions of this world. Don’t be weighed down by these things. You have no reason to ignore the signs, to try to drink away or entertain away or politic away the corruption of this world. Jesus gives the signs precisely so that you look at them and face them and then turn to Him with confidence, with head held high, with the absolute conviction that you have a Savior, the very Creator of this world, who has redeemed it with His own blood, who is in charge, to whom all authority in heaven and earth belongs. So let the signs drive you to church. Let them drive you to reading your Bible and to sincere and daily prayer to your Father in Jesus’ name. Let them drive you to caring far more for heavenly things than for earthly obsessions, to virtue and self-control and generosity and love for God and one another. Let them drive you to laugh at the shenanigans of God’s enemies, because they are like vapor and like dew in the morning that vanishes in the heat of the Sun.
The Christian spirit can never be the privileged complaining of historical amnesia. The Christian spirit is the Spirit of confidence, the Spirit of joy, the Spirit that can look death itself in the face, and say, “I am not afraid. My Savior lives and He will come and take me to Him.” The center of history is the birth of the Lord Jesus in Bethlehem. God became a man. That’s momentous. It’s drastic. And this great self-giving of our God for us is the great sign that God is for us. He came to us. He broke through sin and pain and corruption and shame to come to us. He comes now and unites us to Himself. And the signs of this generation show us that as He promised, He will come again. How my soul longs within me. Come Lord Jesus. Yes, come quickly! Amen.