The Kingdom of God is Near

Text: Luke 21:25-33

Date: Advent 2 + 12/10/06

      Today Jesus tells us about signs appearing in the sun and moon and stars that forecast his second advent or coming on the Day of Judgment and deliverance. As the angel said, when Jesus ascended into heaven and a cloud hid him from his disciples’ sight, so he will come again as you have seen him go. Today Jesus says he will come “in a cloud with power and great glory.” In this last public discourse before his Passion, Jesus gives his disciples some final words to help us prepare “to stand in the presence of the Son of Man” on the Last Day. In fact, this is the goal of Luke’s entire gospel. The words of Jesus, which he says will not pass away, accomplish what Luke promised Theophilus in the beginning, “that you come to recognize completely the reliability concerning the words by which you have been catechized.”

      According to these clear words of our Lord, “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, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” The ultimate cause of these catastrophic happenings will be God’s withdrawal of his goodwill and patience with corrupt and perverse humanity. The world will become unglued, unstable, reverting toward the chaos from which it was originally created. In this life we already know how sin throws lives into chaos and instability—a world that has been willfully murdering unborn babies for decades now; where adultery and divorce have become socially acceptable…no big deal; a world that despises God’s Word preferring the Lie of false gods or of just no god at all. The final shaking of sky and earth will result in anguish and perplexity among the nations. Those who are not hearers of the Word of God will have anguish, perplexity, fear and fainting. But to those who hear the Word of God and keep it, Jesus’ words today offer comfort and hope because the universal cataclysms point to the coming of the Son of Man.

      Jesus gives us specific words to help us prepare, including a wonderful promise. The words are “look up and lift up your heads” and “see and know.” Then follows the great promise, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.”

      “Look up,” straighten up “and lift up your heads.” When these obvious, cataclysmic signs begin to happen, getting the undivided attention of kingdoms and governments, of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), all the network and cable news companies flashing wall-to-wall breaking news coverage, while the unbelievers will be in terror, believers are to “straighten up, and lift your heads” because you alone know what’s really going on and what and Who is about to come, namely, your redemption and your Redeemer. I would like to think that, if atmospheric conditions allowed it, we would hurriedly leave our houses and belongings behind and gather here—right here where we have known the Lord’s promised, graceful presence for so many years. Maybe it would even be like that original Passover night in ancient Egypt when, in the silent, prayerful calm behind doors marked with lamb’s blood, we would, nevertheless, hear in the background the chaotic moaning and screams of terror in the neighborhood surrounding the church! “When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads.”

      In the little parable about the fig tree Jesus reminds us that, as when we see buds opening into leaves we know that summer is near, so “when you see these things taking place (the heavens shaking and the earth in chaos), know that the kingdom of God is near.” Now notice that the only way you can “know” this is because you have been told ahead of time, you have heard and remember his Word, your catechesis, your constant living and learning and hearing of his life-giving Word.

      Finally, Jesus speaks a blessed promise in this connection that is to draw us to faithfulness in what he is saying. First, when he says, “this generation will not pass away until all has taken place,” he means the continuing line of all unbelievers. “This generation” means to include those who rejected him during his earthly ministry, their spiritual ancestors who had rejected the prophets before him, and their spiritual heirs who reject the Gospel proclaimed by the apostles and pastors down to the present day. In other words, there will be unbelievers right up to the end. The promise is, “but my words will not pass away.” Emphatic! No qualifications! When the world passes away those who reject Jesus’ teaching will pass away with it. But those who hear and keep his Word will remain and inherit the kingdom he has prepared for them.

      What does it mean to hear and keep his Word? When? How often? Where? The answer? As the little catechism says, it means not despising preaching and God’s Word but gladly hearing and learning it, here, now, every Sunday, every day. You see this is what is really most distressing concerning lack of church attendance. Not worries about offerings not meeting a bare-bones budget; not concerns about success or failure as a congregation, but the concern over many falling away from the Word and faith and readiness for the Lord’s final return. Pastor Vsevolod Lytkin in Novosibirsk, Siberia, Russia said it this way during a memorial service for the victims of political repression in Russia, “I emphasize to you that you cannot believe in God without attending church. Those, who never go to church are unbelievers and not Christians. You will not be saved without God’s Word and blessed Sacraments. You still have time to change your mind, so do it! Come to church” [The Siberian Lutheran Mission Society, Dec. 2005 Newsletter].

            So when you see the signs of his imminent return straighten up, calm down and raise your head in joyful expectation. Let’s get in the habit of gathering here, now. See and know that your redemption is near, now and at the Last Day. Abide in the Lord’s Word. For, as the Apostle Paul says in today’s Epistle, “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.” “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” [Rom. 15:4, 13 (ESV)].