Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 22, 2015
“Only Seconds Away”
God’s grace, mercy and peace be to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, our great Triune God. The basis for the sermon today on the Last Sunday of the Church Year is the Gospel lesson – the end of the “Apocalyptic Discourse.”
My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,
Every day we are always only seconds away from life-changing event. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That phone call you answered when you could have just let it ring. The pre-cancerous cell in our body changes. A spark, a blind spot, an unsafe and unsure driver on a crowded street. One minute it’s “all good,” and then BOOM! Your life is never the same. Just read or watch the news sometime. It is filled with people who woke up assuming their day would be the same as the previous, but then everything changed; ask the people of Paris about that. Ask the families of those who simply went out to eat or a concert or a soccer match one night last weekend. We are always only seconds away from a totally different reality. Does that truth ever make you anxious?
It doesn’t take too long watching the news for your anxiety to rise. Any day of the week, or any month of the year, brings anxious news. I think there is every indication that things really are that bad and getting worse. Violence, depravity, and chaos are found everywhere. Evils once observed from afar now seem to be coming close at hand. More and more people in society are throwing off all morality and restraint, and the Church is beaten down, persecuted, mocked and despised; we’ve become a running joke or punch line for late-night TV hosts. When will it end?
As God’s people want some assurance; we want to KNOW that Jesus’ return is always only seconds away. We want to KNOW when Jesus will return – hopefully sooner than later. Remember the Gospel lesson last week? The disciples were warned by Jesus at the beginning of Mark 13 that Jerusalem and its temple would be destroyed, and they asked when it would happen.
Jesus’ answer did not give a date, but rather signs showing when it was near. The signs are more bad news (just what we need…great!): wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, and persecution would come first. Today’s lesson is a continuation and then conclusion of His apocalyptic discourse, and the news doesn’t get any better.
Jesus’ warnings at the beginning of our text about what will happen when his return draws near are even more dire (vv 24–25): sun, moon, and stars blotted out. A 1st century Israelite would see the destruction of the Temple as a CLEAR sign of the end of the world. And if we saw the literal removal of God’s heavenly lights, we would guess it were the end of the world. That’s a pretty obvious sign. And as we ponder the signs that we do observe – declining morality, lapsing church attendance, Christians more “on fire” for the upcoming Black Friday sales and not seeking and saving souls for Christ – it’s understandable for broken sinners to think that somehow God is losing control. That we are only seconds away from a complete collapse. It appears chaos and evil are near total victory. It’s tempting to wonder if Jesus has abandoned us or forgotten us. He hasn’t; that’s something I know for sure. I also know 3 more for-sure truths (every Lutheran has 3 points in there somewhere, right?). For-sure truth #1: When it comes, it comes. It is always only seconds away, so our greater need is to be watchful and prepared in and through faith.
Yes, he gives signs. But he says they are only the first birth pains, the greater suffering that you and I endure (13:8). For-sure truth #2: Things will get worse before they get better. We are not meant to know when the end will come.
In today’s lesson Jesus also told a little parable. The parable of the fig tree shows the signs have a different purpose than timing Jesus’ return. The fig tree’s budding leaves come late in the spring. It is a sure sign that summer is just around the corner (vv 28–29). The point is not that we can discern or calculate the date of Armageddon. I cannot tell you precisely if the end of the world is only seconds away because No ONE knows that! Rather, for-sure truth #3 is that every time we see a sign, it reminds us that as sure as summer follows spring, Jesus’ return IS SURE (vv 30–31).
Friends, don’t worry that life could change in a blink of an eye; that life changes are only seconds away. Instead of calculating dates or living life in the despair of the moment, live confidently! Live boldly! Live redeemed! Live loved! Live generously! Jesus strengthens us through the Means of Grace – the Church – for our work here while we wait. He is near, and he is coming to take us to heaven.
Jesus has a habit of finishing what He starts. All is complete; all is ready; all has been set ever since Jesus’ “It is finished” on the cross. What Christ finished was God’s salvation plan…the forgiveness of humanity’s sins. Death was then finished on Easter morning because of Jesus’ resurrection. Now there is only 1 piece of the narrative left. He was born, He lived, He died, He rose again. He IS coming back. Know that we will see him come to gather us and all the elect (vv 26–27). Christ’s birth, death and resurrection assure it! Jesus finishes what He starts.
And so in the meantime we wait as in the illustration of the traveling master and his waiting servants (vv 34–36). Jesus, like the master who is away in a foreign land, is beyond sight. And like the master with his servants, Jesus has given us work to do while we are waiting! Our work is assigned according to how God has stationed us in life. We have responsibilities as husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, employer or worker, pastor or member, neighbor, relative, friend, and so on. We seek to do his will where he has placed us. While we work at our various vocations, we watch, remain vigilant, and remain faithful. We trust. And we hope. We hope knowing that the return of Christ Jesus is always…ALWAYS…only seconds away.
In Isaiah, the Lord says, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever” (51:6). Life changes are only seconds away, and so also is the coming of the salvation promised and purchased by Jesus. His forgiveness, His kingdom, His provision and His love are eternal and when they do come in their final fruition, they will never pass away (13:30), for which we gratefully proclaim Thanks be to God!