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Christ Is with You!

December 08, 2019
By Rev. David French

As Pastor Heckert reminded us last week, Advent isn’t just about Christ coming in the past, but it’s also about His coming to us through His Word and Sacraments today, as well as that time when He will return in all His glory to judge both the living and the dead. Today’s lesson focuses on that last day.

The Judgment Day imagery that our Lord gives through the prophet Malachi is powerful and unmistakable. Our Lord will return, and if you’re not in Christ, it’s not going to end well. Resurrected to life in Christ, we will go about in joy, leaping like young calves let out into the springtime pasture. The enemies of Christ, however, will be turned to ash and scattered about for the faithful to trod underfoot. 

Jesus speaks of this same future coming using language that paints a very terrifying image. In the days leading up to that great and glorious return, the sun, moon, and stars will be going dark. The seas will be raging and roaring. All of nature is going to be coming apart at the seams. 

And, while I don’t believe that Judgment Day is upon us, you still see the signs. Not counting things that are a direct result of man’s sinfulness, like terrorism or wars, there have been hurricanes that completely leveled not just cities, but entire regions. There have been wildfires that scorched and incinerated everything in their paths in a matter of hours. Flood waters are flowing, even now, down south. And, just Google most recent earthquakes, and you get dozens of 5+ in the last month.

 My fellow believers, that’s all been in the last six months. Just think of all the devastation we’ve witnessed over the past year, ten years, twenty years. But, Jesus says that this is just the beginning of the birth pains.

What else does Jesus say about all this? He says, “When you see these signs, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Now, I need to point out that Jesus does call these natural disasters “signs.” The word used in the Greek is “seimeion,” which matters because it’s the same word that is translated as “miracles” in other places. For example, when Jesus turns water into wine at Cana, we read, “this was the first of His miracles/ signs that Jesus did, manifesting His glory, and His disciples believed in Him” (John 2:11).

So, why did Jesus do miracles? Answer: To manifest or make His glory known. That is, they proclaimed Christ to be God in the flesh. The disciples saw these miracles and believed. Many, however, saw those same miracles and refused to believe, not least among them, the Pharisees. They saw, and yet they refused to see. 

Looking back throughout the Old Testament, we see God working great and mighty miracle/signs. Remember, God’s desire is that all would be saved. He gives signs so that all may see and turn to Him for the forgiveness of their sins. Some see these signs and repent and rejoice. Many more do not. They see the same thing that the repentant believers see, and yet, they don’t understand what God is showing them.

Think about the ten plagues. God gave ten clear signs that Pharaoh and Egypt should repent. Some saw and turned to Yahweh, but most did not. Think about the bronze serpent account. God gives the bronze serpent to His rebellious and sinful people, promising that whoever looked upon that bronze serpent when they’re bitten by the fiery snakes would live. Some believe and looked and lived, while others did not. They refused to believe that simply looking at a statue of the very thing killing them would save them. They all saw the same thing, and yet on that pole, some saw God’s promise of life and some did not. Those who refused to see, died.

As St. Paul writes, “These things were written in the former days for our instruction.” All of these signs are recorded for us. God gives us these things so that we can learn from the past, so we can look to the present as well as the future with the full confidence of our God-given faith. God worked all these great and mighty signs for you and the good of all His people. 

You see the news, you see the disasters that fill the world. Everyone sees them. But, what do they see? Do they see them as signs of God’s judgment against sin? Do they see them as God’s call to turn and hold to His promise of life? Some do, but many more don’t. 

My friends, make no mistake. God is not okay with sin, and the world as we know it, was cursed as a result of man’s fall into sin. The truth is, we don’t even have to look to the natural disasters to see it. Just look at the barren trees and dead leaves on the ground. Look at the thorns and thistles in your gardens and lawns. Look at the sweat of your brow and the pains you feel in childbirth. Look at yourself and what you used to be. Hospitals and cemeteries are filled with signs that God is not okay with sin! Sickness, death, pain, suffering, despair, depression … all of them are signs and symptoms of the sin that infects each and every person borne from Adam.

The signs are all around us. We all see them, and yet, not everybody sees the same thing. Some recognize God’s merciful call to turn and hold fast to Him. Others exercise their free will and refuse to see. They see problems they think they can fix. They’ve taken God out of the equation and put their own reason and intellect in His place. 

And yet, the state of the world continues to get worse. It is a classic example of the blind leading the blind. As Luther once wrote, “… Let the unbelievers doubt and despise God’s signs and say they are only ‘natural.’ You hold fast to the Gospel!”

And so, it’s to the Gospel we go, for there God offers to you His life and a peace that surpasses all human understanding. But first, a truth we all live with: faith in God does not magically take away the sorrows or sufferings of life. No one is immune from the effects of sin while we live in this fallen world. God never promised you a “cross-less” life; that is, a life without fear or suffering or pain or despair.

Now, I remind you of that because satan will temp you with a different gospel; a better sounding gospel, one that promises health and wealth in the here-and-now. You just have to pray a little harder or live a little better, and it can all be yours. The problem is, Jesus said, “It is finished.” His resurrection says It is finished. God’s Word reveals that Jesus has done all that needs to be done for your salvation. You only need to believe, and you will be saved.

Yes, you will know suffering. You will know pain and sorrow and frustrations and failures. We are, after all, sinners living in a sinful world. The signs and proofs of that are within us and all around us.  As Jesus said, “When you see these things taking place: Straighten up.  Raise your head, because your redemption is drawing near.” So, look and hold fast to God, but look where He has promised He will always be. Look to the font. Look to the altar. Look to His Word. By faith we understand God is not far off, but He is right here, right now, working among us. In spite of your pains and sorrows and sufferings, God is holding out His mercy and grace and peace to you right now. 

God is with us. As the fires rage, the winds and seas roar, and the earth quakes, His grace abounds. Rich or poor, sick or healthy, in good times and bad, Christ is with you. So, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His love endures forever.

In His name, Amen