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The Time Is Drawing Near

November 17, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel text, where Luke records Jesus’s words, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once. … Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Here ends our text, dear Christian friends…

Several years ago, I was driving home from seminary for Christmas break when I received an unexpected phone call from an old friend. This friend … was not religious. At all. Still isn’t, I don’t think, but she was very worried at the time. See, back then, there had been a hoopla raised about the Mayan calendar, pointing to December 21, 2012 being the end of the world as we know it, and while she was not religious, she wondered if there might be some legitimacy to the claim. Hurricane Sandy had just hit about a month prior, there had been some pretty strong earthquakes throughout the world, civil unrest here and abroad, and she was just worried. Since she’s not religious, I was pretty surprised that she reached out to me, but was nevertheless happy that she did. I explained to her, from the Christian perspective, no one knows the hour when this world, this cosmos, will end, and I found it highly dubious that the ancient Mayans would have been privy to such information. I think I ended the conversation by telling her that the Father is the One Who says when the world ends, when Jesus returns, and while He could certainly decide to call it quits on that December 21st, I was highly skeptical, if for no other reason than to say that God is not mocked, and when He says “No one knows the hour,” He means it.

Lo and behold, that December 21st came … and went. The Mayans were wrong. Harold Camping was wrong. The Y2Kers were wrong. John Hagee was wrong. We’re still here. And barring Jesus’s return, I know there will be some politicians who will be surprised when we are still here 13 years from now. There’s nothing new about this; go back about a thousand years, and people worried that 1033 – the supposed 1000-year anniversary of Jesus’s crucifixion – would mean the end of the world as we know it. Why? Why has there been so much concern and intrigue and attempts to figure out when the end will finally and at long last come? I think primarily, that it’s fear – of the unknown, of death, of pain and suffering. At least, that’s the picture that Jesus paints of what the end will be like.

Our text starts with the disciples marveling at the newly-finished temple, in all its splendor and glory. They were adoring the noble stones and offerings, but Jesus cuts all that short by saying, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Jarring in light of their wonder, the disciples then proceed to press Jesus about this event that He’s just described: “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” The disciples think they’re asking these two questions about a singular event, equating the destruction of the temple with the end of the world, but they are not. There are two events here: one that happens in time, and one that happens at the end of time. In any case, Jesus does not answer the question of when, but He does point to the signs of what to expect, for both events. Since the temple has already been destroyed back in AD 70, for today, let’s focus on the signs Jesus points to regarding the end.

“Nation will rise against nation,” Jesus tells His disciples, “and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. … And 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. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

It’s easy to see why people have been freaking out as of late. It seems like everything has been happening! Wars and tumults! Nation against nation! Earthquakes, famine, pestilence! Persecution! False prophets! The heavenly bodies doing weird things! Asteroids skimming the earth’s atmosphere! Blood moons! Solar flares! It all seems like, the end is here!

And Jesus's response is … “So what?” Our response should be, “So what?” True, we are sinners, and sinners hate to think of their mortality, they hate to think about the unknown. They hate it … we hate it … because we fear it. We fear death and what lies beyond. Perhaps, we even are worried that we will be counted among the arrogant and all evildoers whom Malachi describes as being consumed like a fire burning up stubble. We know we’re sinners, and we fear that we’re not good enough to be spared that consuming fire when the end comes.

Here’s the truth: you’re not good enough. And neither am I. None of us are good enough, and we should all rightly be condemned to the unquenchable fires of perdition. But thanks be to God that we don’t need to be good enough … because Jesus was good enough for us. He did what we never could: keeping the Law of God perfectly and paying the price for all our sins when He died on the cross. By His atoning sacrifice, you are forgiven all your sins, and God has proclaimed you to be good enough – not by what you’ve done, but because of what Jesus has done for you!

This is why we need fear neither death nor the end! You can rest assured, knowing Jesus has promised that all your sins are forgiven and that you will be with Him in the life of the world to come! Do you believe that? Let it be to you as you believe! That’s partially the reason why Jesus ends this whole discourse by saying, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” You and I need not fear what awaits us on the other side of the grave: we know what’s there for us! Life everlasting with the crucified and resurrected King of kings and Lord of lords in the perfectly restored creation!

I don’t know if the end will come before I even finish this sermon – it’d be awesome if it did! The signs are all there, just as they always have been; indeed, Christ’s return has always been just a second away. But that news needn’t be a source of fear and dread; it should rightly be news of great and exceeding joy! Our world, in all its sin and brokenness, is ending! The new heavens and the new earth is just a heartbeat away, and will be until the Father decides that the time has come! It’s true that the end is near, my friends; therefore, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Luke 21:5-28