Beckett: Sermon – Your Redemption is Drawing Near

Date: November 13, 2022
Fesival: 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 21:5-28
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI, and CTKLC
Appointed Scriptures: Malachi 4; 2 Thessalonians 3:(1-5) 6-13; Luke 21:5-28 (29-36)
Sermon Hymn: LSB #508 The Day Is Surely Drawing Near

Exegetical Statement: While some were gazing in awe at the beauty of the Temple, Jesus warns them it will be destroyed, strongly alluding to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. He tells them about this by using many striking images as signs that this is going to happen (wars, earthquakes, famine, pestilence, etc.). At the same time, Jesus warns His disciples of the severe persecution they would face, even being handed over to the authorities by their own people and family to die for His name’s sake. The text creates anxiety in the hearer. The signs Jesus speaks of cause the hearer to think of times in human history and/or their own lifetime of when things like these have happened. The hearer thus not only experiences anxiety, but also fear. Yet Jesus prefaces these signs with, “Do not be terrified” (v. 9), so the hearer struggles with Christ’s command while His words nevertheless create fear and anxiety in them. Yet this fear comes to a Gospel resolution when Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (v. 28). The hearer is thus brought from fear to joy because the words of Jesus bring him or her not to fear the events happening in the world (as others do), but rather to rejoice that Jesus is drawing nearer and nearer. This is an appropriate text to preach on as Advent approaches at the end of the month, the time of year when we expect the coming of our Lord.

Focus Statement: God fills you with joy and hope despite the world’s tumult.

Function Statement: That my hearers may rejoice with expectant hope in the imminent coming of the Lord when they witness and experience the multitudinous tumults of the world.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The End is Nigh!

Videos have been recorded, and movies and TV shows have portrayed fire-and-brimstone preachers yelling at people in the streets such things as, “Repent! The end is nigh! You’re all sinners, and if you don’t repent, you will burn in Hell! God sent COVID-19 to punish the sins of the nation! Mass shootings are God’s judgement against America! He is sending earthquakes and wildfires in California as judgements against their debauchery! The war in Ukraine is God’s judgement against them!” And on they go with their pastoral malpractice.

Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading today sound like such fire-and-brimstone sermons. The people He was with were looking at the Temple in awe of its beauty, which would’ve been a normal reaction. All of us, I’m sure, can think of times when we’ve marvelled at the beauty or size of a structure, like the Eiffel Tower, or the Empire State Building, the White House, or a beautiful cathedral. It is during such admiration that Jesus warns them the Temple is going to be destroyed with fire-and-brimstone preaching:

“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes… famines and pestilences… terrors and great signs from heaven! But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you… You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death! You will be hated by all for My name’s sake! …for these are the signs of vengeance… Alas for women who are pregnant… 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!”

This long list of signs of the end is sandwiched between two imperatives. The first is what Jesus prefaces before all this, “Do not be terrified.” And yet, who of Jesus’ original hearers—and who of us—cannot be terrified when we hear such words from our Lord?

Now, anytime we hear biblical prophecy, there is both an already and not-yet fulfilment. Already, this prophecy Jesus foretold was fulfilled in the year 70 when the Roman Gentiles trampled Jerusalem underfoot and destroyed the Temple during the Jewish Revolt. After that date, the Romans exiled all Jewish people, including Jewish Christians, and they could never return to Judea. The Roman emperor Hadrian erased Judea off the people by renaming it Palestine after a people who have long been wiped out, the Philistines. Not only the Jews but the Jewish Christians also had to figure out how to live as God’s people without the Temple being the centre of their worship.

Then during the second revolt of Judea in the years 132-135, the Jewish Christians were pushed further out west from Jerusalem and into Rome where their Christianity became less and less Jewish and more and more Gentile. The Diaspora—meaning the scattering—became complete. The Diaspora began when the Jews returned from Babylon to Israel. After waiting 70 years for their redemption from Babylon as the Prophets foretold, many returned to their homeland, but some remained in the Gentile lands outside Israel. And now, after being pushed so far out away from their land and made Gentile Rome their new centre of worship, now they await another redemption to be redeemed, or bought back, from their exile.

Likewise, all the Apostles were heavily persecuted and handed over to the authorities to be killed—all except the Apostle John, but not after Emperor Domitian’s attempt to boil him alive. After miraculously surviving the ordeal, the Roman emperor exiled him to Patmos, the Greek island in the Aegean Sea where John wrote Revelation. And for centuries, Christians would be murdered—often brutally—for refusing to recant their confession that Jesus is their Lord and God, risen from the dead. Jesus didn’t sugar-coat anything for His disciples. They would all suffer for His name’s sake, and some of them—11 out of 12—would be killed for His name’s sake. Such persecutions continue even today, though we hardly hear of it.

In the not-yet of Jesus’ fire-and-brimstone prophecy, these signs are still happening, and “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” is still yet to happen. Until then, we suffer. Earthquakes and wildfires do rage on the west coast. Hurricanes ravage the east coast year after year. Tornadoes destroy lives, families, and homes. Farmers suffer famines; sometimes crops won’t grow, and cattle get sick and diseased. We have suffered many pestilences in America, like smallpox, yellow fever, three waves of cholera, scarlet fever, multiple flu pandemics, polio, measles, contaminated water like in the city of Flint, HIV, AIDS, and COVID-19. And strangely, apocalypse movies fascinate us: movies like Moonfall where the moon is going to crash in the earth, 2012 where every natural disaster imaginable occurs simultaneously, the movie called Knowing where the sun gives off a powerful solar flare that burns the entire earth, the movie Armageddon where a gigantic asteroid is going to crash into the earth, and many others like these. Yet these movies also strike in us fear—the fear of “What if,” the fear of, “This could happen.”

Beyond these natural disasters, we also face persecution. Now, the common persecution in America is the possibility of losing your job or education, or even being shunned by a friend or family member, for confessing Jesus is Lord and His Word has ultimate authority. But you can very well expect to be killed simply for being Christian. Just as recent as 2015, a shooter at a college in Oregon singled out Christians by asking them if they’re Christian. And if they answered yes, he said, “Good. Because you’re a Christian, you are going to see God in just about one second.” And then he shot them and killed them. A similar thing occurred at the Columbine High School Massacre in 1999. The shooter asked them, “Do you believe in God,” and if they said yes, he shot them in the head on the spot. There are still over 50 countries where you could be killed simply because you’re Christian. So, do not deceive yourself that America is above killing Christians. If America—and even our own state as of this past Tuesday—is fine with killing unborn babies in the womb, what makes you think they won’t dehumanise you so that you, too, will be killed simply for believing in Jesus and proclaiming His Word that murdering babies is evil?

It is during such fearful events, and the likelihood of brutal martyrdom, that Jesus says, “Do not be terrified.” Why would He command such a seemingly self-contradicting imperative? Because of the second imperative:

“Straighten Up and Raise Your Heads!”

“Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!” To fully understand the meaning behind Jesus’ words here, we need to continue reading, and we hear about the Parable of the Fig Tree immediately afterwards [vv. 29-33]. That just as when the leaves come out on a fig tree and you know summer is drawing near, so when these things begin to happen, you know Jesus is drawing near. It is rather apt, then, that we live in the northern hemisphere and so hear Jesus’ words about such signs of the end when winter is just on the horizon, because already many of us are longing for summer. We long for the budding of the trees in the spring, and when everything begins to come out in leaf again, we are filled with joy because we know summer is drawing near.

Therefore, when we suffer persecution, natural disasters, and hear of wars and rumours of wars, these are not causes for dismay but are the signs coming out in leaf that the dawning of the Sun of Righteousness is near [Mal. 4:2]! When the people of the world gaze upon such events in the world and cry out with liturgies of helpless terror, these awaken in you the liturgy of joyful hope and expectation—that Jesus Christ is drawing near! Whether wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, wars, climate change, asteroids, or whatever it is, do not look at these things with helpless fear but with joy because they remind you that Jesus is coming soon! The Diaspora of God’s people continues, but these signs remind us of the redemption—the purchasing of God’s people—that you all shall experience in that multitude in heaven we read about last Sunday: that Christians of every nation, tribe, and language shall rejoice in the Lord together and in one place—the new heavens and the new earth! [Rev. 7:2-17]. Such joyous hope of Christ’s redemption sounds like the sermon hymn we sang not too long ago:

My Savior paid the debt I owe
And for my sin was smitten;
Within the Book of Life I know
My name has now been written.
I will not doubt, for I am free,
And Satan cannot threaten me;
There is no condemnation!

May Christ our intercessor be
And through His blood and merit
Read from His book that we are free
With all who life inherit.
Then we shall see Him face to face,
With all His saints in that blest place
Which He has purchased for us.

~LSB #508 The Day Is Surely Drawing Near, stzs. 5-6

*sigh* Now, I must admit it’s really difficult to have joy after Election Day this past Tuesday. As soon as I got up on Wednesday morning, I checked my phone and saw that proposal 3 was tragically passed. “Alas for women who are pregnant!” Immediately, I was filled with grief and an anger so hot it made me nauseous. As I was experiencing these emotions, I recalled the words of our Lord that had been on my mind all week, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” So, I did. I got out of bed, straightened myself up, put on my clerical, and raised my head as I started my day. Some of you may have seen my Facebook post about lamenting by praying Psalm 10. Today, though, I would like to read Psalm 146 as a prayer against such wickedness as well as a reminder of God’s sovereign faithfulness:

Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD, O my soul!

I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.

When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,

who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;

who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets the prisoners free;

the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the righteous.

The LORD watches over the sojourners;
He upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked He brings to ruin.

The LORD will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the LORD!

Our trust is not in princes, whether they be those who uphold such vile murder or those who seek to end it. These princes die, and when they die, their bodies are lowered into the earth and their plans die with them, whether good or evil. But you and I have a Prince—a Son of Man—who did not stay dead, whose plans did not perish. Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace who reigns forever, rose from the dead that He might bring His plans of redemption to fruition for you, even for the fatherless who are murdered in their mothers’ wombs.

Therefore, do not be terrified, for your redemption is drawing near. Straighten up, raise your heads, and sing hymns of praise for your coming redemption. When the risen Son of Man comes “in a cloud with power and great glory” to reign forever, He will bring justice for the oppressed and the fatherless, bringing the way of the wicked to catastrophic ruin. And He, the Risen One, has purchased you from death; therefore, you will be among the incalculable multitude coming out of the great tribulation of this tumultuous world, having been washed in the blood of the Lamb [Rev. 7:14]. The Temple may have been destroyed, but the Temple of Christ’s body is risen [John 2:18-22], whom you shall see face to face with the fatherless, singing hymns of praise in a single voice to Him who is the centre of our worship both now and forever. Amen.


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