Date: November 30, 2022
Festival: Advent Midweek 1
Text: Matthew 24:32-35
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI
Appointed Scriptures: Psalm 102:24-28; Matthew 24:32-35
Sermon Hymn: LSB #350 Come, Thou Precious Ransom, Come
Exegetical Statement: As Jesus concludes the first half of His eschatological discourse, Jesus says His Word is the basis for the disciples’ trust, not anything that occurs in creation. He does this by telling the parable of the fig tree—that just as they see the fig tree put out its leaves and they know summer is near, so when they see these signs begin to take place (vv. 4-31) they know the end is near. Nevertheless, their source of strength, trust, and comfort is not these signs that will take place in creation, which will pass away, but in His Word, which will never pass away. The text thus brings the hearer to consider the signs of their own times. As they do so, they have a choice: trust in these signs or trust in the Word of Christ. Despite these signs, no one knows the day or hour (v. 36). The signs may be telling us Jesus is near, as they have been for nearly 2,000 years, but we base our trust not in these signs but in the Word of Christ.
Focus Statement: God’s Word will never pass away.
Function Statement: That my hearers might trust in the Word of Christ that His Advent is imminent rather than the signs of the end, whatever they may be.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Can you think of a time when it seemed like the world was coming to an end? When the two World Wars happened, many thought the end of the world—and therefore the coming of Christ—was upon us, especially as many falsely used the four beasts in the Book of Daniel as symbols for Germany, Russia, Japan, and the United States in the second World War. The first “end times” moment I remember is the Y2K phenomenon when people thought the year 2000 would be the end of the world simply because of a computer glitch that caused problems when dealing with dates beyond December 31, 1999. I also remember that when 9/11 happened, some thought the world was coming to an end. Then there was the belief the world would end in 2012 because the Mayan calendar started in 3114 B.C. and ended on December 21, 2012. Some even thought the world was coming to an end during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even now, some people are saying WWIII looms on the horizon with all that’s going on with the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Even Martin Luther thought the end was going to happen at any moment because of the Bubonic Plague that was ravaging Europe and the Antichrist posing as the vicar of Christ in Rome.
The disciples, too, probably thought the end was nigh. Jesus’ words before our Gospel reading tonight concerned the destruction of the Temple in the year 70; the disciples probably thought Jesus was finally coming again. After all, Jesus did tell His disciples this would be the sign of the end, and the destruction of the centre of their worship was a big deal, much as many Americans thought the world was coming to an end when the centre of America’s economy was destroyed on 9/11. But the world didn’t end when the Temple was destroyed; the signs have only continued to perpetuate throughout history. These signs continue to function like a fig tree coming out in leaf—that just as trees come out in leaf and so remind us summer is near, so these signs remind us the Advent of Jesus is near. Yet despite all these signs that have been coming out in leaf for nearly 2,000 years, Jesus still hasn’t come yet.
So, what’s the deal with these signs? The point is not that we put our trust in these signs, but that they simply serve as reminders that the Advent of Christ our King is near. They remind us to think on the words of Christ. After all, trusting in these signs don’t get us very far. It seems that every few months or so, there’s some new or old false prophet saying, “This is it! This is the year! This is the day! Quit your jobs and sell everything you have because Jesus is coming on this day!” And then the day comes, and it turns out they’ve lied, just as the Lord had first warned through Moses, “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him” [Deut. 18:22].
So, why the signs? Why does Jesus bother telling us about them? Because again, they simply serve as reminders to think on the words of Christ. They remind us He is coming, though we do not know the day or hour [v. 36]. They remind us to be ready, though we cannot ever be fully prepared [vv. 43-44]. They remind us to straighten up and raise our heads [Luke 21:28]. They remind us to trust in the Word of Christ that He, our Lord, is coming [Matt. 24:42]. For heaven and earth will pass away, but His words will never pass away. This means everything in all of creation will come to an end—the very heavens and earth itself, which includes all that is within them: the signs of war, pestilence, and all sorts of evil, even your suffering. But what will never pass away is the Word of our Lord.
This is the same Word of the Lord that will bring down the new heavens and the new earth to us. The current heavens and earth will pass away to make room for the new creation—for a new and better Garden of Eden, an even more perfect Paradise. On what day or hour, we do not know. What exactly it will look like, even the Apostle John struggled to describe in his vision. What we do know is that even when the world is constantly changing with as many different signs as there are different types of leaves, the Word of the Lord remains unchanged. The Word of the Lord that created all things, the Word of the Lord that became flesh and dwelt among us [John 1:14], and the Word of the Lord that adopted you as a child of God in Holy Baptism, is the same Word that will speak the new creation into existence and raise you from the dead to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
To Christ, therefore, be all the glory, forever and ever. Amen.