“The Day Is Surely Drawing Near” (Luke 21:5-28)

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
November 17, 2019

“The Day Is Surely Drawing Near” (Luke 21:5-28)

“The Day Is Surely Drawing Near,” we just sang. Which day? The day “when Jesus, God’s anointed, in all His power shall appear as judge whom God appointed.” It’s the day when, as we confess in the Creed, Christ “will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.” This is a common theme in November. We’re approaching the end of the church year, and so our readings and our hymns emphasize the end times.

“The Day Is Surely Drawing Near.” Friends, we are living in the end times, the last days leading up to the Last Day, the great and glorious day of our Lord’s return. What will things be like as that day draws near? How should we react, knowing that the end is approaching?

Jesus forewarns us and forearms us for life in these end times. He does that in today’s Gospel reading. He forewarns us and forearms us for our life as his church, living in a hostile world full of conflict and distress. Jesus tells us what things will characterize this age. He wants us to know what we’re in for, so we can go forward with our eyes open. Jesus tells us how his church should live, knowing that the end is approaching. “The Day Is Surely Drawing Near.”

The first thing, though, is to get straight which day is Jesus talking about in our text. Because it’s not immediately clear which day is being referred to, where. Here in Luke, as in the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark, it sounds like Jesus is talking about two days. He goes from talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple to talking about the end of the world. Why does Jesus do that, go from one to the other? Because the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem, which would happen about forty years after he speaks these words–that would be a microcosm, a “mini-world,” a picture of the destruction of the world that is yet to come. The destruction of Jerusalem would be the beginning of the end, if you will.

Jesus speaks these words during Holy Week, just a couple of days before the leaders of Jerusalem and the temple would be calling for his death. In rejecting Jesus, Jerusalem was rejecting the Messiah God had sent to her. Therefore, God would reject and bring judgment on Jerusalem. What Jesus prophesies here, around the year 30, would come to pass historically about 40 years later, in the year 70. That was when the Roman army did indeed destroy the temple and the city. And it was a fearful, terrible thing.

The things Jesus predicted for the temple and Jerusalem did happen. “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” Jerusalem was surrounded by those armies, the Roman armies, when they laid siege to the city. “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance.” Yes, it would have been better to flee Jerusalem than to think you could take refuge within its walls. Because once the Romans laid siege to the city, you were trapped. No new food supplies could come in. Nobody inside could get out. It was only a matter of time before either a) those inside could not hold out any longer or b) Rome would break through with their superior forces. And the Roman army, under General Titus, was willing to wait.

“The days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Finally, Rome did break through. And when they did, they destroyed the temple completely. Not one stone left upon another. The temple has never been rebuilt, down to this very day. The people of Jerusalem, Jesus says, “will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles.” The Roman soldiers brought the sword upon the people. Blood was flowing in the streets. It was a terrible, terrible thing. God was bringing his divine judgment down on the city that had rejected the one whom God had sent to them, and he was using the Roman army to do the job.

The destruction of Jerusalem would happen in A.D. 70. In our text, Jesus is speaking to his disciples around A.D. 30, during Holy Week, shortly before his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus is preparing his disciples for what they would face over the next 40 years, so that they would not be dismayed or caught off guard when it happens. He tells them in advance of things like religious deception, wars, disasters, persecution, and so on. These things will be taking place in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. So be prepared. Be ready to endure through those times. Don’t think that God has forgotten about you. I will be helping you and strengthening you, Jesus says. Stand firm to the end.

Now here’s the deal: Jesus prepares his first-century disciples for living in the time before the destruction of Jerusalem. And as he does, he is also preparing us, his twenty-first-century disciples, for what we will face in our age. The conditions are parallel. The distress that characterized the first century also characterizes our stress-filled twenty-first century. Religious deception, wars, disasters, persecution–the whole nine yards. The church still faces these things, and will, up until the day that Christ returns.

Meanwhile, we have Jesus our Savior with us. What Jesus instructs us to do, he also enables us to do. God will strengthen us and help us to stand firm. How? By giving us the gift of faith, knowing that Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, took the divine judgment that you and I deserve, in our place. Now we need not fear the coming of Judgment Day. We’ve already been justified, pronounced righteous, in Christ. Jesus won our righteousness before God, so that now we can stand, unafraid. Christ will come again and gather us home and give us everlasting life. And it is this same Jesus who speaks to us here in this end-times discourse. He will be with you and lead you through the days ahead. Of that you can be sure.

The day is surely drawing near, which means that your Savior is surely drawing near! We Christians do not fear the return of Christ; we’re looking forward to it! Judgment Day will be our homecoming day! On our own, we ought to fear Judgment Day. We would be condemned as guilty, sinners who have broken God’s laws and deserve his judgment. But God has had mercy on us. He sent his Son to be our Savior! Jesus died for you, he shed his holy blood for you, so that you would not die under God’s judgment. Look to the cross! See there your Savior! Christ crucified, for you! You are spared from the judgment. You are saved for eternity. Christ does it all. He rose from the dead, showing that you have eternal life in him. And he is coming again, to gather his flock to himself. This is the good news for your ears to hear! This is the Savior your eyes see now by faith and one day will behold face to face.

The day is surely drawing near. We can see the signs of the end all around us: Earthquakes, pestilences, terrors and great signs from heaven. A meteor flew over St. Louis just last week, lighting up the night sky and ending with a big boom. Natural disasters are signs that this world is falling apart and coming to an end. Christians are being persecuted around the world. Churches in Chile were burned and looted just a couple of days ago. The signs of the end are all around us. “There will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people.” “People fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.”

But my fellow Christians, God would not have us fainting with fear and foreboding. Rather, he would have us filled with faith and looking forward! This is why Jesus tells us: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Christ is coming back to straighten out this mess! Don’t despair. Instead, raise your heads and look up! The world will not continue on this crazy course forever. The day is coming when all the deceivers and the disasters and the persecution will come to an end. The day is coming when the suffering and death we see all around us–when all the sin we see still within us–when all that is wrong will be set right. That day is coming!

This is the church’s great hope: the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what we’re looking forward to. What a great and glorious day that will be! It has not even entered into the heart of man all that God has prepared for us. How wonderful that day will be! Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, will come on the clouds of glory, to “finalize” our redemption. Christ has already redeemed us, set us free from sin and death, by his death on the cross. The end result of that redemption will then be finally and fully realized when our Redeemer returns: The resurrection of our bodies, glorified, free from sorrow and pain. The renewal of creation, paradise restored. Perfect communion with our Lord and all his saints. Joyous worship around the throne of the Lamb. The heavenly banquet, the feast of salvation. Life at home with God forever. What a hope we have!

Brothers and sisters, that day–The Day–is surely drawing near. Your Savior is surely drawing near! So straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!

Published in: on November 16, 2019 at 11:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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