Ever Prepared for Our Lord’s Visitation

The 10th Sunday after Trinity—16 August 2020

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Reading from Holy Scripture: Luke 19:41–48 (ESV)  41 When [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, he wept over it,  42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold,  46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him,  48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people hanging on his words.

Over a hundred years ago, a young radio operator by the name of “Jack” Phillips was serving on a cruise ship making a transatlantic voyage. At the start of the voyage, quite a few of the passengers gave him personal messages to send to loved ones. And Jack Phillips wanted to send all the messages out as soon as possible. However, his dedication to his passengers was a bit misguided. He was so busy sending out these personal messages that he neglected some important incoming messages from other ship radio operators warning of heavy ice in the area. In fact, when the radio operator of the S.S. Californian continually broke through on the radio trying to warn of icebergs in the vicinity, Phillips responded with “Shut up! I’m busy”. Ironically, Phillips’ misguided dedication to sending all those personal messages ended up with the bridge crew never receiving the one crucial message, and thus being unprepared for the iceberg they encountered. Later, in the early morning hours, Phillips’ ship, the RMS Titanic, struck an iceberg and sank, with the lost of at least 1,500 lives. 

Jack Phillips’ misguided dedication resulted in a big disaster that is still talked about today. However, the greatest disaster of all occurs when people are misguided by false worship, so that they are not prepared for the Lord’s visitation. 

That is what is going on in today’s reading. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, the city of peace, because its inhabitants do not know the things that make for peace— they do not know the time of the Lord’s visitation. They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2). They are misguided in their dedication, in their worship.

It was not the first time that the Chosen People were misguided. In ancient Israel, there was talk about the coming “day of the Lord”. Now, many Israelites thought that the day of the Lord would be when God miraculously delivered Israel from her enemies, and of course they looked forward to that day. But Israel was practicing open idolatry, worshipping false gods rather than the one true God; thus, Israel herself needed to be judged by God! And so the prophets Joel and Amos warned the people that they had gotten the day of the Lord all wrong: Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.… Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light (Joel 1:15; Amos 5:18). For the idolatrous Israelites, the day of the Lord was not going to be a day of victory, but rather the day when God would allow Israel’s enemies to defeat her and then carry her off into exile. Because of Israel’s false worship, the day of the Lord would be a day of darkness, and not light, a day of disaster, not salvation, for Israel.

Fast forward to today’s text and we see that many in Israel were still misguided. Oh, they worshipped at the temple, but their worship was not filled with true faith. For they did not know the things that make for peace and they sought to destroy the long-promised Saviour! 

In the day of the prophets Joel and Amos, Israel had fallen into open idolatry, worshipping pagan gods. In today’s text, many were guilty of another sort of unbelief. They did not bow down to idols; rather, they professed faith in the true God; they worshipped at the temple; they appeared to be devout. But listen to our Lord’s assessment of their hearts: This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men (Matthew 15:8-9). So far were their hearts from God that they had made the temple courts, which should have been a house of prayer, into a den of robbers, where they conducted business and made profits. Oh, they were dedicated in their study of Scripture, but they completely ignored the most important message. Again, listen to our Lord’s withering rebuke of their misguided faith: you do not have [the Father’s] word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom He has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life (John 5:38-40).

The young radio operator Jack Phillips was misguided in thinking he was doing his job in sending out personal messages while ignoring vital incoming messages, resulting in the disaster of the Titanic sinking. The Israelites were misguided in thinking that the day of the Lord would bring about their deliverance, when actually, because of their idolatry, the day of the Lord was going to bring about their defeat and exile. In today’s text, the chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were misguided in thinking that they were the truly faithful ones, when they were not faithful at all, with the result that they did not know the time of the Lord’s visitation.

What about you? Do you know the things that make for peace? Is your heart ready for the Lord’s visitation, as He comes to you today in His Word and when He comes on the Last Name to judge the world? Today’s text warns us that it is possible to be so misguided that we think we are fully prepared for our Lord’s visitation when we are not at all!

It is possible for us to bow down to the gods of this world—comfort, security, prosperity. And it is possible for us to pay merely lip service to God while our hearts remain hardened in unbelief. We may even take comfort in being church members, but if we are simply going through the motions with no faith, then it is all for nothing. For being misguided in our relationship to God results in a disaster far greater than the sinking of the Titanic, and greater than the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 AD, as our Lord foretold in today’s text. To think that we are fully prepared for our Lord’s visitation when we are not at all—such misguidedness, such unbelief, has eternal consequences.

Thanks be to God that your heavenly Father does not desire your eternal death in hell! And He does not even want you to live in uncertainty concerning your standing and relationship with Him. That is why He has given you the Gospel, which—St. John says—was written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).

Each day, your greatest concern should be whether you are ready and prepared for the Lord’s visitation. Do not simply go through the motions of being a Christian, and thus be misguided. Rather, by the power of the Holy Spirit, prepare to receive the Lord afresh each day by making a true confession. This Spirit-given confession has two parts. You confess that you are a poor, miserable sinner, who has sinned in thought, word, and deed, by the evil you have done and by the good you have failed to do. And you confess and trust in and worship the one, true God, the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and for your salvation you look alone to Jesus, God-in-the-flesh come to save us.

And that is the BIG point. Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, came in the flesh to save us undeserving, misguided sinners. And the way He saved us was bold and shocking. Not as a figure of speech, but in reality, we can say that God had His back torn to shreds by Roman whips; that God was spat upon and had a crown of thorns pressed deep into His skull; that God had His beard plucked out; that after the soldiers had finished torturing God in Pilate’s court, you could not recognize God for the Man He was. This Jesus, the God-Man, laid down His life in such a open, clearly-attested manner that you may be certain His death gives you life. And to give you even greater certainty, He rose from the dead. Jesus’ death truly won your salvation; however, if He had remained dead, there could be grounds for doubting His victory. But Christ rose from the dead, that you may know that you have been delivered from the wrath to come and that you are in good standing with God. As St. Paul proclaims: if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9). 

You can go through life uncertain and misguided about many things. But you do not want to be uncertain about your salvation. You do not want to be misguided about your status before God. Does God love you, or not? Has God saved you, or not? Are you God’s child, or not? God wants you to be certain of your salvation, of your status as a forgiven, beloved child of God. That is why He has given you His Word, which is full of trustworthy promises. Again, as St. Paul proclaims: all the promises of God find their Yes in [the Son of God, Jesus Christ]. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Every time you say “Amen”, you are really saying “yes, yes, this is most certainly true”. That is how God would have you live. Not in the false worship of bowing down to idols. Not in paying lip service to God, playing at church-going while being far from Him in your hearts. And not in the misguidedness of thinking you can be on good terms with God even if you refuse to repent. Rather, God would have you live in the certainty that all His promises do truly find their Yes in Jesus. 

Do you desire to have the “Amen” certainty that you are fully prepared for the Lord’s visitation as He comes to you, both now in His Word and Sacraments and also on the Last Day? Then trust with your whole heart that the promise of salvation is fulfilled in Jesus. For as Jesus Himself promised: this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:40). Jesus gives this promise to remove from our hearts all uncertainty, all misguidedness, all unbelief, that we may live each day and one day die in the confident joy of knowing that we are God’s children, ever prepared for our Lord’s visitation.

Some two thousand years ago, Jesus visited sinners in blessing and He bore the cross to save us. And the Day is coming when He will visit sinners with mighty power and in splendor to render judgment and to share with the faithful joy beyond comparing. And now, He visits us, to gently lead us to His Holy Word and Baptism and Absolution, which, with all God’s promises, find their Yes in Jesus. And with Himself Jesus feeds us— His Body and Blood, precious food from heaven, pledge of peace here given, manna that will nourish our souls that they may flourish.

Come, then, O Lord Jesus, from our sins release us. Come, O Lord Jesus, keep us from ever being misguided by false worship and unbelief. Come, O Lord Jesus, keep our hearts believing, / That we, grace receiving, / Ever may confess You / Till in heav’n we bless You. Amen.