The Second Sunday in Advent (Populus Zion)–5 December 2021
25 [Jesus said:] “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, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take
place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (ESV)
In the ancient world, in time of war, a walled city would be a safe haven. In the unwalled villages and open countryside, you would be a sitting duck for the invading army. And so, villagers would seek refuge in the nearest walled city for protection. But once, that was not a good move.
In the passage just before today’s Gospel, our Lord Jesus speaks of the coming destruction of Jerusalem: when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.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, to fulfill all that is written (Luke 21:20-22). Just a few decades after Jesus died on the cross, Jerusalem would be utterly destroyed by the Roman army. This destruction occurred in 70 AD, but even now Jesus is warning His followers. When the days of vengeance come and the Roman army starts roaming the land, many would seek protection in Jerusalem, but Jesus tells His followers to flee to the mountains, to depart from and to not enter the walled city of Jerusalem. The city is the object of God’s wrath and so it is the worst place to be. And indeed, great destruction and suffering came with the fall of Jerusalem. According to the historian Josephus, over one million people died there (War 6.420–21 [6.9.3]).
Our Lord Jesus now speaks of another walled city. I mean the world. The world is a walled city that seems invincible—a mighty fortress and intricate network of governments, arts, sciences, languages, and peoples. But unlike ancient Jerusalem, the world is a walled city which we cannot leave. We must live within the walls of the world until the day we die or the day our Lord returns, whichever comes first. However, as the followers of Jesus, we must always remember that we are only in the world—we are not of it (see John 17:16). Unbelievers look to the seemingly invincible walled city of the world for protection and prosperity, but we seek first the kingdom of God and we live knowing that this world will one day pass away (Matthew 6:33).
Within the walls of the world, there is a great distinction between those who do not follow Jesus and those who do. Before the end comes, 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. Here, we see that unusual natural phenomena will accompany other natural and historical disasters to signify the coming of the Son of Man… in a cloud with power and great glory. These catastrophic changes in the sky indicate that the world is coming unglued. God’s orderly creation is becoming unstable and is reverting toward chaos as the Creator begins to withdraw His goodwill and patience upon a corrupt and perverse humanity. These cataclysmic events will be alarming for all. But there will be a marked difference between those who do not believe and those who do. Those who are not hearers of the Word will have “anguish,” “perplexity,” “fear,” and “fainting.” But to those who hear the Word of God and keep it (Luke 11:28), Jesus’ words offer comfort and hope, for the world-wide cataclysms point to the coming of the Son of Man.
Jesus teaches today about the Last Day. On that day, when the world finally comes completely unglued, His goal for you is simple: that you stand. While unbelievers are fainting in terror, the Lord’s will is for you to straighten up and raise your heads and to stand.
The signs of the last days have already begun. The signs started on Good Friday. Thus, our Lord’s goal is not just for you to stand in the future but also for you to stand now. This “standing” is more than just a physical posture, standing upright on your own two feet. To “stand” is an attitude. To “stand” is to have faith. To be awake and alert to God’s purposes. Standing is the posture of faith. As a soldier of Christ, you have been called to “stand guard” against all that seeks to destroy your faith. You have been called to “stand firm.” Jesus wants you living on the balls of your feet, so to speak. No slouching.
But our hearts are heavy, weighed down. We are sagging. We have become a pathetic sight: droopy, defeated Christians. For you have come here this morning with heavy hearts. Loaded down with cares. Bowed down with sadness. Burdened with troubles and fears. Burdened with the expectations others have of you. Burdened with all the expectations of God’s Law as well.
But a droopy heart is an unbelieving heart. Because it is a heart that has disconnected itself from Jesus, the One who is Life. No wonder Jesus warns us to watch ourselves, for He knows our hearts, how they love to chase every other comfort but Jesus. He knows how we love to fill our empty hearts with every comfort but the Real One, Jesus.
But you have come to where there is help for heavy and faithless hearts. Your help is not found in examining your heart, for your heart is full of sin and death, from which you cannot free yourself. Your help is not in resolving to get your priorities right with God. Your help is not found in your heart at all. Your help is found in the heart of Jesus, from whom come words that forgive, words that lift up droopy, guilt-laden hearts.
Words like: heaven and the earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. In other words, the sky and the earth will pass away, but the words of Jesus will stand secure. The powers of heaven will be shaken, but the words of Jesus will not budge an inch. The world you live in is changing faster than you ever imagined, but the words of Jesus don’t change a bit.
Words like: Come to Me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Words like: Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29). Words like: Abide in me, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5). Words like those spoken to the heavy-hearted and scared disciples on Easter Eve: Peace be with you (John 20:26)
Without Jesus’ words, we have no faith. And without faith, no one stands either now or on the Last Day. Without Jesus’ words, everyone on the Last Day is stubble, everyone is ablaze, everyone faints, and nobody escapes when God pours out His wrath. But clinging to Jesus and His words, you have the words of eternal life.
Unlike our faith, the faith of Jesus never sagged. For Jesus is God-in-the-flesh. And His purpose in becoming Man was to come into this world to stand in the resurrection. To defeat your sins, to defeat death and to defeat the devil. Unlike Adam, unlike the disciples, and unlike us, Jesus’ heart never got heavy with doubts and unbelief, but His heart was always eager to do His Fathers’ will, and alert to the devil’s schemes. Always in the ready position to do whatever it took to make you stand.
Jesus came into the world to make you stand, now and in the resurrection on the Last Day, so that you may stand pure and guiltless before the Son of Man. But first, Jesus had to be knocked down, brought low, stagger, become weak. He humbled Himself so that He could pack His pure heart full with all our sins. Then He bowed down His back and carried the cross, so that He could carry those sins away. And then He hung on the cross until He drooped and sagged there heavy with our mistrust and unbelief, until He was dead and buried and your sins removed from God’s memory.
But His goal was to stand. And stand He did. Up from the dead so that He might put words in the mouth of pastors, words that unburden heavy hearts. Words like: I forgive you all your sins. Words like Lift up your hearts.
Within the walled city of this world, unbelievers will faint with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. But you and I have the opposite reaction. We straighten up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near. Yes, instead of living in perplexity over pandemics and global instability and other signs of the coming of the Son of Man, we watch ourselves and we stay awake at all times, praying that we may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. And stand we will, for we live and we die trusting in the signs of God’s love for us. Gracious signs like our Baptism, where we were purchased out of slavery to sin. Signs like our Lord’s Holy Word and Body and Blood, which forgive us, enliven us, refresh us, and ready us to stand now and also on the Last Day in the presence of our glorious and gracious Saviour. Thanks be to God!