The First Sunday in Advent, 2 December 2018
A Sermon on Luke 21:25-36 by Samuel Zumwalt, STS
Luke 21:25-36 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
25 “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, 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.”
The Great Physician: Will Close
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“It is finished,” the Crucified Son of God declared as He breathed His last on Good Friday (John 19:30). At that moment the salvation of the world was complete. There would never again be a need for the Jerusalem Temple or for another blood sacrifice in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins, because the Lamb of God had taken away the sins of the world by His once-and-for-all sacrifice. We call this objective justification. Salvation has been accomplished, finished, by Christ’s saving death. Now every person baptized into His saving death and glorious resurrection will have the blessed assurance that her or his sins are covered by the Blood of the Lamb. We call this subjective justification. What Christ has already done becomes ours in the washing of Holy Baptism. But, now, whose work is that?
Born dead in our trespasses, we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him. The Holy Spirit has to call us by the Gospel of Christ Crucified for sinners, and the Holy Spirit has to create saving faith, because, born dead in our trespasses, the dead can do nothing but be dead. We bring nothing to Christ but our sin and our death. So, then, if we are to be saved, the Holy Spirit must join us to the saving death and resurrection of the Crucified Son of God in the washing of Holy Baptism. We need Jesus to do all the work of saving us, or we will not be saved. We need the Holy Spirit to create faith in us (which is trust that Christ alone saves). We need the Holy Spirit to create faith in us that, in Baptism, we have been crucified with Christ and raised to new life in Him. And this is not a mere water ritual, but is indeed the way of life of the baptized children of God until we die. Daily we renounce the devil, his works, and his ways. Daily we confess that the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is the only God and the only One who will forgive our sins and give us eternal life and salvation.
You can see how upsetting this was to Jesus’ first century fellow Jews who believed that the Jerusalem Temple was the only place to obtain forgiveness of sins. You bought your sacrificial animal and paid the priests to sacrifice it for you, and, thereby, you received the forgiveness of sins through the offering of the blood of the sacrifice. The Lord Jesus’ attack on the Temple was the final straw for the religious leaders and those who made their living from the Temple. They did not understand that Jesus is God in human flesh, and that the Lamb of God was the only sacrifice for sins that would ever again be needed. Jesus was the end of the Levitical priesthood. Jesus was the end of the Jerusalem Temple. Jesus was the end of the entire sacrificial system.
There is no middle ground. There is no carving out a place of neutrality where you never go to church but you kind of like the music. There is no giving your worldview a Christian makeover or giving the biblical worldview a worldly makeover. Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, is the end of all the other stories. He is the end of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, atheism, and any other ism. Baptism into the saving death of God’s beloved Son Jesus is the end of any part of this life that presumes to exist apart from Him. Christians have no other forever identity than as the baptized Children of God. Leave your labels at the door. Leave your loyalties, too!
So, then, when the Lord Jesus is about to be rejected, sentenced to death, beaten, crucified, dead, and buried, He teaches His disciples about what is coming. The end of everything is coming, and the ending is cataclysmic. First, the end of the Lord Jesus’ mortal life and the end of His earthly ministry in the human flesh, then the end of everything. It is the end of the world as we know it. But the end of the world as we know it isn’t the end but rather the beginning for those who are His own. For God’s life and God’s love is eternal for those who are His own.
After the Lord Jesus is raised from the dead, appears to the women in the garden and to Cleopas and friend on the road, and after He appears to all His disciples in His resurrected Jewish Body with the marks of the nails in His hand, feet, and side, He commissioned them as apostles to be His witnesses to the end of the earth. He sent them to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name. He ascended bodily to the seat of power at His Father’s right hand and the Holy Spirit was poured out through Him upon His apostles. And in response to their spirited preaching of the Gospel of His saving death, three thousand Jews repented and were baptized into His saving death and glorious resurrection. Then, they continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the Breaking of the Bread, and the prayers. Jesus is the end of the world as we know it. When you are His, you need never fear the ending. Christ is risen!
Dear ones, this old world is passing away. We have been in the end times since the Lord Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin’s womb and ushered in God’s rule and reign. Since the Lamb of God’s saving death, glorious resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the old wounded, sin-sick creation has been wasting away faster and faster. Those marked with the cross of Christ in Baptism have gone under the surgical Sword of the Spirit, and we have been declared dead and unable to free ourselves from sin, death, and Satan. But we have been raised with Christ to new life in Him that goes on forever. And we have received the medicine of immortality, the True Body and Most Precious Blood of Jesus, as the assurance that even though these bodies die, yet shall we live with Him forever!
The Hebrews writer says: “We have no continuing city here” (13:14). St. Peter writes: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). St. Paul writes: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2). All of these are telling us exactly how we are to live as this old rebellious world is finally drawing to its inevitable close. When all hell is breaking loose on earth and people around you are filled with fear and anxiety, breathe in the Holy Spirit as He speaks the Good News of Christ Crucified for sinners. Our Lord says: “…straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28).
In Colossians 4, St. Paul calls Luke the beloved physician. He may well have been born a slave who was trained as a physician; this was not uncommon in the first century. As the author of Luke and Acts, he gives us an orderly account of the Good News of Jesus Christ and its spread to Rome, the capital of the greatest empire in that part of the world. Through his account of the Lord Jesus’ teaching, miracles, and parables unique to the third gospel, St. Luke shows that Jesus is the Great Physician, the only One who can heal a world in bondage to sin, death, and the devil.
Dear ones, on this First Sunday in Advent, we pray for the return of the Lord Jesus in glory to close this old world, like a forensic pathologist closes the body at the end of an autopsy. When He comes again to judge the living and the dead, the Lord Jesus will declare that the reign of sin, death, and the old evil foe was already defeated on Calvary’s tree, but now the last gasp of its poisoned air has been heard. Now, the old has passed away. No more sin, or tears, or death! The only ones with anything to fear are those who had no need for a Savior who were fine just the way they were. The Great Physician will close the door, turn out the lights, and say, “The End.”
You live among people who are driven by fear and anxiety of not having and not giving and even of not living. That is no your story, dear ones. St. Peter writes: “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Do not be afraid, dear people. Marked with the cross of Christ in Holy Baptism and sealed with the Holy Spirit, you know that the end of this life has already happened for you when you were joined to our Lord’s death and resurrection. You are His forever! Pray for those who are unbaptized, and invite them to receive the eternal life and love of the one true God!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©The Rev. Dr. Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
The Great Physician: Will Close
Stir up your power, O Lord, and come; that by your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by your mighty deliverance; for you live and reign with you the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 92).
Luke 21:26 “people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world….”
St. Ambrose [4th century Bishop of Milan]: “If very many gaze on the rays of the worldly sun the sun seems bright or pale in proportion to the capacity of the viewer, so the spiritual light is imparted to each according to the devotion of the believer. In its monthly courses, the moon, opposite the earth, wanes when it is in the sun’s quarter. When the vices of the flesh obstruct the heavenly Light, the holy church also cannot borrow the brightness of the divine Light from the rays of Christ. In the persecutions, love of this life alone certainly very often shuts out the light of God” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke, 322).
Luke 21:27 “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
St. Augustine [Late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo Regius in present-day Algeria]: “The other way in which he will come will be in his body in which he sits at the right hand of the Father. In this body he died, rose again, and ascended into heaven…We have reason to believe that he will come not only in the same body but also in a cloud since he will come as he left, and a cloud received him as he went” [at the Ascension in Luke 24 and Acts 1] (324).
Luke 21:28 “…straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near”
St. Cyril [Early 5th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “Christ will not come secretly or obscurely but as God and Lord in glory suitable for deity. He will transform all things for the better. He will renew creation and refashion the nature of people to what it was in the beginning…The dead will rise. The earthly and infirm body will put off corruption and will clothe itself with incorruption by Christ’s gift. He grants those that believe in him to be conformed to the likeness of his glorious body” (324).
Luke 21:34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness…”
Origen of Alexandria [Late 2nd – early 3rd century African Bible scholar and theologian]: “Drunkenness is therefore destructive in all things. It is the only thing that weakens the soul together with the body. According to the apostle, it can happen that when the body is weak, then the spirit is much stronger, and when the exterior person is destroyed, the interior person is renewed. In the illness of drunkenness, the body and the soul are destroyed at the same time. The spirit is corrupted equally with the flesh. All the members are weakened: the feet and the hands. The tongue is loosened. Darkness covers the eyes. Forgetfulness covers the mind so that one does not know himself nor does he perceive he is a person. Drunkenness of the body has that shamefulness” (291).
1. Am I convinced that Christ will return in glory to close the old age and usher in the new?
The Apostles Creed (from Luther’s Small Catechism)
As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.
The First Article
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
What does this mean?
I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.
He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife [or husband] and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.
He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
1. Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.
2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend how God the Father’s creative work is on-going in your lives and in the world. Read carefully Martin Luther’s explanation.
4. Join with our new Mission Team to serve neighbors whose property has been damaged by Hurricane Florence. Sign up in the Commons to provide a meal for an incoming mission team from another congregation or to join in recovery efforts.
5. Look around in the wider culture this week to see what it has to say about God if anything at all. Is the “God” you hear about relegated only to the spiritual realm and not really “welcome” to be God? Christians are called to witness to God in the public square!
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”