Pastor Eric Schroeder

Text: Luke 21:25-36

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31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Now that the Thanksgiving Holiday has come and gone, the Christmas season is officially upon us.  It’s something we have all come to expect, because from little on we are so conditioned to live by the calendar.  Already in preschool, children are taught the days of the week and the months of the year, and then we spend the rest of our lives following schedules, trying to remember all of the activities and appointments and engagements that we have committed to or been committed to by others.

But this time of year, more than any other, you don’t need a calendar to know what is coming; there are signs everywhere we look: lights and trees and tinsel and garland and bells and red kettles and candy canes and carols, sights and sounds and smells all tell us that Christmas is coming. 

In the Church Year calendar, this weekend marks not only a change in season, but a brand new church year, beginning with four weeks of the season known as Advent.  We get the name for this season from a Latin word that means “arrival” or “coming,” and our focus will be on preparation—both preparing our hearts to celebrate Jesus’ birth and also preparing ourselves and each other for his return.

We recognize that as New Testament Christians, we live in between the two most significant events that will ever occur in human history—the two times that God shows up on earth in the flesh.  Today, as we look back to what Jesus told his disciples shortly before he left our world, we are reminded to look ahead with eager expectation toward the time of his glorious return, as Jesus instructs his disciples then and now to Watch for the Signs of Redemption. 

The occasion for Jesus’ words here is early in Holy Week, on Monday or Tuesday of the week Jesus was crucified.  He was teaching in the temple each day, and as they were walking out one day, the disciples marveled at the massive stones that were used in construction of the temple complex.  Jesus was quick to point out that one day, in his words, all of those stones would be thrown down, and “not one would rest on another.” 

As you might imagine, the disciples were a little disturbed at such a thought, and asked Jesus a question.  Three of the four gospel writers include the conversation, and this is how it’s recorded in Matthew’s account: “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 

As Jesus responds to their question, sometimes it’s hard to tell which part Jesus is answering; that is, whether Jesus is talking about the destruction of the temple, which (history tells us) happened in 70 AD, or the destruction of the entire world that is coming on Judgment Day.  But by the time we get to the words of our text, it is pretty clear that Jesus is talking about the end. 

What kind of signs does he list?  What are we to watch for?  Look once more at the beginning of our selection…25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  

As Jesus goes on, he reminds us that just like we are used to watching the trees for signs of changing seasons, so we are to keep our eyes open, so that we recognize the signs of the end and prepare accordingly. 

Once more, what are the signs of the end?  Well, we take what we see here, and add in some additional signs listed elsewhere in Scripture, and we can come up with quite a list: false prophets, corruption in the visible church, persecution of Christians and opposition to the message of the gospel, political unrest, international conflicts, terrorism, widespread violence, natural disasters, outbreaks of famine and disease, changes in global weather patterns, to name a number of them…to sum it up, it is a list of events and occurrences that interrupt life, that cause pain and panic, death and hardship. 

When we hear about such happenings in the news, the broadcasters use words like “tragedy” and “devastation” and “destruction.”  Even Jesus talked about “anguish and perplexity,” “terror” and “anxieties.”  Even though we see these kinds of signs each year, God’s Word gives us every indication that they are going to increase and intensify as the end of the world draws closer.  So how can such frightening signs serve God’s purpose in preparing his people to meet him? 

Maybe in order to understand God’s purpose here, we need to take our thinking from the abstract to the concrete.  When is the last time you heard an individual, maybe a friend or family member, express a longing to meet Jesus face-to-face?  Maybe you can even recall a time when such a thought came out in your own words…I would imagine it happens every now and then, but what was the reason it came up in conversation? 

Wasn’t it in a time of tragedy, or illness, or great pain or loss?  Wasn’t it in a life that was drawing to an end, or a life that was so powerfully disrupted that it felt for a while like it was already over? Wasn’t it in someone who was in a struggle against temptation, or addiction, or guilt that brought them to their knees? If you haven’t experienced such a conversation yet, know that if you live the Christian life long enough, the time will certainly come.  Because that’s what happens in a sin-filled world. 

Maybe our science and our technology and our educational advancements and our economic safeguards can seem like adequate shields for a time, but sooner or later, another sign comes that we are not in control of our future.  And as much as we would never ask for tragedy or persecution or pain or loss, praise God for every reminder that heaven doesn’t exist here in this world.  We need these signs as reminders that no matter how far our human achievements may take us, heaven never will exist for us in this world.  Our only hope of experiencing heaven is in the One who came from heaven, the one who will come again to bring redemption for all who are his.

Let’s listen to him again in the final paragraph.  34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” 

Jesus’ main message to us is this: don’t get so comfortable in this life that you forget about the real life God has planned for you.  Don’t get so wrapped up in the here and now that you lose track of the “there and then” that God promises. 

Our time of grace on earth is short, but for all who long for our Lord’s coming, our time of glory will be eternal, all because God showed up to release us from sin’s hold over us and to rescue us from the full, final consequences of our rebellion against him. 

Again, none of us would choose tragedy or persecution or pain, but for us, Jesus did choose to die.  Jesus willingly took all our tragedy on himself and triumphed over it.  By his life he became our righteousness, and by his death he became our sin.  By his rising from the grave he showed us that not even the valley of the shadow of death is too much for him to overcome, because sin is paid for and death is but a sleep, and heaven awaits for all who believe it. 

And now he who ascended says, “Behold, I am coming soon…  When you see the signs that the end is nearing, whenever you go through pain, or persecution, or loss, instead of hanging your head in grief, Jesus says “look up to me and see your redemption.”  Instead of bowing your head in defeat, Jesus says “look up to me and see your victory.”  Instead of looking around for answers when life falls apart, Jesus says “look up to me and know that I will make all things new again.”  Instead of waiting for time to heal your wounds and erase your pain, Jesus says “look to me and see that by my wounds you are healed.”  So keep watch, because your redemption is on its way. 

May the one whose words will never pass away continually strengthen us through these words, even as the heavens and the earth pass away all around us.  May every sign point our eyes heavenward as we await the Advent of our redemption.  In Jesus’ name. AMEN.