12/7/2018 8:49:32 AM
Signs of Deliverance - December 5, 2018
Text: Luke 21:25-36
Signs of deliverance can look quite different from one another, depending on the circumstances. For a child who is struggling to swim, the splash of a lifeguard diving into the pool is a good sign. It means help is on the way. For an individual suffering from pain or infection, a small pill bottle is a sign that medicine is available that can bring some measure of relief. For a shipwrecked crew, hearing the sound of helicopter blades in the distance gets everyone scanning the horizon as they await their rescue. In each case, the first sign of deliverance is exactly what we might expect. We’ve all lived long enough to know that different problems have wildly different solutions.
What about earthquakes, famines, pestilence (widespread epidemic diseases), persecution (being mistreated, hated, and arrested for being a Christian)? . . . After a list like that, we might be tempted to think of what we would expect as signs of deliverance if we were to find ourselves in any one of those situations. In Luke chapter 21, however, Jesus doesn’t talk about earthquakes and famines and pestilence and persecution as times we might need deliverance; instead, they are some of the signs that deliverance is coming soon. He continues as we get into our assigned reading.
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. So far, it still doesn’t sound like deliverance, does it? But listen to the very next verses: 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.”
This isn’t the way that we normally look at the world around us. When a news bulletin popped up on my phone that there was an earthquake in Alaska on Friday, my first reaction wasn’t to look up and scan the horizon. I didn’t stop what I was doing to rejoice. Like everyone else, I wondered how many people were injured or killed and what the destruction was like. I confess that I also had the thought that I am glad I live somewhere where earthquakes don’t regularly occur. But then I went on with my life.
But Jesus reminds us here that these earthly events are signs of heavenly deliverance on the way. Lift up your heads, [he says,] because your redemption is drawing near. Watch for the signs and prepare yourself for his arrival. It’s coming soon. He is coming soon. He goes on with an illustration we all understand . . .
29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
Nothing in life is as dependable as the change of seasons every year. Each year the trees serve as a sort of calendar as they bud, sprout leaves, green up, then turn colors, and finally fall to the ground as winter approaches. It’s an annual cycle that reminds us what time of year it is, and what season is coming next, because this season won’t last forever.
Far too often, we are tempted to look at our earthly lives as the season we don’t want to end. With all the activities we schedule, all the events we look forward to, and all the plans we make, it’s easy to ignore the signs and forget that the season is about to change forever when Jesus returns. Or, worse yet, we get so wrapped up in our earthly comforts that we forget we even need to be delivered. Our priorities show that we’ve been tempted to try and set up our little slice of heaven on earth, instead of using our short time here for God’s eternal purposes.
But Jesus calls us out of our slumber, reminding us to watch for the signs, and be ready, because the kingdom of God is near. Look again at the closing verses and the warning Jesus gives there. 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.”
Will anyone be able to escape? Will anyone be able to stand? Not on our own. But the whole reason we are able to have this conversation and talk about preparing for Jesus’ second coming is because he loved us enough to reveal God’s plan during his first trip into our world. He wants us to be ready. He wants us to be prepared. He wants us to not be weighed down, to not be distracted, to not be anxious about seeing him face to face. So he makes us a powerful promise, one that strengthens us and reminds us how to prepare ourselves and one another for what is to come on the day of his return.
Jesus says,’ 32 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” When we hear those words, our first reaction is to question whether Jesus got it right or not. After all, many generations have come and gone since Jesus spoke these words. But we trust him enough to say that if we don’t initially understand what Jesus says, it can’t be his fault. He is the Son of God, and he doesn’t lie. He doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t work around our schedules.
If we read it in context, nearly every time Jesus uses this word that is translated as “generation,” he isn’t speaking so much about an age of people as a kind of people who share a common way of thinking. Again, depending on context, that can be a good thing or a bad thing. Here it seems to be a good thing, especially as we connect it to the following verse. Listen again, and we’ll adjust the translation a bit. Here’s what I think Jesus is saying: I tell you the truth, this [Church] will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
The first promise is built on the second. The church shall stand, because God’s Word cannot fall. The earth will quake, the heavens will shake, the sea will toss, but the gospel stands firm. Time will come to an end, but the promises that Jesus make will keep on being true. Jesus said, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms . . . I am going to prepare a place for you, and I will come back and take you to be with me . . . I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” Jesus said, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Not a single word of Jesus will pass away, not from earthquakes or famines or pestilence or persecution. His commitment toward you hasn’t changed since he offered himself to suffer God’s wrath in your place. Your sins remain forgiven, because Jesus gave us the greatest sign of deliverance when he accomplished his saving work and left the tomb empty. Your home is eternal, and this place is just a temporary dwelling, marked for disposal once God’s calendar reaches its end date.
Watch for the signs, then, and know that they point toward your deliverance. They may be frightening, but they point ahead to the end of all fear. They might be uncomfortable, but they point ahead to the end of all pain and discomfort. They might surprise us when they show up, but they remind us who is in control and that our Lord is never caught off guard, but he has the solutions before we ever see the need. Stay close to him in his Word and sacrament, and you can be confident that the kingdom of heaven is near. Jesus is coming soon. Amen.