Pastor Eric Schroeder - Saints Triumphant Sunday - Sunday, November 14, 2021

Text: Mark 13:24-27

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24 “But in those days, following that distress, “ ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ 26 “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. Every now and then, life presents us with those critical moments when everything seems to change in an instant. And when that happens, when we go through a sudden life-changing event, which way does it normally go? What I mean is this: of all the huge moments that you have observed in people’s lives or that you have been through yourself—especially the unexpected ones, does life get better or worse immediately after?

A disagreement can quickly escalate into a heated argument, and even the closest relationship can crumble quickly with words that cut deeply. A car accident can disrupt a daily drive, and it might ruin your whole week. It only takes a minute to deliver a diagnosis, and the treatment could go on for months or years, or for the rest of our lives. The death of a loved one, whether sudden or something we may have seen coming, can leave an awfully big hole in our lives that can’t be easily—if ever—filled. Everything can go south in a hurry, can’t it? You certainly know if you’ve been there.

Can’t it work the other way, too, though? Possibly, but not nearly as often. Success doesn’t happen overnight, they say. A championship takes a whole season of practice and winning games, not to mention all the work that developed those talents. A big performance or recital takes hours and hours of preparation, and then before you know it, it’s over. When you’re up for a big promotion, you might be asked how many years of experience you have. Recovery from surgery never seems to be as quick as we’d like. It takes 9 months to have a baby. Good things in life so often take a whole lot of time and effort, if in fact they ever do come into our lives.

But on this Saints Triumphant weekend, Jesus’ words remind us of an important truth to keep in mind: the overwhelming majority of our lives will take place after this one is over. Now, we all know how easy it is to lose sight of that fact, because thus far, this life is all we know from experience; it’s the only life we’ve ever lived. But how short it is compared to the next! And in these words from Mark chapter 13, Jesus reminds us to keep an eye out for that time when everything changes in an instant…

24 “But in those days, following that distress, “ ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

Over the last week, we’ve been reminded that changing the clock by one hour can make a big difference, especially in the evenings when it gets dark so early. But one day soon everything will change, even if things get worse before they get better. Did you notice what leads up to the end? Jesus sums it all up in one word (the same word we heard in Daniel 12): distress. Other English translations use different words, but the meaning doesn’t change much: suffering, anguish, tribulation.

No matter what word we use, it's a description of the way this world works, as the curse of Adam plays out again and again. Hardship, trials, pain, disappointment and death and decay. And not just physical hardship, but a spiritual struggle as the devil works to keep the lost lost and pull God’s children away from him. Of course, Satan’s goal for us is eternal suffering, just like that to which he has been sentenced. But it’s not like that’s what he advertises. No, instead we are tempted to seek out what is sold to us as entertainment, or pleasure, or the satisfaction of winning the argument, or self-esteem (which can turn into pride), or living in the moment (which can actually be living without thinking ahead…). He never mentions the guilt, or the brokenness, or the shame, or the health problems or other consequences that result from selfish choices, how we live in distress and only add to it with our own sin. It’s only by God’s grace that we can call ourselves his children. Jesus urges us to hang on, because soon everything changes.

26 “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

Everything changes in a moment. And this time…it gets far better—infinitely better. Who gets to decide where we spend eternity? The Son of Man…that name for Jesus that reminds us that although he has been God from eternity, he became human and voluntarily entered this world of distress, and anguish, and suffering, so that he could give us his holiness and call us saints…people made holy because we are forgiven. And we are forgiven because Jesus, the Son of Man, offered his holy life to us, and in exchange he took our guilt, our shame, our sin, and our punishment upon himself, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He set aside his eternal power and glory to face rejection, and mocking, and death. But in his case, there was no decay. No, he triumphed over the grave and ascended to heaven once again, and why? To rule all things for our good, to intercede for us at God’s right hand, and as he told his disciples, to prepare a place of eternal joy and everlasting bliss in his Father’s house—for us.

Here in Mark 13, with one or two words, Jesus reminds us that this isn’t a new plan. It didn’t start when Jesus took on humanity, when he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. It didn’t even start when Adam and Eve fell into sin and suddenly needed a Savior. No, right here, we and all the saints are called his elect. In other words, we are the ones who have been chosen by God, and St. Paul wrote in Ephesians that God chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. Jesus won our forgiveness and righteousness in his death and resurrection, in perfect fulfillment of a plan that starts and ends in eternity. What’s the takeaway for us? The comfort and confidence of knowing that God’s grace—his undeserved love for us—is eternal. No matter how bad things might look at times, God’s everlasting plan will not fail. It cannot fail. Jesus defeated death, sin, and Satan, and that means the Saints will be triumphant.

Many of them already are. Yes, when the Son of Man comes in great power and glory, he will gather the last of the Saints. But what makes this even better news for us is that we will join all those who have gone on ahead of us: all those Christian loved ones whom the Holy Spirit brought to faith and kept in the faith until their death. All those empty spots in our lives will be filled to overflowing once again as we rejoin those we’ve said goodbye to, for whom life changed infinitely for the better when they went from sick and dying to living in the presence of our Good Shepherd.

Now, we don’t know exactly how or precisely when Jesus will gather us, whether it is one by one or all together in that final harvest on the last day, but one thing is for sure: these struggles that we now face, all the temptation and division and pain and suffering will one day be over, fully and finally, as we are gathered from the church militant to the church triumphant.

How might this impact the way we live our lives now? One of the themes of the season of End Times is a reminder that we are living in the End Times. With all that Jesus has told us about the end, the one thing he hasn’t revealed is when it will be. But we do know that this world and everything it promises will soon be left behind; what God promises will be ours forever. Our eternity is secure in Christ; what about the people we run into every day? Might God use us to gather his elect now before Jesus gathers us all on the last day? He doesn’t need us, but he can use our witness, our encouragement, our invitation, and our mission work to bring great blessings to family members or friends, to people we meet only once, to people we may never meet face-to-face. Let’s all think about how we can share our triumph with those around us, with those who, like us, know so much distress. We’ve got good news to share…let’s share it.

And even in our own lives, as moments seem to change things, remember what never changes—God’s eternal love for you. Until Jesus comes in glory, our faith will be tested, but God’s promises stand firm. Temptation will come, but our forgiveness moves us to fight against it until we don’t have to fight any longer. And through it all, remember the glorious reunion to come. May God lead us to rejoice in the triumph of all the saints who from their labors rest, and keep us as his chosen people until we join them in glory, all thanks to Jesus. Amen.