Saints Triumphant (3rd Sun. in End Time), November 15/18, 2018
24 “But after that distress in those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light. 25 The stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then you will see the Son of Man coming on clouds with great power and glory.[a] 27 At that time he will send out his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of the sky.
This Thursday is going to be Thanksgiving Day! There’s a lot that happens on Thanksgiving. First of all, there’s the food—food that we don’t normally eat that often. The turkey and the sweet potatoes; cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. There’s the football games that are going to be on. There’s all the traveling.
But really, what are we looking forward to? Not everybody likes turkey. Not everybody likes football, either. (Shocking, isn’t it?) What is it about getting together for Thanksgiving that puts joy in our hearts? Isn’t it the people? The fact that we’re going to see Mom & Dad and Grandma & Grandpa; that we’re going to see the kids and the grandkids; that our brothers and sisters will be there with our nieces and nephews?
We like to think about the joy of heaven the same way. It’s about who we’re going to see. We look forward to the day when we’re going to see all our loved ones and friends who died in the Lord. And yet, if heaven is all our family and friends—and only our family and friends—will that really be heaven? What if some of your family and friends aren’t going to be with you in heaven? Will it still be heaven? What are we really looking forward to? What makes heaven, you know, heaven? What gives heaven its joy? Isn’t the joy of heaven in seeing Jesus?
I. The joy of heaven is seeing Jesus’ divine power and glory.
We live in distressing times. We’ve seen the lights beginning to go out and the darkness slowly taking over. We’ve seen love of many grow cold. We’ve seen the growth of persecution. We’ve seen society slowly turning away from the Lord, and it’s frankly been a little disconcerting.
And yet Jesus tells us that a day will come when all the lights will go out at once! “But after that distress in those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light. The stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (v. 24-25). It will be sudden. It will be cataclysmic. And it won’t just be disconcerting; it will be downright frightening! If you think the world’s scary now, just wait for the day when the sun refuses to shine and the stars fall out of heaven!
But on that day—that’s the day when “you will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory” (v. 26). On that day, the Son of Man will come with divine power and glory! All will see Him! Everything else will be gone! That’s the day everyone on earth will realize that everything we enjoy—all the pleasures of life, every bit of light and goodness—it all came from Jesus.
You know, some get offended at the idea that the only people going to heaven are those who have faith in Jesus. For them, heaven is “the good place” where you’re reunited with your friends and loved ones after you die. Heaven is the destination—and Jesus is the ticket to get in. And it sounds unloving that God would be standing at the door not letting someone into heaven just because they don’t have the right ticket.
And yet seeing Jesus coming in power and glory, you realize, heaven is more than just a place. And Jesus is more than just the ticket in. Think of the last big family wedding you attended. Everybody was there, right? Mom & Dad, the kids and the grandkids, all the brothers and sisters and cousins, along with every close family friend who has meant anything in your life. Relive that scene in your mind, at the wedding reception, everyone catching up with each other, enjoying good food and a good time together. And yet, the party wasn’t the party—not until the bride and groom showed up!
What are we looking forward to? How many times does the Bible describe heaven as a glorious wedding feast? What have we been waiting for all this time? We, the Bride of Christ, His Church—we’ve been waiting for the arrival of our Groom, Jesus! It’s Jesus’ coming that gets the party started! And when all the lights go out on this earth, it’s seeing Jesus, the Light of the world, coming on the clouds—seeing Jesus in His power and glory, that’s what makes heaven “heaven”!
So, don’t be troubled! As the lights begin to go out on things that we relied on and took for granted—don’t be troubled. Instead, be excited! The day all the lights go out and the heavenly bodies are shaken, that’s the day our Bridegroom will finally be here! The day we will see Jesus in all His divine power and glory!
II. The joy of heaven is in seeing Jesus’ divine grace and mercy.
And what a day that will be! And yet, what are we looking forward to? Are we looking forward to seeing Jesus use His power and glory to render judgment? Is that really what’s going to give us joy? Or isn’t the joy of heaven seeing Jesus—not just in His power and glory, but also seeing His divine grace and mercy?
Some don’t want to see divine grace and mercy. They want to see fire! Kind of like one of my kids, many years ago.
We actually had a fire at English Lutheran Church in Cottonwood—an electrical fire. And the entire Cottonwood Fire Department pulled up to the church! Lights flashing and everything! Fully geared up firefighters ran down to the church basement, as smoke poured up the corridor. Meanwhile, one of my sons (you can ask which one later) had gone home, pulled a folding chair out of the garage, and set it up on the parsonage lawn across from church and sat down to watch! The church was fine; we got out with mostly smoke damage. But for weeks everyone had a good laugh about the Van Kampen boy sitting in his chair, watching the action. A bag of popcorn and he would’ve been all set!
Sometimes I get the impression that when it comes to the end of time, we’re looking forward to finally seeing this evil, rotten world burn up in the lake of fire! That when Jesus comes on the clouds, all we’ll need is a folding chair and some popcorn and we’re good to go! But is that really something to look forward to?
Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who desires a life—or a heaven—where Jesus is not the heart and center of it all, they will get exactly what they want. Life without Jesus. Life without any goodness in it at all. The Bible calls it hell. That’s the judgment Jesus brings. And yet if we’re looking to find joy in the suffering of others, then maybe we need to stop and think. What do we really deserve?
Talk about the lights going out, we ourselves haven’t always been the brightest bulbs either. “Let your light so shine before men,” Jesus said, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” So, let me ask you, how many bright spots do you see in your life? Someone once wisely said, “Eighty percent of life is just showing up.” And yet how many times in life have we failed to show up? How many times have we been present in body—but not in mind or in spirit? In our marriages? In our relationships with our families? In our work? In our friendships? In our relationship with God? We deserve Jesus’ judgment as much as anybody else. We’re not looking forward to that—for ourselves or anybody else.
This is what we’re looking forward to: “At that time [the Son of Man] will send out his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of the sky” (v. 27). The joy of heaven is in seeing Jesus’ divine grace and mercy. We are “his elect.” That means He chose you! From eternity! Not because you’re good—but by His grace! He chose you—and then made you His own in the waters of your baptism, washing you clean of all your sins in His holy, precious blood.
And when all the lights go out, Jesus—having chosen you—will gather you to Himself. No matter how long ago your remains were mingled with the dust of the earth, no matter where you were buried—His angels will find you. And you and I will go into the eternal wedding feast with our heavenly Bridegroom, where we will “shine like the brightness of the heavens” (Dan 12:3) and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes. That’s the joy of heaven—seeing Jesus in His power and glory, but also seeing His love and mercy face to face!
And we don’t have to wait for that joy; we have it already! The joy that lifts us up to see beyond today’s troubles and says, “This too shall pass.” The joy that keeps all of life’s pleasures in perspective. The joy that Jesus Himself feeds and nourishes by His Word and sacraments. We have that joy now—looking forward to the day when that joy will be complete. Amen.