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.
By Pastor Piet Van Kampen, November 4, 2018, Reformation Sunday (End Time 1)
Mark 13:5-11 (EHV) - 5 Jesus began by telling them, “Be careful that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many… 9 But be on your guard! People will hand you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues. You will stand in the presence of rulers and kings for my sake as a witness to them…
I’ve said it before. We get lots of compliments on our church building. People walk in here all the time and they say stuff like, “Oh, what a beautiful church!” But I’ve never answered those compliments the way Jesus answered them.
As they were leaving Jerusalem for the day, Jesus’ disciples drew His attention to the Jerusalem skyline, which included the temple—the house of the Lord, with all of its marvelous large stonework. “What beautiful buildings!” they said.
Jesus’ answer was essentially this: “You think so? Truly, I tell you that one day there’s not going to be one stone left on top of another.” And then Jesus went on to speak the words of our gospel lesson. One day, that beautiful temple would be destroyed. Jesus wasn’t trying to scare His disciples, but to remind them of what’s really important. That God’s glory and grace wasn’t found in a building, but in the Word of God which that building proclaimed.
In the same way the Reformation serves to remind us of what’s important. A church building is important; a place to worship is important. But at the same time, today you can go to Germany, to the cradle of the Reformation, and find all kinds of beautiful churches—sitting empty. Why? Because they lost what was really important; they stopped watching out for God’s Word. As we celebrate the Reformation today, may we also pay close attention to what Jesus is telling us, and may we always be watching out for God’s Word.
I. So that we don’t lose it.
Watching out for God’s Word so that we don’t lose it. Jesus warns His disciples: “Be careful that no one deceives you” (v. 5). He says it because at various times that very thing has happened: God’s people have been deceived, led astray from the truth of His Word.
In 2 Kings, King Josiah tore his royal robes when he heard the Book of Deuteronomy read to him. He realized, “This is the first time I’m hearing this!” It made him angry to know that his nation had fallen so far that they’d actually lost an entire book of the Bible!
And from Jesus’ time onward, in every age, His prophecy has been fulfilled again and again: “Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many” (v. 6). In Jesus’ day, the priests, Pharisees and Sadducees had left behind the Word of God for “the tradition of the elders.” And in the medieval church of Martin Luther’s day, the church had largely traded in the truth of God’s Word for man-made teachings of salvation by works.
And that prophecy has been fulfilled in our time too. Over the last 150 years the Bible itself has been under constant assault—not from outside the church, but from inside! People who call themselves Christian and yet claim that the miraculous parts of the Bible, like the six-day creation or the Israelites crossing the Red Sea or Jesus rising from the dead—that they’re just myths. People who claim that the books of the Bible weren’t written by the actual authors, but by people who lived hundreds of years after the fact (a claim largely disproven by modern archaeology, by the way). People who claim that certain parts of the Bible—like the parts dealing with gender roles and sexuality—that those parts of the Bible aren’t really God’s Word, but a product of the culture, so we can just ignore it.
And we’re led astray sometimes too. Just ask yourself, “What is my greatest fear?” Is our greatest fear that somebody’s going to push a little red button and end the world in one big nuclear mushroom cloud? Is our greatest fear that global climate change is going to wipe out life on planet earth? Is our greatest fear that someone might reject us and get offended if we actually mention the name of Jesus in a conversation? Is our greatest fear that one day we’re going to stand before God and He’s going to say, “Look at all these sins!”?
If these are our greatest fears, then we have already been led astray. We’ve already forgotten the heart of what the Bible teaches. We’ve already traded in the Word of God for the world’s lies, the fear of the Lord for every fear of sinful humanity.
And yet—isn’t this why Christ has given us His Word? Isn’t this why He has preserved His Word, painstakingly ensuring that the Bible you and I have now is the same one that was written so many years before? Isn’t this why He raised up prophets and kings and people like Martin Luther—to put the Bible and its teachings front and center in the life of God’s people? So that we can know the truth—and the truth will make us free (Jn 8:30-32)!
Our Reformation heritage is all about watching out for God’s Word—so that we don’t lose it! To cling in faith to what the Bible teaches first and foremost. To believe the Word of God over the word of man any day! To believe the Word of God in spite of what’s going on in the world—because we know what Jesus Himself has said when it comes to war, politics, and natural disasters: “Do not be troubled,” Jesus says. “Such things must happen, but the end is not yet… These are the beginning of birth pains” (v. 7-8). God will end the world—not man, and not nature. And when it finally happens, we have nothing to fear! Our heavenly Father, who has shown us grace and mercy through His Son Jesus, will take us to be with Him!
II. So that we’re ready to share it.
And that powerful message isn’t just something we want to hold onto; it’s something we want to proclaim! Don’t we want everyone we know to have this same confidence—this same comfort that you and I have in the assurance of God’s grace and mercy in Christ? Our Reformation heritage isn’t just the careful keeping of God’s Word. We’re watching out for God’s Word—not just so that we don’t lose it, but so that we’re ready to share it!
Jesus told His disciples to watch for false teachers—but He also told them to watch for opportunities to speak the truth of His Word. “But be on your guard! People will hand you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues. You will stand in the presence of rulers and kings for my sake as a witness to them” (v. 9). How many times was the apostle Paul beaten up and then dragged before officials, governors and kings—even the ruler of the world, Caesar himself—because he had taught that Jesus was the promised Savior? And yet, Paul never collapsed in fear! He understood that God had given an opportunity to proclaim Jesus as the Savior! Peter, Paul, all the apostles—and even Martin Luther—they all understood what Jesus had said, “But the gospel must first be preached to all the nations” (v. 10).
Yet have we always understood? “Carrie” and “Bill” are both devout Christians, but Bill’s parents—not so much. And especially for Carrie, who grew up in a very Christian household, those visits to the in-laws were not easy. Bill’s mom especially would make things hard for Carrie, questioning things that she and Bill were doing, wondering why they went to such a “strict church” and why they spent so much on sending their kids to a Lutheran grade school. Carrie would get frustrated because, what do you do? You feel like you’re under attack—do you say everything you feel like saying? Or do you stay quiet?
On the one hand, people like Bill’s parents were the ones who needed to hear God’s Word the most. But on the other hand, in those moments, our natural reaction is to play defense, to look for a way out. To get into an argument—or to stay silent. The fear of God goes right out the window—because we feel like it’s the end of the world.
Thankfully, the truth we’re given to speak is the truth of God’s grace. The truth of Jesus’ love for us, that He got up and spoke in our place as our righteous substitute—as He testified before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, bearing witness to Himself as the promised Savior of the world. That Jesus by dying on the cross washed away all the times we let our fear of other people overtake our fear of God. That, through faith in Jesus God has forgiven all of our sins.
And it’s that truth that moves us to keep watching out for God’s Word—so that when the time comes, we can share it. To realize that somebody’s reaction to the Word of God—it’s not the end of the world! And as Jesus says, when that time comes, we have nothing to worry about: “do not worry beforehand what you should say. Say whatever is given to you in that hour” (v. 10-11). It’s not a license to say whatever we want, but the go-ahead to lovingly stand up and tell the truth—to your boss, to your mother-in-law or your father-in-law, to your teacher.
We can tell the truth “Because,” as Jesus says, “you will not be the ones speaking; instead it will be the Holy Spirit” (v. 11). God wants His Word to be proclaimed so badly that, as long as you’re standing on God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say—and work through your words to accomplish what He desires in the hearts of those who hear.
And as long as God’s people are watching out for God’s Word, God’s churches will never sit empty. As long as His Word remains, His Church will last forever. Amen.