Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Look at the houses, and so many other buildings. As soon as the decorations come out in front yards and in windows, you see for yourselves and know that Christmas is near. From a very young age, we learn to recognize the signs that Christmas is coming—Christmas decorations placed prominently in the stores, Christmas lights on buildings, Christmas trees on sale, and Christmas music playing on the radio, just to name a few. We sense the spirit of angst and anticipation that is in the air when we are out and about as people are racing around to finalize their preparations for the upcoming holiday. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who has lived even a few years in our country who wouldn’t immediately associate these signs with the coming of Christmas. By the time we are even a couple of years old, we easily recognize the signs and we know that Christmas is near.
2. My friends, if we so easily recognize the signs of Christmas, how is it that we so spectacularly fail to recognize the signs of our Lord’s second coming? Now, it’s not as if we don’t see the signs. They’re there—plain as day for everyone to see. The problem is that we don’t recognize that to which the sign is pointing. We don’t recognize what the sign is indicating to us. We’re not unlike someone who sees Christmas lights and decorations and trees going up around him and thinks, “What’s wrong with these people? Did they run out of closets to store their knick knacks in?” My friends, Christ gives us signs so that we will recognize his imminent return, yet I am afraid that we are failing to recognize that to which the sign is pointing. We see everything that is happening in our lives and in the world around us, and we think, “What’s going on? Why is the world such a mess?” And yet our Lord tells us that these things must take place before the end (Luke 21:9; Matthew 24:6). So, this morning we will consider how Christ gives us signs so that we will find hope in his imminent return. We will do so by considering further our reading’s final verse:
1.) “Heaven and earth will pass away,
2.) but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33).
II. Heaven and Earth Will Pass Away
3. First, we consider how heaven and earth will pass away. This statement is simply a summary of our Lord’s words in the first two verses of our reading. Our Lord says that there will be signs in the heavens and the earth. The land and the sea will be in chaos. And humanity, the crown jewel of God’s creation, will be fainting with fear of what is happening. What our Lord describes here is nothing short of un-creation. It is the un-making of the world. Order and goodness is being returned to darkness and disorder. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth out of the formless and void deep darkness. He separated the land and the sea. And he formed man from the dust of the ground as the pinnacle of his creation to be his stewards. It was man who was tasked with the dominion of creation. And yet, because man rebelled against the Lord God, all of creation suffers. Before creation can be re-made, it must be un-made. Before the last Adam can establish the new creation, he must un-make that which has been corrupted by the first Adam. And so, before the Son of Man comes in a cloud with power and great glory to receive dominion over the new creation as foretold by Daniel (Daniel 7:13), there will be signs of his coming. Creation must begin to be un-made in preparation for the one who will re-make it. The Apostle John in the Revelation tells us that when the Lord Jesus returns, no one will be able to stand before him: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen” (Revelation 1:7).
If none of the tribes of the earth will be able to stand before him, then neither can the heavens and the earth. All must give way and conform to the will of the Son of Man who comes in a cloud with power and great glory. And so, our Lord says in today’s Gospel Reading: “And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:25-27).
When you see heaven and earth passing away, this is a sign that our Lord’s return is immanent.
4. And so, my friends, how is it that we can be so blind to these signs? To be fair, it’s not as if we don’t see the signs. Heaven and earth are passing away right before our eyes. Scientists have been warning of the problems in the skies for years, from pollution to ozone depletion. On the earth we see hurricanes, earthquakes, and everything in between. The land and the sea are being destroyed by natural disasters. And mankind is probably in the worst shape of all. Wars are everywhere. Disease runs rampant in the form of cancer and COVID and so much more. And the common understanding of what makes a decent society is being undermined and destroyed under our very noses. Creation is being un-made right in front of us. The question is, do we notice the signs? Do we recognize what they are pointing to? Do we see these signs as pointing to our future hope of our Lord’s return? Or do we see them as cataclysmic, disastrous effects which must be stopped at all costs? I’ll let you answer for yourself how you perceive these signs. But I will also tell you how our Lord desires you to see these signs: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
Heaven and earth will pass away. We observe this around everywhere. But for those of us who are in Christ, these signs that we see all around us remind us that our Lord’s return is immanent.
III. Christ’s Words Will Not Pass Away
5. “Heaven and earth will pass away”, our Lord says, “but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). As we see the things of this world passing away around us, we ought to be encouraged to take heart and find hope in our Lord’s Word which does not pass away. For those of us who are in Christ, his Word to us which does not pass away is this: “Your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). In Daniel chapter 7, we are told why this is the case. That is to say, we are told why we can be confident that our redemption is drawing near. In those days, Daniel said: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).
Daniel saw proleptically what has now come to pass as a result of our Lord Jesus’ triumphant resurrection and ascension. Our Lord Jesus has been given dominion over all things. He is the one who sits at the right hand of him who laughs at the nations’ pathetic attempts to thwart his salvific redemption of his people (Psalm 2:1-6). Whether we can see it or not, whether the heathens of this world recognize it or not, our Lord Christ rules and reigns over all things. And on the last day, he will return in a cloud with power and great glory, and all mankind will recognize that he indeed has been in control all along. Christ’s Word of promise to us will not pass away because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him (Matthew 28:18). And he “sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end” (Nicene Creed). It is he whose Word will not pass away because he rules and reigns over all things.
6. My friends, the signs of heaven and earth passing away, the signs of society crumbling around us are evident. These signs might seem like the end of the world, and that’s okay because they do literally signal that the end of the world is coming. That end might be here in a day, a year, a century, a millennium. We simply don’t know. But we do know that “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). Society crumbling and heaven and earth passing away might seem like the end of the world, but that’s okay because our redemption is drawing here. We have something far better to look forward to than this valley of sorrows. Christ is coming. His Word will not pass away. And so we praise the Lord: “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! Christ the Lord returns to reign” (LSB 336:1).
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.