Sermon for the Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 21:5-28
Dear people of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
You have perhaps heard the saying, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” If you cannot learn from the mistakes of past generations, you will repeat the same mistakes they made, and end up with the same consequences.
As Jesus foretold the destruction of the Temple, the people of Jerusalem had not learned from history. In history, when man forsook God and acted wickedly, following every evil intention of his heart, God sent a flood which killed all the wicked (Gen 6-7). When the people rebelled against God and gathered in pride to build for themselves a monument to reach heaven, God confused their language and dispersed them over the face of the earth (Gen. 11:1-9). When the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah rejected God and exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; when the men gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men, they received the due penalty for the error (cf. Rom. 1:26-27), as God rained sulphur and fire from heaven and destroyed those cities (Gen. 18:16-19:29).
The Israelites also had the history of their own people from which to learn. God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 6-14), but they got impatient waiting for Moses on the mountain so they had Aaron build them a golden calf. God struck them with a plague (Ex. 32).
They were all under the pillar of cloud as God led them, and all passed through the Red Sea and were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food, the manna God sent from heaven. They all drank the same spiritual drink, given by the spiritual Rock that followed them, Christ Himself. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness (I Cor. 10:1-5).
First Corinthians 10 tells us that these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (I Cor. 10:7-11)
The people of Jerusalem did not heed Christ’s warnings. They did not listen to the warnings of the prophets God sent for centuries before Jesus either (ex. Jer. 6:8; Mi. 3:12; Zec. 14:1). They thought they could ignore God’s Law and do whatever they felt like doing. They followed their hearts instead of God’s Word. They engaged in idolatry, adultery, testing God, and grumbling.
They felt safe from God’s punishment because they had been doing it for years and lighting from heaven hadn’t struck them, no plague had decimated them, and despite being under Roman rule, they were at relative peace. Sure, God had destroyed sinners and punished sin a long time ago, but not today. They thought that in that day God just turned a blind eye to sin and forgave without people even turning away from sin. They thought that just because the Temple of God stood among them and the sacrifices were taking place there, everything was okay. However, Jesus told them the days will come when there will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down.
Forty year later, the Romans destroyed the Temple and all of Jerusalem as Jesus had prophesied. Over a million Jews were killed and about 100,000 taken captive. They fell by the edge of the sword and were led captive among the nations, and Jerusalem was trampled underfoot by Gentiles as Jesus prophesied.
Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who know history and fail to heed its warnings are also doomed to repeat it. Here specifically we are talking about the history of God’s relationship with man; God’s relationship with us.
We are God’s baptized people. That’s our history with Him. He has rescued us from the slavery of sin. By Jesus’ death in our place, He has rescued us from death and the devil, and from hell. We all passed through the sea of Baptism, baptized into Christ. We eat the same spiritual food and drink the same spiritual drink, the very body and blood of Jesus given and shed for us. And we have the same warning as God’s people of all time have had: do not follow your sinful flesh. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom. 8:13)
As Jesus gave the warning of the destruction of Jerusalem, He gave the warning of the destruction of the world. We have the warning of the end times when nation will rise against nation, and there will be earthquakes and famines and pestilences. There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations and perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and the foreboding of what is coming into the world.
This prophecy is no more preventable than Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. It will take place. The world will be destroyed and the Son of Man will return, coming in a cloud with power and great glory. There is nothing man can do to prevent it, but man can learn from the history of those who reject God and His Word, and the history of those who cling to God’s Word.
As with the destruction of Jerusalem, God’s children have nothing to fear about the end of the world. Even in the face of end-times persecution we have nothing to fear, even if that persecution comes from parents and brothers and relatives and friends. Even if we are hated by all the world and are put to death, Christ says, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” That is, by enduring in the faith, you will receive eternal life.
This eternal life is a free gift to us in spite of our past sins. If we look back at our personal histories, they are filled with all kinds of vile sin. But these histories are wiped out in God’s history books. Jesus died in our place, taking all the punishment for our sins. Our histories are re-written and do not include our sins. Our histories say that we have fulfilled the Law of God perfectly because Jesus fulfilled it for us. Our histories say that we are adopted children of God because we are baptized into Christ. Our histories say that we are in Christ and Christ in us because we eat the spiritual food and drink of Jesus’ true body and blood.
So, when we see the signs of the end times approaching, we do not need to fear. Rather, Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” We can raise our heads in confident expectation that even though Jesus returns to judge the world, our judgment has already been pronounced – we have been acquitted; we have been declared blameless by the judge of the living and the dead.
Instead, our redemption is drawing near. That moment when we will be taken from this world of sin and death is drawing near. That moment when we will no longer suffer at the hands of evildoers; that moment when we will no longer suffer illness and death; that moment when we will no longer suffer from the earthly consequences of our own sins; that moment is drawing near.
We can learn from the history of God’s people in all time and places. God’s people suffer in this world of sin as everyone suffers, but God saves His people from this world. Despite what we see going on in the world around us, we can straighten up and raise our heads because our redemption is drawing near.
God’s history is that He has never failed to keep His promises. Throughout history, He has never failed to save His people from every evil. He has never failed to warn people to turn from their sin and He has never failed to forgive repentant sinners.
Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. But those who know the history of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus are destined for eternal life, with our own history of sin wiped clean by the blood of Jesus. So, straighten up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.