Trinity XXV - St. Matthew 24:15-28 - November 8, 2015

Hymn #261 Lord Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word
Hymn #264 Preserve Thy Word, O Savior
Hymn #463 For All the Saints, Who From Their Labor Rest

Isaiah 49:12-17
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
St. Matthew 24:15-28

Collect for Trinity XXV

Almighty God, we beseech Thee, show Thy mercy unto Thy humble servants, that we who put no trust in our own merits may not be dealt with after the severity of Thy judgment, but according to Thy mercy; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

1)         Today’s gospel lesson may seem as if it has little to offer the modern Christian. Jesus, being the true prophet, and more than a prophet but the Word of God incarnate, foretells the destruction of Jerusalem. His Words would find their fulfillment in 70 A.D. when the Roman armies sieged the holy city. Victorious, the Romans expelled the Jews who had survived starvation and war. Jesus’ prophecy may seem to have no great relevancy to us today because we are not Jewish Christians living in and around Jerusalem before its fall to the Romans. There is no temple in which we are to look for some abomination of desolation. In the days before 70 A.D. a Roman idol was erected in the temple, much like Antiochus Epiphanes had done in 165 B.C. Jesus warns His disciples that when they see events play out as they did in the intertestamental times, their only course of action is to flee Jerusalem. They were not, as Lot’s wife did when the Lord destroyed Sodom, turn back their gaze in sorrow for the city. They were to flee to the mountains, leaving being whatever was not on their person. Otherwise they would suffer a fate similar to that of Lot’s wife, who became a standing pillar of salt, a monument of an unbelieving soul. (Wisdom 10:7) But we have no temple. The Christians’ temple is Christ Himself since for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9). Nor do we live in or around Jerusalem so there is no need to consider Jesus’ admonition to flee the holy city. So Jesus’ exhortation to flee Jerusalem mighty seem like a good history lesson and nothing more. Except that the Lord speaks nothing that is frivolous. None of His words are empty words for those who trust His Word because if one word were empty and frivolous then that would cast doubt upon all His Words. Even in this word of our Lord the Holy Spirit wants to teach us the gospel and exhort us to good works, though we have no temple and no holy city.

2)         Christ’s first admonition is that His disciples flee when they see the abomination of desolation. The abomination was an idol which causes the temple courts to be desolate of worshipers. That idol erected on the altar poisoned the true worship of God and replaced the true Divine Service with an admixture of truth and falsehood. The Christian, in any age, is to keep their eyes open for such idols, abominations within the external church which replace the true Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners with a doctrine which promotes man’s work, man’s emotion, or man’s happiness in this life over Christ’s atoning sacrifice. In Luther’s day, and really still in our day, the Papacy is antichristian because the Papacy suppresses the true Gospel and the true Christ by setting up the Pope and Christ’s vicar on earth and establishing other mediators between God and man, the most common one being praying to Mary in the rosary. What makes Romanism so alluring though is that they maintain the name Catholic Church and the historical trappings of the Church. Rome has baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But the Gospel is suppress and combined with the opinions of man and the doctrine of demons. Those aren’t my words, they are St. Paul’s words from 1 Timothy 4:1. These doctrines are deadly to souls and so Christ’s admonition applies here. When you come to see Rome’s suppression and replacement of the Gospel, flee! Judgment will come upon the place where the abomination of desolation dwells.

3)         It isn’t just Rome though. Abominations that cause desolation are scatted throughout the land in all kinds of church buildings. Idols are erected and promoted all over the internet. So many churches teach a different gospel which is not another gospel at all! (Galatians 1:6-7) Many churches preach through their words and their services that Christianity is a feel-good, entertaining enterprise that’s goal is to make your life better, alleviate suffering, and transform you into the best possible version of you. Their “gospel” is all about you and what you ought to be doing for God, for the church, for the country, and for yourself. That’s why so many flock to those idols, and idols they are for the god that so many churches teach is a god of their own making, though not with wood or stone. That’s why so many flock to these abominations, because they are narsistic and focused on personal and worldly improvement rather than repentance and the forgiveness of sins. These abominations cause desolation too. Their pews aren’t necessarily desolate but the hearts of many that worship in those places are. These are dangerous to souls because good natured people are lied to, allured into thinking they are worshiping the True God when in reality they are worshiping at the cult of self-esteem. These doctrines are deadly to souls and so Christ’s admonition applies here. When you come to see so many churchj’s suppression and replacement of the Gospel, flee! Judgment will come upon the place where such abominations dwell.

4)         This is the theme of Jesus’ teaching all throughout this prophesy. He says it explicitly in the second half of the periocope. He says, “Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There!' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, 'Look, He is in the desert!' do not go out; or 'Look, He is in the inner rooms!' do not believe it.” (Matthew 24:23-26) In the days and years after the siege of Jerusalem many false Christ’s appeared and quickly disappeared. Every now and then we see a blatantly false Christ appear. David Koresh leading the Branch Dividians. Marshall Applewhite leading the Heaven’s Gate cult. But those are fairly obvious to the thinking Christian. Jesus adds false prophets along with false Christs because the two go hand in hand. Once again though, there are so many subtle variations on this idea of false Christs and false prophets that the Christian must be ever vigilant in this life. When someone tells us that the Spirit is working in a specific church because miraculous signs are being performed we are not to go nor are we to expect anything good from that sort of thing. Christ says that many will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. This doesn’t mean that Christ’s elect will fall away but these signs and wonders will be so impressive that if it were possible for the elect to fall away, that would accomplish it. The same is true for the teaching of false teachers and false christs. If it were possible, those evils would be so great and so impressive that they could make it happen.

5)         The Christian isn’t to be so easily deceived by the date-setters or those who imagine special revelations of Christ to be in certain places on in certain churches. Christ dispels any of this when He says, For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. (Matthew 24:27-28) Jesus’ illustrations are so earthy. Unless you live under a rock you understand the images He calls upon in the parable. When lightning flashes you see it. You don’t have to have someone tell you where to look because lightning illumines the entire sky. Lightning is obvious. That’s the way it will be when Christ returns, Obvious to the entire world, since He is the Light of the Word, when He dawns on His return there we be no doubt about what is happening. Where the carcass is, there the birds of prey will be gathered together states the same idea. When you see turkey vultures circling a patch of land next the road, you know full well what’s on the ground. So it will be when Christ returns. He will not be hidden in rooms or in special places. It will be obvious for all the world. We heard St. Paul describe that day in the epistle lesson appointed to go with this gospel test. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. (1 Thessalonians 4:16) The only difference between then and now is that then there will be no command to flee for their will be nowhere which anyone will be able to flee from His presence.

6)         So you, dear Christians, are to flee whenever you see such idols in churches and abominations being upheld as the Christian faith. But to where are you supposed to flee? Jesus tells His disciples to flee to the mountains. Just as our temple is Christ, not a localized temple in a circumscribed place called Jerusalem, but the body of Christ who is our holy temple, so the mountains to which we are to flee are spiritual as well. Psalm 121 begins, I will lift up my eyes to the hills -- From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2) The mountain to which we are to flee is the mountain of the Lord, the rock upon which our faith is established, which is Christ Himself in the pages of Holy Scripture. When such abominations of doctrine confront us we are to flee to the pure fountain of Israel, the Word of God, for that alone is the truth upon which all preaching, teaching, and official church doctrine is to be taken. In Scripture alone the Holy Spirit presents Christ to us unadulterated by human ideas. In the Word of God purely preached the Holy Spirit is present to give Christ to you as He desires to be given to you, without human opinion or imagination. Christ wants to give you Himself in His Gospel, His righteousness, His blessedness, His innocence. He creates a faith in your heart which clings to His actual words instead of the words which so many put into His mouth, because man does not live by bread alone by but every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. As your Good Shepherd Christ wants to feed you with the pure food of His Word and lead you besides the still waters of life which issue forth from Him. It is to Christ, found only in His Word and Sacraments, to which you are to flee.

7)         Understood in this way, Christ’s words are more than a historical interest. They are words for every Christian living in these last days before His return. Be vigilant about what you put into your ears. Be watchful for abominations that cause desolations in the faith. Flee all such idols and false Christs by fleeing to your Rock and Redeemer, Christ Jesus your Lord. Flee to His Holy Word daily. Drink deeply from that pure fountain of Israel so you are not tossed to and fro by the winds of false doctrine. Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Christ’s holy Word as your daily food for the health of your soul which lives forever. Be watchful. Be vigilant. Flee daily to Christ Jesus your Lord. Amen.

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