25th Sunday after Trinity + Matthew 24:15-28 + November 6, 2016

Introit - pg. 83 

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.

Isaiah 49:12-17
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 24:25-28

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1)         As we approach the end of the church year our focus shifts to the end times. Jesus teaches us what is in store for us by first teaching us about the fall of Jerusalem. Most of the today’s text deals with that event which happened around 70 AD when the Roman general Titus, laid siege to Jerusalem, killing countless Jews through famine and finally sword. It is only at the end of today’s gospel less that Jesus teaches about the coming of the Son of Man. He isn’t teaching that He will return immediately after the fall of Jerusalem. But He is putting the two events together. He is inviting us to view the end of the age through the filter of the fall of Jerusalem because the fall of Jerusalem is a prototype for the end of the world. As it went for Jerusalem, it will go for the world. This means we should first consider what Jesus teaches His disciples about Jerusalem’s fall.

2)         He tells the disciples that when they see the “Abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place, then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” The abomination which Daniel foretold found one fulfillment in the idol which Antiochus Epiphanies placed on the temple altar in 165 BC. 1 Maccabees 1:54 tells us that Antiochus’ men “set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar, and builded idol altars throughout the cities of Juda on every side.” That defilement of the temple lasted only four years until it was cleansed and rededicated by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers. Daniel’s words find their full fulfillment in the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Prior to the siege, a band of Jewish nationalists forcibly entered the temple and slayed thousands within its gates, polluting the sanctuary with innocent blood. This was the abomination of desolation Jesus warns His disciples about. “When there is an abomination in the temple that causes it to be desolate of worshipers, flee to the mountains. The one who is on his housetop is to leave all his possessions behind. That one is not to stop and collect his valuables from his home. The one who labors in the field under the heat of the day is not to go get his outer garment he left under the shade tree. Jesus tells them that when they see this abomination, their only option is to run because it is a sure sign that God’s just judgment against Jerusalem is near.

3)         Consider what Eusebius of Caesarea, the first church historian, wrote. “But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella. And when those that believed in Christ had come thither from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men.”[1] Jerusalem’s fall was the result of her rejection and murder of Christ and her rejection and martyring of His apostles. The Lord had been patient with Jerusalem, given them forty years to repent of their unbelief and rejection of Christ. Because the Romans were the instrument in God’s hand by which He executed judgment on the Jews, Christians were not to dilly-dally, they were not to cling to their earthly possessions, nor were they to look back on Jerusalem with desire, as Lot’s wife looked back on Sodom and was turned into a pillar of salt. They were simply to flee, leaving everything behind, because the same Lord that told them to flee the coming wrath would also provide for all their needs of the body. He also showed great mercy to His faithful by shortening those wretched days, for if that disaster had been left uncheck by the Lord, it would have devoured everyone.

4)         Christ also taught them that in those days false Christs would appear and false prophets would arise. They always do during times of calamity and the days of Jerusalem’s fall would be no different. These false christs and false prophets would even do signs and wonders that would be so convincing that, if it were possible, they could even deceive God’s elect. They were not to chase after anyone and everyone who claimed divine inspiration or direct revelations from God. Instead they were to cling to the words of Christ and the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures. Their faith was to be grounded and rooted in the revealed Word of God, not in ramblings and babblings that claimed divine authority but spoke differently than Christ and His apostles. Jesus is effectively reminding them of what He taught them in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” St. John would teach the same thing when he wrote by God’s inspiration, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Jesus teaches them to expect false christs and false teachers so that they are not scandalized by it, but rather accept it as reality and pray all the more fervently that the Lord would keep them steadfast in His revealed Word of the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Gospel. Jesus teaches them these things to save their physical lives from the Romans and apostate Jews and also to save their souls from the false teachers would devour their souls with false beliefs about Christ.

5)         After all this, Jesus 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.” By combining His return and the Last Day with the fall of Jerusalem, He is teaching us to prepare for that day as His first disciples were to prepare for the fall of Jerusalem. It should come as a shock to no one that we are living in the last days. We have been living in the end times ever since Christ ascended into heaven. The Christian is to take note of the abomination of desolation which stands in the Holy Place. This is no longer the temple of Jerusalem but the Christian Church. By this Christ wants us to identify Antichrist, and flee from him. Paul write in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 that this man “opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” In this we see the Roman Papacy, for the Bishop of Rome sets himself up in the church as the head of Christ’s church, claiming authority by Christ’s command. He opposes the Lord by demanding worship and works that have never been divinely commanded. Yet he sits “in the temple of God” and obscures the true mercy seat, Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and salvation by grace through faith alone by his false teachings. But the Roman Papacy is not the only spirit of antichrist, for St. John warns his flock that “even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). The Christian is to be ever-vigilant against such false teachers, for “they are clouds without water” (Jude 12) and can only lead men astray from the truth of the gospel and lead them toward themselves and their own merits and works.

6)         Like the first disciples, when we witness such abominations in the church and world we are to flee to the mountains. By this He means that Christians are to escape from “the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 2:20). We are to “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). We flee to the Holy Mountain, not to the worldly Jerusalem, but to the Holy Mountain of our Savior Christ Jesus, where there is forgiveness of every sin and new life through faith. Like the first Christians, we lift up our eyes to the hills since “our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). We are to daily flee to Christ through repentance of our sins and faith in His gracious promise to forgive all who repent and believe the gospel. As we daily flee from false teachers and from the abominations of this world, we are to “not go down and take anything out of our house,” meaning that we ought not to value our earthly possessions more than our inheritance awaiting us in heaven. We are not treasure earthly things and creature comforts to the point that we look to them for every good thing in this life and thus lose sight of faith in Christ. Fleeing the abominations of this world and our own sinful flesh which daily tempts us, we are not to “go back to get our clothes” having been working in the field. By this Christ teaches us to daily lay aside our sins as a garment, to put off the Old Adam in us through daily contrition and repentance, so that we are not overcome by sin and led into complacency and carnal security.

7)         In this way, the fall of Jerusalem is the prototype for the end times, and Christ’s teaching to His disciples is good for us as well. In this He’s really teaching us nothing that He hasn’t taught us elsewhere in the gospel. We are, as citizens of heaven, to flee the idolatries, sensualities, and sins of the world. As children of God, clothed with Christ’s righteousness through Holy Baptism, we are to daily live in that baptism by putting off the Old Self and putting on Christ as our daily dress. As those who look for the life of the world to come, we strive, with the aid of the Holy Ghost, so that we do not conform to the pattern of this world but rather to live as living sacrifices to our gracious Triune God. Since Christ has called us by the gospel and enlightened us with His gifts, we strive to “make our calling and election sure” by remaining steadfast in His Word and Sacrament in their truth and purity. This is how our Lord wants us to endure: avoiding what is false, treasuring and keeping close to what is true, and daily fleeing to Christ and His pure gospel. Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[1] Eusebius of Caesarea. Ecclesiastical History. Book III.5

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