Dec. 05, 2021 “No Passing Away” – The Second Sunday in Advent
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. In the name of Jesus.
The meditation for this morning is based on the Gospel Reading from Luke chapter 21. In it there are three sections of discourse from Jesus: The Coming of the Son of Man, The Lesson of the Fig Tree, and then the Watch Yourselves. He is speaking to his disciples once again continuing the foretelling of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem which took place in A.D. 70 and of the way His Second Advent will be. Nations rising against nations, famines, pestilences, and terrors. Things you can now say are nothing new. You may ask why the apocalyptic, eschatological (which means end times), end of the age Parousia language during the Advent Season? That is because it does go along with Advent. Remember we are also in a season of anticipating the Second Advent of our Lord, which these things speak of. It is so we can be aware of the coming days (what will be) but also what was and what has been.
The end times passages in the Bible are highly debated amongst the wide array of teachers in the wide array of denominations now in place in Christendom. And it mainly has to do with are these things literal or symbolic. Quite honestly the modern world and culture, with its technology, has seen one too many sci-fi movies. They are enthusiastic about earth shattering drama, wild explosions, and the apocalypse is now the most favorite topic in the Bible unfortunately. It’s not good because when such biblical topics are skewed by false teachers, consequences of doubt and confusion set it. It just causes anxiety and worry. Where have all the sound exegetical shepherds gone? To exegete means to pull out what is already there. And rather than bore you with a seminar on the subject, I will tell you what sound scripture interpretation is all about: simply that Scripture interprets Scripture. There is no need to add one’s own delusions into it. God wants to be clear, wants to be understood, so he gave us his interpretations already.
Signs, symbols, and imagery is what God uses to relate things to his kingdom. And Jesus, being the best scholar and teacher of Scripture, teaches his class with none other than the Word of God himself. Jesus’ entire ministry is quoting, explaining, interpreting, and become the Scriptures. The Gospel of Luke, just three chapters later, is the Book that has Jesus appearing on the road to Emmaus, to a couple of his followers, and has to clear up their understanding of Scripture by interpreting the entire Bible, the whole Old Testament at that time, to them and told them everything. What every book in it meant and who it pointed to; him.
The language is signs. There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars (those make up part of the heavens, plural). Verse 26 says “powers of the heavens.” And on the earth distress of nations; the earth is another part of the heavens. But once again, this frightening list isn’t to be a nuance we’ve never heard of before or something we’ve never seen. Such signs have been going on ever since the Fall of man and the banishment from the Garden. They go back all the way to the days of Noah before the Flood and they continued on after the Flood in the heavens and on the earth and they will continue until the Last Day, Christ’s Second Advent. And why? Because of the rage of the nations; the perplexity (the anxiety and doubt). Because of the roaring of the sea and the waves. Now, know this: chaotic waters were always known as national and political uprisings. Scripture, especially the Psalms always interpret chaotic waters it that way- the crashing of waves equals national torment upon the people. We heard from Psalm 2 today: Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? In Psalm 46, after speaking of the mountains being moved into the heart of the sea says again the nations rage and the kingdoms totter. That’s the reason (chaotic nations and kingdoms) why people will faint with fear, literally translated: die because of fear, because of feelings that something bad will happen (that’s what the word foreboding means).
And it is always for that reason that a shaking must occur. Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the second temple and the city gets fulfilled. It happened and it happened because of an upheaving of the government and persecution of the saints in Rome in the first century. Rome burned the city to the ground; its emperor Nero had literally gone mad. But know also what shakings mean: they are calamities, hurts, pains, and illnesses in life – things that we don’t want and are afraid of. And we are afraid of it all because we have no control over it. No control; controls are a good modern image to use. Like when we watch those scary movies; now we can record them and control their showing with us now having remote controls. We can press play, stop, rewind, fast forward through the scenes. Oh, and especially they are good for if you step out of the room and miss something, you can go back; you won’t miss a thing. That’s the type of life humanity wants to live now in reality, one where you have a remote to control to control the events and know when they are going to happen. But God does not give you a remote control. That’s not his way. He says you simply have to watch it and go through it from the beginning and as it comes on abruptly, there is no stopping it. No way to pause or escape it; no chance to even personally evaluate it.
Jesus just reminds us that there will be a continual deteriorating of the nations before His Second Coming in great power and glory. Images: He gives them the image: you will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud. That being a familiar image. The cloud, like the pillar cloud he lead them by in the wilderness in Exodus and like the way he goes up on a cloud in his ascension after conquering death in his resurrection .
Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up (that’s fatherly talk… straighten up now kids) and raise up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. So, from the time we’re born until the time we die we are going through a shaking. And it is in death where redemption, for God’s people, draws near. You might say if we are to have fear at all, we are to have the fear of redemption. Yet it is a holy fear; the same fear you are to have in the loving and trusting in God alone; the meaning of the first Commandment. It is death talk but it is also resurrection talk (raise your heads), the word the Lord uses is “I life up.” Likewise when Jesus rose from the dead his head was lifted up.
As sad and troublesome as our talk may sound today; this is actually a resurrection story. That’s why next Jesus moves on to a parable because he wants you to get it. The coming and the lesson leads to watching. So he will turn to another famous image in Scripture: the fig tree. The fig tree in the Bible always represented the nation of Israel and their seasons and festivals. Jesus uses it to talk about seasons, actual seasons of the year. This lesson isn’t too unintelligible for the disciples, nor should it be for you either. We are right in the middle of a season change; winter is coming. And what happens as we move into that season? The leaves begin to fall off the trees. Well, these end time talks with the boys is just like that. The image of the fig tree having no leaves. But you know that as soon as you see their leaves coming back out (that there is the word for sprouting, when they sprout out) – when the holy nation sprouts out then you know that summer is near. So also, when you see things like these, know that the kingdom of God is near. You know seasons. God gives the world four of them to go through every year, the same four, they never change – they are part of life and living on earth and the older you get the better you know how to anticipate them. We even have cheat sheets and mechanisms to go by (calendars and watches) to keep track of these things. But even with all that, pay more attention now because here comes the heart of the passage: “Truly I say to you this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.”
A generation back then was considered 40yrs. So many of the people at that very time were still alive when the destruction of the temple came. And as the disciples are now shaken by these things, Jesus comes in to give them a big warm hug with his words: heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away. Then in the close of the discourse Jesus further encourages them to have no fear. Yes, there is a high probability of hearts being troubled, weighed down – that prognosis is prevalent in these days at hand now. So in the watchfulness part Jesus uses the image of sleeping versus being awake (not literally staying up for 24hrs though). The word there for stay awake is “watch” defined as: to always watch, be attentive without any time off from knowing your redemption draws near.
Jesus’ words will not pass away until all is fulfilled by him. Jesus is alluding to Isaiah 40:8 in that reflection: the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Hopefully you now see how Scripture interprets Scripture.
His words not passing away is the heart of the Gospel, they are the veins of circulation for the breath of life and the chambers of the heart with all their atriums. It is resurrection talk; a resurrection story because “stand forever” means raised up forever. You can literally translate it as: “but the word of the Lord resurrects. I raise; the Word of the Lord raises forever.” It is the same speech he gave to Noah when the flood waters (the chaotic raging seas subsided and came to an end) when God said to Noah: “I will raise up my covenant with you.” It is resurrection talk and it also is table talk as in the Lord’s Supper when Jesus took the cup and lifted it up (raised it) saying “this is the new covenant in my blood.” You see, the Word of the Lord does not know how to pass away, it only knows how to stand up forever. His Word is the architect of the body and soul and all things. His Word creates anew.
Recall the response we sing to after the readings in the Matins service: “forever O Lord, Your Word is firmly set in the heavens” from Psalm 119 and the congregation’s response to that is: “Lord, I love the habitation of Your house and the place where Your glory dwells.” The “firmly set” and “place where Your glory dwells” is rest language; rest for the weary. The cloud and glory of heaven that you rest on is a firm mattress and the sleep number setting you can put it on is setting number three for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There is no passing away of his Word and for those who are in Christ Jesus there will be no passing away for you either. Redemption means you do not pass away; it means bought at a price, redeemed that though you die, yet you live. Contemporary Christian Singer-Songwriter, Michael Card sets this resurrection talk to music in his song Love Crucified Arose: hear some of the lyrics to it now – they hit the nail right on the head:
Long ago He blessed the earth
Born older than the years
And in the stall the cross He saw
Through the first of many tears
A life of homeless wandering
Cast out in sorrow's way
The Shepherd seeking for the lost
His life the price He paid
Love crucified arose
The risen One in splendor
Jehovah's sole Defender
Has won the victory
Love crucified arose
And the grave became a place of hope
For the heart that sin and sorrow broke
Is beating once again.
Beating once again. The fig tree now back in full bloom. And it is the new church on earth who represents that and is to know the seasons: The Church is to know the season of the Lord and what it looks like. As the fig tree was a symbol for Old Israel so it is now taken over for New Israel (the church), the populus of Zion who lifts up her head. The Church is waiting though, in the season of waiting to get our leaves back and sprouted. Until then you gotta have faith.
The second candle in Advent represents faith, faith over fear in waiting for the advent of our king. Faith in the “no passing away.” Let not the cares of this life weigh you down. You have a raising up to look forward to so keep your heads up is the overall theme of the Gospel text for today. Christ has come down; he comes down this day too in order to give you faith in his means of grace. He will impart to you his words: “take eat, take drink.” Life-saving words that will not pass away. And they are what make you stand up, be raised up, before your Maker.
Behold he is coming to make all things new. Love crucified arose so that you never have to pass away. It is in the signs, even in the raging heaven and earth will pass away but His words will not. Therefore, stay away. Pray at all times. And how do you do that? Well, the next verse in the text tells us that Jesus then went about teaching everyday in the temple. That is what we are to teach in the new temple, the gathering of God’s people. Not sci-fi, not scare tactics but re-fi. Redemption refinanced in the blood of the Lamb with is the truth alone and all that needs to be thought of when it comes to the subject of apocalypse. Because that will never pass away. Dwell on the things that are eternal and your necks and backs with be straight as an arrow. Straight away looking up while everything else passes by all you will then see is Jesus and his glory.
Now may that same glory guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus now and forever. Amen.