What Lasts Forever
The Second Sunday in Advent| December 4, 2011| Rev. Rolf Preus| St. Luke 21:32-33
“Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Luke 21:32-33
Jesus makes it crystal clear. This world will come to an end. He will return to judge the living and the dead. He who came in humility to be born in Bethlehem, to live a life of obedience, and to die on the cross for the sin of the world, will return in power and great glory. Everyone will see him. The whole world will stand before him. He who came to save sinners will return to judge.
“This generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.” This generation of unbelievers will be a feature of life in the Church until the end of the age. They smirk. They joke. They mock. They don’t believe. The signs of Christ’s coming are clear but they do not see them. They see what they want to see and what they want to see is what will be destroyed forever. But the very possibility of that happening appears to them to be utterly absurd. They don’t want to consider it. So they don’t.
This generation knows what it wants. It wants what the world offers. It wants its pleasures. It is burdened by its cares. It wants to preserve what cannot be preserved. So it latches on to a creed, what today is commonly called an ideology, and it sets its heart upon that creed and holds on for dear life!
“This generation” is our Lord’s reference to unbelievers. They will always be among us Christians, trashing what we treasure and laying claim to our name, identity, and Church. They bicker among themselves about what is more valuable than what and whose ideology is purer, nobler, or more compassionate. But they agree on one thing. Here and now is where it’s at.
This is especially apparent in an election year. Politics illustrates the values of those whose values are bound to the things of this world. That’s because the civil authority – over which politicians fight like dogs over bones – can deal only with the things of this world. But who will admit that it’s all so transient – here today and gone tomorrow – that we really ought to be concerned with higher things? So they couch their politics in religious language and claim divine sanction for what they propose.
Many people see through the pretense of the politicians and cynically dismiss their promises. They know enough not to put their trust in princes. Meanwhile they invest their money on more and more stuff to make them younger or healthier or smarter or richer. Hang on! Time is our enemy. We’d better fight him off.
But you can’t fight him off. He’s not a thing or a force. He’s a construct made up to explain what you cannot understand. Time is not the issue. Age is not the issue. The issue is the conflict between the Creator and the creation. This is what you need to confront. Vote for the right politician. Buy the right clothes, car, electronic gizmo, and retirement account. Make sure your bills are paid. But you’re not ready for the end of the world.
The generation of mockers is still here. And here they will remain until the end. Then the end will come. God will vindicate his promises. He will confirm the faith of the faithful. But we will not be vindicated until God sees fit to do so. We want to see. We want evidence that the Christian faith is true, that the promises on which we rely are reliable. We want to be confirmed in what we confess.
But we may not see until God reveals it. In fact, the only thing we get to see is all sorts of evidence against the God we confess! We confess that we believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Have you ever see the resurrection of the body? Have you not seen the very opposite? Youth fades into old age and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it.
I watched a portion of an interview with the famous television interviewer, Larry King, the other day and learned that he intends to have his body frozen when he dies so that if in the future they come up with a cure of whatever killed him he can be resuscitated and cured. What will that accomplish? Even if it worked, it would only work for a while and then he’d die. “Heaven and earth will pass away.” All creation will be destroyed. By all means, go for the cure. Cure cancer. Cure heart disease. Cure every ailment you can cure. But the cure will never cure more than the symptom. The cause is beyond our ability to conquer.
The cause is sin. Politics can’t cure sin because it must always rely on the thinking and working of sinners. Sinners sin. We don’t become sinners by sinning. We sin because we’re sinners. Some regard sin as nothing but a word. They think it is but a religious explanation of what can be explained differently. But that’s because they are blinded by their own sin. They reject their own sin for the same reason that they mock Judgment Day. They explain away what they don’t want to face.
To understand sin – which is the cause of all war, suffering, disease, and heartbreak in this world – you must know God’s judgment of it. Don’t let sinners tell you what sin is. They don’t know. The holy God is the only one who truly knows. Sin is whatever departs from God’s word.
From the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden through all sins ever committed throughout history every sin has had a common feature: it has broken with God’s word. Sin will pass away. God’s word won’t. Sin is transient. God’s word is eternal. Sin is human rebellion against God. It is setting the creature against his Creator and embracing the promises of created things instead of trusting in the promises of him who created us all in his image. Put simply: sin is unbelief. It is saying no to God.
To say no to God is say no to what God says, for God deals with us always and only through his word. What God says identifies him and us and defines our relationship with him. God’s word determines for us who God is, what he’s like, what he promises, what he wants for us, what he wants from us, and where he is taking us. God’s word is what lasts, even when every idol manufactured by humanity has been shown to be useless.
God’s word is the only thing that will survive the end of this world. The Son of man will come to judge this world and bring everything to an end. When all creation is destroyed and only God’s word remains forever then what will come of us? We who are sheltered here and now in time by God’s word will find that his word will protect us from the destruction he will bring upon this world. Those who have rejected God’s word and trusted in something else will find their hearts failing for fear of what is happening to them when Jesus returns. And when Jesus returns it will be too late to find God’s grace in God’s word. The day of grace will be over.
We have been taught God’s word. We have learned the Creed and the Catechism. We have the opportunity to hear God’s word preached to us in its truth and purity. The gospel of the free forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ’s obedience and suffering that is received through faith alone is familiar to our ears. We may think that we know it so well that we don’t need to hear it. So we get itching ears. We begin to look for something new and exciting.
Martin Luther compared the gospel to a rain shower. He wrote:
Beloved Germans, buy while the market is close at hand! Gather while the sun is shining and while there is good weather! Make use of God’s grace and Word while it is here! For you should know this: God’s Word and grace is a passing downpour, which does not return to where it has already been. It has been with the Jews; but what’s lost is lost, and they now have nothing. Paul brought it to Greece; what’s lost is lost, and they now have the Turks. Rome and Latin-speaking regions have also had it; what’s lost is lost, and they now have the pope. And you Germans dare not think that you will have it forever, for the ingratitude and disdain will not let it remain. Therefore take hold and hang on tightly, while you are able to grab and to hold.
Luther saw it coming. Today, there are few places in Germany where the pure gospel of Christ is proclaimed and confessed. The same goes for Scandinavia. America is following in Europe’s footsteps. The rain shower moves on. There is no hunger for forgiveness when there is no more sin or judgment. When there is no appetite for God’s word it is ignored, despised, and ultimately rejected.
There is no appetite because folks take for granted what cannot be taken for granted. They look around at the things they love and treasure and they assume that they will always be here. They do not reckon with the end of the world. That’s why they are so willing to conform themselves to the thinking of the world.
God’s word is the only thing that lasts forever. This is why we treasure it so. Christmas is not just an event that we revisit every year. Christmas is our future. The Word became flesh. Eternity joined time. Our future belongs to where the eternal God became our brother. He did not borrow a human body. God became a man. In so doing he elevated humanity up to heaven with God. But note this and mark it well. Just as it is the eternal Word who became holy flesh, it is only through his words that we find release from our sinful flesh. It is only in Christ’s words that we find life in the face of death. His words will not pass away. That means that we who receive his words in faith, live on his words, confess their truth, and take out stand on them will face Christ’s return with confidence that it is our redemption, not our destruction. He who bore away our sins on the cross will vindicate our faith in his blood and display the truth of our confession to all creation.
When we see and feel the powers of heaven shaken and the Son of man returning with power and great glory we will see the vanity of all the promises of a world destined for destruction. We will see how precious the words of our Savior were. This is why we hold on to them now. They will last forever, when everything else has been destroyed. Amen