God our Fortress, The Weeping Prophet, and the Lasting City -Jeremiah 18:5-10, Hebrews 13:14, Psalm 121

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This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?

“I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.” Jeremiah 18:5-10 (NIV)

 

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, experienced the shame and heartache of his people being taken into captivity by the Babylonians.  God didn’t have good news for him to share with Israel, either.  God generally sent prophets to warn people of judgment to come, and to remind the people who really is in charge- not their princes or governments, or themselves, but Almighty God alone.

Thankfully God has mercy on us. Every single one of us falls short of the demands of the Law and should God judge any one of us on our own merits we earn the penalty of death.  But in God’s love and mercy, He sent Jesus to wipe out our sins- Jesus took the wrath our horrible conduct and our heinous deeds deserve, so that we may receive the reward of life with Him. The apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 3 that we who believe Jesus and have faith in Him are judged by His righteousness and not our own.  We have been have been baptized into Christ and made children of God to be with Him forever.

In this world we still experience bad news.  The world around us is still subject to the consequences of sin in general. The sin of the Garden has expanded out, and it has contaminated all creation.  We will experience trouble and trials in this life.  But Jesus is with us.  He is trustworthy. He will get us through our trials.

As the day approaches when Jesus comes to restore heaven and earth, as He warned us, the times are going to get more and more scary.  People will fall away from the faith and people will make fun of us and say we believe fairy tales when we profess our faith in Jesus.  Other people will openly fight and persecute the teaching and preservation of the Christian faith as we see evidence of more and more even in the United States.

Our churches and communities are becoming smaller and smaller, and the demands of our time and resources become ever more strained.  It’s easy to give up hope or drop away, or to resort to infighting or dissent.  Yet Jesus told His disciples to tend His lambs and feed His sheep.  For us it may mean we are called to spread out (as in the scattering at the destruction of the tower of Babel) or to join with other believers of like mind.

How can we best serve as the Body of Christ?  Can we join with another congregation(s) to not only pool our resources, but to serve more effectively?  As much as we want to keep our building, might it be worth investigating joining with another congregation in a similar situation to our own?  Might we want to consider a revolving house church set up such as the early Church used in the days of Acts?

Our lives and possessions on this earth are temporary. Only Jesus is a constant for us. No matter where we may find ourselves,

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”- Hebrews 13:14 (ESV)

Seeking the city that is to come does not mean abandoning the “city” here, far from it,  but understanding that the church is not comprised of its building or its resources, but the church is its people, the Body of Christ.  God is our mighty fortress- not ourselves, our governments or even each other.

 

In Psalm 121, the writer lifts his eyes to the hills, on high, knowing that his help is from the Lord.  We may not know what that will look like, but we do know the Lord is our only anchor, our only foundation, the only one we can trust.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
 Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
 The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 121 (ESV)

 

April 19, 2020- Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning- Luke 12:35-48

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“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning,  and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.  If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!  But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into.  You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?  Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.  Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.  But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk,  the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.  And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating.  But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. Luke 12:35-48 (ESV)

One of the most beautiful Spiritual songs ever written is the traditional, “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.”

We understand that our salvation is in Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone.  We don’t, and we can’t, earn our salvation in any way.  Jesus is our Suffering Servant, who paid the penalty for all the sins of the world, as John the Baptist understood when Jesus came to him to be baptized. (John 1:29)

We are, however, baptized into Jesus’ suffering and death.  Because He has set us free from the curse of the Garden, we are bound to Him, beggars at the throne of grace. We have all been given much.

Jesus has promised that He is returning to this earth and He is going to remake both heaven and earth (2 Peter 3:8-13) and we will be given incorruptible, physical bodies (1 Corinthians 15:51-53.)  We affirm the restoration of our physical bodies when we say “the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,” when we recite the Apostle’s Creed as well.

Staying “dressed for action” is not easy.  We are distracted by the world and tempted by our own sinful desires as well as the influence of the Adversary.  Our sinful nature is nothing new.

Jesus is talking about keeping faith in Him, of knowing Who we belong to.  We were purchased with a price, our Savior’s own Body and Blood. Our motivation to serve and follow him is not one of fear of hellfire but one of gratitude and love.

In these times apocalyptic talk is very popular.  There have been multiple books, various so-called prophets and loads of random speculation on the end of the world.  Hal Lindsey once claimed the end of the world would occur in the 1980s, claiming in his book “The 1980s, Countdown to Armageddon,” that “the decade of the 1980s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it.” 

Jesus, however, taught us, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.  For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Matthew 24:36-37 (ESV)

The time that we might spend speculating on the timing of the end of days would be better spent in trusting Jesus and serving our neighbors.  The end of days may arrive tonight or a thousand years from now, who knows?  But as Jesus teaches earlier in Luke 12, in the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) our lives may be required of us tonight, making the timing of the end of days rather irrelevant.  He created us and has already set the number of our days.

Again we come back to faith.  Knowing that we belong to Christ, knowing that when we confess our sins and repent of them, He forgives us, our actions should reflect our confidence of knowing that God cares for us. Because He loved us first, in Him we have the capacity to love others, to be generous, to be good stewards of God’s good gifts and not fall into the panic of hoarding or obsessing over whether or not we will be provided for.

The path of the cross is not an easy one but it is a path that we follow knowing that we do fail and we do fall short.  We sin constantly.  We doubt.  Even though we are poor tools with which to work, Jesus is still on that path with us, lifting us up in our suffering, challenging us to die to our selfishness and insecurity, and to keep on remembering our baptism.  The old Adam needs to be drowned every day, because our sinful nature flares up often.  Yet Jesus keeps forgiving us and lifting us up. He equips us for the good fight of living out the faith.

The good news is that Jesus is stronger than the temptations of the world. He has defeated our sinful nature. He has put death to death for us. We take confidence that He gives us the gift of faith so that we will keep our eyes and hearts focused on Him.

Lord, help us keep our lamps trimmed and burning.  Create clean hearts in us all, clean hearts ready to serve you and to care for those around us.

December 17, 2019-Advent 17, Luke 17- Temptation, Forgiveness, Unworthy Servants, and the Kingdom Will Come

Read Luke 17

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:1-4 (ESV)

Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally to us. The human heart seeks retribution and vengeance. But Jesus says to us, forgive. Forgive others the way that He forgives us- over and over and over again.

Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” Luke 17:7-10 (ESV)

None of us no matter how we might try, can serve God fully and completely. But we can only serve God as He equips us to do. We are not justified by what we do, rather, God enables us to do the good works that He has planned for us.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:15-19 (ESV)

God provides for all – rain, sun, harvest, livelihood, healing- but not everyone sticks around to thank Him for it. In the story of the Ten Lepers, only the Samaritan- the outcast, the one outside of the family of God- sticks around long enough to thank Jesus for his healing.

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Luke 17:26 -37 (ESV)

In this season of Advent we prepare for the Incarnation of Jesus- Emmanuel, God with us. We also look forward to Him coming to earth again in glory to judge the living from the dead.

There are many systems of eschatology (the study of the end times.) The understanding of the eschaton (the end of days) that is most congruent with what Jesus and the apostles teach in the Bible is called amillennialism. We take Jesus at His word. He is coming back, and He will remake both heaven and earth. Sin, death and Satan will be no more.

We don’t know when Jesus will return, but for those who are His, it will be a day of great joy.

Lord, prepare us for your return. Create in us clean hearts that are bound firmly in faith in You. Forgive us for our many sins and remind us of our baptisms, where we became Your children, marked with the cross of Christ forever. Keep us faithful to You now and forever.

December 12, 2019- Advent 12, Luke 12- The Fear of the Lord, Heads Up on the Eschaton, Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning

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Read Luke 12.

Jesus taught:

Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. Luke 12:2-3 (ESV)

This is some scary business.  All of us have plenty of dirty laundry that we would be mortified to have aired in public.  All us have those things in our history that we would rather keep secret.  Jesus knew the Pharisees (like the rest of us) had plenty of dark secrets and dirty laundry they would rather not have exposed.  The error of the Pharisees, which is often our error as well, is that we think we can cover up and gloss over our sins instead of knowing that Jesus will forgive our sins if we humble ourselves and confess them to Him.

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.  Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:4-7 (ESV)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10, Proverbs 15:33, Isaiah 11:2, Isaiah 33:6 and Micah 6:9) as we are taught in many places in Scripture. Jesus takes this truth further when he reminds us that God knows all and God has the authority to both give and take life, and to consign the unrepentant one- the fool who in his heart says there is no God- (Psalm 14:1) to eternal punishment in hell. God knows us more intimately than we know ourselves.  There is nothing we can hide from Him.

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Luke 12:8-12 (ESV)

Do we fear and love God enough to talk about Jesus even in times and places when it’s highly discouraged or even forbidden outright? Many of us find it hard to muster the courage to testify of Jesus because we fear the reactions that other people may have.  Yet He is the One who holds the power of life and death.

If we reject the work of the Holy Spirit in us we reject Jesus.

Jesus teaches us that He provides for us, so we shouldn’t be obsessed with gathering up stuff for ourselves.  We should seek God and His kingdom, because He is the Source of all things.

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Luke 12:29-31 (ESV)

Where our treasure is, our heart will be there also.  Where are our hearts?

Jesus reminds us that He is going to return.  No one knows when that day or hour will come, but He tells us to be ready for His return.  Many believers don’t like to hear talk about the eschaton (the end of days) but for those who are in Christ, the eschaton is an occasion of great joy- when Jesus returns and remakes the heavens and earth.

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 2 Peter 3:6-8 (ESV)

In this Advent season we await the return of the Bridegroom. We are living with one foot on this flawed and broken earth, and another in the heavenly kingdom.  When Jesus returns, He will remake the heavens and earth by fire.  If He were to return tonight, would He find us to be good stewards of what we have been given?

Jesus warns us that He comes to this earth not to bring peace, but to bring division. Families are divided because of faith in Him.  There are households in which one spouse believes and the other does not, or a child of unbelieving parents comes to faith- pitting their love for their family against their faith in Christ.

Jesus closes this chapter admonishing us to settle up with those to whom we owe, before it gets dragged into court and gets dirty.  The overwhelming theme here is, “fear God, repent and be forgiven.”

There is good news in this chapter, even though we have been warned about both hell fire and the eschaton.  The good news is that, by faith, we hear God’s Word and see the severity of our sins.  By faith, we pray for a healthy fear of the Lord.  We confess all of our sins to God and He brings them into the light, and forgives our sins. We repent and confess not simply to avoid hell fire, but in response and thankfulness to God for providing for all our needs, most especially our desperate need for our Savior who died on the cross to save us from all our sins.  For those who are in Christ, the eschaton will be a day of joy, when tears and death and sorrow will all be wiped away forever.

As the old spiritual goes, “Keep your lamps trimmed and burning.” We await Jesus’ Second Advent with anticipation and joy.

December 16, 2018 -John the Baptist, Repentance and O, Come Emmanuel!

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In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’” (Isaiah 40:3)

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.  People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.  Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

 

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:1-12 (NIV)

Repent. It’s not a word we like to hear.  It means we need to change our outlook, our opinions, our view of others.  It’s a word that says we not only need to identify our sins, but to confess to God and others that we fall short.  We’re not doing things correctly- too much we have done should have been left undone, and so much left undone that we should have done.  The apostle Paul shows us in Romans 7 that as long as we live in the “not yet” world, we will struggle with the dilemma of being both God’s saints and sinners who sin.  We can’t just straighten up and “fly right,” but we trust that Jesus has done for us what we are not capable of doing for ourselves.

Repentance is more than “I’m sorry I got caught,” or even a mia culpa. It is a deep desire to turn from our sins, a gift of the Holy Spirit that promises that in our baptism our sins are drowned and washed away from us every day.

John the Baptist points out that Abraham’s children are the children of the promise- the children who God has raised up in Christ.  John the Baptist points us to Christ, the one who was far greater than him.

In this season of Advent, we not only celebrate Jesus coming to us as God-with-us, we also look to His return to this earth.  The end of days as we know them and the re-creation of heaven and earth can and will occur at any time, but there is no cause for those who belong to Christ to fear.  Since we who trust Jesus know that we are baptized, named and claimed for Him and that He has won the victory over death, Satan, evil and hell, we look forward to that day.  The day of the Lord is near.  Repent and turn to Him.  He provides us with all we need, now and in the world to come.  O, come, o come, Emmanuel.

November 30, 2018 The Lord’s End-Times Timing, Promise and Hope – 2 Peter 3

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(Peter writes: )This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3 (ESV)

Eschatology (the study of end times) is not a major focus for Lutherans as a general rule.  Yet at the end of the church year we look with hope to what Jesus has promised us beyond this life.  He will return again.  He will remake the heavens and the earth.  There will be a day when the earthly kingdom is no more and we will live fully and completely in God’s heavenly kingdom.  The paradox of living in “now but not yet” will end.  Until that day we live in that promise that Jesus will return and establish that “not yet” kingdom.

This chapter is a bit frightening. Peter tells us that when Jesus returns the universe as we know it is going to be destroyed by fire and remade.  Nothing of this “now” world is going to be left. Then Peter tells us that in order to be part of the new creation, we need to be holy.  On the surface Peter’s warning sounds like an admonition for us to “straighten up and fly right.” However, if we are honest with ourselves we know that we are definitely not holy. We are definitely not capable, by our own strength or reason, to “straighten up and fly right” by our own power.

Peter is not telling us to put on the window dressing and go into full blown holier-than-thou Pharisee mode. He redirects us outside of ourselves, to count the patience of our Lord as salvation. True holiness and sanctification are to be found in Christ alone.  Rather than despair about how wicked and terrible we are, we only need to confess our sins to Jesus, cling to the Cross and know that He has already won our forgiveness and salvation.

Christians have always faced ridicule and persecution for believing in Christ. The Man of Sorrows isn’t all that popular among those who worship the gods of power or money or self.  One doesn’t have to look very far to find the scoffers and critics of Christian faith that Peter warns us about.  In the greater culture, believers are presented as being intolerant of others, or ignorant and uneducated because we stand for Christ and believe in the One True God.  We are scorned because we believe that truth is not a matter of opinion.

In some places Christians are put in jail or even killed for the sake of Jesus. The opponents of Jesus (Satan the adversary, our own sinful selves, and those who have not been transformed by the Gospel) fight hard to convince us to surrender to the enchantments of the world.  We are all tempted by the invitation to hedonism, to serve the god of self rather than to take up the Cross of Christ.  We sin constantly, every day.  Even so, the Good News is we belong to Christ.  We can’t make ourselves good or earn our way in.  We are only justified through the grace of God, by faith in Christ.  Through the water and the Word in our baptism, and through the hearing of the Gospel, He has named us, claimed us, and is coming back for us no matter what misery or what valleys of shadow we walk through in this world.  He brings us to repentance, forgives our sins, and delivers us from sin, death and evil.

We do not know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return, but He is coming back. It might be tomorrow or thousands of years from now. We might face Him at any time at the hour of our death.  Even so, our faith- which is a gift from God- is counted to us as righteousness. We can look forward to Jesus’ return and the remaking of the world with hope and confidence.  We know the world is getting crazier and scarier as time goes on, but we are not alone.  Our hope is in Jesus.

November 13, 2018- Jesus at the End of All Things- Matthew 24:1-14, Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:1-14 (ESV)

Christians have speculated on the events surrounding Jesus’ return ever since His ascension almost 2,000 years ago. Most scholars agree that Jesus made a clear reference to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD here in verses 1 and 2.

There are thousands, perhaps millions of people over the course of history who have tried to guess the date of end of time. The study of the end times is called eschatology. Almost all religions have some version of eschatology- because humans are curious and want to know when the end of the world is going to take place. People set dates and concoct all kinds of doom and gloom scenarios. We see the documentaries on the Science Channel or Discovery Channel on Nostradamus, or on what astronomers have to say about the life and death of the universe. However, from a Christian perspective we have no way to know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return and the end of the world as we know it. Most of what Jesus has to say about the end of days is found in Matthew 24-25.

Unlike many other Christian sects, Lutherans generally don’t spend much time with speculative eschatology. We focus on what Jesus specifically tells us in the Bible about His return. We do know that the times and world around us are not improving, and contrary to common wisdom the world has been becoming more and more soaked in sin and its effects since the Fall. While creation was made very good, it awaits the final restoration and redemption (Romans 8:18-25.) Like it or not, as it is now, this world and everything in it is temporary and subject to the effects of entropy, decay and death. We live in the now, but not yet.

The important thing to remember is that even though we go through hardship and suffering in this life and Jesus warns us that it’s going to get worse before it gets better, is that Jesus is with us through all the trials and temptations and He will see us through them, clear up until and beyond the great day of His return. We don’t know if it will be tomorrow or five thousand years from now. All we do know is that Jesus has told us to be ready for that day.

We who have faith in Jesus have been given an assignment of sorts that goes along with our vocations (vocation meaning the roles in life in which we find ourselves, i.e. employees, spouses, parents, children, etc.) As we go through our lives and anticipate Jesus’ return He gives us the Great Commission:

(Jesus said) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

In JRR Tolkien’s beautiful trilogy The Lord of the Rings, he tells a story of a quest to return the One Ring (that was evil) to be destroyed in the mountain in which it was forged. For those familiar with the story, Frodo had a faithful companion, Sam, who was with him from the beginning of the quest until the moment in which the One Ring was returned to the fire in Mount Doom. Just before the end of that quest Frodo says to Sam, “I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.” – JRR Tolkien from The Return of the King.

While JRR Tolkien was a Christian and he makes many good references to redemptive themes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, we have even more hope than the people of Middle Earth in Tolkien’s fiction that Jesus will be with us at the end of all things.

May we have joy and be glad that Jesus is with us, now and at the end of all things- because in Him there is no end.