Won't Get Fooled Again
One of the grandkids is trained to respond to the countdown 3-2-1. Since NASA launches have been televised, we all are. The Church Year does this by having the Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year, the Second-Last, and the Last. The trouble is that countdowns build anticipation and can lead to jumping at the wrong thing. Well, in the words of The Who's 1971 song, we "Won't get fooled Again."
No, we won't get fooled again into waiting for, expecting a worldly calamity to signal it's time to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ. From the mass shooting over 50 years ago at the UT tower, to Columbine, to Sandy Hook, to Las Vegas, to just last week, we won't get fooled into thinking this is a sign from God. All such tragedies whether they are man-made, devil-driven, or the very hand of God mixing a hurricane, shaking the earth, or spinning a tornado, are not specific warnings from God about the end.
Take our text. This is Jesus speaking to the newborn New Testament Church in Jerusalem. This is not a cryptic warning to us about the end. O principles can be taken about Jesus' warning of the fall of Jerusalem and applied to the end of the world, but the abomination that causes desolation took its stand in 70 A.D. How can I be so sure? Jesus Himself says it's a warning to those "who are in Judea." Is that you? And if the end of the world is in view, what good would fleeing anywhere in the world be?
Don't get fooled again. Quit thinking you will know the end is near because some great disaster, persecution, or crime will let you know. Jesus plainly says that the tragedy of Jerusalem's fall in 70 A.D. will "never be equaled again." Go home; read Josephus' account of it. The Jewish historian was 32 at the time of it. Read the Roman historian Tacitus account of it; he was 12 at the time. 3 historical events are a type, a picture of the End Times. The worldwide Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Fall of Jerusalem. The wrath and judgment of God are specifically said to be behind each one of them. That's what accounts for their ferocity; their being imprinted so deeply on the human psyche.
However, when Jesus warns what the times leading up to the end will be, He only uses the first two events. In Luke 17, Jesus says His Second Coming will be like the days of Noah and Sodom. Go back to Genesis and see it was as Jesus says. The people were eating and drinking, marrying, buying and selling, planting and building, until the very day the rain or fire fell from heaven and destroyed them all. The days were so pleasant, so upbeat that people laughed in the face of those warning God's judgment was near.
If you get fooled into thinking that you'll know Christ is on His way when calamity strikes, you will be moved to vigilance when a tragedy like last Sunday happens. But when nothing comes of it, you'll be lulled back to even deeper sleep. And you will be prone to looking for Jesus in all the wrong places. Like Elijah, you'll be looking for him in hurricanes, earthquakes, or firestorms, and He won't be there.at least not for you.'
Jesus, as true God, is omnipresent. There is nowhere that He is not, but He's not graciously present everywhere. And yes, Jesus promises to dwell within the Christian, but so do sin, death, and devil. What Jeremiah says is true of your heart too: "The heart is more deceitful than all else, desperately wicked, who can understand it?" What Jesus says of hearts is true of ours, "Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." What Paul says of his flesh is true of yours: "I know that in my flesh dwells no good thing."
Don't get fooled again. Don't get fooled by those churches, Christians, or false teachers who say you are to look for Christ "in the inner rooms." This is where in Matthew 6 Jesus directs us to go to pray. Yes, we do go to Jesus in prayer, but Jesus doesn't come to us. He comes to us in the Words He left us. In the Sacraments He commanded us to do: Baptize, Absolve, Commune. Jesus says if others direct you to find the return of Christ in the inner rooms, don't you dare take so much as a step toward believing that.
O but the people who tell you are so sure, so happy, so very much in communion with Christ. He does walk with them. He does talk with them. He tells them where to go and what to do just like when He walked this earth. Isn't that curious? They find more of Jesus the deeper they go inside of themselves. The quieter they become the louder they hear Jesus speak. And yet, they care nothing for His Word that says Baptism joins you to His death on the cross and His resurrected life. They care nothing for His Word that says, "Baptism also now saves us." They care nothing for His Word of Absolution though Jesus promises it has His Spirit and God's forgiveness in it. And why do people who point you to prayer to meet with Jesus, to hear what He has planned for you, care so little, if at all, for Communion which Jesus says is His Body and Blood, which Jesus says is to be celebrated to bring Him back to you?
Don't get fooled again. You're looking for Jesus in all the wrong places if you're looking for Him to appear to you in prayer or in miracles. Jesus says, "False Christ's and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles." Paul says that they come literally "in all power, and signs, and wonders false." The Egyptian magicians could turn sticks into snakes and water into blood. The servant-girl in Acts 16 really did have a spirit of divination. Jesus says that such miracles and signs will be so powerful that if possible they would deceive the elect.
The elect won't be deceived because they don't go by their feelings or thoughts but by the Words and Sacraments Jesus left them. These are not flashy or impressive. The words of Plato, Shakespeare, or a 60s rock group sound more impressive. And what modern medicine, let alone false prophets, can do is certainly more impressive than Water siting inert in a font or Bread and Wine on an altar.
And in just this way were people turned away from Jesus during His ministry. He was so plain, so ordinary. They knew His mother, father, sisters, brothers. He was from the backwater town of Nazareth. And look what became of Him? Crucified as a criminal, died humiliated, and buried in a borrowed tomb. But to the elect, His Words were Spirit and eternal life. To the elect, the preaching that the holy Christ was crucified to satisfy God's wrath against the whole world's sins, is the wisdom of God. To the elect, the Words of Christ, the Waters of Christ, the Body and Blood of Christ in Communion relieve guilt, quiet fears, pardon sins, and change everything.
Don't get fooled again into fearing you could miss Jesus' return. No one will, not unbelievers, atheists, skeptics, or fools. You can no more miss the Second Coming of Christ than you can miss cloud to cloud lightning that covers the sky above you. That's a heavenly illustration said Luther. Fitting since Christ told even His enemies that they would see Him returning on the clouds. But, said Luther, there is an earthly, homely illustration here too (Kretzmann, NT, 1, 188). "Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather." Can't get homelier than that, can you?
This is a good illustration. I have seen birds like owls or hawks, that prey on live things, get fooled. They dive down on something that wasn't there prey. I've never seen a vulture swoop down on something not dying, dead, or decaying. In fact, every rancher knows that if the buzzards are circling, he best go see what they have found. Hunters too, when they lose an animal in the darkness, look for vultures the next day.
Don't be fooled again. There's no way you will miss the Second Coming of Christ any more than vultures miss a dead animal. Surely, you've been amazed at how many vultures will gather around the smallest dead animal. I've been amazed how they find dead animals even in the middle of city neighborhoods.
This homely illustration is meant to comfort. It's meant to be an antidote to the Theology of Glory, and victory, and triumph that talks of how their awesome God is all around them micromanaging their lives. And you sit there unsure of what to do, not feeling a whole lot of love from Jesus, and not much day to day direction either. But look to what Jesus compares Himself? To a dead body that gathers a flock.
Don't misunderstand; Christ crucified is risen from the dead never to die again and He actively reigns and rules all things by His will, Word, and angels. But with Paul we preach Christ and Him crucified. With Paul, as often as we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we do proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. We gather around His Body and Blood as the little flock Jesus says we are in Luke 12. We gather as the remnant Paul says we are. We gather as Paul says we are: foolish things, weak things, base things, things that are nothing but redeemed, restored, forgiven.
The Who song "Won't Get Fooled Again" was about the turmoil then going on in society. Revolution was in the air. The song expresses concern for family, oppressive governments, and how revolution might not be the answer. And evidently it isn't for the song ends with, "Meet the new boss/ Same as the old boss." However, a repeated refrain in the face of troubled times is, "Then, I'll get on my knees and pray/ We don't get fooled again."
It's not by our wisdom, power, or determination that we won't get fooled again. No, we turn to Jesus as He tells us. We can take away from His words about the fall of Jerusalem the need for prayer. He says, "Pray that your flight not be in winter or on the Sabbath." Jerusalem fell in the summer, and the Christians fled the city beforehand (Schaff, History, 1, 402). Our Collect which Christians have been praying at the end of the Church Year for about 500 years (Reed, 544) puts being forgiven for our offenses and being delivered from the bonds of our sins on the Lord's bountiful goodness through Jesus Christ. And He's never been fooled even once. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year (20171112); Matthew 24: 15-28