This Time It's Personal
"This time it's personal" is the tagline for the 1987 movie Jaws 4. It can be for out text too, but how? This text was found in the appointed Historic readings. It was followed by the Western Medevial Church, by Luther in the 16th century, and by American Lutherans till 1978. Then only one of the 3-year series retained it. Lutheran Service Book in 2006 dropped it altogether, and I know why. What does the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. have to do with Christians today? How is that personal?
We have a mounting conviction, contrary to Barry McGuire's song in 1965, that we are "on the eve of destruction." Look that song up. It has youth rebellion, anti-war, trouble in the Mid-East, WMD, political upheaval, and racism. The point of the song is don't tell me we're not on the eve of destruction given all these things going on. It sure looked and felt that way then and what about now? Hands are thrown up in protest, in violence, in despair. It feels like what Jesus describes: "Then there will be great distress unequalled from the beginning of the world till now" Look about you: don't tell me we're not on the eve of destruction.
Being on edge like this emotionally, physically, leaves you open to spiritual maladies. Jesus says to those facing the end of Jerusalem, "False Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles." The 1st century Christians were threatened by the first death. When the abomination of desolation Daniel prophesied appeared, they would know it's upon them. Matthew writing for Jews leaves it at that. Luke writing for Gentiles explains the figure: "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near" (Luke 21:20). The first death will be so imminent if you're outside don't go back inside; if you've forgotten your coat, leave it. It will be especially difficult for those with child or nursing, and harder for everyone if it's in winter or on a Sabbath Day rest.
But the first death is not the real threat. The Second Death is. That's the spiritual assault which tells you to find your Jesus anywhere but where He has promised to meet you. He's here at this spot in the wilderness or there in your inner thoughts. There is Christ. Not in Baptism that looks like plain water. Not in the same old words that forgive your sins. Not in Bread and Wine that looks no more than that. That's the real danger those 1st century Christians were up against. Not the First Death that no one can avoid or miss, but the Second Death which God took on flesh and blood so that no one has to die it. The Second Death is the big threat not death from the Romans or from civil unrest today. The Second Death not death by disease, tragedy, climate change, or Big Government, is the big threat. This time it's personal. Jesus makes it so saying, "See I have told you ahead of time."
You yourself may be on the eve of destruction from any number of physical threats, but it's not the end of the world. As another song has it: It may be "the end of the world as you know it," but it's not the end of the world. The text shows you this. If it's about the end of the world, it wouldn't matter if you went back to get your coat or not. This text is specifically about the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. This event is recorded in secular and church histories. You'll find in these accounts that Christians did heed Jesus' words to flee. Listen to 4th century church historian Eusebius: "But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelationto leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella. And when those that believed in Christ had come there from Jerusalem, then,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" (III, V, 3).
And what does Jesus say about that time? "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be." Go to Luke 17. Here Jesus says that the end of the world will be just like the days of Noah and Lot. People will be eating and drinking, marrying, buying and selling, planning and building till the very end happens. The days of Noah and Lot were marked by spiritual upheaval not physical. By problems with sexuality, LGBTQ-ism, and materialism. But physically: it was boon times. It was a great time to be alive and both Noah and Lot who preached a righteousness, a holiness, a salvation only in the Promised Seed, Christ, were hated for the message that put a priority on the spiritual not the physical.
I'm telling you this time may be your physical end whether from age, disease, accident, or tragedy. I don't know. The Lord hasn't revealed that to me. What He has revealed is this is not the spiritual end for anyone in Christ. The Blood of Christ has not dried up for you. It still is forgiving and lifegiving because it's the Blood of God. Your sins and sinfulness though they are brought to the surface by physical upheavals in the world, don't have to burden your conscience. You confess them and see them on sinless Jesus who carried them away along with the sins of the world. No matter that the Devil, the World, and your own Flesh mean evil for you, God for Jesus' sake only means good and only works good even in the evil. You with David who was hounded by physical threats and spiritual enemies can still proclaim: "I will lie down and sleep in peace, for Thou alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety" (Ps. 4:8).
You might be on the eve of your physical destruction, but not spiritual. And that's not the end of the world. Furthermore, you need not have FOMO in regard to it. FOMO, says Merriam-Webster, was first used as acronym for Fear Of Missing Out in 2004. Well, you won't miss the end of the world if you're still in this world. Jesus reassures 1st century Christians that the fall of Jerusalem isn't the end of the world and they'll know when that is. Jesus return brings the end of the world. And His Second Coming is not like His First. That one was only made known to a select few, and apart from the angels singing to shepherds it was easily missed because like Harry Chapin sang, "He came into the world in the usual way." In fact, Jesus came in a humbler way: conceived out of wedlock by the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary, delivered in a stable, bedded in a feeding trough. The Second Coming will not be a like a single bolt of lightening that you see and say, "Did you see that?" No, Jesus says, His Second Coming will be like cloud to cloud lightening everybody under the heavens sees.
The word "coming" is the Greek parousia. Already in 1781, Merriam-Webster tells us, this was a technical term for the Second Coming of Christ. It's still used that way today. Well, the first definition of parousia in a Greek dictionary is "presence." The Second Coming is really the revealing of the Jesus who has been here all along. Did not He promise us He will be with us always even unto the end of the ages (Matthew 28:20)? You hear Apocalypse and you think it refers to the terrible physical things happening at the end of the world and the persecution of those who confess Christ. The Greek word apokalypsis means uncovering, unveiling. You see? The return of Christ at the end of days uncovers the fact that He's always been here. But you knew that? Daily when you remembered your Baptism, you were clothed with Him and His righteousness. When you confessed your sins and heard a spoken absolution, whose voice do you think it was forgiving you of what you're afraid of? Who but Jesus? And has Jesus ever failed to be on earth in Holy Communion with His true Body and Blood? Nobody will miss the Second Coming of Jesus least of all those who rejoice in His First.
There have always been "times like these" when things feel uncertain and danger lurks everywhere. What is different, to me anyway, is these times can be drilled into your very brain by the digital. C.S. Lewis portrays the Devil in Perelandra as working on the brain of a Christian by simple persistence. He remains in the man's space and time just repeating his name over and over and over. This unnerves him, disorients him, makes him afraid. This is what leads to being open to secret or hidden revelation. I need something more than the same old Scripture, my stagnant Waters of Baptism, and a Lord whose physical presence is only known in the Breaking of Bread.
On my last two Sundays off I went to a charismatic church, two different ones belonging to the same parachurch organization. They aren't your holy rolling, babel speaking obvious Pentecostals. It would be better if they were because you're recognize that ain't us. No, they're of the Joel Osteen variety, but make no mistakes their Confession of Faith posted on their web sites, their worship, and revelation are Pentecostal. God speaks to them. God shows them. The Spirit moves them directly. And they are actually doing things to combat the social justice issues of our day. The first "sermon" was about racism and the second was about human trafficking. These are what you need to be involved in if you really wanted to be about Jesus. Here's where you meet Jesus and be Jesus to people. Start a business with a minority person. Your mission was to bring heaven on earth. This fits with their confession that Baptism and Communion are things you do for God. (See my blog when posted "Antioch Community Church" for citation). It was personal, but it was about what you as a person are to do for Jesus.
Well, aren't racism and human trafficking a problem? To be sure, and Christians are moved to work against them, but so are literally hundreds of other groups. And so are hundreds of groups telling you how to stay safe physically, and they are making that very personal. Do this, this and that. And that's fine. That's what Public Health officials and the medical community is suppose to do, but only the Church and Her people can tell how to personally stay safe from the Second Death. And it's not by running hither and thither to find a hidden Jesus. He's as easy for sinners to find as vultures find a carcass. The odor of death attracts vultures; the odor of forgiveness, life, and salvation attracts us personally. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year (20201108); Matthew 24:15-28