Seeing the Signs
Miss a deer sign, and you might miss a deer. No big deal. Miss a street sign, and you miss your turn. Again no big deal. Miss a traffic sign, and it could be a big deal. Miss the signs the Lord gives, and it's a very big deal.
The first signs Jesus mentions are seen by all. They always have been. Solar and lunar eclipses are world-wide events. There are ancient references to them dating to 2000 B.C. There've been over 8000 total solar eclipses since then and many more partials. It's safe to say that every adult on earth has seen either a solar or lunar eclipse.
The same can be said about stars falling from the sky, or shooting stars, and the shaking of the heavenly bodies by a comet like Hale-Bopp that suddenly blazes across the formerly stable sky. Look in history; see how the ancients noted such stellar events as signs of something big. Of course, we educated, scientifically oriented people, just smile at a person in history or an uneducated person now regarding a shooting star or a passing comet as a sign of anything. That's nothing but silly superstition, right? We know what shooting stars really are. We know that comets don't just appear out of nowhere.
But who really is the fool? The one who doesn't know the how or where of something but knows it means something, or the one who because he knows the how or where of something is sure it can't mean anything? In Luke's account of Jesus' words Jesus explicitly says that there "will be signs in sun and moon and stars." If we had paid attention to our Bible we wouldn't even need for Jesus to tell us this because in Genesis 1:14 we hear God saying, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years."
But these great signs mean nothing to us. Jesus says eclipses, shooting stars, and passing comets are signs of His return, but to us they are just neat stellar phenomena. Because they happen so frequently, because they can be explained scientifically, we take them for granted and for anything but divine signs of our Lord's return.
All see these signs writ large across the sky, but for most they mean nothing. There are other signs that only Christians see. At the same time, says Jesus in our text, as these heavenly signs are being given to all some will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. Don't tell me you don't see this? Don't tell me you don't know that the Lord Jesus is always coming to His Church? One of His official titles in Scripture is The Coming One. Don't tell me you didn't hear Him promise, "Lo I am with you always even to the end of the age?" Or, "Wherever 2 or 3 gather in My name there am I in the midst of them?"
You can only see this sign if you believe what the Scriptures say about the work of Christ. It is finished. His time of weakness and humility is over and done. His time of not always using His divine powers as a man is finished. He went through that time so He could take your place under the laws of God keeping them all. He humbled Himself and didn't use His divine power so He could be tortured and killed in your place, for your sins. Being God in flesh and blood, there was no way He could've suffered, let alone died, unless He didn't use His divine power and glory.
But as I said, that's over and done with. Since Jesus was raised from the dead He uses all His divine power and glory and all things are ready for Him to return and end the world. Easter Sunday introduced the last days, the end of days, the time of the end. That's why Peter declared 50 days later that the last days had begun then, and why Paul writing to the Corinthians can tell them that the end of the ages had come upon them. Right now is the time when Jesus can be seen coming in power and glory but only to the eyes of faith.
Unbelief doesn't see Jesus coming in Baptism at all. That's just simple water only. Unbelief doesn't see Jesus coming in the Words of Absolution. That's just nonsense to believe my words can actually forgive your sins. Unbelief doesn't see Jesus coming in Communion. That's just bread and wine. Faith sees Jesus coming in all 3 because Jesus says He does, but where's the power and glory? What do you mean where's the power and glory? Don't you see it? Is not Baptism holy? Do you not bow your head at the words of Absolution and before the Real Presence of Jesus at the Holy Communion? Don't tell me you don't see the power and the glory!
But you err if you think the seeing of the Son of Man coming now is the end of the world. It's surely a sign, but not the end. How can I be so sure? Because in the other places that cover the Last Day the Lord doesn't only send His angels to gather His elect. No, He sends other angels to gather the unbelievers for judgment. This isn't the end of the world here. This is the sending out of His gospel messengers. The Greek word angelos means "messenger." Our word angel doesn't translate it but transliterates the Greek letters into English ones.
Once Jesus arose from the dead, victorious over your sins, over your death, and over all the devils that plague you, Jesus sent His messengers out into the world to gather His elect. While Jesus was humbling Himself not using His divine powers as a man, He only sent His messengers to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Only after His resurrection did Jesus specifically send them into all the nations. This is going on today. It has been going on all over the world for millennia every time the Words of forgiveness, life, and salvation are spoken to a damned, dead, sinner and he or she believes it. Right then and there the Lord Jesus' messenger is gathering His elect.
Can you see all this? Can you see that eclipses, shooting stars, and passing comets are signs to remind you of your Lord's return? Can you see Baptism, Absolution, and Communion are signs that the Son of Man comes now to sinners like us? Can you see Gospel messengers are His angels gathering the elect before the end? Well, if you can see all that, now see this. The all powerful, Lord Jesus is as near as summer is on a May Day in Texas. He's as near as the other side of a closed door.
Jesus says the signs of His imminent return are as plain as those of summer. The fig tree is a sure sign of summer in Palestine. Other trees may bud too soon and be caught by a late spring freeze. Not so the fig. It's like our pecan. You know when you see it bud and leaf that summer is near. Have you ever known anyone that didn't know a leafing tree was a sign of summer? Jesus says His return should be as evident to you as summer is on a late spring day as you stand before a leafed out tree.
And every generation that has ever lived since our Lord's first coming has gotten all these signs. Every generation has seen the eclipses, the shooting stars, the passing comets, and the preaching of the Gospel gathering the elect. Every generation gets all the warning signs that eternity will soon break in on the everyday, the created order is ending; the heavens and the earth are passing away. Every generation gets all the signs before the Judge opens the door and calls them to appear before His judgment throne. It's important you see that all the skeptics in the world, all the unbelief in the world, all the scientific certainty in the world is not going to stop this generation and every one after it from passing into judgment. But there's something even more important than this for you to see.
The sun, the moon and the stars that the Lord placed here for signs, these heavenly bodies that science confidently tells you have 5 billion more years to go, will not endure. This earth that we stand on, this earth that we build tall buildings, huge manufacturing plants, and our very lives on does not, will not, and cannot endure. I know you think sun, moon, stars, and earth endure. I know you believe that the expression, "As sure as the sun will come up tomorrow," accurately expresses certainty and that "higher than the stars above" means a height that will never be surpassed. But the stars are falling now and on some tomorrow the sun is not going to come up at all. Stop looking at these things as certain, sure, reliable, and trustworthy, so that you may see what really is. It's the very thing you think uncertain, unsure, unreliable, and passing. Jesus' words.
We've got it all backwards. The world we see, touch, and rely on to always be there Jesus promises won't be. His Words that we think no more enduring than our own last forever. Jesus says, no Jesus promises, that the Words of His I speak into your ears, the Words of His that you have been washed with, the Words of His that I feed you with, the Words that seem to pass away before you even get to the parking lot really in fact endure forever. That why these words are to be heard, to be studied, to be trusted more than anything you see, feel, or think.
The words of a copyright on a song in England pass away after 50 years. The words of a patent on a new drug pass away after a few years. The words giving you rights to a piece of property pass away at your death. The Words of Jesus never pass away. If you live to be a 150, the Words of your Baptism telling you that you've been baptized into the Triune God remain true. When Satan asserts your sins are too many or serious to be forgiven, his words die as soon as they are spoken. The Words of your Absolution echo for eternity. Even at death when your heart stops beating, Jesus Words to you, "This is My Body and Blood for life and salvation" don't stop. They are true for eternity. Truer than death itself.
Don't miss the signs; particularly see those indicating this world doesn't endure, Jesus is here now, He's about to step visibly through the door, and that His words endure forever. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
2nd Last Sunday in the Church Year (20061119) Mark 13: 24-31