Signs of His Time
To many the shootings at Fort Hood are "a sign of the times," so is the financial meltdown, the swine flu, and oil prices. Signs are tricky things. They don't exist for their own sake, but to point to something else. If you stop at a sign, you'll never get to where or what it points to. Jesus sets before us signs, but we miss their point unless we see that they are really signs of His time.
We're in Mark chapter 13. Last week we read 1-13; this week 24-31; next week we'll finish the chapter and the Church Year reading 32-37. We skip over 14-23. That's where Jesus foretells the fall of Jerusalem that was to happen in 70 AD. The skipped over information helps us understand the signs Jesus points us to. It lets us know these signs have been here for almost 2 thousand years. Jesus prediction' of Jerusalem's fall ends in the verse before our text. Then Jesus says, "But in those days, following that distress, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, etc'" Signs of Jesus' return have been right before our eyes ever since the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Wait a minute. You're telling me there were no solar or lunar eclipses till 70 AD? You're saying that no one recorded a shooting star or a special celestial event like a comet or a supernova? Of course not, there are Greek, Persian, Egyptian records of all of these. But they weren't signs till the Word of God made them so. That's probably how it was for the rainbow. Not until the Lord points Noah to it as a sign that He will never again destroy the earth by water was it anything more than pretty. The same is true of circumcision and sprinkling people with water. These rites existed in other than Jewish and Christian cultures. But not until the Word of God was added to them did they become signs.
And what do we do with these signs? We stop at them. We look no farther than the darkened sun or moon; we see nothing more than an oooh or ahh when we spy a shooting star. We think no deeper than how heavenly bodies get in each other's way to produce an eclipse and how a shooting star is really just a piece of rock burning up in earth's atmosphere. These signs don't herald the Lord's return for us; they don't remind us to take heed, take stock, take hold of something permanent because all of this is going to end. These things aren't signs for us because we don't follow them anywhere.
Shame on us; no not shame, sin, unbelief, rejection of the Words Jesus gives us, of the signs He left us writ large in the sky. But rejection of His signs is itself a sign. Jesus says, "I tell you the truth this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." "All these things" includes not just eclipses and shooting stars but the coming of the Son of Man in clouds. So how can this be? The generation Jesus spoke to in our text is long dead and Jesus hasn't returned.
Jesus is still speaking. We stand for the Gospel reading as you would in the presence of a king when he is speaking because our King speaks here and now today. Jesus speaks today of "this generation" so it's still around today. Jesus speaks of "this generation" 9 times in Luke, and it always denotes an unbelieving portion of humanity. "This generation" is the continuous line of unbelievers that has existed since Cain and will continue to exist till Jesus returns. There will always be men and women who see eclipses as nothing more than neat and stars falling from the sky as nothing more than cool. There will always be men and women who see celestial events as pointing to nothing divine, holy, important, or eternal. So as Peter urged the crowd on the first Pentecost I urge you, "Be saved from this crooked generation." Crooked in what sense? In the sense that man is born curved in on himself. Apart from God's grace he can't see a sign as pointing to anything beyond himself.
The generation of men curved in on themselves lasts until Jesus returns. They are a sign that He hasn't returned yet because when Jesus returns "every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord." Nobody will be able to reject, ignore, or miss Jesus when He comes in clouds with great power and glory. But now, when Jesus operates using "ordinary" things in the sky or "ordinary" water, words, Bread and Wine, anyone can and all do naturally miss, ignore, reject Him.
Though ignored by most, the signs Jesus has left us indicate that nothing in this created order will last. People use expressions like "as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow," and "till the stars fall from the sky" to indicate permanence. Jesus uses eclipses and shooting stars as signs that this created world isn't certain, isn't eternal. Every year He puts signs in the sky saying, "This isn't going to last." "Don't trust in this." "Don't rely on this." "This is going to let you down."
What's the one thing in this created order that Jesus says is going to last? "My words will never pass away." His words of law, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and your neighbor as yourself" will always expose our sins, will always make us guilty before God. His Words that anyone who even looks at women to lust or is just angry with another is guilty of adultery or murder will always show men to be fallen sinners unworthy of heaven and worthy of judgment. His words of Law rob anyone of ever being able to say, "How could God let this or that happen?" Or, "Why did this happen to me?" because what pain, what sorrow, what hardship have we ever gotten that our sins didn't deserve?
But the words of the Law aren't the only words that shall never pass away. The word of the Gospel doesn't either. It "bespeaks us righteous," forgiven, holy in His sight. The word of the Gospel is that the mercy of the Lord endures forever and His grace for a thousand generations. Once the Law has pronounced you guilty, damned, and deserving of temporal and eternal judgment; once it has convinced you that you are unsaveable. Be done with it. The Law is for the crooked generation that doesn't see or care about its sins. The Gospel that forgives in Jesus' name is for the sinner that knows he or she can't stand before God in his or her own merits.
The signs posted in the sky and in the hearts of men by the eternal Word are to be like the budding of trees in spring. They're the first sign that summer is on the way. Jesus says eclipses and stellar events "indicate that it is near." "It" is the return of the Son of Man. Jesus says He comes in clouds with great power and glory and He sends His angels to gather His elect from every nook and cranny on earth. How Daniel described the Ancient of Days is similar to how John saw the Son of Man in Revelation. Think not of the Son of Man who had nowhere to lay His head, or of who was rejected, ridiculed, tortured and crucified. Think not of how even now men feel free to reject such a miserably weak Savior. That's not how Jesus, the Son of Man, returns. No longer will He be hidden in Baptismal water, Communion Elements, or the weak words of a pastor.
At His return, Jesus, the Son of Man, shows all of His glory, power, and might, and men and women who have not loved His appearing will be so terrified they will call out "to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb." They will call to the mountains, the great big permanent mountains to hide them but guess what? Revelation 16:20 says, "And the mountains were no more."
The only way the Second Coming of the Son of Man can be a thing to be looked forward to and even longed for is if you saw Him the first time. If His humiliation, weakness, suffering, sighing, crying and dying were done for you. If all that He did and suffered you see as being done in your place. If all that He got at the hands of men and God you see as rightly deserved by you. You didn't just deserve hardship, heartache, and health issues. It should have been you beaten, tortured, whipped and nailed. Your sins earned you that, and your unbelief deserved it. Yet, Jesus, the Son of Man, having done nothing to deserve anything like that got what you earned and deserved to pay for your sins. Having paid for your sins in full the first time, Jesus doesn't return a second time as a bill collector.
Therefore let the sun be darkened, let the moon not give it's light, and let the stars fall from the sky. All these are signs, that the Son of Man who redeemed me, saved me, purchased me from sin, from death, and from the power of the Devil is returning to pick up His purchase. His angels will not miss me even though I be hidden under weakness, sickness, fears, and worries. I've been sealed, I've been signed by the cross in Baptism and by the Body and Blood of the Son of Man given me in Communion.
Let this Gospel reality change Jesus' words that the Son of Man "is at the door" from ominous to promise. If you have a dog and you're the one he follows around, go somewhere where there's a room that dog has never been in before. Go in and close the dog out. Your dog will scratch and whine to get in. Now that dog doesn't know all that is behind that door. All he knows is his master, his friend, the one who loves him, feeds him, and cares for him is there.
See that eclipse, that falling star, even the ongoing rejection of Jesus as signs of His time (singular). They are signs that the Son of Man, your Lord, Savior, Redeemer, and Friend is no more than a door thickness away from returning to get you. How happy, how excited, how relieved is your dog when you open the door and let him come with you? Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The 2nd Last Sunday in the Church Year (20091115); Mark 13: 24-31