Hope Outdoes Optimism

12.2.18 Advent 1

Capture

Luke 21:25-36

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

 

 

Which one is a stronger description: you are a hopeful person, or you are an optimistic person;  “I hope it doesn’t snow today,” or “I am optimistic it will not snow today”?  The ideas are certainly similar – both are looking for a favorable future, both are on the positive side of the spectrum – but there is a difference. Doesn’t the one who says, “I am an optimistic person,” or “I am optimistic it won’t snow today,” convey a bit more confidence?

The way these two words are used nowadays optimism is an ongoing trait, which describes how you carry yourself.  It tells someone how you are going to react in most if not all situations.  An optimistic person is always going to have a glint in their eye and a bounce in their step.  But the way we use hope makes it seem a little less confident, a little less cheerful.  The person who says, “I hope it doesn’t snow today” is almost telling us, “but it probably will, if not today then soon.”

In Scripture, “hope” is actually more certain and more confident than that, because of what it is connected to.  It’s not a whimsical wish for something good to happen – possibly, potentially, maybe.  Hope is connected to the promises of God, promises that the holy and perfect God can never break.  And so we have a lot more that optimism for our future.  We have hope – certain hope, confident hope – because our hope is connected to the promises of God.

And one of Jesus’ promises is that he is coming back.  That’s what Jesus is referring to in this section from Luke 21.  Like I said at the beginning of the service today, Advent points us to the coming of Christ.  It’s is going to happen, and it’s going to happen soon.  Now, I’m not making any predictions, that would be utter foolishness because Jesus has not told us when he is coming back.  But he has told us the kind of things, or signs, that will be happening before he comes back.  Earlier in this chapter he speaks of some: “Nations will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom.  There will be great earthquakes, famines, and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.”  Does that sound like the kind of stuff we experience now?  And then, we hear what Jesus tells us in the reading for today: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.  And then Jesus tells this little parable about trees. “When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.”

When you look around at our world right now, what season does it look like to you?  Doesn’t it sound a lot like Jesus’ return is not too far off?  Doesn’t it sound like it’s a good time be ready for him?

But how many of us are living that way?  How many of us are standing up above all the negative voices?  How many of us are lifting our heads away from all the carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life that Jesus mentions?  How many of us are readying ourselves for Christ and always on the watch for him?

Or do you have one (or a few) of those long lists.  You know the ones.  They’re all the things that you need to do to get ready for Christmas celebrations.  They’re all the people you need to buy for.  They’re all the cards you need to send.  They’re all the gifts you need to get.  They’re all the things at work.  On and on they go.   All the over-indulgence in this world, is that going to help you?  Do you really think happiness can be found and kept when it’s all about gratifying all my desires and finishing off all my lists, or when it’s time spent drowning all the stress and sorrows away?

When all these things are happening around you, when they are even happening in your life, do you know where that leads?  Jesus says, “Your hearts are weighed down…and [you are stuck in a trap].”  Boy, I look around at our world and I see people who are trying to balance a lot.  Some of the things may even be good things, helpful things, but the things of this world, the anxieties of this life are a weight that is too heavy to handle.  I fail to keep my head constantly up to listen to Christ, my Lord, and look for his coming.  Other voices become noisier and draw my gaze.  Hardships that are intended to get my eyes off myself and off of this world and direct me to full reliance on Jesus become overwhelming and weigh me down.  How about you?

Jesus says that it’s going to be like that all the way up to his return.  “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”  What he’s saying is that the type of people who are distracted and weighed down will always be around.  The type of people who reject Jesus and yearn for the desires of their own making will always fill this world until he comes back.

Hearing these kinds of promises, you can help but ask, “How am I supposed to be filled with hope, how am I supposed to be confident and ready, when there is so much going on to crush my God-given hope?”

Well, Jesus has a promise for you who are weighed down.  Jesus has a promise for you who are troubled and hurting.  Jesus has a promise for you and you and every single person who is looking for hope. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

When you are feeling lost and alone, this is what Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me and I lay down my life for the sheep…only to take it up again.”  You have a shepherd who knows you, knows how to find you, knows how to rescue you, knows how to make you safe for eternity.

When you are struggling in the storm, this is what Jesus says: “Take courage!  It is I. Don’t be afraid.”  And to the storm: “Quiet! Be still!” and the storm has to listen.

When you are in the darkness of despair and depression, this is what Jesus says: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

When you are stuck, when you are negative, when you have nowhere to turn, no fix that works, when you are at a loss thinking your situation is absolutely impossible, this is what Jesus says: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

When death is closing in on you and you know that you won’t get better, this is what Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.

Should I keep going?  None of these promises, not one of the passages inspired and written by our God in the Bible will ever be broken.  You have that promise from your Lord and Savior.

Well, maybe just one more.  You know all those sins that haunt you?  You know all the stories that you have about carousing and drunkenness and when anxiety won you over and weighed your heart down?  Jesus had something to say about all those sins and the payment that God demands for each and every one of your sins and mine.  Jesus had a final word about the task of accomplishing our forgiveness and making the payment once for all.  He said, “It is finished.”  Yeah, those words will never pass away.

These promises from Jesus give us real hope, not the possibly, potentially, maybe kind of hope, but the God-given, certain, sure, confident hope that can never be undone.  That’s what Christ has given us.

The line between those who have this hope from Jesus and those who do not is enormous.  Jesus describes what the difference will be when he returns.  For those who don’t have his kind of hope, they will faint from terror.  They will be in anguish and perplexity at what is happening, having no clue what to do to escape it.  Those who don’t faint will look for a place to hide to no avail.  But to those who have hope from Jesus, those who believe in his promises? Different story!  Jesus says, “When you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.  Believers do not hide.  We stand up and lift our heads without fear because our redemption is drawing near.  The Savior who promises to prepare a place for us in his heavenly home is making good on that promise, so we rejoice and will forever in heaven.

With that kind of hope we have a new attitude and a new mission.  “Be careful,” Jesus says.  Literally, “watch yourselves.”  Know what you are up against.  Acknowledge the temptations that the devil uses, which ones are especially hard for you, and flee from them.  Flee from evil and run back to the promises of your Savior in his Word and sacrament.  Keep the things that sustain your faith close to you.

“Be always on the watch,” Jesus says.  Literally, “don’t sleep.”  Be like a guard on the night watch, like Ben Stiller in those Night at the Museum movies.  Don’t let anything from the passing days and years lull you to sleep.  Stay active. Be a part of the God’s mission team to reach more for Christ.  Get involved.

“Pray,” he says.  What a gift we have to talk to the Lord of heaven and earth! Be bold with God.  Present your requests in faith and trust his answers because he will give you everything you need so that on the Last Day “you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” in joy and praise for all that he has done for you.

When he comes again, Jesus will not be little, tiny, helpless baby.  He will not even be meek and humbled as he suffered and died.  “The Son of Man will come in a cloud with power and great glory.” What a day that will be.  But it’s not here yet.  We live in this in between time, after Christ came as the baby of Bethlehem but before Christ returns as the great and glorious Judge.  That means there is suffering, there is pain, and there is strife, even for and sometimes especially for believers.  But with the promises of God we are able to endure, to persevere, to patiently wait, to live joyously, to carry out the mission God has given us.  God has given us something more that optimism.  We have his hope.  Amen.   

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GOD’S GOT THIS

Week 7 – 7.23.17

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John 11:23-27

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

 

Our church body has a publisher called, Northwestern Publishing House.  There are so many resources that it produces for people who want help studying God’s Word and growing in faith.  One of the great resources is a series of books known as the People’s Bible Teachings. Each book in the series addresses a doctrine of the Bible and talks about it in terms that everyone can understand. They’re great books – we have a few in the church library for anyone to check out. All the books are short and simple, except the one titled End Times. This one is twice as long.

When you think about the questions people have about the end of the world, it isn’t really that surprising. When? Where? How? What happens next? There’s a mystery to the end of the world that captures interest. Because of that, many people, even churchgoers and theologians, make their own guesses and interpretations of just what The End will bring. But we’re Lutherans, and if you have picked up on anything during the last 7 weeks, I pray it has been that we stand on this really solid, unshakable ground called, The Holy Scriptures.

Today we want to hear what God says about the Last Day. Now, there’s no way we’ll cover every angle or answer every question. That’s the reason we have Bible study and I encourage you all to follow a Bible reading plan at home. But while we might not be able to get to all the details, there’s one overarching truth that binds them all together: God’s Got This!

Part 1. God’s Got Rescue Waiting for His People

The Bible calls the time of the world from Christ’s Ascension until the end as the “End Times” and “Last Days.” We’re living in them. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul described these days. “Mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5a).

In Matthew 24 Jesus describes the End Times as being filled with wars and rumors of war. Famines, earthquakes, persecution of believers and false prophets. A time when the love of most will grow cold.  But Jesus also says that this time of rampant sin and persecution will come to an end. He said, “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”

This is the first thing we need to remember about the End Times and the Last Day. Even as our world gets dimmer and darker in sin, God is patiently waiting for his elect. We wonder sometimes why God allows the world to continue, but here is our answer. Imagine a bridge under attack from an advancing army in World War II. The bridge is wired to explode and you have the detonator but there you still have fellow soldiers coming across. Don’t you wait as long as you can until those soldiers are safe before you blow the bridge and cut off the enemy? That’s what God is doing now. He’s waiting, patiently, so that more souls might hear the gospel of Jesus and be rescued for eternity. We have to get it out of our minds that the Last Day is all about judgment. For believers in Jesus Christ, that day is about rescue.

Jesus assures us that the gospel will be preached and spread throughout the whole world to all nations. Satan can rage all he wants, but he cannot be stop God’s plan because he is defeated. Christ crushed Satan’s head on Good Friday and remains in absolute control at God’s right hand. He is using and guiding even all of the evil in the world in such a way that it serves for the good of those who believe in him. As just one evidence of that, look at how many people are here to listen to God’s Word today. In a world where love grows cold, God’s people still gather around his Word.  God’s Got This!

Part 2. God’s Got the End of Our Lives in His Hands

The Bible says that some Christians will still be around to see and experience the End, and it tells us to be ready for it at any time. However, if it works out for us like it has for the vast majority of Christians, we will experience our own personal end before The End. The Bible describes the end of our lives as a temporary separation of body and soul, two things God designed to be united forever. When we die our sinful bodies return to the ground from which mankind first came. Whether we’re embalmed and buried, cremated, or lost at sea our bodies eventually return to dust. But don’t think this is your end. At the moment of death our souls stand before God. The soul who knows Christ as Savior and Lord enters heaven forever. The soul who doesn’t, faces eternal fire in hell. Remember the thief on the cross next to Christ? Jesus told him, “I tell you, TODAY you will be with me in paradise.” One moment we suffer in this world. The next we are with Christ forevermore in paradise. When a believer dies, the Bible helps us understand that God’s Got it all under his control.  It is proper to say they are with him right now, and you can look forward to the same.

That’s really the focus of Jesus’ words here in John 11. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” As believers we don’t fear death because we will never actually experience it. Yes, our bodies will, but we are more than our bodies. By his victory over death on Easter, Jesus made death serve his purpose. It is the tool that God uses to bring his children home. The time between our lives on earth and our lives in heaven will be so seamless that each of us can honestly say, “In Christ, I will never die.”

Part 3. God’s Got Judgment Day All Sorted Out

So if our souls are already in heaven, then what is the Last Day all about? There are many Christians today that have turned the Bible’s teaching about Judgment Day into something very complex and confusing. They look for a rapture when believers will be taken away bodily into heaven. Or they expect a special time of tribulation or multiple returns of Jesus from heaven. Some expect a thousand years of peace on earth with the true church ruling in glorious power. Trying to make sense of all the different ideas  that are out there is enough to make a person dizzy.

But what the Bible actually says is much more straightforward. The Bible says that the Day is coming soon, though we don’t know specifically, when Jesus will appear in the clouds with the trumpet blasts of angels in a manner so powerful and glorious that he will be seen all around the world. The Bible says the angels will gather all the believers and separate them from the unbelievers. On the Last Day the dead will rise, both believers and unbelievers. Bodies will be reunited with souls. Believers who are still alive will be reunited with believers from the past and we will all be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord. The bodies of all believers will be transformed in an instant into glorious bodies that are ready for the perfection of heaven.

The unbelievers raised on the Last Day will stand with unbelievers living at the time and there will be a final judgment of all people, the living and the dead. Remarkably, the Bible says that believers, in addition to being judged themselves, will also participate with God in the judgment in some way.

And on the Last Day there will be a literal falling apart of the universe. See, this place has been marred by sin, so at the Last Day God will rid all creation of sin.  And these events will terrify and horrify the unbelievers. They will burst into tears and attempt to flee, but there will be no escape. But believers will stand up and lift up their heads because they know their redemption is drawing near. The world will be remade, a new heavens and a new earth.  God’s Got This!

Part 4. God’s Got Eternity

And then after the end comes eternity, a concept so foreign to us bound by time that the very thought of it makes my head spin. Not just a long time, but a never-ending time.

There are two sides to eternity, and no matter how you might break it up, it is not pleasant to think about one of those sides.  Eternity for unbelievers will be spent in banishment from the grace and blessing of God. The Bible describes hell as being “in torment” and “in agony in…fire” (Luke 16:23-24), a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48), and where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). All of this is meant to give us a taste of what eternal banishment from God is like. Whatever you imagine hell might be, it is far, far worse.

As unpleasant as it is to think about, we must think about it, because it is going to happen to so many. And God doesn’t want anyone to endure it.  That’s why he has placed his Word in our hearts and on our lips – to tell of his wonderful works, to proclaim his rescue through Christ, to give good news to those who are lost on the road to destruction.

There is another side to eternity, of course, and whatever you imagine heaven might be it is far, far better.  The Bible describes it in two main ways: We will be with God and we will see him face to face, as he really is. Please note this, brothers and sisters. The essence of heaven is not being reunited with your loved ones on earth.  The only thing that matters is being in the presence of the one who gave up everything to save your from hell.  Special relationships that you share on earth cannot compare to the relationship you have with Christ.  In heaven, you will enjoy that completely, perfectly, and fully forever

This paradise will never perish, spoil, or fade.  It is full of everything good and it has zero bad parts.  There will not be one person in heaven who says, “Well, I could think of something better.”  This treasure in heaven has been purchased for you by the blood of Jesus and it is yours by God’s grace alone, through faith in Christ alone.

If God’s Got this, then what is left for us?  That’s simple! Be ready.  Keep your faith active.  Make use of the grace God has given you in his Word and Sacraments so that you are ready for these Last Days, ready for the end of your life, ready for Judgment Day, and ready for eternity with him in heaven.  And whatever happens in life, patiently endure what the Lord allows, knowing that what awaits you on the other side is worth it.

When we talk about the End, God’s got this, and that takes all the fear away.  Amen.