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            In days of old this cycle occurred repeatedly.  God would raise up a nation to use for his own purpose, whatever that was.  And because God was behind her, that nation would become powerful and great.  Then she would become proud and, forsaking the God who raised her up, would boast, “By my power and by the strength of my hands I have accomplished this.”  So God, after using her, would turn against her, and she would perish just as quickly as she rose to prominence.

            Tell me.  How powerful is Egypt today?  Where are the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes and the Persians?  Who fears the Macedonians, as many did in the days of Alexander the Great, or the Romans, whose empire lasted well over a thousand years?  All these nations had their day, but now it is over.

            From the viewpoint of Scripture, however, it is not any of those nations, but the city of Jerusalem in which this cycle played out most dramatically.  She was, as her name implied, the city of peace, the holy city, the city which housed the Temple, where God himself dwelt on earth to bless his people.  What could be greater than that?  But her people despised God and his grace, just as did the other nations of the world.  Rather than remain faithful, they forsook the Lord to pursue idols.  And when God in his grace sent his prophets to call them to repentance, they persecuted and even killed many of them.  So God sent the Roman armies to destroy Jerusalem, which they did by leveling her to the ground.

            We today would do well to pay attention to what happened to these nations of old, as they are for us shadows of what, to an even greater extent, is going to happen to our world.

            In the beginning God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.  Today what God sees is a world totally ruined by the sin into which sinful man has plunged it.  Rather than very good, life in it is full of evil, so much so that if these last days were not shortened, no flesh would survive.  “For there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.”  To be sure, every period of world history since the Fall has been filled with evil, but not to the extent that these days before Christ’s Return are.

            Sadly, we were once again reminded of this last week, when some angry person shot up a bar in California, killing twelve people, including a police officer, and then himself.  What was the sense in doing that?  It doesn’t have to make sense.  It is evil, and evil is bent on only one thing: hurting people. 

            Yet it is not limited to our society.  Evil has also infiltrated Christ’s Church.  In fact, that’s what Jesus is actually emphasizing in today’s Gospel.  The “Abomination of Desolation,” spoken of by Daniel the prophet, when a tyrant set up an image of his god in the Temple and forced the Jews to worship it, was a shadow of the abomination that exists within Christendom today.  St. Paul calls him, “the man of lawlessness,” and describes him as one from within the Church, who has usurped for himself the authority that belongs to God alone, by teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.  Dr. Luther identified this man of lawlessness with the papacy.  Yet while the Antichrist, he is by no means the only antichrist.  Our Lord made that clear, when he told his disciples, “For false christs and false prophets will will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”

            Why does God allow such evil to flourish?  Why has he given Satan more leeway today than at any other time in history?  Jesus’ Revelation to Blessed St. John gives us the answer.  It’s not to destroy the faith of his people, but only to allow the devil to gather in those who refuse to believe in him, who have instead hardened their hearts against their Savior.  And once he has, then fire will come down from heaven and devour them.  And together with Satan, they will be cast into the lake of fire to be tormented day and night forever and ever.

            In the meantime, these evil days can be very dangerous for us Christians.  How can we survive them with our faith intact?  How can we withstand not only the evil that comes from without, but also that which false prophets spew from within?

            We can’t on our own.  Our innumerable and daily sins show that we are no match for the devil and his minions.  Yet we are not without hope, “For where the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered.” 

            By this our Lord directs us to Golgotha, more specifically to his dead Body, hanging on the cross, around which have gathered Roman soldiers, whose symbol was the eagle.  It is by the Death of God’s Son, our Savior, that sin’s curse was suffered and God’s wrath appeased.

            But we are not to cling to the cross, as one popular hymn suggests, as his carcass, if you will, is no longer there.  Nor is it lying in Jospeh’s tomb.  For on the third day Jesus rose again.  Then, forty days later he ascended to the right hand of God the Father, where he now controls all things to bring about the salvation of his Church from Satan and this evil world in which she exists.

            Therefore, dear Christian, rather than to where he once was, let us look to where our living Savior now is: to Baptismal Water, where he washes the sinner in his Blood and cleanses him of all his unrighteousness; also to his Word, where he is preached into the hearer for faith and by faith.  And to that Holy Feast, where he serves the baptized his Body to eat and his Blood to drink for the forgiveness of their sins.

            Rest assured!  You who have been blessed with faith to receive Christ and his gifts in these precious means of grace will survive these last and evil days, and so will be among the saints who on the Day of his Return will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord, that they may live with the Lord forevermore.
           

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Matthew 24:15-28

Third Last Sunday of the Church Year
Sunday, November 11, 2018


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