Today, on the last Sunday of the church year, our Lord speaks of the last day of this world, that great and terrible day of His coming: “In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mk 13:24-26). On this day, the fullness of God’s wrath against unrighteousness will be revealed. In order to remove forever every last trace of sin and corruption, Christ will utterly destroy the universe. The heavens will pass away with a roar (2 Pe 3:10) and the sky will be rolled up as a scroll (Is 34:4). “The heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Pe 3:10).
The scale of destruction on the Last Day is terrifying, and the idea of a final reckoning before God is repugnant to sinful man. So, instead of considering Christ’s words, we find many ways to ignore them: Hollywood trivializes the Last Day by turning it into a blockbuster. Others declare that since God doesn’t exist, there will be no judgment and we are free to live however we please. And Lutherans, who do believe the words of Scripture, tend to think about the Final Day only when the text comes up at the end of the church year. The rest of the year, we are often consumed with the cares of this world, laboring after things that are perishing and seeking pleasures that are fleeting. But Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words shall never pass away” (Mk 13:31).
We are born into this broken world. It’s all that our hands can touch. It’s all our eyes can see. Yet none of it will last. “For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Co 4:18). Yet it’s so easy to focus on things that have no lasting value. We become too concerned with the cares of this world, with our bank accounts and our possessions. We plan our careers, and later our retirements. We worry about reputation and legacy and seek lasting comfort and security – but you’ll never find true security in things that are perishing. Jesus says, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (Jn 6:27). All of creation has been corrupted by sin, and so it must all perish at the coming of the Son of Man.
Three times in this gospel lesson, we are commanded: “Be watchful, for you do not know when the Lord of the house will come” (Mk 13:33). We are commanded to look, not with our physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith for the Lord’s coming. “Know that he is near, even at the door” (Mk 13:29). This promise, “He is at the door”, either inspires great joy or great terror. Consider two different situations: A family with small children has been waiting eagerly for their father to return home from a long business trip. One of the children looks out of the window and cries out: “He’s at the door!” You can almost feel the excitement, the eager anticipation of a wonderfully happy time. But on the other hand, a teenage son is throwing a party while his parents are gone for the weekend. The place is a mess. The music is wild, and the glasses contain more than soda pop. But then someone looks out the front window: “Your dad’s at the door.” Panic sets in, but it’s too late to escape, and the day of judgment has come to that house.
Jesus is indeed at the door and shall soon come in the clouds with great power and glory. And every eye shall see Him. Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord (Phil 2:10) – some in joy, but many in bitter despair and resentment. For those that cling to the tattered robe of what little righteousness they feel they can claim for themselves then tell themselves that as long as they’ve “done their best,” they’ll get what they deserve. They’re right. And in the moment of Christ’s coming they’ll know with horror what fate they have deserved according to their works. Others imagine that Christ is simply a great man, like Buddha or Gandhi. Their words will ring hollow in their ears even as they speak, for they will know as soon as they see Him that this is He. He had been their only hope and they rejected Him. And all these He will now reject before His Father in heaven. For them, it will be too late. Sin will be destroyed forever, and those who clung to their sin will perish with it.
But what of you, dear saints? What does His coming mean for you? When you see Him, all doubt will be removed, all hope fulfilled, every prayer answered. The Son of God, who humbled himself upon the cross for your salvation, returns in all His power and glory. For you, this will not be a day of fear. Instead, this will be the end of all fearful times. Tribulation will be left behind. All the time worrying about what tomorrow might bring will be over. You will laugh to think that you wanted to cling to temporal life a bit longer, to see your grand-children grow up, to be with your spouse a moment more. For now you will have all eternity to know them better. And Christ’s victory over sin will come to full fruit, for you will be rid once and for all of that fallen nature that plagues you even now. That old, sinful creature will be destroyed along with everything in this broken world, but you shall be saved. “For then He will send out the angels and He will gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mk 13:27). And how do you know that you are one of these elect? Because you are baptized. Your name has been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and you are one of God’s own dear children. This world is perishing, but you have nothing to lose – except your sinful nature – and you have everything to gain – an eternity of joy and blessing in perfect communion with your Lord and Savior. These promise is yours according to the Word of Christ – and though everything else shall perish, His Word alone shall remain. Amen.