THE apostle is talking to us this morning about a great calamity. This is a calamity that has not happened yet, but it is definitely on God's "to do list." He shows us a picture of the earth wrapped in sheets of flame so intense that all the elements melt. Even the heavens, which means the sky and all that is in it, will pass away. Thousands of years ago God sent The Great Flood. He ended almost all life on earth. He promised He will never again do it that way. Therefore we must not worry about what our culture calls "global warming." What is coming, without doubt, is something far hotter than that.
Don't ask for details about when "next time" is going to be. In heaven that day and hour have been ordained since the beginning, and has always been classified information. Many would-be prophets try to guess. With colorful imaginations they look at what is happening around us and try to fit it into the Biblical picture. In the last century the First World War attracted most interest. Some false prophets had predicted that the world would end the year that war began. To those who lived through it, who experienced that particular judgment of God upon the world, it must have seemed as though Satan had been completely unbound, but it definitely was not the final judgment. It turned out to be manageable. More recently, the event that has drawn most predictive attention has been the establishment of the State of Israel. In 1948 the British turned over to some European Jews a strip of land they had taken from the Turks in World War One. It was inhabited by Arabs called Palestinians. There was immediate conflict. The same crowd of prophets who had set the end-time alarm clock for 1914 now all agreed that the world would have to end in 1973. Guess what. It didn't. One more group divided the world into millennia. They had dated the age of the earth at 6000 years. The proposal was that God would allow six millennia for work, then the Sabbath Millennium would begin. The target date for that was 1996. Once again they were mistaken. There were a few apocalyptic predictions about the Y2K, but nothing really important happened then. One would think God would stay away from any date that attracted that much attention.
On the other extreme there are people who don't believe this world is ever going to end. Now everyone can see that the world has been rather resistant to such prophecies. For many centuries, human works have been the only real difference. Still, their unbelief can no more turn away God's judgment than the gullibility of the prophets, or the skepticism that prevailed in Noah's day. The calamity will come in God's time, and in His way. The Church cannot tell you when, but we can assure you that this world will end.
Jesus did give us some signs to think about. In today's Gospel, and in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 we have Jesus' own remarks. He also compared the coming calamity to Noah's flood. Right now the scoffers are scoffing as we build the spiritual ark. We do that by preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead. We proclaim Him God Incarnate, the Word made flesh to be our Savior and Lord. He is the one true Light in a dark world. There are many around us who consider everything we say nothing but superstitious bugaboo. They blame us for trying to scare people. Frankly, I don't mind being blamed for that. There are many people who do not consider sin a serious problem. They need to be scared. They must show respect for God. We don't have to worry about the environment, because the only environment that counts is the one we enter at death. Some skeptics reject all authority. They do that on the authority of the devil, who is tricky enough to let them think that they're making choices. While material prosperity is a distraction, driving peoples' minds away from the needs of their souls, there is something more sinister in society. As
St. Paul tells us in II Timothy 3, in the last days people will be disobedient
,thoughtless, ruthless, lovers of money…in other words, the last generation
will be wantonly wicked in every way. Can anyone say we aren't seeing that?
While our contemporaries might lose themselves in drugs or drink, while they may
have no restraint to bridle their appetites, still they can always conspire
against the truth, especially the truth that is in Jesus.
God did not give us the Bible as a toy to speculate about the future. He gave us His Word to make us wise unto salvation. That means to make us thirst for righteousness, then give us a drink from the Fountain of Life. That drink is a comforting cup of forgiveness, which comes by grace. And that is what makes the real difference. Without the cross of Jesus this would not be present among us. He died for us and rose again. So the Word made flesh came into this world and died our death to liberate us from the power of death. Even the wantonly wicked described by Paul are not too evil to be forgiven. Not everyone wants to be forgiven. Just as Noah did not have any takers as he made the ark ready, so we can't see great crowds and masses of people flocking to our church. St. Peter tells us to wait for the end in holiness, that is, standing out in sharp contrast to the culture around us. By doing that we don't make the end come any sooner. That was determined in eternity, but we put ourselves in the position of being rescued. Our God likes to deliver us. We want to be found in need of deliverance; not necessarily some spectacular sacrifice. He might find us up to our necks in paperwork, or giving the baby a bath, or courting a life partner, or sipping a fine
Bordeaux. He might even find us
sound asleep. That doesn't matter. We can afford to sleep because we are
forgiven and redeemed by the Man who is coming to deliver us. We trust His
atonement. Because of that, our sins cannot keep us out of heaven. Jesus is
truly risen from the dead, and is coming to raise us as well. Perhaps we are too
talented, too beautiful, too comfortable, and therefore reluctant to enter the
ark. Be patient if the Lord prunes away what the earth offers us. Jesus is Lord.
His plans take priority.
Noah was ready when the time came. His ark was built. So is ours. Our ark is the cross of Jesus, a bit of wood that floats over the seas of time. We entered the ark when we were baptized, as Peter tells us in his first letter. We find it amply provisioned with God's Word and Sacraments. We assemble those whom we call in this building, but this building is not the ark. It is a device for communicating with the ark, a place to receive Jesus' forgiveness, life, and power. The cross is the ark. When the world is undone, the cross will still be standing. Those who trust in it are the Bride, whom the Bridegroom will take home, out of the flaming vanities, into the solid joys of His Father's house. Look up, because soon the day will come when we can say with Solomon's Beloved, He leads me to the house of feasting; His banner over me is love. AMEN.
~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross