Rev. Charles Lehmann + 3rd Last Sunday + Matthew 24:15-28
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
When the legions came in the spring of 70 A.D., there was no mercy for Jerusalem. God had come to His beloved vineyard, and they had rejected Him. He came into their flesh. He lived under the same Roman occupation that they did. He subjected Himself to all the suffering that living as a first century Israelite entailed. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him. But even though they rejected Him, He called to them tenderly. He healed their sick. He raised their dead. He fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies. But they still did not believe in Him. They did not believe the Word of God about Him, and so when the promised Messiah who had come to destroy their sins forever walked in their midst, most of the people of Judea called him a drunkard and a charlatan.
The people of Jerusalem trusted themselves. They said, “We are children of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.” They said, “You break the Sabbath, and so you cannot come from God.” These are the Pharisees who walked into the temple and cried out, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” They boasted of their deeds, but Jesus said they were white-washed tombs. They looked great on the outside. They had all the right clothes and you couldn't catch them breaking any of their made up rules. But their mouths were open graves, and their souls were stained with innumerable sins. They looked to their works and believed that they were righteous on account of what they'd done. They didn't think they needed Jesus. They didn't think they needed anyone to save them from their sin. They trusted themselves for life and salvation, and so when God came to give them the forgiveness they needed, they killed Him. They nailed Him to a Roman cross, hung Him between two thieves, and mocked the one who was dying to forgive them.
Today our Lord says to us, “Where the corpse is, the eagles will gather.” Our translation says vultures, but it was the eagle that was the symbol of Rome. And it was Roman soldiers who were Christ's chosen instruments, not once, but twice. It is through the hand of Roman soldiers that Jesus accomplished His death for the sins of the world, and it is by the legions of Rome that Jesus would pour out His wrath on Jerusalem.
He had warned His beloved city time and again. Even in today's text, Jesus warned His people that when they saw the legions come, when they saw the eagle approaching the holy city, they had to flee for the mountains. No one who was within the walls of Jerusalem in spring of 70 A.D. when the Roman legions arrived left the city alive. But those who believed the Lord's word of warning did. When Rome arrived, they built a siege wall around Jerusalem, and the thousands who tried to breach it were crucified. Those that stayed in the city were eventually put to the sword.
And so Jesus warned his disciples. “When you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Our Lord's warning could not have been more urgent. Don't turn around to warn your brother. Don't run into the house to get your cloak. Just run. Run into the mountains. If you don't, you will die.
In the spring the siege began. By July, the leaders of Jerusalem burned their food reserves to motivate the people to fight. A few weeks later, the Romans breached the walls, burned the temple, and put every survivor to the sword.
This is a hard thing for us to think about. We try to avoid thinking about the wrath of God. We tremble at the thought that God's anger could be so severe that He would wipe out the city of David. But this is why we learned in the catechism these words, “God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them.” Christ had to pour out His wrath on Jerusalem. He had to destroy the temple where for hundreds of years His glory had dwelt between the cherubim. He had to do it in order to bring salvation to those whom He loved.
Jesus does the same thing for us. He warns us against sin because He knows how we will be hurt if we commit it. He knows that staying away from the Lord's house kills faith. He knows that murder hurts the one committing it. He knows that adultery breaks up families. He knows that lies can destroy relationships. And so, when we walk in sin... When we hear the Lord's commandment and ignore it... Jesus must pour out His wrath on us. He must show us how serious sin is. Sin is always idolatry. It always places something between us and our Savior. We look to something of our own imagining, sometimes even ourselves, for good in life. That is why the Lord's wrath is necessary. He has to destroy our idols. He has to show us that it is useless to look anywhere else for any good thing. It is only in Christ's death for us on the cross that we have life and salvation.
And so, once the Roman legions came, there was no mercy for Jerusalem. A chapter before today's reading Jesus had put it this way, “I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.”
The Pharisees of Jesus' day did not just refuse to believe Jesus' Word. They also persecuted those who preached it. They did what their ancestors had done. They killed the Lord's prophets and persecuted those who were faithful to Him. Long before the Roman emperor Nero persecuted the church of God, the leaders of the Jews had done it for decades. Jesus gave His warning in about 30 A.D. The people of Jerusalem had 40 years to repent before the legions came. But they did not. They continued to trust themselves. They continued to try to accomplish their own salvation. They thought that since they had Jerusalem and the temple that they had God too. But they didn't have God. They had driven Him far away. They had handed Him over into the hands of Roman centurions and they crucified the Lord of Glory outside the gates of Jerusalem.
Mercy could have been there for them, but they rejected it. They could have, like the tax collector, cried out to God and said, “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” Jesus only destroyed Jerusalem and His temple because they'd given Him no choice. He wept over Jerusalem, but He had to destroy their idols so that they would look for salvation only in Him.
The warning of today's Gospel reading is not just for first century Israel. It is also for you and for me. After He warns the Jews about what they will suffer at the hand of the Romans, He warns us about what we will face on the day of His return. “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
Jesus is coming soon, dear Christians. Though we do not know the day of His return, we know that on that day our probation period will be over. At that moment, when like lightning Jesus appears with ten thousand times ten thousand angels attending Him, there will be no more time for repentance. Those who trust Him for their salvation will receive it. Those who do not will live in the pain of their sins for all eternity.
Jesus does not want you to suffer the eternal punishment for your sins any more than He wanted Jerusalem to suffer for theirs. And so He has given you His warning. “If anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.”
The Jews of Jerusalem trusted themselves and their own works. They believed that since they had the temple they had everything. These were the idols that the Lord had to destroy. But we also have idols that we hold between ourselves and the Lord. The world talks about Jesus all the time. And most often, what do we hear from the world about Him? We hear that He was a great moral teacher. We hear that He taught a way of love. We hear that He never spoke a harsh word to anyone. We hear that he tolerated all sorts of ideas. But when you hear the world say, “Here is the Christ,” do not believe it.
The world will always be happy to say that Jesus was a nice harmless teacher that never said a bad word about anyone. They will always be happy to have a Jesus who has no wrath and who will accept even the most anti-biblical of ideas. But that sort of Jesus is not the true Jesus. That sort of Jesus is not the Jesus of the Scriptures.
The false Christs of the world can only lead to hell. But the true Christ, the one who loves you enough to punish you, and cares for you enough to take the brunt of the Father's wrath on Himself, that Jesus... is your Savior. He will not leave your salvation to chance. When He punishes you He does it to draw you back to Himself. And when He shows you mercy, He is doing what He has desired to do for you from before the foundation of the world.
The Jesus who will come on the clouds of glory to judge the living and the dead is the same Jesus who died on the cross to forgive your sins. The Jesus who has the authority to send your body and soul into hell forever is the one who has done absolutely everything that is necessary for your salvation.
Rejoice, people loved by God. Your Savior loves you. He desires you. He is rich in steadfast love and mercy. His anger lasts for a moment, but His favor lasts for an eternity. And so, dear Christians, do fear the Lord's wrath. But let not this fear lead you into despair. The Lord's return carries no threat for those who trust in Him. It carries no threat for you. You are baptized into Christ. You have received all the mercy and forgiveness that He has won for you on the cross. The one who comes to judge the living and the dead is your Savior.
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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