We like to celebrate things when they happened. We celebrated Independence Day a month ago because that’s when our 13 colonies declared independence from Britain. When we celebrate Veterans Day in a few months we’ll be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Armistice ending World War I. You celebrate birthdays and anniversaries because you want to remember the day you or others were born or got married.
The Church does this too. We celebrate baptism birthdays and confirmation anniversaries. We celebrate Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter when we do because it lines up with when Jesus died and rose. That then sets the dates for Ascension and Pentecost. We celebrate Reformation when we do because of when Dr. Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door. And now, on the Tenth Sunday after Trinity every year, the Church remembers the Fall of Jerusalem’s Temple, because it happened about this time.
Both Temples fell on the same day on the Hebrew Kalendar, Tisha B’av, during this month; Solomon’s Temple in 587BC, and Zerubbabel’s in 70A+D. So that’s why we hear this Gospel from St. Luke 19 today. It comes as a surprise, a wake-up call, an alarm clock ringing. We don’t expect it. We’ve been hearing from the Epistles and the Gospels about living the sanctified life, and all of a sudden this surprise of a Gospel is read. It’s a history Gospel, not a teaching Gospel. What’s the connection?
Sometimes we need wake-up calls. If you don’t get up on time, you won’t make it to church – or school, or work – on time. If the policeman doesn’t turn on his lights and siren, you won’t stop speeding, and you won’t get out of the way of the firetruck or ambulance either. And if God doesn’t sound the alarm clock, we won’t rise from the dead, nor will we take a moment to examine our lives to see if we are taking advantage of God’s grace by constant and unrepented sin.
We laugh about the ostrich with its head stuck in the ground, not noticing its surroundings. The sinful nature is like that. It gets its head stuck in the ground to not pay attention to its surroundings. What are those surroundings? God’s Ten Commandments tell us how to live. But we don’t pay attention to them. We like to do what we like to do. We get stubborn. We get stuck in our ways. We don’t like to be told we’re doing wrong. Or it goes like this: We know we’re forgiven, so we think we can do whatever we want, no matter what God says.
These are both very dangerous. When you don’t know what God’s Law says or you don’t pay attention to it you risk damnation. Why? Because in those cases you don’t confess your sin and hear God’s forgiveness. The weight of those sins will weigh you down into hell. That’s what willful continuance in sin while claiming to be a believer does too. Salvation is lost when you continue and continue to tell yourself that since Jesus died for you you can do whatever you want. Jesus died to free you from sin. He died to empower you to stop sinning. If you have no desire to stop breaking God’s Law, you are not His own dear child, for sin does not please Him – and He wants you to please Him. You will only drive His Spirit from you, and once He is gone, hell and Satan will only be all too happy to receive you.
That is what today’s Gospel warns us about. The story of Jerusalem’s destruction makes this very clear. There’s nothing romantic about it. It was gruesome. Mothers did things they normally would not do. Everyone there starved and was destroyed. Read it sometime. Our churches once read Josephus’ account every year during the Service on this day to make this quite clear. It is a warning. Jerusalem went down in flames physically and entered the eternal flames, but no Christian perished that day.
Why did Jerusalem perish? Why did no Christian perish? No Christian perished because they heeded Jesus’ Holy Week warning to them to get out of town when they saw the Roman eagles coming bent on destruction. They fled to the hills and got as far away from town as they could. They left behind their old lives and abandoned Jerusalem because they were living with Christ.
But those who died, what was the problem? They rejected the Christ. They did not know the day of their visitation. The Shepherd and Bishop of souls came to them and they rejected Him. They threw Him outside the city and crucified Him. The God Who once sat enthroned on the Ark of the Covenant, Him they nailed to The Cross. The God of Mount Sinai, Him they led outside the city to Mount Calvary. The God Who gave them the Ten Commandments, Him they did not hear. The God Who led them out of Egypt’s slavery, His freedom from sin they mocked. The God Who called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees, Him they rejected. He came to them and they rejected their peace. He offered freedom from sin and death. They merely wanted freedom from Rome instead. So they got neither. They perished in their unbelief. Rome razed them. Rome sent them to eternal flames by means of physical flames.
Let this be a warning to you. How you receive the Gospel is not a trivial thing. How you live your life is not a minor detail. It does matter. God cares about that. He’s no fan of libertinism. “Anything goes” does not go with Him. He expects His Law to be kept. “Therefore we should fear His wrath and not do anything against [Him].” He does not love us by letting us do whatever we want. No, whatever we want is likely to harm us. If the child does whatever he wants he might get burned, and that goes for you too. A life untouched by sin is truly good. A life filled with unrepented sin is doomed.
So pray for God’s grace that you may run the way of His commandments, obtain His gracious promises, and be made partaker of His heavenly treasure. Only His grace, His mercy, His loving-kindness can rescue you from the fires of hell. Only His Holy Spirit can give you strength to do what is right. Only Christ your God can deliver your soul in peace from the battle that is against you.
For that battle is with sin. Sin is a force much more powerful than Rome. Rome couldn’t send anyone to hell. Unbelief and persistent unrepentance do that. Sin does condemn to hell. So examine your life. Take God’s commandments along with Luther’s explanations, and compare what they say to yourself. Where have you failed in thought, word, and deed? For you have failed, many times. If somebody took a look at your life, would they know you are a Christian other than from the fact that you’re here now?
So turn to The Cross for help. Turn to Christ, to His holy Word and Sacrament. Here you find help. Here He turns to you the face of His love. Here He gives you the benefits of His Cross. Here He forgives your sins. For on His Cross He bore all your sins. He was punished for them, for you. So He forgives you. He even empowers you to do what is good in His sight. Cast your burden on Him and He will sustain you. Throw your sins on Him, and He will give you His righteousness. He will show you mercy and pity. He will even hide you under the shadow of His wings from sin and Satan. He will forgive you. He will give you strength to reject temptation.
So how should we respond to His mercy and pity? Give Him thanks. Thank Him by how you live. Show in your behavior that you believe He has forgiven your sins and freed you from serving sin. Examine yourself and confess your sins. Strive to live as He commands, to run according to the way of His commandments. Time to wake up! Time to repent and live for Christ, lest you perish. Time to believe in Him, so you be saved.