Things are coming to an end. November’s already half over, so 2018 will end in less than 45 days! School fall semesters or quarters will soon end if they haven’t already. Fall will end in a month. There’s only 1 Sunday left to this Church Year.
This all points to this fact: the world is coming to an end. No, it’s not going to keep on going indefinitely forever. We may not like to think about it, but it’s true: this world will end. Christ is coming soon. When He comes, this world’s existence will end. Time will cease. We will enter eternity. The dead will rise, and all flesh will be judged.
St. Mark tells us our Lord preached today’s Gospel to His disciples on Holy Tuesday after He left the Temple for the last time. The disciples were awe-struck by how the Temple looked. The setting sun was shining off the western wall just right that evening to give a special effect. So Jesus had to remind them that this building, which they loved so much, would not last and their city would be destroyed.
The history of this Temple had not been 100% glorious. After it was built and the Greeks were ruling the world, the emperor Antiochus Epiphanes forced on the temple a statue of Zeus and installed Greek priests to sacrifice pigs. An abomination of desolation to be sure! This led to the Jewish rebellion led by the Maccabees, who purified the Temple. But this would not happen in 70AD. Titus came with his armies and wanted to turn the Temple into a Roman pantheon, but 1 of his soldiers accidentally set it on fire. The Temple was destroyed as Jesus ordered and about a week later Rome totally conquered the city.
That destruction brought the end of a way of life. Israel’s Temple sacrifices couldn’t be offered anymore. Everything the Law of Moses said about Israelite worship came to an end. It really was the end of the world as they knew it. No new Temple has been built or can be built, which means no more sacrifices can be made. This is because Daniel says in his 9th chapter that the Christ would make a strong covenant with many and put an end to sacrifice and offering – he fulfilled the Old Testament sacrifices and made them obsolete – , and then somebody would come to make the place desolate.
He warned them. So history tells us no Christians died when Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome. They all fled to the mountains across the River Jordan. The Apostles had already gone out throughout the world to preach the Gospel, and most were already martyred. The Lord’s words had been written down by the Evangelists. They believed His Word and were saved.
But our Lord’s words to us today are not just about Jerusalem’s Temple. It’s like He’s talking double-speak because near the end of it, and you can’t tell where it starts, He’s talking about Judgment Day, not the end of the Temple. So for a while He’s talking about both, but by the end it’s about the last day.
He tells us to look out for the abomination of desolation. What is that? What does Christ tell you to flee from, dear Christian? He tells you to flee from false doctrine and practice. Our Lord Jesus Christ ordered His Apostles before He ascended to teach all nations what Jesus taught them. That means He told them to teach us what Scripture says and only those things. The pastor is ordered to preach only what the Scriptures say and nothing else and to teach us to act in a way that reflects what we believe, because how we act is a confession of faith.
What is so important about this? True doctrine and faithful practice praises the true God, but false doctrine and practice praises man. True doctrine proclaims to you that you cannot save yourself; Christ has saved you. It gives all glory to Christ and proclaims what He has done. It confesses what Scripture says; it repeats it back to God in faith. False doctrine gives glory to man; it gives you things to do to please God or to work yourself into His favor. It leaves behind preaching Christ for preaching how great we are. It forgets how horrible our sinful nature is. It thinks the Scriptures don’t apply to our age or aren’t clear so they need to interpret them for our own day in a way that makes today’s sinners feel comfortable.
Anything that lessens the magnitude of your sin, anything that glorifies man and not God, anything that sets aside or rejects what He teaches us in the Bible, anything that creates doubt about your salvation, anything that takes away from Jesus’ work and adds to yours, is an abomination in God’s eyes. Jesus says this is the chief sign that we are in the last days, along with the signs in nature He will tell us about in 3 weeks. You know these signs exist. They’ve been happening ever since Jesus died and rose. St. Paul wrote II Thessalonians because his readers thought the end was about to happen and had given up their daily lives. Dr. Luther thought the end of the world was near. No one knows when the world will end, and if anybody says otherwise, don’t listen. But the signs of false doctrine are there.
You know this because we just celebrated Reformation Sunday 3 weeks ago. Dr. Luther preached and taught because God’s Word had been forgotten in the church of his day. We preach so that you will be confident. You should be confident that God is right when He tells you are not a basically good person; you’re a bad sinner who deserves eternal death. You should be confident that Christ your God suffered eternal death for you when He hung on the Cross and that He there forgave your sins and therefore now He forgives you. False doctrine can’t save you. God’s true doctrine gives life and saves.
So, “wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” The Roman Gentiles are the eagles. That nation that destroyed Jerusalem received the Gospel, and their descendents passed it on to us through many faithful preachers. Those preachers have always told us to be gathered around the Body of our Crucified God. St. Paul says that whenever you eat the bread and drink the cup of The Sacrament of the Altar you proclaim His Death until He comes. For that consecrated bread and cup are the true Body and Blood of Christ. They give us the Sacrifice He made on the Cross. He died for a purpose. This Sacrament gives us the gifts He died to win us. It gives us His forgiveness. It gives us eternal life. It prepares us for His second coming. When we receive it we declare we believe that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, died for us to take away our sins and to give us eternal life; we say we believe He accomplished just that and gives us these fruits of His Passion when we come to this Altar.
He will come like a flash of lightning. You won’t be expecting it. So be ready at all times lest you face the severity of His judgment. Live in His mercy. Reject sin. Confess your sins. Believe He forgives you. Believe your salvation is solely based on His mercy and not at all on your merits, for nothing you do can ever impress Almighty God. Receive that forgiveness. Study your Bible and your Catechism so you will continue to learn from Christ and remain in His true doctrine. Then on the last day you will not be ashamed, for you will have called on Him and put your trust in Him.
To the rest Thou didst prepare me On Thy Cross; O Christ, upbear me! Spare, O God, in mercy spare me! (TLH 619:19)