This sermon was preached at St Paul's Lutheran Church, Ferryden Park, 10.30am.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.
But concerning that day and hour no one knows.
Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Today we begin a new church year, and we’re celebrating the first Sunday of the season of Advent. And the season of Advent has a particular focus on Jesus “coming”. We especially look to Jesus coming as a tiny baby in Bethlehem at Christmas, all those many years ago. But our Gospel reading today has a different focus. In this reading, Jesus is talking not about when he came as a baby, or when he comes to us constantly in the church, but when he will come at the end of the world to bring the whole of world history to a close, to a finish—and when he will judge the living and the dead, and those who believe in him will share eternal life with him.
Now, before we get to our reading—it’s very important for us to have a think about what this means: that the end will end. Many people in our country and in our world today don’t really think too much about this. I think it’s also the case that they never really think that the world ever began in some way.
Now, if we go back to many ancient peoples, like the Ancient Egyptians, or the Ancient Greeks, they were people who essentially believed that the world was eternal. They believed that it never really had a beginning, and it’s never really going to have an end. I think many people today believe this, even many of us Christians in the church. But I don’t think it’s necessarily that a lot of people have any serious convictions about it – it’s just that they don’t think about it too much. For example, people might think that life as we know it as evolved over millions and billions of years, all the way back to some kind of primeval blobs, some single-celled organisms. But you know, those things were supposed to have happened so long ago, that I don’t think people really care or bother to think about whether the earth had some kind of beginning, because it something that happened so long ago. So I think that it’s fair to say, that many people in our world today, don’t really believe that world had any kind of beginning.
But also, I think there are many people who don’t really think the world is ever going to end. People think that things are going to carry on as we know it for ever and ever, and people are just going to keep getting better and better. Some people, though, who have very strong views about climate change, think that the world very well might end soon, and that the way to stop it ending is to confront the problem of pollution on a national and world-world scale. But apart from these people, I think there are many people who just go along on their every day life, and don’t really think about what it might mean that the world could have an end.
Now, if we go to the Scripture, to the Bible, this matter is dealt with very clearly. If we open to the first page of the bible, we find it speaking about the beginning of the world. If we open to the last page of the bible, we find it speaking about the end of the world. And these two events, these two facts—the creation of the world which happened in the past, and the end of world which will happen in the future—have always been a part of the church’s confession of faith. So, when we come to church and say together the Apostles’ Creed, we start by saying: I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. We start by saying that God existed before the world, and that he made it—the earth had a beginning. And we also say in the Apostles’ Creed, that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Now, if the world didn’t have a beginning, and if the world will have no end, then people have no choice but to believe that the world is eternal. But here’s the problem: the world isn’t God, only God is God, and only God is eternal. Mother earth isn’t the eternal God, only God is God. So we are also told in the Scripture that there is only one thing that had no beginning, and that has always existed: and that is the God who made us, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And over the whole course of the history of the world, God has been calling people into his kingdom. And so, when the world has ended, those who have been saved, who have trusted in God, and believed in his promises, will live with him in his kingdom. And what do we say about Jesus’ kingdom? We say: His kingdom will have no end.
In the verse before our Gospel reading today, Jesus says: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. He is talking about the signs of his coming: He says: Then will appear in the heaven the sign of the Son of Man. We know from what Jesus is saying here, that the world will have an end, and that when the world ends, Jesus will appear.
So Jesus says in our Gospel reading today: But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.
Now, this is a very important principle for our Christian faith. There have been many people throughout history, and many people still around today, who think that they know when the end of the world is going to be. So far, all of them have been wrong! How do we know this? Well, the world is still here! And Jesus doesn’t say that the when the world ends he’s going to come quietly, and we might miss it—he says, he will appear on the clouds, with power and great glory. There are some groups—like the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses—who have made prophecies about the end of the world, which didn’t then happen. When I was the pastor in Gippsland, I heard about a group of people who had moved to far-east Gippsland, at a place called “Noorinbee North”—way out in the middle of pretty much nowhere. They had thought that when the year 2000 struck, that it was going to be the end of world, so they went out there, bought property, built underground bunkers, to prepare for the end. They even built a church out there. But of course, since that time, many people have moved away, and the church has now closed, and been sold.
The thing that we must know about all these things, is that if we know someone who says to us that they know when the end of the world is going to be, we can immediately know for certain in our own minds that they are wrong, and that they are not telling the truth. How can be so sure of ourselves? Because, in our reading today, Jesus says: Concerning that day and hour no one knows. So if someone says that they do know, we know that they can’t be telling the truth, because Jesus says: no one knows.
But perhaps, someone might be particularly spiritual—you know, a real guru, a real holy person, someone with great spiritual insights. And this person says, “Listen, I had a very significant dream the other night, and an angel said to me that the world is going to end on such-and-such a day.” What do we made about this? The person claims that an angel spoke to them about it! Well, Jesus says: Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven. If an angel did speak to the person, it can’t have been an angel of heaven, but an angel of hell instead, an evil spirit trying to trick the person with lies. Remember, St Paul says that even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
Perhaps, someone around the time of the apostles went around saying that they had met Jesus personally, and that Jesus himself had told him personally, that the end of the world was such-and-such. Maybe, someone claims to have met Jesus himself on the side of the road one day, just like Paul had met Jesus on the road to Damascus. Well, Jesus says: Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.
Now, why am I making such a big point of this? Throughout my ministry as a pastor, I’ve often come across people who think that the world is going to end on such-and-such a day. Often people come to these conclusions from astrology—from trying to predict the future from looking at the stars. They think, there’s a strange moon on this day, Mars or Jupiter is going to be in a special position in Aquarius, or something like that. It takes up so much of people’s energy and time, and it’s such an embarrassment to them when nothing happens. There is such a simple answer to this: it’s all rubbish, because Jesus has told us ahead of time, that it’s all rubbish. No-one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.
Now, there’s a little question that comes to our mind when we hear these words, which says: “Hang on, I thought Jesus was true God, and I thought God knows everything. If Jesus is true God, how come he doesn’t know?”
This is a very good question. In many passages, Jesus is said to know all things. For example, Jesus says: All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. In John, it says that Jesus knew what was in the heart of man. Well, also remember, that Jesus is alive, and is the giver of life, and he is the Resurrection and the Life! But then he also dies. He is the King of King and the Lord of Lords, and yet, in the wilderness, he experiences hunger and thirst and weariness and temptation. So also, Jesus really does know everything, but he also during his earthly life is limited in his knowledge.
You see, Jesus came from heaven as true God, to become a human being. And even though he knew everything, he chose, by becoming a man, not to know some things. For example, he didn’t know how to talk, until Mary and Joseph taught him, and yet he was still God, and knew all things. As he grew up, he only spoke his mother tongue—he didn’t know or speak English, and yet he was still God, and knew all things. In stooping down to our human level, and becoming a human just like us, he also chose to put away certain knowledge from himself.
So for example, let’s say, a father buys some chocolate for his kids, and the children say: “Dad, dad, give us some chocolate.” The dad puts the chocolate away at the back of a shelf, and hides it. Then he says, “I don’t know where it is.” If the dad tells the children, “I’m not telling you where it is”, then the children would just keep pestering him, and say, “Come on, dad! Tell us!” until he gives in and tells them.
Now, in a similar way, Jesus says: No one knows…not even the Son. He has every right to know, but when he became a man, he chose to put certain knowledge away from himself. It’s a bit different from the dad with the chocolate, because the dad would be telling a little white lie. But Jesus is not telling a lie, he is telling the truth—he has chosen not to know this, by virtue of having become a man. And also, imagine if Jesus had said, “I do know, but I’m not telling you.” This would either make the apostles and the disciples sad, as if Jesus didn’t think they were any good, or they would think to pester him. Remember the Canaanite woman who asks for a healing for her daughter, and Jesus says: It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. Here Jesus is treating her almost a bit mean, but not because he doesn’t want to heal the woman’s daughter, but because he wants to draw out from this lady her great faith for the benefit of everyone, so that we can all learn how to pray like her. But when it comes to the end of the world, it’s as if Jesus says that this is an issue that you’re not going to know, if you ask me, I won’t tell you. If you ask me, and you think that I did tell you, then you know it wasn’t me, but the devil pretending to be me. No one knows.
Even though no-one knows the day or the hour, there are certain things that Jesus does let us know. He says: For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and the one left.
What is Jesus teaching us here? He that before he comes, things will be like the days of Noah. Well, have a think—why did the flood happen, and why did Noah and his family have to go on the ark? Was it because everything was going so well in the world? No—absolutely not! Everything was going terribly. The world was corrupt, it was evil, and people were doing terrible things to themselves and to others. Now, in the same way, as the world gets older, and we get closer to the time when Jesus will return, do you think the world is going to get better or to get worse? Many people think that the human race is always evolving and getting better. It’s not the case at all! The human race is only getting worse and worse. The world is only getting worse. And as the world gets worse, we are called upon to ask ourselves: who are our friends? Do we want to be friends with Jesus, or the world around us? Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, but the world is corrupt, and decaying, and is just getting worse and worse. There will come a day when there will people next to each other—one will be taken and the other left. Perhaps it means that one will be taken up to heaven to be with Jesus. Or perhaps it means the one will be swept away, just like the evil people at the time of Noah.
Also, at the time of Noah, people scoffed at him, and mocked him. They thought he was an idiot. So also, as the world gets older, and we come closer to time of Jesus’ return, people will scoff at Christians, and mock them, and call us idiots for believing in that old-fashioned stuff. They will say: we are so much more enlightened than they are! We know better, we are not so stupid! One will be taken, and one will be left.
So, if you see around you and feel that the world is getting worse, then don’t be discouraged, but it means that you are coming closer to seeing Jesus with your own eyes—either when you die, or if you live long enough, to see Jesus when he returns. Jesus says: Straighten up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing near. If you see around you a constant pressure from people not to be a Christian anymore, and to give up on Jesus, because people are mocking you, or scoffing at your beliefs, or calling you an idiot, also, don’t be discouraged, because again it means that you are coming closer to seeing Jesus with your own eyes. Jesus says: Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.
In the last part of our reading, Jesus says: Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
So, what do you think it means when Jesus says, “stay awake”, or when he says, “you must be ready”? What does it mean to be awake and ready?
Sometimes, I think people often think about this as being busy. We can’t rest, and we must always be active. We must always be doing good works, and working really hard. It’s like, if a mum says to her child, “sweep the floor before I come home”. Then the child forgets about it, and when they hear mum driving up the driveway, they get the broom, and pretend as though they’ve been working for hours!
Well, actually, we Christians should be busy with good works without even really thinking about it! If there’s someone in need, we should help them—and all that kind of thing. But actually, to be awake and ready for Jesus, simply means to trust in him for eternal life. It means to completely despair of our own actions, our own thoughts and words, and to completely despair of ourselves and all of our efforts, and to trust completely in him for everything, because he is the one who has taken the burden of every single one of our sins upon his shoulders, and has died for it all on the cross, and has risen again on the third day. We can trust in him for everything, and we are awake and completely ready when we have the total forgiveness of our sins. And we can be sure of this, because Jesus has said it, and has promised it. He says: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but have eternal life. Or as Peter says it in his letter: Whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.
So, be encouraged, friends. Don’t worry about when the end will come, because no-one knows. It could come at any time, like a thief in the night. Therefore, we should always be ready to meet Jesus. Don’t be discouraged by the world getting worse in which we live, or by people mocking or scoffing at you. Stay awake and be ready to meet your Lord, and trust in his wonderful mercy and forgiveness which he won for you, and which he pours out into your lap even today. Amen.
Dear Jesus, we thank you for coming to this dark world as a tiny baby so many years ago. We thank you for the way in which you still come to us today—speaking to us in the church through your word, through preaching, through the absolution and forgiveness—coming to meet us and save us through baptism, coming to encourage and strengthen us with your body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. And we also look forward to wonderful and joyful day when you will bring this world to an end, and bring us to be with you in your kingdom. Amen.