Where is the Christ?
Back in 2003 Time Magazine reported on the outbreak of war in Iraq: “The smoke rose above Baghdad in plumes of thick, black soot, carrying with it ashes of a dying regime. The nights were full of fire and noise, as thousands of Tomahawk missiles and smart bombs crashed into their targets, sending up balloons of searing orange flame into the night sky. In the light of day, calm descended on the city’s streets, and the silence was pierced only by the crackle of burning buildings and the wail of emergency sirens.”
What would you have done, had you lived in Baghdad? What would you do, were you to hear the explosions and see the “balloons of orange flame” in your city? Where would you turn for help and rescue? When the destruction comes, the only thing you can do is flee for your lives.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus paints a very similar picture for Jerusalem in the year A.D. 70. Of course, Jesus is prophesying what will happen some 40 years after His death and resurrection. Jerusalem will be attacked and the people will have to flee for their lives. But Jesus is also preparing us for life in the “End Times,” before He shall return to judge the living and the dead. Destructions will come. False saviors will come. The thing to ask yourself in these dark and latter days is: Where is the Christ?
Since He is “very God of very God,” Jesus knows all things. He knew what would happen to Jerusalem. The fierce Roman troops would come. They would surround the city with their superior war machines and their unmatched battle strategies. They would use their own brand of “shock and awe” to squash the regime of a little, rebellious Jewish capitol city. This is the abomination of desolation—the unbelieving Romans would desecrate God’s holy place and execute God’s judgment on the people who rejected His Son, the Savior, Jesus Christ.
About 240 years earlier, in 168 B.C. a similar abomination took place. The Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes subjected Jerusalem to his “shock and awe” campaign. Not only did he attack Jerusalem, but he also desecrated God’s holy temple by erecting a statue to the Greek god Zeus and performing pagan sacrifices to it.
In 168 B.C. a statue of Zeus desecrated the most holy place. In A.D. 70, forty years after Jesus died, rose again, and ascended, a blood bath of 8500 victims would desecrate God’s house, and the temple would be demolished for good. God’s people no doubt wondered: “Where is God? Where is He to protect and deliver us?”
Dear friends, today we begin the countdown to the end of the Church Year, and we turn our gaze to the end of time and the end of all things. For three Sundays we hear the warnings and the promises from our Lord. Yes, this world will end; life as we know it will end. And, yes, Jesus warns us: it will not be pretty. The created order will continue to decay. The heavens and the earth will pass away. We will endure wars and rumors of wars – just think Iraq and Iran. We will suffer great immorality and godlessness – just think of so much of our pop-culture.
You see, since the moment our Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, we have been in the “End Times.” The Apostle Paul warns us what to expect in these “End Times”: “…in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5). Wow! If we didn’t know better, we’d think St. Paul had been reading today’s newspapers or browsing the Internet. And how much does this describe us? Much more than we want to admit! But let’s admit it and confess it. And let’s use that honest confession to ask: Where is the Christ?
It is and will be very much like the days of Noah, Jesus says. “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” (Mt. 24:38-39). Then Jesus goes on to say, “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 one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Mt. 24:40-42). Until He comes we must ask: Where is the Christ?
Now many false teachers want you to get worried about who gets left behind when Jesus comes – worried that you might get “left behind.” They’ll tell you that Jesus will come secretly and snatch away – rapture – His believers, but all others will be “left behind.” Perhaps you’ve heard of a little book series by that title? ☺ However, notice carefully who is taken and who gets to be left behind. I’d much rather be left behind! In Noah’s day, those who disbelieved God but instead lived life pleasing themselves were taken. Noah and his family were the ones who got to be “left behind.” Those taken are the ones subject to God’s judgment for rejecting Him. Those “left behind,” are the people redeemed, rescued, and preserved by God Himself. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
So, where is the Christ? He’s right where He has always promised to be – in His Gospel message, in the waters of your Baptism, in the words of Absolution spoken by your pastor, and in the sacred Body and Blood on the Altar. When you hear the Gospel proclaimed, you hear the true story of the Son of Man hanging dead on the cross with Roman soldiers looking on. “Wherever the corpse is, there the [eagles] will gather.” Dear friends, this corpse of the Son of God, this carcass of the Christ, this is your very life. This is your hope and help, your strength and salvation during these “End Times.” And since He has risen from the dead, He sustains you as you struggle and persevere through these “End Times.” Since He lives eternally, He also lives with you and strengthens you, His blood-bought people. So, Christ Jesus has not left you. You don’t need to run around looking for Him here and there, or in secret teachings, or false teachings that get you worked up and worried that you’ve been “left behind.” No, your Savior Jesus is always with you in your Baptism. He always comforts you when you hear His Absolution, especially privately for your specific sins. And He is always present with you as you receive His Body and Blood for forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Here, dear friends, is how you can endure the “End Times.” Here is how you can persevere the trials and resist the false teachings. Here is how you can be glad to be “left behind,” because, like Noah, those who are “left behind” are the ones with the true Christ. You know where the Christ is: He’s in His Scriptures and in His Church.
Pastor John Chrysostom is quoted as preaching on this passages this way: “When you shall see the wicked heresy, which is the army of Antichrist, standing in the holy places of the church, then let those who are in Judea head for the mountains, that is those who are Christians should head for the Scriptures…. But why should Christians at this time head for the Scriptures? Because in this period in which heresy has taken possession of the churches there can be no proof of true Christianity nor any other refuge for Christians who want to know the truth of the faith except the divine Scriptures” (Chemnitz, Examen, I:156).
Let’s keep running to the mountains of the Scriptures, for there we will find the true Christ, with all of His forgiveness and all of His strength to endure these “End Times.” Amen.