Eyes Fixed on Jesus as the End Nears
The Third to Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 25) – Pr. Faugstad sermon
St. Matthew 24:15-28
In Christ Jesus, to whom we look as “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2), who will come again from the right hand of the Father on the last day, dear fellow redeemed:
You may have heard recently about a prominent music artist who became a Christian. This was surprising for two main reasons. First of all, it seemed that he had everything he could want. He had worldwide fame and influence in the entertainment industry. He had great wealth and possessions. And he acted like it. By the egotistical way he talked and conducted himself, no one mistook him for a Christian. This made his conversion seem all the more unlikely.
The other reason people find his conversion surprising is not just that it happened, but that he is openly talking about it. In one prominent interview, he mentioned reading his Bible every night, and he talked about the blessings of marriage and children. His latest album is full of spiritual songs and is titled, “Jesus Is King.” He acknowledges that before, he was spiritually dead, but now his eyes have been opened. He said: “People who don’t believe ARE walking dead. They are asleep. And this is the awakening.”
What do you suppose unbelievers think about that statement? They probably say, “This man is crazy!” But hopefully some give it more thought. Hopefully they see that their life at present has no real purpose, no real goal. Apart from Jesus, there is no amount of money that can satisfy, no expansive property, no degree of fame and recognition. A life in unbelief is like appearing to be alive but really being dead. Until a person comes to faith in Jesus, he is spiritually dead—a dead man walking.
And that’s how we were. Before we were brought to faith by the power of God’s Word, we too were dead. But now our eyes are opened. Now we see. Now we “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Or that’s how we should walk. But we are still tempted to close our eyes once again. We are tempted to live how the unbelievers live and do what they do. We have been called out of darkness into the marvelous light of the Lord (1Pe. 2:9), and yet we often find ourselves slouching back into the darkness.
This is evident when we do not choose our words as carefully as we should, or when we fail to exercise moderation in our consumption of alcohol and food. It shows when we take part in the immoral behaviors that the world accepts but God condemns. It shows when we ignore the needs of our family members or neighbors. Giving free rein to these sins exposes us to enemy attack and seriously endangers our faith.
Peter writes that we must be “sober-minded” and “watchful” (1Pe. 5:8), because the devil works tirelessly to destroy our confidence in Jesus. He wants our eyelids to get heavy. He doesn’t want us to be aware of the dangers around us. He wants us to return to the darkness of unbelief. So we must always remember that in this lifetime we are perpetually at war—a spiritual war with eternal consequences.
When soldiers serve in peace-time, they can’t help but let down their guard a little. Their life is not immediately threatened. They feel safe. But when they receive word that the enemy is approaching, their demeanor changes. Their ears become attuned to the smallest sounds. Their eyes are on the lookout, scanning for any threat. Their weapon is clutched tightly in their hands. This is the kind of readiness we should exhibit spiritually in these end times, because the enemy is on the move and the final battle is at hand.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus warned His disciples about the destruction that was coming on the people of Judea. An enemy would come when they least expected it. The threat would be so sudden that there would not be time to grab some special belongings or even a cloak! When this destruction came in A. D. 70, the Christians were not trapped in Jerusalem. They fled at the first sign of trouble with the Romans a few years before. They believed what Jesus said.
This is how we also should prepare ourselves—by listening to Jesus’ Word. His Word keeps our ears attuned, so we are able to discern truth from error. His Word keeps our eyes focused, so we are not coaxed off in the wrong direction. His Word keeps us alert. It also comforts us as the battle continues.
Martin Luther points out that comfort in his great Reformation hymn. He said that “for us fights the Valiant One, / Whom God Himself elected.” Jesus fights for us and “holds the field.” “He’s by our side upon the plain / With His good gifts and Spirit” (ELH 250, vv. 2, 4). Jesus does battle on behalf of His Church of believers through His Word and Sacraments. This is how the Lord conquers. Not in outward displays of glory and power that impress the world, but through humble means that ruin the devil’s plans again and again.
When Jesus comes to you through His Word, He shines the bright light of His grace where the darkness has crept in. Nothing is hidden from His eyes. But He does not look to punish you for your sins. He wants to forgive you. He wants to lift off the burden of guilt that weighs you down. He wants you to free you from the chains of darkness that bind you, so you can walk in the light of life.
He can bring you these great blessings, because He faced sin, death, and devil in your place. Those enemies would have destroyed you, but Jesus ended their fearful reign. He gave Himself over into the hands of sinners, so that He might suffer and die for their salvation and for yours. And He rose again to secure for you a never-ending life free from all pain and trouble.
These riches are given to you each time He refocuses your ears and eyes on Him through His Word. This is how He equips you for the present battle and prepares you for its conclusion. The author of Hebrews writes that we must make it a habit to meet together to hear the Word. This is how we will encourage one another, “and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25).
This is so important for us to remember. Being a Christian is not simply being confident about one’s own standing before God because of what Jesus has done. It is also about sharing that hope with others. Jesus is coming soon, and then He will sit on the throne of judgment. We don’t want the people around us to be caught in the darkness. We want them to be saved. But how will they know about that salvation if no one tells them?
We can see how many unbelievers are searching for something that they don’t know. They want their life to have meaning. They want help to get through life’s tribulations and comfort when they experience loss. But they don’t know where to look, and they can’t find it on their own. This is what leaves them vulnerable to the manipulations of the devil.
As people desperately search for answers, the devil leads them in the wrong direction. He brings them to “false christs and false prophets.” Jesus says that these will “perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” We too will be tempted to look at these things.
But for the sake of our own faith and for the sake of those who may still believe, we keep our Eyes Fixed on Jesus. We go back to what He tells us in His Word. Jesus will not come down from heaven and hide Himself away in the wilderness or in an inner room. Rather, He says: “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” He is coming, and all people will know when He comes.
We are eager for His return. We watch for Him like a child waits for company to arrive, or like a crowd anticipates the arrival of someone famous. Our watching is contagious. If right now, I stopped talking and stared at something at the back of the church, I don’t think you could help yourself. You would want to look where I look, so you could see what I’m seeing.
This is what Eyes Fixed on Jesus does for those around us. They will want to know what we are looking at. And we are more than happy to show them. As we speak the Word of His grace, Jesus comes to them too. Our prayer is that He will work the same faith in them that He has worked in us. We pray that He will open their eyes just as He has opened ours.
There is still hope for the spiritually dead. They can still be saved. Until Jesus returns or unbelievers take their last breath, “the vultures” can only circle overhead. The Lord opens eyes every day through His Word, even the eyes of those we might not expect. For this abundant grace and mercy, we glorify His name.
We honor Him now by believing His Word and living according to it. And we prepare for the blessed end of all things when the Son of Man will reveal Himself in the sight of all. Then our troubles in this world will be ended, and nothing will ever again draw our focus away from Jesus, our Savior and Lord.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(1850 “Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem” painting by David Roberts)