This week, we are sharing with you a sermon written by the new Regional Director of Eurasia, Rev. James Krikava. Rev. Krikava also serves the English-speaking congregation which meets in St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Prague, Czech Republic. Rev. Krikava has been serving as Associate Regional Director and was recently appointed as Regional Director. He is tasked with developing a strategic plan for proclaiming Christ throughout the Eurasia Region, growing partnerships with sister church bodies, as well as other Lutheran church bodies in the region, caring for missionaries and their needs, and more.
A Sermon on the Gospel for Trinity 25, 2015
Rev. James Krikava
Preached November 8, 2015
St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, Prague, Czech Republic
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Word of God, upon which we will base our meditation this morning, is the Holy Gospel (Matthew 24:15-28), in which Jesus speaks like the prophets of old, and sets forth the Revelation of God concerning the End Times.
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow redeemed:
Today, the Church enters upon a little mini-season, like a Coda at the end of the Trinity cycle, which deals with the Last Things, Judgment and Everlasting Life. Quite properly this occurs on the last three Sundays of the Church Year, before we begin a new year of grace on the first Sunday in Advent.
It is in keeping with this theme that the early Church Fathers have selected passages to be read during this mini-season like the section before us in today’s Gospel. When we think of the Last Things, we often think of St. John’s book of Revelation, or as it is called in the original Greek, The Apocalypse of John. Or we think of the book of Daniel from the OT, or Ezekiel, which are filled with apocalyptic material. In the Gospel before us, Jesus, who was, of course, steeped in the OT, launches into His own discourse in this style of apocalyptic literature. You might call this section of Matthew a mini-book of Revelation, or,
The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ.
In order to grasp the significance of this type of prophetic discourse, certain things must be kept in mind:
First, apocalyptic prophesies are not written to satisfy our desire for detail, still less to satisfy our curiosity. They must be regarded as portrayals of certain truth; some belong to the near future, some to the far future; and some belong to the present. These truths serve as a warning to the unbeliever or as an admonition and a source of comfort for the believer in the struggle with evil both from within and without.
Second, Apocalyptic writing in the NT assumes the form of the OT prophesies in varying degrees. Here in Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse he even refers to the book of Daniel, in which the prophet talks about the “abomination of desolation.” Daniel, in OT apocalyptic fashion, talks about various kings of the South who will fight against the kings of the north.
And sure enough, in the near future, after Daniel’s prophesy, a struggle did take place between the factions succeeding Alexander the Great. The Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt to the south and the Seleucid kingdom in Syria in the north fought over the land of Israel, which led to the desecration of the Temple in 167 B.C. by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. At the same time, this actual near future conflict is blended with the coming distant apocalypse in the End Times, so that it is hard to tell where the one ends and the other begins. Jesus does the same thing in His apocalypse. Before our text He talks about the impending final destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which was realized in 67 A.D., the near future, under the Roman army. Of this coming disaster Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” And in our text, he warns of the impending “abomination of desolation” in the holy city: “Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains … For then there will be great tribulation…” We can only imagine how awful that overthrow was when Titus, the Roman General, laid siege to the city, slaughtered 1000s, and desecrated the most holy place of worship for the Jews.
Like Daniel, Jesus combines this literal destruction of Jerusalem in the not so distant future with the End Times. The disciples ask, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” So Jesus launches into the signs of the times: “…many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” There will be “wars and rumors of wars … famines, pestilence, earthquakes … you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake … many will be offended … betray one another … hate one another … false prophets will … deceive many. And … the love of many will grow cold.”
Here Jesus moves beyond the destruction of Jerusalem into the time of the NT Church; our time. Sound familiar? It should. How many false messiahs have risen up in the Church and society? How many wars have been fought, not in the name of religion, mind you, but using it as a pretext for conquest and the will to power? With all of the miracles of technology, still we see horrific famines and natural disaster! How many martyrs have there been, killed because of their faithful confession of the true Christ? And look at how Christianity is hated and blamed for everything wrong in the world today. Even within the outward Church many have been offended and deceived, and, because of this, have betrayed Christ’s true people with such false-hood that it can only be described as hatred of Christ Himself. No wonder lawlessness abounds, and even among the faithful their love has grown cold.
So, how can we face all of this? Jesus says before our text: “But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (13-14). What is this Gospel that will be preached in all the world? Jesus specifically instituted or mandated the preaching of the Gospel to be carried out by his Church. After His resurrection He said to His disciples, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins shall be preached in His name to all nations’” (Lk 24:47).
The Gospel sent into all the world is the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins. This is the preaching of Law and Gospel. Repentance refers to the 10 Commandments. You are to look at yourselves in the mirror of God’s 10 Commandments. Preaching repentance makes you look at yourself honestly in this mirror: Have you loved God with all your heart, soul and mind? Have you ever put anything before God? Have you used His name in vain? Have you neglected to call upon His name in every trouble, but rather looked for human solutions? Have you neglected His word in favor of some other entertainment? Have you really loved your neighbor as yourself? Have you honored your parents and superiors as your should? Or have you failed to respect them or even provoked them to anger? Have you hurt your neighbor for your own gain? Have you failed to protect innocent life by what you have done or by just remaining silent? Have you failed to lead a pure and decent life with your spouse in thought, word or deed? Have you taken what did not belong to you? Have you lied about, betrayed or slandered your neighbor, even if only by idle gossip? Have you coveted your neighbor’s stuff or perhaps even his wife or workers?
This is a mirror that no one likes to look into. It’s like the magic mirror in the Brothers Grimm fairy tail, “Snow White.” The wicked stepmother, the Queen, looks into the mirror and says: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” But the mirror tells her that she is not the fairest; instead Snow White is the fairest in the land. The Brothers Grimm were Christians, you know, and from their faith created a metaphor for their public. All mankind looks into the mirror of the Law and hears the disappointing words of that mirror, that we are not the fairest in the land. Rather, sin has stained us top to bottom, from the inside out.
Christ alone is the only one who is as pure as the Snow is White. This enrages the wicked queen inside of all of us. In Biblical terms, it is the Old Adam in us who wriggles and squirms with rage, trying to make himself the fairest of them all. To be directed to look into this mirror is to preach repentance. And while the Old Adam is raging, he is also being crucified with all sins and evil lust. You see, the Old Adam cannot be rehabilitated. He must be drowned, crucified, killed. And, as St. Paul says, “the letter [the mirror, the law] kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6).
Thank God, the law is not the only part of truly Christian preaching. This condemnation, which comes from the mirror of the law, is followed by a different word, a much stronger word. For Jesus commanded, “that repentance AND remission of sins shall be preached in His name to all nations” The forgiveness of sins is the Gospel in its most precise sense. It is God’s forgiveness purchased and won by the life and death of His Son, Jesus. If we return to Grimm’s fairy tale, the metaphor also includes this allusion to Christ. Snow White represents the pure and sinless Son of God who becomes man. Through His sacrifice for all mankind, He became “the fairest of them all.” As we sing in the hymn, “Beautiful Savior, … Son of God and Son of Man … Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer … Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer than all the angels in the sky …”
It is this Jesus, who eats the poisonous apple of which Adam and Eve partook in the Garden of Eden. By this He becomes our substitute and a great exchange takes place. He falls into death in our place, yet like Snow White, He does not see corruption. Instead, He swallows up death and sees resurrection. His resurrection is given to you through the forgiveness of sins. In your baptism your sins are washed away. In the preaching of remission of sins, you are forgiven. In the word of absolution it is your Beautiful Savior who proclaims to you: “I forgive you all your sins.” And in the most holy Sacrament of the Altar you are given to eat and to drink the very body and blood of Him who overcame the poisonous apple of Adam’s fall. Now His snow white, sinless flesh and His ruby red blood are yours. Therefore, His resurrection is yours, too. By faith, His beauty is yours. The mirror can no more condemn. For Christ is in you and you in Him.
This is where the Christ is to be found, for He Himself has established it by His Word. But He does not let us go without a word of warning: “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs … will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive …”
There is nothing that marks the antichrists of our day more than the flight away from the “preaching of repentance and remission of sins.” There are all kinds of great signs and wonders in churches today, which deceive and do not point to the signs and wonders that Jesus instituted. Those who direct you to embrace the ways of the world – “The church must take her lead from worldly culture to be relevant” – these only point you to a desert void of the comfort of Christ and His beauty for you. Those who have you look within the “inner rooms” of your own piety, and comfort yourself with your own works of the law – these deny our true reflection in the mirror of the Law and ultimately see Christ’s forgiveness in Word and Sacrament as irrelevant. These simply want the mirror of the Law to flatter them as the fairest of them all.
Such false christs were rampant in Luther’s day. The church leaders hid Christ’s forgiveness from the people by urging salvation by man’s own reason, will and works. Islam was attacking the empire and threatening to impose a completely Christ-less religion on those they hoped to conquer. No wonder Luther’s original words to his hymn, “Lord Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word,” included a strong prayer against the “abomination of desolation” facing the Church he so loved.
Today, with Islam on the rise and so-called Christian churches that preach anything but repentance and the forgiveness of sins, instead of the watered down generic version of Luther’s, it is high time that we return to the original text (as the choir will sing during the anthem): “Lord keep us steadfast in Your Word, curb Antichrist and Islam’s sword, who Jesus Christ, Your only Son would seek to tumble off His throne.” For Jesus says, “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive … Do not believe it.” For all of these things simply keep us from the one and only true comfort of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins.
During these last and evil days, then, seek Christ when and where He has promised to be found with His grace and mercy for you, namely, in His blessed Gospel, the forgiveness of sins, given to you in His Word and Sacraments. With these no “abomination of desolation” can harm you. With these you have fled “to the mountains”: To Mt. Calvary, where your Savior died for you, paid for your sins, and bought you back to God; to Mt. Zion, where your Savior feeds and nourishes you with His Gospel and Sacraments. Here you need not take anything with you, neither your merits stored up in your crumbling house, nor the rags of your own righteousness, which can never cover your nakedness before the holy God. But Christ provides you with His merit and adorns you with all of His possessions. He clothes you with the white robe of His perfect righteousness. Clinging to His merits and His glorious dress by faith alone, He will present you to His heavenly Father as the “fairest of them all.” For in Christ, so you are. Amen.
- Learn more about Rev. James Krikava, who was recently named Regional Director of Eurasia after first serving as Associate Regional Director.