(A sermon preached on the first Sunday in Advent in the three congregations
of the Anglican parish of Camden East, Morven, and Odessa, Ontario, November
The toppling of the city of Jerusalem and its temple is pictured in symbolic language. "In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken" (Mark 13:24). The disciples would know that Jesus was quoting the exact words spoken by Isaiah concerning the destruction of Babylon in 539 BC.
This is how Isaiah prophesied that momentous event. "See, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger . . . For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light . . . Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts, in the day of his fierce anger" (Isaiah 13:20 & 13)
Obviously there was no literal falling of stars in the days of Isaiah. He pictured the Babylonian Emperor as the sun, the queen as the moon, the military, political, business, and religious leaders as the stars, and the might of the empire as the powers of heaven.
So when Jesus uses these exact words, with the order slightly changed, he is using Isaiah's symbolic language to refer to the fall of Jerusalem in the lifetime of his hearers (Mark 13:30). Jerusalem is going to be destroyed in the same way as Babylon was six centuries before. The temple was destroyed as Jesus prophesied in AD 70 (Mark 13:1,2), and the High Priest, the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin, and the Pharisee teachers were all killed or scattered. The Jewish people did not get back to pray by the wailing wall of their holy city for 1900 years till the State of Israel was established fifty years ago (1948).
So part of the Advent message is that the reign of the Son of God, the Messiah King of kings and Lord of lords includes the toppling of great cities that have misused their power. Rome, the capital of the great Roman Empire fell to invading barbarians in AD 410. Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire fell in 1453. The Kings of France never imagined the French Revolution would come in 1789, and the King and Queen, royal family, and many others were guillotined. Nor did anyone guess the Czar of Russia, the royal family, and their leaders and generals would be toppled in the Russian revolution that ushered in 70 years of communism in 1919. Some of you remember the fall of Hitler's Berlin at the end of the war in 1945. And just now the countries of Eastern Europe are celebrating the toppling of the iron curtain and the end of seventy years of communist power only ten years ago in 1989. There is no need to remember these dates of world history but it is important to know our Messiah King is reigning and executes justice among the nations.
In each of these cases, and no doubt many other similar events in other countries, the Old Testament prophets would have called the event a "Day of the Lord." A day of the Lord's intervention will be celebrated with songs of joy for those who find themselves freed from slavery and danger, but it also means disaster for the oppressors (e.g. Exodus 15:1-18).
Some people cringe at the idea of the gentle Jesus coming to destroy thousands of people in the terrible events of world history. But the fact is those events occurred, and the Bible records that they did not happen by chance. The Lord is a tender Shepherd who loves us, but He is also the Judge who deals with nations that behave abominably. "The rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed (Messiah) . . . He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury" (Psalm 2:2-4). When there is gross oppression and injustice in any country people cry out to God for Him to intervene, as we find again and again in the Psalms. Throughout the Bible wrath is not sending people to burn in hell, but assigning of the proper bad consequences in our world.
Secondly Jesus made clear that the destruction of the temple and fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 was evidence for the people of that day of the Messiah's comings in history. "Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory" (Mark 13:26) In the prophecy I quoted from Isaiah we read "See, the day of the Lord comes" (Isaiah 13:9). And there are many references to comings of the Lord in the Old Testament. Whenever the Son of God intervenes to judge empires and cities it is called a day of the Lord.
In the Bible He comes in great events such as the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. It was His coming that toppled the city of Jerusalem followed by the seventy years of exile in 586 BC. It was the Messiah King of the nations who came to end that exile when Cyrus King of Persia destroyed Babylon and ended the Babylonian empire. In the Feast of Purim the Jews still celebrate the coming of the Lord in answer to prayer when their people were delivered from total genocide by the courage of Queen Esther in 480 BC.
In the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation you can read how our Messiah King also intervenes to judge churches that fail to do their work. To the church of Ephesus He said "Do the works you did at first. If not, I will remove your lampstand from its place" (Revelation 2:5). If you go to visit the ruins of Ephesus in western Turkey, you can see how the city was destroyed, as were the other city churches of Asia Minor. When the Muslim armies moved across North Africa the huge churches in those areas were removed to this day. But those times of judgment are only the situation has become too bad to continue. Mostly the Lord comes to bless, encourage, and answer the prayers of His people.
So our Messiah King keeps coming both to save and to judge nations and cities and churches , but He also comes lovingly to bless us as individuals. You remember how He came to Abraham, and Moses, Daniel in the den of lions, Paul on the Damascus Road. And when we come to the end of our journey on earth, as we breathe our last breath and die, Jesus comes to receive us on the other side.
Thirdly we wonder what we should do about His comings? And He tells us very clearly. "It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work" (Mark 13:34). One is to keep the buildings in repair, another minds the wells and water supply, some are in charge of the cattle or the sheep, another minds the accounts and pays the bills, and there are many tasks in the vineyard and wine making operation.
Similarly the church in each place is like a big farming operation. Our Lord leaves us to take care of each congregation. Just look at all the people involved in making this service possible. The buildings are kept in order, and heated and cleaned. There are greeters and ushers, readers and those who pray, musicians and singers, those who set up the communion, give generously, keep the accounts and pay the bills. But that is just inside this building. The church also visits in homes and the community. One of your parish is a member of parliament. There are also those who serve in other countries - my wife Mollie and I served in India for eleven years. There is plenty to do if we look to the Lord.
We are not to spend our time wondering when He will come. We have too many radio preachers who spend their time making great charts of the second coming and preaching about the end times. Nor is it our business to keep complaining about the other workers in the Lords' business. People make the excuse "Why should I bother with my job in church when so and so is lazy and behaving badly." Better leave our Messiah King to deal with his servants in due time. As Paul said, "Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another" (Romans 14:4, see Matthew 7:1-5)
The purpose of a farming operation or business is to make money. But in the Lord's Kingdom God is Love, and we are in His love business. Some of us are given five love talents, others have two love talents, and most of us have only one. And we can invest our loving in any way we choose in our families, in the community, in the church, in our country. When our investment results in love for God and love for our neighbors we are wonderfully rewarded.
The happy and wise response to the advent message is to say to ourselves "How would He want me to invest my loving today?" What other servants do or fail to do with their loving is none of our business. He will come from time to time to deal with that. "Therefore keep awake -for you do not know when the master of the house will come" (Mark 13:35)
Note: This sermon is based on understanding Jesus' symbolic language about His coming. Literalists imagine the events of Mark 13 with the darkening of the sun and moon and falling of stars are about to happen in the future. At His ascension Jesus was physically "lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9). But the disciples were immediately told "This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). Since the first coming of the Messiah King after the Ascension was described in the symbolic terms of the sun, moon, stars, the powers of heaven, and the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power (Mark 13:24-26) it seems likely that the disciples were to picture future comings in those terms.
This would correspond to the Old Testament pictures of the comings of
the Messiah King. "The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice; let the many
coastlands be glad! Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness
and justice are the foundation of his throne" (Psalm 97:1-2, see
57:10, 68:34 108:4). "The day of the Lord is near; it will be a day
of clouds, a time of doom for the nations" (Ezekiel 30:3, 32:7).
"The day of the Lord is coming, it is near - a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness" (Joel 2:1-2, see Jeremiah