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Lindemann on Trinity 25/Third-Last

by revalkorn ~ November 11th, 2010

Even though this Sunday doesn’t occur this year, I’ll post it to make sure it’s on the site.

THE TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

The last few Sundays have brought exhortation and promises. Today we enter on the final group of Sundays, dealing with the Last Things as the completion of the believer’s life and the end which the unbeliever, too, must face. The first of these Last Things is the Second Coming of our Lord- Next Sunday’s Les-sons will tell of the final judgment. The last Sunday will picture all this parabolically, but to the very end we have warning and exhortation to watch and be ready.

The ancient Church looked forward to the Second Coming with inmost longing. Adorned as the bride, bearing the palm of martyrdom, she went forth joyfully to meet her Lord and Bridegroom. The Maranatha, “Come, Lord Jesus,” was the heart and culmination of all her prayers. The attitude of the Middle Ages was quite different. Wholesome terror and dread was awakened by the very thought of the judgment. The Dies irae of the Mass for the Dead expresses this apprehension. This hymn of the thirteenth century, in translation, is Hymn 607 in The Lutheran Hymnal and Hymn 515 in the Common Service Book. It was first issued in England as a hymn for Advent. “Day of wrath, O Day of mourning! . . . What shall I, frail man, be pleading? Who for me be interceding When the just are mercy needing? … Nothing unavenged remaineth.”
We feel neither longing nor terror. We no longer have the enthusiasm of the ancient Church nor the unaffected simplicity of the Middle Ages. What is to be our reaction? Our Lord spoke often of His Second Coming. In His eschato-logical discourse, of which the last three Gospels are a part, He gives many de-tails. The Christian who lives his life with and in the Church should be familiar at least with the line of thought. The purpose is not to satisfy curiosity but to give the Christian life a mighty tension and tenseness. For it reaches its climax in the thought that the end is uncertain. This holds true also of death. For the individual, death is the return of Christ. Time ends with death, and eternity begins. There is no passing of time, no intervening time between death and Christ’s coming. But from this side, the great conclusion is: We must be ready always. To emphasize this conclusion our Lord presented four parables, all of which teach the same: of the Thief, of the Faithful and Wise Servant, of the Wise and Foolish Maidens, and of the Talents. The sum of our Lord’s address may be said to be: Life in the light of the Second Coining. To emphasize this seems to be the object of the Church in the Liturgy. She admonishes that in the light of Christ’s return we are to become rich in the fruits of good works and increase in perseverance and patience.

The Introit. “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am in trouble. Deliver me from the hand of mine enemies and from them that persecute me. Let me not be ashamed, Lord, for I have called upon Thee. In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed.”

The faithful enter the house and presence of the Lord somewhat soberly, yet not timidly, but hopefully and confidently. “I am in trouble,” in distress. The warfare against the world and the flesh and the Evil One grows bitter as the goal of my expectation and of my living draws nearer. Deliver me. I put my trust in Thee. Let me not be put to shame. Have mercy upon me. The Introit sings of the Church’s confidence and trust in God’s mercy and protection.

The Collect. “Almighty God, we beseech Thee, show Thy mercy unto Thy humble servants, that we, who put no trust in our own merits, may not be dealt with after the severity of Thy judgment but according to Thy mercy.”

God’s humble servants put no trust in their own merits. They humbly pray that through our Lord’s merits they may pass through the judgment to the glories of the life to come. “In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust!”

The Epistle, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Underlying the Apostle’s words seem to be anxious care and loving anxiety that the believer continue steadfast even unto the end, unswerving in his allegiance, clinging to the great hope in his Lord and Savior. It appears that some in the church of Thessalonica had doubts and fears, some were hesitating in purposefully continuing in the Way. St. Paul addresses himself to a difficulty that resulted from the seeming delay in the Lord’s return. They expected an immediate coming. But the Lord delayed, and believers were dying. The surviving grieved that those who had fallen asleep were at a disadvantage. “Comfort one another with these words.” “We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.” “The dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.” A precious, comforting, peace-filling song of the blessedness with which the glorified Lord crowns His own at His coming. The Epistle is filled with comfort and peace and glory for His own.

The Gradual. “Thine enemies roar in the midst of Thy congregations; they set up their ensigns for signs. Remember Thy congregation, which Thou hast purchased of old, the rod of Thine inheritance, which Thou hast redeemed, Alle-luia! Alleluia! There is a river the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved. Alleluia!”

“I am in distress.” “Thy foes have roared in the midst of Thy holy place; they have set up their own ensigns for signs.” Psalm 74 speaks prophetically of the distressing trouble of the Church both in the Old Testament and the New Covenant. The foes set their idols in the holy places and destroyed everything in the sanctuary. We pray: “Remember Thy congregation, which Thou hast gotten of old, which Thou hast redeemed to be the tribe of Thy inheritance.” Then comes the confident note of trust from Psalm 46: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved.”

The Proper Sentence. “Alleluia! O Lord, deal with Thy servant according unto Thy mercy, and teach me Thy statutes. I am Thy servant, give me understanding, that I may know Thy testimonies. Alleluia!”

Or: “Alleluia! Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers; praise Him and highly exalt Him forever. Alleluia!”

The Gospel, St. Matthew 24:15-28. It is essential that particularly on this Sunday the preacher bear in mind that he is speaking to people who have declared in the Introit that they put their trust in God, who put no trust in their own merits, who have prayed that the Lord would not let them be put to shame but deal with them according to His mercy. The Church had these humble servants of God in mind when she appointed the holy Gospel for this day. Therefore we must not lose sight of the fact that our Lord did not intend to frighten but to comfort when He spoke of His Day. His intention is to gather His elect that they may share in the inheritance of the saints in light. The holy Gospel brings loving admonition but also the assurance of the Lord’s concern for His faithful. The people who have on their lips the confession “I am in trouble” are not to be further troubled by a discussion of wherein later theologians differed with Luther in the explanation and application of this part of our Lord’s eschatological sermon or by a lengthy explanation of the fact that many mistakenly identify the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Coming. It is enough that the disciples asked: When will every stone of the temple be thrown down? and What will be the sign of our Lord’s coming and the close of the age? Our Lord answered both questions by regarding the judgment over Jerusalem as the beginning of an era of final judgment, as a picture of the last Judgment. When will this be? When the desolating sacrilege has made of Jerusalem and of the world a putrifying carcass that pollutes the air with its stench. Then the eagles, or vultures, of God’s judgment will remove the city and the world from the scene. What will be the signs? Certain signs will announce the coming of Jerusalem’s destruction. But no such special and particular signs will announce the judgment of the world. “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. Wherever the body is, there the eagles [vultures] will be gathered together.” When the world has become a hopeless, polluting carcass, the end ill come, without special preceding signs, suddenly, unexpectedly. Therefore be ready always. Where does Daniel speak of the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place? Undoubtedly Dan. 11:31 is to be preferred to 9:27.

The Proper Preface, “Who with Thine only-begotten Son and the Holy Ghost art one God, one Lord. And in the confession of the only true God we worship the Trinity in Person and the Unity in Substance, of Majesty coequal.”

SERMON ON THE EPISTLE

At the end of the Church Year the Propers speak much of the end of all things, the end of human life, and the end of the world. This is not to awaken fear in the faithful but joyous expectation. The Church does well by her children in appointing lessons for the close of the Church Year which not merely warn and admonish but also encourage and comfort. For also the faithful are prone to become depressed and apprehensive at times, as we sing in one of our hymns: “Though the night of death be fraught Still with many an anxious thought.” When we stand at the open grave of our loved ones or when we contemplate that we ourselves are also subject to death and corruption, these anxious thoughts will come. The normal attitude of the Christians is joyous expectation, for we know that the moment of our death will be to us individually the moment of our resurrection, of Christ’s return in glory, and of our entrance into the eternal home, for we shall have left behind us the concept of time and entered upon timeless eternity. Normal for the Christian is a joyous looking forward to our Lord’s coming in power and glory and the resurrection of our bodies to a new life. To maintain this joyous anticipation it is necessary that we recall constantly the hope we have and what the Scriptures say of the resurrection. We consider, then:

The Comforting Hope of the Resurrection

A number of remarks in the First Letter to the Thessalonians lead us to believe that the Epistle was occasioned by a report made by Timothy on the state of the church at Thessalonica. St. Paul heard much to gladden his heart, of the faith of the Christians, of their zeal in serving the Lord Jesus Christ, and of their patience in tribulation and affliction. But Timothy reported one disquieting fact which would have prompted the Apostle to go to Thessalonica immediately. Since circumstances made such a visit impossible, he had to content himself with a letter. His beloved Thessalonians were still hazy and unclear regarding the resurrection of the dead. They expected an immediate return of the Lord. As time went on, some of the congregation died, and there was deep concern whether their beloved who had fallen asleep would have part in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ when He returned in glory or whether they were at a disadvantage, to say the least. Therefore the Apostle wrote what we read in this day’s Epistle regarding the resurrection of the dead and concluded with the words “Comfort one another with these words.”

A. “We would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others who have no hope.” The Apostle writes that the Thessalonians had no cause to grieve at the death of their loved ones, as did others who have no hope. The comforting hope of the resurrection was not to be concealed and hidden from them. There were people for whom death was hopeless and comfortless. The unbelievers had various ideas as to what became of them after death. They imagined that their body returned to its original material and assumed some other form. The soul or spirit roamed about in search of some other living being in which to exist. A resurrection to a new life was to them ridiculous. Unbelievers today have similar ideas. At best, words about a great beyond and even of a reunion after death are mouthed, but there is no faith, no looking forward with confidence, When death occurs, these hopeless unbelievers numbly resign themselves to the inevitable.

To have hope, it is necessary to be like the Thessalonians, with their mind set not on earthly but on heavenly things, looking forward confidently for the inheritance kept for them in heaven. To them this world meant so little that they kept the Lord’s coming constantly before their eyes and thought and spoke much of His bringing this world to an end and revealing His heavenly Kingdom. Apparently only one question caused them concern, and that was whether their loved ones who had fallen asleep in Christ would enter with them into the glory of this Kingdom. To such people the message of the resurrection brings hope, and to them alone.

Death and all its woes are a result and consequence of sin. Christians know this and happily thank God that through Christ they have been forced from sin and its curse and therefore will not remain in death but pass from death into the life eternal. Life on this sinful earth is distasteful to them, and they long to be with the Lord, where they will sin no more but serve God in perfect righteousness. Such people have a receptive, open heart for the hope of the resurrection. When they stand at the grave of a loved one or grow momentarily apprehensive about their own death, they hear the Apostle calling to them: “Be of good cheer! The dead in Christ will rise again! The Lord will awaken them and take them to Himself.” So the heart is comforted, gloomy thoughts are banished, and the soul is filled with a sweet hope. It is here that many of us fall short. Our minds are still set on earthly things. We have greater knowledge regarding the resurrection than the Thessalonians had, yet there are times when our faith and our love for the Savior fail us and we feel no desire to depart and be with Christ. We lose sight of the fact that it is a great privilege and unspeakable grace to be taken out of this wicked world and in peaceful sleep wait for the day of resurrection. We must accustom ourselves to give more thought to the resurrection and its meaning. The text offers the opportunity to make a beginning, by telling us, secondly, wherein the comforting resurrection consists.

B. “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.” Because we believe that the Lord Jesus died and rose to save us from death and to bring us life, we cannot fear that our fellow believers who have fallen asleep in Him will be excluded from the glory He will bring at His coming. These believers did not really die but only fell asleep and are united with Christ, through Him have attained the promise of life. When He comes in glory to lead His own into life eternal, He cannot disregard these sleeping believers. He will not leave them in sleep but awaken them and have them with Him always. For the comfort of Christians, the Apostle states that the dead of whom he speaks have fallen asleep. Their death in Christ is only a sleep. Even in death they are still His, and since they merely sleep, there must be an awakening. Their Lord will awaken them. He Himself spoke of the death of His beloved as a sleep. Of His friend Lazarus He said: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.” Of the daughter of Jairus He said: “She is not dead but sleeping.” All men, also the unbelievers, must rise from their graves at His coming. But the resurrection of the unbelievers is not the resurrection of which the text speaks as a comfort. The certainty that he will rise is in it-self no comfort for the sinner. When a criminal is found guilty and led to his cell, he finds no comfort in the knowledge that when he is sentenced by the judge on another day he will be taken from his cell. The unbeliever can find no comfort in, the knowledge that he will be called from the grave only to revive an eternal sentence from the Judge. “The hour is coming,” said our Lord, “when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth: those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28,29).

For the Christian, however, the resurrection is comforting. “God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.” When God raised Christ from the dead and exalted Him to glory, He did not separate the Head from the members. The believers remain united with Christ also in death. Therefore God raise them also from the dead and bring them to glory with Christ. The believers are sinners when they die, but they do not die the death of sinners. They fall asleep through Christ, are His own also in death, and therefore they have forgiveness and His righteousness. They have the assurance that they will not come into judgment. All the terrible threats against sinners do not apply to them. When Christians think of the day of the resurrection, they look forward to the day when through Christ they stand before God as justified and the Lord will say to them: “Come, O blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

How comforting this confident hope is when we stand at the grave of our loved ones! We look beyond the grave and see them living again, full of a new life, standing among the great multitude of the saints, and arm in arm with them following the Lamb to the eternal home. How comforting to have this hope in the hour of our own death! “O Death, where is thy sting?” we say. “Take what is yours, what is perishable about me. This perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. I know that my Redeemer lives, and because He lives, I shall live also!”

C. Human reason finds the article of the resurrection of the body hard to believe. Nothing seems to contradict reason more flatly. The wise of this world tell us that it is a beautiful thought but that it cannot be true. Man’s body turns to dust, dissolves into atoms that are scattered and even mixed with other atoms. How can these atoms be reunited after a long time and become the original body once more? Every attempt at a natural explanation is useless. Do we Christians consider this when we say: “I believe in the resurrection of the body”? Certainly we do! But our faith is based on a foundation that overcomes every doubt. The Apostle states in the text: “This we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.” This word concerning the resurrection is a word of the Lord. This word is firm and immovable, for it is the word of Him who performs what He promises and is able to create what He wills. He has given all things their nature and being, why should it be impossible for Him, yes, even difficult, to renew the nature and being of His creation? Attempts have been made to explain the resurrection scientifically. It has been argued that as in spring new life comes to nature, so the life of the dead shall again break forth at the restoration of all things. This may be a beautiful comparison, but it proves nothing. Who would base his faith and hope for time and eternity on such an argument? But when we are told: “This we declare to you by the word of the Lord,” that is an utterly different manner of speaking. “For the word of the Lord is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness” (Ps. 33:4).

This word of God gives us another basis for our faith in the resurrection of the body. “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again.” In this way God Himself supplies a foundation for our faith. Consider that Jesus died and rose again. Why and for what purpose? For you, for your salvation. Is it possible that He should have sacrificed His life to save you from death and you should nevertheless remain in death? Should it be possible that your Head came forth from death to eternal life and leave you, His members, in death? No, we Christians are too closely united with Christ in this life. We live in Him, and He lives in us. Our body is His temple, the temple of His Spirit. Is this a life of this world, perishable, a life death can destroy? Indeed not. The life we live in Christ is a divine life. Death cannot touch it. Therefore in the faith that Jesus died and rose again we have a sure foundation for our hope of a blessed resurrection. Those who do not believe are not united with Him, are outside of Christ, and have no part in His resurrection. But we who believe and put our trust in Him will be united with Him in all eternity.

D. Finally, the Apostle describes how the comforting hope of the resurrection will become the reality. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.” The Lord will descend from heaven, not in humility as at His first coining, but as a mighty Conqueror, surrounded by His heavenly army. His mighty command will be heard, like a thousand thunders the trumpet of the archangel will resound, and as the walls of Jericho fell at the sound of the trumpets, so the entire structure of this world will collapse. But before the dissolution of all things begins, the Lord’s own will be removed from the scene of judgment. Those who are alive at His coming shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. The dead in Christ are not at any disadvantage. They shall rise immediately, their bodies shining like the sun. At the same moment those who are alive at His coming will be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and be caught up together with the awakened sleepers to meet the Lord in the air. Then the Lord will have His whole congregation of elect before Him, clothed in indescribable glory. Then will be fulfilled what the Son asked of the Father for His own: “Father, I desire that they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me where I am, to behold My glory which Thou hast given Me in Thy love for Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). Then our mouth will be filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy” (Ps. 126:2).

May God help us that this comforting hope of the resurrection ever continue a living conviction in our hearts and draw us away from this sinful, perishing world, to a constant waiting for the blessed hope and revelation of our Savior’s glory.

SERMON ON THE HOLY GOSPEL

When the wicked city of Sodom was to be destroyed with all its inhabitants, God sent two angels to warn righteous Lot of the impending doom. They urged him to lead his family out of the city, and when he lingered, they seized him and his wife and two daughters by the hand and brought them forth and set him outside the city and said: “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop any-where in the valley; flee to the hills, lest you be consumed!” Something similar is told us in the holy Gospel for this day. Here, however, Christ Himself is the messenger of doom. He warns His disciples of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem and advises them: “Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”

Our Lord and His disciples were leaving the temple, where He had pronounced His sevenfold woe over the scribes and Pharisees and uttered His lament over Jerusalem. In plain words He had announced the fearful doom awaiting them, their city, and their nation. As they walked, the disciples, still thinking of His prediction that the temple would be forsaken and desolate, drew His attention to the massive strength and solidity of that structure, as if half questioning whether such a magnificent building could ever be destroyed till all the earth would be shaken to its very foundations. Our Lord’s answer was: “There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” He then passed over Kidron and sat on the Mount of Olives, looking upon Jerusalem and the temple on the opposite hill as if musing on the fearful ruin that was to fall on both. The disciples came to Him privately and asked Him to explain when these things would be and what would be the sign of His coming and of the close of the age. In response, our Lord gave a prophetic discourse whose immediate application was to the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple. The forty years between this prediction and the event brought a striking fulfillment of His prophecy. But the disciples had also asked what would be the sign of His coming and of the end of the age, and our Lord treated the two questions as One, applying His answer also to the end of the world. We consider, then:

The Judgment upon Jerusalem as a Call to Prepare
for the Last Judgment

A. The Sign of its Coming. “When you see the desolating sacrilege spo-ken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the Holy Place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”

1. The reference undoubtedly is to Dan. 11:31: “Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.” The first meaning is of Antiochus Epiphanes, tyrant and king of Syria. What he and his helpers, the apostate Jews, did to the temple as Daniel prophesied, was a picture of what was to happen again in at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction. The desolating sacrilege was Israel’s falling away from Jehovah, their covenant God. They refused to accept their Messiah, disregarding the witness of the Apostles to the risen and exalted Christ. As a people they rejected Him and so turned from the true God and in His place put a false god, a product of their fantasy and imagination. They replaced the true worship of God with a pagan worship of ungodly self-righteousness. This sacrilege made its way into the very holy place, the temple. Sacrifices were no longer offered to the true God through faith in the Messiah but to an idol by self-righteous, self-seeking service. When this falling away from the Messiah became general, the end had come. Outward evidence of this inner falling away was that the Zealots and other parties did not hesitate to desecrate the holy place by scenes of abomination, murder, and bloodshed. Israel was ripe for judgment.

Whether our Lord had in mind a special act of profanation we have no means of knowing. Nor is it needful that we should know. The people to whom these words were first addressed and to whom the sign should serve as a warn-ing could understand it, and were exhorted to understand it, that they might profit by it. The abomination and the desolation which it brought were before their eyes and pointed to the coming of the Roman legions whose din should resound in their ears. To us the special sign and what it portended lie in the past, and the whole presents itself to us as an example of divine judgment and of divine mercy forewarning of its coming.

2. But just for that reason the desolating abomination before our eyes now in the holy place is a call to us to prepare for the judgment, whose coming it forebodes. Such an abomination St. Paul describes 2 Thess. 2:3, 4: “That Day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” The abominations which have been admitted into Christian churches and Christian homes by the indifference and coldness and callousness of Christians, not to say by utter unbelief, are manifold. So great is the liberalism and rationalism and sentimentalism that now passes for progressive Christianity that a man who adheres strictly to the words of the Lord is regarded as a relic of the Dark Ages who has not learned the gospel of enlightenment and the advanced charity of disenthralled humanity. Recklessness in morals keeps pace with indifference in doctrine. A conscientious service of God in the vocation He has given is represented as a superstition which in-creased intelligence has banished, and the fear of God is barely tolerated as a childish sentiment of an uncultured mind that must not be permitted to hamper business with its crudeness. The desolating abomination is among us and indi-cates that the end of all thin s is at hand.

B. The Warning to Escape. “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” The immediate application is to the catastrophe that threatened Jerusalem. But it applies to us also, urging us to prepare for the coming end of all things. It bids us flee, to stop at no importance, to make haste, to pray for help and deliverance to Him who alone can rescue us from the threatening ruin.

1. Many of the Jews heeded the warning and fled to Pella when the Roman legions approached. There they were safe from the horror that raged in the Holy City. But where shall we flee? There is no hiding place in all the world. Yet there is a refuge for us where all are secure. “God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present Help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea” (Ps.46:1,2). Not only are we permitted to run to that refuge, but the Lord calls us to come and find safety.

2. “Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle.” When they should see desolating abomination in the holy place, the people of God were to make their escape by the speediest way possible and were not to permit any thought of rescuing property to interfere with rescuing their lives. Those on the housetops were to descend by means of the staircase on the outside wall and, without stopping to enter the house, leave the city by the quickest route. Those who were in the field were not to think of going back to their homes to save at least their clothing. Without the slightest delay they were to hasten and save their lives.

This warning is also for us. The desolating abomination has appeared, and the end is coming. Flee for your lives! Do not think of first securing or en-joying this or that earthly prize or pleasure. What would it profit you if you gained the whole world and lost your soul? Let nothing deter you from getting ready for the Lord’s coming. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. All else, even though the Lord’s coming be long delayed, will then be amply provided for. Attend to these eternal things now, for now is the day of salvation.

3. “And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.” Our Lord here injects a note of infinite compassion and tenderness. He deeply sympathizes with His people under the peculiar trials of this sudden and hurried flight. He thinks of winter and stormy weather, and how these fugitives would suffer if compelled to undertake this flight at such a time! He bids them pray that the necessity might not fall in so unfavorable a period. He thinks of the restrictions of the Jewish Sabbath, when the gates of the cities were closed, all journeys intercepted, and all sympathy for those not conforming to the custom entirely withdrawn, and how they would be disadvantaged and hindered if compelled to flee on that day. He thinks of the burdened and expectant mothers and of the little children and laments the sorrows and trials this necessary flight would bring to them. Every kind of exposure, peril, and disadvantage He takes into consideration and provides against them with the utmost tenderness. It is impossible for us half to understand the depth of our Lord’s compassion for them who trust in Him. It might seem foolish to think of influencing the march of the Roman armies or the orders of Roman generals by the prayers of a few Christians in the obscurity of their homes and little assemblies. Yet so our Lord directed. Whatever philosophers and skeptics may say of it, the disciples did as they were commanded, and the result was as they prayed.

To carry a child was a hindrance to speedy flight. The weather and the roads of winter were impediments to a hasty flight, and the law of the Sabbath forbade a journey of more than a mile on the holy day. These things were not to be a hindrance in fleeing from the impending judgment. But their mention shows us that everything on earth, though it be father or mother or son or daughter, the best and dearest this life has, must be regarded as a calamity when it stands in the way of or hinders us in, fleeing from the wrath to come. The one absorbing thought must be to escape the destruction and find a refuge that is safe. There-fore pray for deliverance from every power and every entanglement that endangers your life by hindering your flight. You have not the power in yourselves to break the bonds that constitute the danger; you have not the power in yourselves to flee; you have not the power in yourselves to make your flight a success. Ask God for light and life and strength. We have a God who hears prayer and is ever ready to help. Call upon Him. He will hear you and give you what you need to corn ly with His warning, that you may escape.

C. The Coming Tribulation. “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” The destruction of Jerusalem brought, and the end of the world will bring, terrible things which all should wish to escape.

1. The text refers to the tribulation that befell Jerusalem in its siege and destruction by the Romans. It was a scene of horror unparalleled in the annals of time. War and famine and pestilence combined to make it a calamity beyond the power of human language to depict. Josephus estimates that there were three million people in the city when the Romans surrounded it at the time of the Passover. Within such a limited space such a number cannot remain healthy, and a terrible pestilence raged. Food became so scarce that some mothers killed their children, boiled and ate them. One million are said to have died, ninety-seven thousand were sold into slavery for a cheap price.

2. Great will be the tribulation also when the final judgment comes which is prefigured by Jerusalem’s destruction. When all the vast fabric of God’s creation will have accomplished its end and will fall to pieces in a final crash, even the strongest hearts will quake with fear if they have not sought security in Him who has provided a refuge for His people. “The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). The distress and terror of the ungodly will not cease when the destruction of the world is past and the end of ,ill things has come. Their tribulation only begins in the eternal doom of those who have rejected God and are now rejected forever. That is the tribulation of which the unspeakable horrors of Jerusalem’s fate are but a faint emblem. But those who have heeded the warning and waited for Him in daily watchfulness and prayer, fled out of this world and taken refuge in Him, will lift up their hearts, for their redemption is drawing near. The Epistle for this day tells us that neither those who have fallen asleep nor those who are alive at our Lord’s coming will see anything of the destruction, but will be caught up in the clouds to meet Him in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.

D. Therefore We Flee to the Mercy That Never Fails. There is mercy in the warning that aims at securing man’s escape from the tribulation. There is mercy in the exhortation to prayer, which implies God’s readiness to hear and help. There is mercy in the divine providence that shapes all things for the wel-fare Of the faithful.

1. The obvious purpose of pointing to the desolating abomination in the holy place as the sign of the coming doom and of giving earnest warning to flee from the approaching destruction was to arouse to a sense of danger and to invite to escape. It was the divine compassion yearning to save from ruin. The compassion extended even to the people whose sin was bringing about the ruin. It is tenderly expressed in our Lord’s words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” The multitude remained impenitent, and the tribulation came, but His mercy continued to all who were willing to embrace it; for He said: “If those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” These elect were the Christians who by faith had accepted Christ as their Savior and those among the Jews who were yet to be brought to faith. They were His own, elected by grace to be the Lord’s pos-session before the foundation of the world. The days of tribulation were shortened, not by the prayers of the faithful, but for their sake, for their good, that they might be delivered. The tribulation caused by war and famine and pestilence was not permitted to run its full course. There were some among the Jews who were to be saved, won for Christ later. For the sake of these, whom He had chosen, those days were shortened. “For the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days” (Mark 13:20).

2. This mercy is great toward us also. It is that mercy which moved our Lord to give warnings which today are set before us for our learning. He would have us realize that the end is coming and that we must be ready. His mercy has provided a way of escape from the ruin that will overtake His foes and now calls upon us to flee from the wrath to come (Heb. 3:12-15). The announcement that the end of all things is approaching is designed to arouse us also to be ready every day and hour for the coming of the Son of man, the more so as we know not the day and hour when He will appear. We should be prepared at any moment. The signs of the coming tribulation are given us that we may be incited to make no delay in preparing. “Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” A dead, putrifying body is the gathering point of the vultures who remove the carcass. We are to recognize the mercy of God in giving us warning and offering us the needful grace to escape the coming ruin, the mercy He shows in shortening the days of distress for the saints on earth. The desolating abomination is a constant temptation to sin and leads many to destruction. While it is a mercy to the ungodly that God postpones the Day of Judgment in order to give them time for repentance, it is a mercy to His people that He short-ens the time of delay in order to remove them from the temptations and afflictions to which they are subject in this wilderness of probation. For the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. Therefore the saints love the Lord’s appearing and fervently pray: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” For the mercy of God that has provided for their salvation from sin and death has prepared for them a home of bliss eternal in the heavens. But before that home is reached, we must pass through the trials of this earthly life.

E. The Dangers That Beset Us. “Then if anyone says to you, Lo, here is the Christ! or There He is! do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Lo, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, Lo, He is in the wilderness, do not go out; if they say, Lo, He is in the inner rooms, do not believe it.”

1. Before the destruction of Jerusalem these words were literally fulfilled. There were false Christs who deceived many and led them away from the living springs to cisterns that held no water. There were false prophets who set forth their own vain fancy which could only lead astray. They showed great signs which had the semblance of miracles and deceived many. This, too, belonged to the tribulation of those dreadful times.

2. There are false Christs and false prophets showing great signs and wonders now, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Error in a thou-sand forms is spread among the people. The danger is all the greater because Satan has blinded the eyes of the multitude, even of those who profess to be fol-lowers of the Christ, so that they do not see the ruinous consequences of false doctrine. When vigilant and earnest men lift a warning voice, this is attributed to bigotry and uncharitableness. There is a clamor for union without potting away the error that separates. Indifference to truth is preying upon the vitals of the Church. The desolating abomination has appeared, warning us that the end is approaching, and the perilous times of the last days are upon us.

Be ready, for the Lord is surely coming, perhaps very soon 2 Peter 3:3,4,9,10). The destruction of Jerusalem shows us that the judgment must come. The Word of God announces the final judgment upon the world. Be ready that when the end comes, you may be safe in Jesus Christ.

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