Sunday, November 8, 2015
Homily for The Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 25)
Matthew 24:15-28 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18; Exodus 32:1-20
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In today’s Gospel, our Lord Jesus speaks of “the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel.” I use that phrase frequently in reference to my daughters’ bedrooms. Indeed, as it is used in the Holy Scriptures in both the Old and the New Testaments, the word abomination means a detestable or a hated thing. That certainly stands in line with my usage in regard to the bedrooms. However, in the Scriptures, the detestable or hatted thing is linked, particularly, with idolatry.
That is how the word is used in Daniel, where the phrase abomination of desolation first appears. In the second century B.C., the Syrian king Antiochus IV assumed the title “Theos Epiphanes” (god manifest) and desecrated the temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing a pig, the most ceremonially unclean of all animals, on the altar and forcing the priests to eat its flesh. Antiochus slaughtered thousands of Jews and attempted to obliterate the Jewish religion. He then set up in the temple an idol of Zeus, the pagan deity he believed himself to be. Antiochus set himself up in the place of God as an idol to be worshipped – That was the detestable and hated thing, an abomination. This abomination in turn caused the desolation in that offerings, sacrifices, and true worship could no longer be offered there to the true and only God. That was what Daniel prophesied of in the near future. However, Daniel’s prophecy was also for ages to come, fulfilled in the sacrifice of God’s Son Jesus Christ.
The history of Israel up until and including Jesus’ crucifixion is a continual up and down cycle of faithfulness and apostasy. In the time of Daniel, the Jews adulterated themselves by incorporating the worship of false gods and idols into their worship of the one true God. They performed sacrifices and made unholy alliances with pagans in order to secure power, wealth, and security for themselves. Because of their apostasy, God gave them over to their enemies, even those with whom they had made alliances. The result being that all the false things in which they had put their fear, their love, and their trust were proven to be worthless and useless, and some even were used against them to punish them.
The Jewish sacrifices had to come to an end, because they were misunderstood as man’s work instead of God’s mercy and grace. The Jews looked at their sacrifices and thought, “Look at how great is our obedience, O LORD!” instead of giving thanks in humility and repentance that the LORD had provided them a temporary way for their sins to be passed over. The sacrifices were never meant to take away sin, but only to point to the sacrificial offering the LORD Himself would make in the offering of His Son as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. Even the temple was not meant to last forever, but its purpose was to point to the Temple made without hands, Jesus Christ, in whom the Spirit of God dwells bodily, uniting God and man once again in a one-flesh union. And so, the LORD used the abomination committed by the idolatrous Jews and the pagan Antiochus to bring the Jews to the desolation of no longer being able to offer their sacrifices in the temple. If they could not offer their sacrifices, then they could not be reconciled with God. Now the LORD could show them how He would reconcile them to Himself, not by the works of their hands or their obedience under the Law, but by His own grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness poured out in the true sacrifice of Jesus, for all people of all times and all places.
And so, Jesus reminded the people of His day, and you too, that “when you see the abomination of desolation spoken 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.” Jesus, here, interprets Daniel’s prophecy both in terms of events in the prophet’s day and in terms of events that will soon come to pass. Though the prophecy had a historical fulfillment in Daniel’s time in the apostasy of the Jews and the abominable and desolating actions of Antiochus IV, Jesus warns His hearers to remember and to watch for the signs of a similar abomination in their own time.
Would a foreign king once again sacrifice a pig on the altar of the LORD and force the priests of Israel eat its flesh? No, not exactly. However, in the years following Jesus’ Ascension, the hubris of the Jews rose again and rebel leaders rose up to lead the people in revolt against their Roman oppressors that they might free themselves from heavy taxation and oppression and make a name for themselves among the nations of men once again. Once again, the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, sought greatness for themselves in their achievements, power, and renown, just like our First Parents before us. It may seem a subtle thing, but such is the way of idolatry, when God’s gifts become our gods, those things in which we place our fear, love, and trust before and above the LORD Himself. Idolatry is a detestable and hateful thing before the LORD, an abomination that leads only and always to desolation. Therefore, once again, the LORD gave them over to their enemies and oppressors.
Emperor Nero dispatched the Roman governor of Syria, Cestius Gallus, to quell the Jewish revolt. Despite initial advances and conquest, the Syrian Legion was ambushed and defeated by Jewish rebels and 6,000 Romans were massacred, a result that shocked the Roman leadership. Then General Vespasian, later elected Emperor, appointed his son Titus the task of putting down the Jewish rebels. Titus laid siege to Jerusalem in 67 A.D., permitting no food or supplies to enter the city and no waste or the sick or dead to leave. Moreover, there was infighting within the city between Jewish zealots and moderates. When the Roman armies finally breached Jerusalem’s third wall and entered the city in 70 A.D., they found only horror and devastation in the numbers of the dead and the diseased, the starved and emaciated, and even evidence of cannibalism. Some commentators and historians identify the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place as the Roman Standard, the Eagle, which was carried by the Roman armies and was worshipped as a symbol of the emperor as a god. Others place the abomination earlier when Emperor Gaius (Caligula) erected a statue of himself as a god in the temple. Either way, the true abomination was and is idolatry – the idolatry of the Jews who placed their fear, their love, and their trust in someone or something other than in the LORD.
Yet, our Lord’s warning is something you must continue to heed to this very day. For, wherever and whenever the abomination of idolatry is identified, it must be rooted out lest desolation come upon you. Every generation of man raises up its own idols. For our First Parents it was knowledge and wisdom and pride. For the Israelites while Moses met with the LORD on Sinai it was fear, uncertainty, and impatience, the fruits of unbelief. For the Jews of Daniel’s and Jesus’ days it was political, military, and economic might and the esteem of the nations. But, what it is it for you and for your generation? Is it your desire for a god who is tolerant and accepting of all of your sinful inclinations? Is it your desire for a god who shows himself and who works in the ways you think good and wise? Is it your desire for a god who will establish peace among the nations and eliminate poverty, hunger, and sickness? Or, is it that science and psychology have explained away God for you, and that you and each and everyone else has, at last, become their own gods, judging what is good and what is evil by your own personal standard and measure? Any of these desires, and countless others, are a detestable and hateful thing, an abomination, before the LORD. Take heed and repent, before the desolation comes and it is too late.
Your Lord exhorts you to get out of Dodge and to waste no time to collect your possessions. Whatever it is that gets between you and God, whatever your idols may be, leave them behind and flee to the mountain of the LORD and His Temple, Jesus. Further, He continues, beware of false prophets and false Christ’s, for the Deceiver will be attractive in the ways of the world and the flesh and he will tell lies that are appealing to fallen human reason and wisdom and he will lead many astray. But, those who cling to the Lord and His Word will not be moved, for His Truth is not hidden or unclear, but flashes like lightning across the heavens from the east to the west. Such abominations will continue to be raised up for seventy weeks, for a time, times, and half a time, for forty-two months, for 1,260 days, or, in other words, until the appointed time the LORD has set which even the Son of Man according to His flesh does not know.
But, in the meantime, in this little while until your Lord returns, He calls you to gather here around His body and His blood as vultures gather around a corpse. For, Jesus has suffered and died for all your idolatries and adulteries, and He offers you His precious body and His innocent shed blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of your sins. Do not be deceived by His delay and turn once again to making your golden calves or to fear, love, and trust in your works, but fear, love, and trust in God above all things. He has purged your sins in the sacrifice of His Son, and He offers Him to you now that you might eat and drink and live.
The Lord has come, and He is coming, and even now He comes. For those who hide themselves in the cleft of His Rock, the LORD’s holiness and righteousness will not consume. For those who are washed in the holy water and bathed in the innocent blood of His pierced side, God’s wrath against sin passes over. For those who eat His sacrificed and resurrected flesh and drink His blood as vultures a corpse, death cannot harm you, but you will pass through it victorious even as His corpse saw not decay, but was raised glorified never to die again. For, you must die to this life and to all meritorious works. And, that is why, on the day of His coming, those who are alive will not precede those who have fallen asleep, but the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. For, those who have died in faith in the Lord cannot be tempted by idolatries and abominations, to put their fear, love, and trust in anyone or anything other than the Lord alone. Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. They are with the Lord and, if you do not let go and give up, you will always be with the Lord as well. Hide yourself in Him now, every day of your life, and especially on the Lord’s Day, and encourage one another with these words.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.