Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 25)


Matthew 24:15-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Exodus 32:1-20

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The abomination that causes desolation is not a statue of a pagan god, or even of the Roman emperor, set up in the Jewish temple, but the abomination of desolation is the One True God hanging dead upon a Roman cross. Thus, there’s no need to speculate when it’s going to happen, or if it’s already happened, or what, or when, or where it was or will be, because that’s it: God, dead upon the cross, is the abomination above and beyond all abominations. And to the wise and to the strong, to those whose unbelieving eyes, ears, and hearts see Jesus’ crucified corpse as weakness and defeat, this is a cause for stumbling and for desolation. However, for the perishing, for those with eyes, ears, and hearts of faith, it is a cause for strength, and peace, and comfort.

The people of Jesus’ day lived under Roman rule. The Romans demonstrated this by placing their insignia, the eagle, upon the lands they ruled. This eagle insignia was called an aquila, and it was carried before a legion of soldiers by a standard bearer. The Romans even affixed an aquila upon the temple in Jerusalem, thus reminding the Jews that “even the temple, the center of their worship and the assurance of God’s presence among them, belonged not to them but to the Roman emperor, whose guards kept a watchful eye on it.” For the Jew, this was an abomination. It was idolatry. It was outrageous that a man like the Roman emperor, who claimed to be a god, would set his insignia upon the place where the true God dwelt on earth. The temple doesn’t belong to Rome, it belongs to the Lord.

Understandably, the children of Israel were angry and upset, even desolate at what they perceived to be the abomination the Roman’s had placed upon God’s temple. Also, in the face of subjugation, taxation, the limiting and controlling of their religious freedom, not to mention the ridicule, mocking, and degrading they suffered under the Roman occupiers, the people became impatient, wanting to be free of Rome, and their faith and trust in God to provide and protect waned, and they drifted off into idolatry just as their ancestors had done in the days they waited for Moses to come down from the mountain with God’s Commandments. They recast the temple into their own image. They used the temple as a way for them to take power, seize control, and make money. They made it into a den of robbers. They used it as a way to enslave. They created an idol, an abomination.

Yet, God, dead upon the cross, is the abomination that causes desolation. The abomination created by the Jews of Jesus’ day was but the fruit of their desolation. God gave His only-begotten Son to be the Messiah, the anointed Savior of all mankind. He had made this covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and had kept it throughout years of want and years of plenty, years of captivity and exile, and years of prosperity and peace. But they rejected God’s Christ, and made for themselves a salvation by works according to the laws of men, just as they rejected God’s commandments long ago, and made for themselves a god of gold in the form of a calf. They chose for themselves man’s religion, the religion of the Pharisee, scribes, and Sadducees, and they rejected the Good News of man’s redemption in Jesus Christ. They worshiped the temple, and they sent the Temple of God in human flesh, Jesus, to a Roman cross to suffer and die. There, upon the cross, the Roman standard and insignia, the eagle, encircled His mutilated corpse, just as Jesus had prophesied, “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

Indeed, vultures is a satisfactory translation of the Greek ἀετοί, but eagles is better. When God died on the cross, His corpse was surrounded by the eagle insignia of the Roman Empire. For, this was the true abomination: The Christ of God, betrayed into Roman hands, crucified and dead upon a Roman cross. This was the true abomination that brings desolation to those who do not see in Jesus’ death the victory of Christ over sin and death and Satan. Thus, Jesus squarely placed His prophetic warning of tribulation and suffering after His own death and resurrection. However, He did connect it to an event in the future, though not far off, when tribulation such as the world had never experienced before, or would ever experience again, fell upon Jerusalem and upon all of Israel. For, within forty years of Jesus’ death and resurrection, within the time of that present generation of men, the Romans would lay siege to Jerusalem and then invade and utterly destroy her, her walls and her temple, and leave her utterly desolate like a corpse.

When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D., the Jews, and the Romans, indeed, all the world, thought that God had abandoned His people. But the truth was, not that God had abandoned His people, but that the people had abandoned their God. They left God’s Word behind for a god, an idol, of their own making. They worshiped a building, they worshiped men and their laws and commands, they worshiped their occupiers by placing their fear and their trust in them. But God had not abandoned them. In fact, in Jesus’ death upon the cross, God was most for His people. For, upon the cross, Jesus atoned for man’s sins, suffered in man’s place, was obedient under God’s Law, and substituted for man’s death. And, though He died, our God is not dead, but He has destroyed the power of death and set us free from sin. And He has made you to be His temples in which He dwells. He feeds you with the fruits of His cross. He marks you with His own insignia, the sign of His cross. And He places upon you His Name and covers you with His righteousness.

You look around the world today and you imagine that it is filled with abomination, things and people and deeds that are so outrageous that you recoil in horror at the sight of them. But, when you look to the cross, you see God’s true power to overcome your real problems: sin and death. When you see the cross, you see God’s wisdom. When you see the cross, you see God’s true love for you. See God, therefore, where He may be truly found. For false prophets will say “Look, the Christ is here!” or “Look, the Christ is there!” But if they point you away from the Means of Grace, away from Baptism, Absolution, the Lord’s Supper, they point you where He has not promised to be. They point you to idolatry, an abomination that will leave you desolate.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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