Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year
“When Affliction Comes, To Whom Do You Turn?”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
St. Matthew 24.15-28
08 November 2020
+ In the Name of Jesus +
I encourage you to read Kantor Schultz’s music notes each week, today on page seven of your bulletin. Kantor shares that the writer of our sermon hymn is the Lutheran Pastor Valerius Herberger, who in addition to his hymns is well known for preaching a multi-year sermon series on the Old Testament where he explains how Jesus fulfills every detail of the Old Testament accounts. These sermons are beautifully written, and very devotional and comforting – as is our hymn.
Pastor Herberger writes the hymn “Farewell I Gladly Bid Thee” in the Fall of 1613, in the midst of a plague where he saw two thousand of his flock in the town fall asleep in Christ. “Every hour [he] saw death before his eyes,” he recounted about those days.
So many of our great Lutheran hymns come from similar trying times: “Wake Awake” and “O Morning Star How Fair and Bright” were written by Pastor Philip Nicolai in the midst of a similar deadly plague. “Now Thank We All Our God” was written by Pastor Martin Rinkert in the middle of pillaging armies, famine, and plague during the Thirty Years’ War. Pastor Paul Gerhardt’s hymns, including our closing hymn today, were written while he faced persecution, grief, and testing.
So in the midst of such sorrow and woe and death – Pastor Herberger can write this grand hymn full of faith and confidence, “Farewell I Gladly Bid Thee” – false, evil world – farewell! Only faith in our Savior can say in the face of such misery:
When darkness round me gathers, Thy name and cross, still bright,
Deep in my heart are sparkling like stars in blackest night.
O heart, this image cherish: The Christ on Calvary.
How patiently He suffered and shed His blood for me.
Christians simply must turn in trying times to the Word of God for comfort. There we find a message to sing, extol, and teach, both to ourselves and others, a message of true hope and love and peace for our troubled heart. Only the saving and comforting word about Christ truly holds up real hope as the world fails around us. O heart, this image cherish: the Christ on Calvary!
Sometimes, we think we have it bad – and none have ever had it so bad as today. We live in dangerous times, facing pandemic, even more, our country seems to be falling apart at the seams day by day before our eyes. It seems to be as bad as it can be. But then think of Pastor Herberger and others in our church’s history, we also do not have armies raping and pillaging across our land, yet. We have not lost two thousand souls here in Terre Haute as Pastor Herberger lost in one autumn in his German village. Or thinking about Immanuel’s history, we have not had to cover over our German cornerstone facing Poplar Street as the fathers of this congregation did to avoid persecution during the First World War.
An objective look at history should teach us that we experience nothing new that has not already afflicted those who have gone before us. More importantly, our Lord Jesus teaches us today that these afflictions and trying times are only going to keep on happening as time rolls on towards its end, and trials and woes even will increase and become worse:
“For then there will be great tribulation [affliction], such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” (St. Matthew 24.21; ESV)
All the signs that Christ Himself gave us of the Last Day and its coming are before us. The world is full of false prophets, factions, and sects. The Mormons and other sects continue to grow; and the Pope continues to be ever the anti-Christ, especially in his latest unbiblical pontifications. There are still wars and rumors of wars. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and destructive natural disasters do their worst. Violence and terrorism and injustices are done upon the innocent. Riots. Political unrest and upheaval. There is hardly one man who agrees with another, on almost anything. Faith is snuffed out, life is considered disposable when inconvenient, love has grown cold, malice has gained the upper hand, no one is true to another – no one will do unto others as they would have it done unto them. This world is drowned in covetousness. Fidelity and truth are rare.
How can any greater tribulation come to earth than is already here? But there stands our own Savior warning us: there will be terrible things done, as bad as history has ever seen – the devil and his evil angels attack, seeking to tempt people to apostasy, to fall away from Christ and His saving Word.
So the question is, “When affliction comes, to whom do you turn?” When the world is collapsing around us, will we apostatize, or will we turn to Christ in repentance and faith, and find joy and comfort in Him in the face of every evil?
Beware of the false, pseudo Christs, false comforts Jesus warns. These will give great signs so as to deceive if possible, even the elect. They’ll be convincing. Science and modern technology sure claim the hope of a lot of people. How many think that Covid-19 will just go away or cease to be a problem “when we get a vaccine”? This may never come, is certainly not a guaranteed event. Modern science and the technologies produced have yet to prevent death, nor will they ever be able to eradicate death and dying.
Too many of us comfort ourselves with material goods, with gratifying the fleshly desires and that covetous eye we are all conceived and born with. Many will go out to the deserts of this earth to find gold, and go to the inner rooms of this world’s depravity to quench every lustful desire. All of you are so tempted – I’ve just named a thousand reality shows on television, a thousand million videos and movies made – but even more it’s all deep in the sin corrupted heart we all have and struggle with.
We have not been left to these false Christs and their empty comfort. Our Savior and Lord has gone ahead of us and run the race through every trial and affliction, and has given Himself, raised on high in glory for every man look to and put our hope in, to believe in and find life:
“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 corpse is, there the [eagles] will gather.” (St. Matthew 24.27-28; ESV [KJV])
The sign of Jesus’ coming to bring about the last days of this world was unmistakable, like a lightning strike flashing across the sky. You’ll know it when you see it.
Turn to the cross, and live. The Christ on Calvary, who patiently suffered and shed His blood for me. The sign of the coming of the kingdom of our God is the body of Christ, on the cross, surrounded by His enemies, forgiving them and dying for them, forgiving you and dying for you, giving His last drop of blood and His dying breath to bring new life to man.
Jesus comes to you, in the midst of the great afflictions of these gray and latter days, in great mercy, draws near unto you and draws you unto Himself, to His cross and the blessings which flow from it. You are the “eagles” that flock to Him and the preaching of His cross and the justification that comes because of it, to renew your strength, as the prophet Isaiah preached, that you mount up with wings like eagles, so you should run and not be weary, walk and not be faint.
You, the saints of God, the baptized elect in Christ, are liberated from the violence of this old earth and fleshly limits of this temporal life to be gathered around Jesus, even more, to be united to Jesus, especially in the Holy Communion of all the saints, the forgiveness of sins, unto life everlasting.
So when times are troubling, and nothing seems to go right – recognize the days for what they are. Any day and moment may be our last. And that will be just fine. God our Father grant that we be found faithful to Him and His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit, ready to give an account before God and man of our faith in our dear Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Let our prayer in the face of all things be this song:
Lord, hide my soul securely deep in Thy wounded side.
From every danger shield me and to Thy glory guide.
He has been truly blessed who reaches heaven above;
He has found perfect healing who rests upon Thy love.
Lord, write my name, I pray Thee, now in the Book of Life
And with all true believers take me where joys are rife.
There let me bloom and flourish, Thy perfect freedom prove,
And tell, as I adore Thee, How faithful was Thy love.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +