Follow the Pronoun
We're at the end of the Church Year. We're counting it down like Casey Kasem 3-2-1. In our text for this Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year a particular pronoun is important. Actually, since Jesus says elsewhere that every jot and tittle of His Word remains, not just every pronoun, but every dot of an i' or every cross of a t' is important. But you know how it is with pronouns. Rightly connecting who or what a pronoun refers to is important for correctly understanding what you're reading.
It is a frightening pronoun, or it can be. Stephen King, known as a master of horror stories, has one that stands out among all that terror. It's titled simply "It." I've never read that one, but I can tell you that frequently in his stories, there is dramatic turn when the people fighting the terror individually or collectively realize that what is preying on them is not a he or she but an it.
Even in everyday speech we recognize that "it" is an unidentified thing, an indefinable thing. It is a beast thing. It is a frightening thing. A big dog chasing you is one thing, but an it is far worse. Lower forms of life are its. Dogs are he's and she's. Fish, snakes, spiders and roaches are its.
The insert translates "it" at an important point. "Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door." The word can be translated "it" here. About 16 of the 27 English translations I checked have "it." Using that translation, what do we have? "You know" which is a simple indicative, a simple statement of fact "you know it is right at the door when you see these things happening." So I will know the "it" is here when I see something happening. What things?
You can go back to where Jesus began this Bible Class last week. When you see wars and hear rumors of war; when you see earthquakes in various places; when you see love in the family growing cold, you know it is at the door. But Jesus speaks of other signs here; signs that every one of you has seen. You've seen the sun darkened and the moon not giving its light in eclipses. You've seen shooting stars all your life, but did you know that a star falling from the sky told you "it is near, right at the door?"
What about "heavenly bodies will be shaken?" NIV is the only one that has "heavenly bodies." All the rest I checked have "the powers in the heavens will be shaken." I would point you to the Halloween asteroid that was suddenly there. I would point you to the comet that has water and to the super moons. I would point you to all those phenomena involving space objects that Genesis 1:14 says God placed there not only for season, days, and years, but for signs.
Yes they are for signs that it is near; that it is at the very door. Yet, we are blind, or have been blinded to the signs, ever since Edmund Halley, of Halley 's Comet fame, made us so in the 17th century. He said, "Now we know/ The sharply veering ways of comets, once/ a source of dread, no longer do we quail/ Beneath appearances of bearded stars" (Preface, Vol. 1, Principia, by Isaac Newton). Contrast this with Luther who when he saw an eclipse said that it was a warning to repent (Brecht, Luther, III, 242). Contrast this dismissal of signs in the heavens with the fact that it is obvious from archeological evidence that ancient civilizations expected something from the sky and they feared it.
It doesn't matter what they expected. What is the it that Jesus tells us is at our door? See it in the Old Testament reading. "The court was seated and the books were opened." Hear large ledgers thump open, containing everything you ever did, said, or thought. For you digital people written records might not mean much, so instead see a high def record of your outer life, your inner life, your secret life start to play. You talk a good game now fueled by your doubts about a Day of Judgment and your No Fear attitude, but while in the choir of life it's easy to fake the words, someday each of us will sing solo before God (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 207).
Yes, one day everyone stands alone before the bar of Divine Justice. Someone once said, "'My greatest fear is that I will be standing behind Mother Teresa in the final judgment line and I'll hear God tell her, "You know, you should have done more"'" (The Jokesmith, 1991). That's from a joke book, but the joke's on us. There's nothing more that Mother Teresa could've done that would've made her able to stand before God's judgment throne. The opened books will condemn even her thoughts, words, and deeds as sinful, fallen, worthy judgment and punishment in this life and the next. Pitiless, merciless, boundless judgment that is the it that is near, right at the door. Please, don't let it in.
The "it" in the text can be rightly translated "He." "When you see these things happening, you know that He is near, right at the door." Translate it when you wish to preach Law, but that is an alien translation just as Law is God's alien work. The proper work of God is redeeming, forgiving, saving. The proper translation, the main one, is He. It fits with Jesus own words in Revelation 3:20, "Behold I stand at the door and knock."
When you see eclipses, shooting stars, comets, super moons, and rouge asteroids all of these are preaching: He is near; He is at the very door. Who is the He? The Son of Man, the Redeemer, Savior, Shepherd, Friend is near, right at the door and He comes to gather the elect. Just as judgment is complete, so is the gathering. See how Jesus emphasizes that He will send His angels to every nook and cranny of the earth to gather every last one of the elect? Not one will be lost; not one will be missed; not one misplaced when He comes through that door.
And not even the unbelieving generation that has existed since Cain and has persecuted all that belong to Christ will stop Him. After over 150 years of teaching children that they are but high functioning animals, after over 40 years of being able to kill unborn babies if a mother felt like it, after 30 years of denying God's institution of marriage, after months of denying the created order of male and female, the unbelieving generation yet have nothing won. Except the right to sure, certain, and swift judgment when He steps through the door. Jesus isn't a Santa who passes by those who don't believe in Him. He's not the Great Pumpkin who won't come unless you're sincere enough. Not all the unbelief of all the generations that have ever lived can stop Jesus from opening the door between this temporary realm and the eternal one.
But His condemning of this generation of unbelief is not the main reason He is coming. He's coming to pick up them that are His. He came into the world to bear the guilt, shame, and pain of all even the Cain's of this world. He bought and paid for the bodies and souls of even those who deny Him, so says 2 Peter 2:1. He came to keep the Law in place of the Hitlers, the Pol Pots, the Bin Ladens, and more. He kept the Law for everyone conceived by women. And then though not guilty Himself, suffered the judgment, the pain, the damnation and death we all deserve. Yes before He comes through the door as Judge; He came through it as Savior.
How do I know that? Because His Word tells me. After pointing us to all things coming undone, He points us to His Word that will never pass away. A question that is bothering many of you is since He comes to gather the elect, how do I know if I am one of the elect? Well don't look to your deeds for proof. Isaiah 64 says that even your good works are nothing but dirty rags. Don't look to the faith in your heart, either. Mustard seeds are impossible to find midst seeds of doubt, unbelief, and misbelief. And please don't look for a feeling of being elected for salvation. If you find one, I assure you that it's only a matter of time before you find the feeling that you're not elected.
Where does He who is near, right at the door, point you? To His Words. His Words that baptized you into the Triune God never pass away. His Words that absolved you of your sins today remain valid beyond heaven and earth passing away. His Words giving you His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine will feed you till you want no more and then some more.
Look for your election in the Words of Jesus that endure forever. And what do those Words tell you, what have those Words always told you? He is near. Your fears are near; your doubts are near; your worries are near; your sickness, sadness, and deathliness are at the very door too. But He your Savior, Friend, Redeemer, Forgiver is as close to you as that Bible of yours. In it He assures you that you are the elect; He has you in His hand and nothing can snatch you away from Him. Jesus is as near as the waters of your Baptism where Paul says Christ was put on you. Put water on your skin, see any gap? That's how near, how tightly salvation is attached to you. He is as near as His Body and Blood that you eat and drink for salvation. Show me a distinction between you and what you've eaten and drank.
Jesus says in Words that last forever that He is near, right at the door. Will let Him in! Isn't that what you pray everyday when you say "Come Lord Jesus," and "Thy kingdom come?" Isn't that what you pray every Sunday in the liturgy when you chant, "Blessed is He that cometh not will come but cometh in the name of the Lord?." And when you chant, "My eyes have seen Thy salvation," aren't you confessing that He has come in flesh and blood to you even as He did to the aged Simeon holding Jesus in his arms?
It isn't coming for you; it isn't after you. He is coming for you; He is after you. Ever been in a dark house and startled by a noise? You go looking as tension mounts. What do you say when you come face to face with your loved one? Oh it is you. When the it turns out to be a person who loves you, the whole situation gets better instantly. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year (20151115); Mark 13: 24-31