The Cataclysmic Truth
The dictionary defines a cataclysmic event as "a momentous and violent event marked by overwhelming upheaval and demolition." Hollywood loves to depict such events in big screen blockbusters. But the truth is no one looks forward to a real life cataclysm. Think of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Hundred's of thousands lost their lives. But that's not all the truth relative to cataclysms.
The truth is, according to our text, the cataclysm is here now. Our text looks different when you hear Jesus saying to you, "For in the days before the cataclysm, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the cataclysm took them all away." Look cataclysm up in an English dictionary. Its first meaning is "flood, deluge." Then look at its etymology. It says: "From Greek kataklysmos, from kataklyzein to inundate, from kata- + klyzein to down + wash." Now look it up in a New Testament Greek dictionary. It says: "flood, deluge, in our literature only of the flood in Noah's time."
So our word cataclysm which we use for any disaster is really the word the Bible uses only for Noah's flood. Since the Lord in Genesis 9 promised never to destroy the world again by deluge, since He puts the rainbow in our sky still today as sign of that promise, we're not on pins and needles expecting a flood, but a cataclysm is a different matter. As Noah expected a flood, we are to expect a cataclysm when our Lord comes. And the cataclysmic truth is that He comes now.
The text does say, "As it was in the days of Noah so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man." But Jesus closes by twice saying, "He comes" not "will come" as your insert translates. The Greek reads, "Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord comes." And in the last verse Jesus says, "The Son of Man comes at an hour when you do not expect Him." Jesus doesn't put that in the future as the NIV insert translates.
The cataclysm of Jesus coming is not in the future it is now. Read your New Testament. That's how Paul lived. "The night is nearly over, the day is almost here." That's how Peter and John too lived. Read church history. The fathers lived with the reality that Jesus comes. Luther did too. They lived as Noah did in his day. Combining what the New Testament and the Old Testament say about Noah we know that for 120 years Noah preached of the flood. That cataclysmic flood was not far away in the future for Noah; it was an ever present reality to Noah. And so it is to be with the Christian and the coming of Jesus. That cataclysm is now.
In Noah's case there were only two groups. Those who believed his preaching and those who didn't. Those who got into the safety of the ark and those who were taken away by flood waters. To those who believed, the cataclysm was now. Those who didn't believe are described as living as if it were not happening. Any sort of cataclysm to them was distant, if real at all, right up "until the cataclysm came and took them all away."
But what are the odds that a cataclysm of any sort will take you away? Do you think it's for nothing that Jesus closes the Sermon on the Mount, also in Matthew's Gospel, with two houses one built on sand the other on rock faced with the very same cataclysm? Of both Jesus says, "The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house." Jesus comes with a flood whether at the end of your life or at the end of the world and you will stand alone before Him.
Perhaps you've never tired to stand in a rushing stream. How do you think you'll fair when the flood of God's judgment reaches your door? Perhaps you've never tried to cross a stream that you thought wouldn't be over your head. You think you're fine until you take that one step too far. How do you think you'll fair when the Law's accusations start piling up against you? O you'll be fine when they're as deep as your knees. You'll be okay when they're hip deep. You'll start to worry when you see them chest deep, but you'll start to panic as you smell the sewage of all that you've done wrong just inches from your nose. O you'll bounce on your tip toes trying to keep your nose above the sins that you can't deny, but then the sins of your past and present will sweep you away in judgment.
That day of cataclysmic crisis is today, and you're in one of two groups, just like in Noah's day. You're in the group taken away by the flood waters to drown eternally in your sins, or you're in the group forgiven. Yes, that's the word translated "left." That word is found 40 times in Matthew. Sixteen times it's translated "forgive." It can be translated left, but if one group is taken just like the group taken away in Noah's flood, the other group must be forgiven even as the 8 in Noah's ark were. The rest of the cataclysmic truth shows how a few can be forgiven while the majority is taken.
The cataclysmic truth is that the cataclysm is here now, but the whole truth is so is our Savior. The word "come" shows up 6 times in the English text, but it's not always the same Greek word being translated. When Jesus says, "So will it be at the coming of the Son of Man," and when He says, "That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man," it's not the same word He uses the other four times. The other four times are verbs. These two are nouns. The first meaning for this Greek noun is "presence." "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the presence of the Son of Man." In His presence some are taken away by a flood of wrathful judgment against their sins and some are forgiven.
So what's the difference? Don't all have a flood of sins coming at them? Those who believe this is true; those who don't respond by promises to do better or excuses for having done worse; those who don't defend their sins; those who wish to be rescued from them as from flood waters too deep and too swift for them, they flee to the refuge God has for sinners. In Noah's day it was the ark. In the days of the Son of Man, it's His presence.
Jesus came the first time as the hymn says "all our ills redressing." In terms of our illustration, being God the Son, the Man Jesus lived a perfect life under the Law. There were no flood waters bearing down on Him. He could have been carried to heaven without seeing death. Heaven's gates had to open to the Man Jesus because He was holy in body and soul, in thought, word, and deed. But the flood waters were rushing down upon us; I don't know if I would have the courage to jump into flood waters to save anyone, but I know I wouldn't jump into the flood of waters of God's wrath and judgment. But Jesus did. In He jumped, but the only way He could save us is to drink that flood of wrath and judgment. All our sewage and all of God's rage were swallowed by the perfect Man Jesus.
Look around you. Where did the floodwaters go? Where are your sins of yesterday that you can't forget or the ones of today you can't forgive? They're not at your nose, neck, chest, or even knees. They're gone; forgiven and forgotten by God almighty because He can't see or find them now that Jesus has drunk them. You were about to be taken away by swift and just judgment to drown forever in your sins, but the presence of Jesus on a cross almost 2000 years ago paying for your sins saved you.
Jesus is present today to share this salvation with you. Jesus is present here every Sunday in Word and Sacrament to save you. But if you don't see that the cataclysm is here now, then you don't heed Paul's warning in Romans. You go back to your slumber. Now you can do that literally by sleeping in on Sunday morning, or you can be asleep even as you come to church. But whether you sleep there or here; Jesus is present here for anyone awake.
The insert itself would help you see this if it didn't put in front of the Gospel reading: "Jesus said." No, Jesus says these Gospel words to you today. You stand for the Gospel reading not because I'm here reading it but because Jesus is here speaking it. When the Gospel reading is announced, you don't say, "Glory be to Thee, O Pastor Harris," and you don't express your thanks to me saying, "Praise be to thee Pastor Harris." No, you're acknowledging the Lord who is present right now in His Word. You're thanking the Christ who has just spoken to you here.
Jesus is present today to forgive sins and call sinners into the safety of His ark. In Noah's day it was big wooden boat; in the days of the Son of Man it is the Church. Churches are purposely built like ours is with ceilings that resemble the hull of a wooden ship. Wake up! Today is the day to come into the ark of Church. And the way in is by the Baptism Jesus left us. In Baptism Jesus' perfect life is put over your very imperfect one, and your sinful nature is drowned and a new creature is born in those waters. A dirty sinner goes into the waters and a holy, righteous person created in the image of Jesus comes out.
In Noah's ark there were provisions for the journey through the cataclysm happening all around them. Likewise in the ark of the Church there are provisions for the journey through the storm tossed seas of our cataclysm. As man doesn't live by bread alone but by every Word that comes out of the mouth of God, so in Bible, Bible classes, and Divine Services we have more than enough of His Words to live forever on. But we have Bread too. We have what Catholics call the viaticum, "Provision for a journey." For the Catholics that is Communion given on the deathbed. For us who know the cataclysm is now, Communion is the daily bread we pray for in the prayer our Lord taught us.
Having Jesus present not only with us but in us, we are ready for even such a cataclysmic event as the end of our world or the end of our life. The Teaching of the 12 Apostles, which dates to 60 AD, shows this by directing that after Communion the following be prayed, "Let grace come, and let this world pass away" (ANF, VII, 380). Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Advent (20101128); Matthew 24: 37-44