Things always seem their worst just before God redeems His people.
Adam and Eve cowered in fear. They hid themselves thinking they were dead. They felt that everything was now drastically different after they sinned. They knew what evil was. They knew that death was their lot. So they hid themselves. They tried to make coverings for their shame, but could not succeed. But God came to them in their fear and promised a Savior from sin and death, and promised the devil a swift blow of eternal destruction.
The Israelites were cruelly oppressed under the Egyptian taskmasters. They were left with unattainable quotas for bricks and it only got worse. Then Moses came along with the message of deliverance, and it seemed to get worse. The plagues affected the sun, the moon, and the stars, the land and the sea, and all its inhabitants. Water was turned to blood, the sun was darkened, animals died, and finally the firstborn died. How much worse could it get? But then at midnight came the thrilling cry: “Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and be gone.” The Egyptians’ cruelty was over. No longer were God’s people slaves in Egypt! Mighty Egypt and demonic Pharaoh were brought to their knees. Lowly and oppressed Israel was raised up. They rejoiced in God’s deliverance.
But then the return of fear. Egypt retaliated, they pursued their former slaves. Now, Israel was stuck—certain death in front of them and coming up quickly behind them. But God provided. He parted the Red Sea and gave Israel safe passage on dry ground and allowed the Sea to swallow up the oppressor. They would never again see the face of the Egyptians. Complete freedom, redemption from slavery was theirs!
But it got worse again. Rome controlled the Promised Land by the hand of Herod the Great, an evil leader. The Jews were ready for a revolt. They wanted their independence, their land, their ruler. But they were under the hand of a foreign government. They seemed to be back in slavery, forced to make nice with Herod, lest he bring down the full power of the Roman government and obliterate God’s people once and for all. Into this climate God sent His Son. He sent redemption to a people eager for liberation. It wasn’t what many hoped for, but for those who feared His Name, the Sun of Righteousness came with healing in His wings. He gave freedom from the greatest oppressors: sin, death, and the devil. He brought what was promised thousands of years ago when the one to crush the serpent’s head was foretold.
And what of today? How grim are the signs? We see the swirling storm clouds. We live in the distress of nations—wars and rumors of wars, love running cold. We live in the fainting and fear of what is coming on the world. Our consumerism lulls us into false peace. I can still buy and eat. I can rest and escape from the 24/7 news cycle. I can make merry and pretend that the signs aren’t present. But deep down we know how troubled the world is. It’s a dark place. One wrong word and global peace breaks down. One weapon in the hand of an enemy and war is sparked. One cut off in the mall parking lot and the nightly news reports a brawl just days before Christmas. One wrong word at the family Christmas gathering and the veneer of peace is ripped off.
Things always seem their worst just before God redeems His people. And it’s the worst, isn’t it?
Rejoice! What?! Rejoice? Yes! What does Jesus say? “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise up your heads, because your Redemption is drawing near.” Remember that word: Redemption. Not destruction, not further evil. Redemption. While the rest of the world wrings its hands and lives in fear, Jesus tells you to raise up your head. This word literally means to rise up in opposition. Jesus is telling you to be decidedly counter-cultural. Let the hope of Christ and His redemption fill you. Let that joy permeate your entire life, because your Redemption draws near.
Jesus tells us to consider the fig tree and all the trees. When they begin to bud and blossom, you know that summer is near. But what is going on around those buds and blossoms? Quite often storms and wicked weather. Spring comes with thunderstorms and tornadoes as the death of winter is vanquished by the bright warmth of the sun. But we don’t lose hope in May when a severe storm rolls through, do we? No! We are excited, we are encouraged, because we know the warmth and tranquility of summer follows on its heels.
So in the midst of these evil last days, rejoice. Jesus is coming for you! He already has come with healing in His wings, and He has come again today to be with you to encourage you. He has come today to forgive you and to strengthen you with Himself. As He comes to you in His Word and in His Body and Blood He fills you with all joy and peace in believing, reminding you that He is coming soon.
And when that Day comes, that Last Day, you do not need to fear. It will certainly be troubling as that day approaches, but you have nothing to fear. You are the redeemed of the Lord. He has died and risen for you. He has given His righteousness to you in Baptism, in Absolution, in the Word, in His Body and Blood. It always seems the worst just before God redeems His people, but He comes to redeem! Just as He gave a promise to Adam Eve and freedom to the Israelites, He will come to give you an everlasting home, freedom from all evil, and eternal joy and peace.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.