Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  Amen.  There is an apocryphal saying attributed to Martin Luther about the end of the world.  Supposedly, when asked what he would do if he knew that the world was going to end tomorrow, he replied, “Plant an apple tree.”  Yes, plant an apple tree!  Astonishing!  If we knew that the world was going to end tomorrow, we would probably raid the shelves of canned goods at the local grocery store, head to the gun store to buy as much ammunition as we could, board up our doors and windows and then hunker down in our homes.  My dad used to joke that you should always invest in precious metals: gold, silver, and ammunition!

But that’s not what our Lord Jesus or the Apostle Paul admonish us to do.  Fear does not come from God.  Fear comes straight out of the pit of hell.  Fear drives people to despair and insanity.  “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7, ESV).[1]  Governments and the media—on both the political right and the left—use fear to try to control us.  So if your source of news causes you to become fearful, angry, or hateful towards other people, you are listening to the wrong news source.  The Gospel is good news.

“Do not be terrified,” Jesus says, “for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once” (Luke 21:9).  The people of God are not afraid of the world’s end.  Nor do we look forward to it with a morbid delight.  (We’re not vultures).  No, we simply go about our business, living by faith and—to the best of our abilities—carrying out our vocations to love and serve our neighbors.  Even though Jesus rattles off some disturbing signs of the times, including wars, false messiahs, earthquakes, famines, pestilence, and persecution, nevertheless he tells us, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).  Don’t be afraid.  Lift up your heads.  Redemption draws near.  It’s almost like the chorus of that R.E.M. song: “It’s the end of the world as we know it/But I feel fine.”

That’s why Jesus’ final words in today’s Gospel are full of such hope: “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the cloud with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:27-28).

When I was a teenager, I used to listen to a lot of Christian radio.  A.M. Christian radio.  Not K-LOVE and WAY FM and that kind of thing.  I mean the kind of prophecy programming that only aired on the A.M. dial and got distinctively more bizarre as the night got darker.  This was my “go to” stuff to listen to while delivering pizzas for my parents.

On many of those radio programs, it seemed as if they took too literally the suggestion of Karl Barth that you preach with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.  For example, preachers like Irvin Baxter of Endtime Ministries would read books like Revelation and Daniel through the lens of the news headlines of the day.  I remember how Baxter obsessively followed anything in the news about Saddam Hussein, believing that Babylon in Biblical prophecy is a referent to the modern nation state of Iraq.  Like Hal Lindsay, he identified the various armies and kings of Daniel 11 as referring to nations like Russia, China, Egypt, and the United States, even though Bible historians can clearly show they refer to the various Greek rulers of Palestine during the intertestamental period between the Persian and Roman Empires.

And any time that something happened in Israel, people like Baxter would announce, “This is it!  The end is near.”  I subscribed to his magazine well into my college years at Concordia and relied on him too heavily as a source for my term paper in Literature of the Old Testament, for which I received a bad grade.  (Lutherans are not Millennialists.)  As recently as 2020, Pastor Baxter was certain that Armageddon was just around the corner, but he died a few  months after making that prediction, so I guess he won’t have to worry about the Great Tribulation.

So here’s what I’m trying to say: don’t get freaked out and alarmed by the news of the day.  And don’t interpret every astronomical phenomenon or natural disaster as a sign that the END IS NEAR.  I used to be that guy.  I used to drink the Kool-Aid.  I didn’t just take a sip.  I drained the whole jug.  And thanks be to God—quite literally!—thanks be to God, I’m not that guy anymore.  Because Jesus tells us not to be afraid.  “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

Our salvation does not rest upon the idea of the so-called “rapture,” which I believe is a misunderstanding of Scripture’s teaching on the final resurrection (cf. 1 Thess. 4:8-13).  We don’t have to worry about getting “left behind” or whether the return of Christ is “pre-trib” or “post-trib.”  And if you don’t even know what I’m talking about by pre- or post-tribulation, don’t even worry about it.  Because Jesus says that is not supposed to be our focus.

Of course, the End is near.  It always has been.  Ever since Jesus rose from the dead, we have been living in the End Times, the “latter days” (cf. Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:2).  Four times in the Book of Revelation, Jesus announces that he is “coming soon.”  We have been waiting for nearly 2,000 years for the return of the King, so it appears that his definition of “soon” is a little different than ours.  Nevertheless, as St. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

The Lord is patient toward us.  He gives us time to turn from our sins and return to him for mercy and grace.  He wants us to be ready for his coming on the Last Day, so that we look forward to his appearing with hope and joy instead of terror and regret.  And there is only one way to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man: by faith.  By faith alone in Christ alone.

No matter when the world will end, the only way to meet your Maker is with faith and trust in Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord.  He is the Son who rises with healing in his wings (cp. Mal. 4:2).  He is the one full of grace and truth.  He is the only one who forgives sin.  He is the only one who will steadfastly stand beside you during trial and persecution.  And he is the only one who will stand up for you on Judgment Day.

But until that Day, what sort of people ought we to be?[2]  We ought to be busy taking care of the creation, carrying out our vocations, and caring for our neighbors.  Instead of worrying about the end of the world, take up the task at hand and do what God has given you to do.  In our epistle lesson, Paul tells the Thessalonians, “Brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thess. 3:13).  Instead of being busybodies, get busy!  Why?  To gain admittance to heaven?  No, of course not!  Christ already did that for you on the cross.  God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.  And until the Day when Christ returns, God will give you needy neighbors to love and serve them.  “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).  So now that it comes to it, planting an apple tree sounds like a rather sensible thing to do.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of T the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] All Scripture references, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.

[2] Cp. 2 Pet. 3:11-12.