Epiphany 2, “See the Signs”
Pastor Gary Wong, January 17, 2021
51 Do you think that I came to bring peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 Yes, from now on there will be five divided in one household: three against two, and two against three. 53 They will be divided: father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” 54 He also said to the crowds, “Whenever you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say that a rainstorm is coming, and so it happens. 55 And whenever a south wind blows, you say that it is going to be hot, and it happens. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky, but how is it that you do not know how to interpret this present time? 57 Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? 58 Indeed, as you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, make an effort on the way to reach a settlement with him. Otherwise, he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and the officer may throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last cent.”
A good driving instructor always teaches his students to keep a sharp lookout for road signs. A road sign can be a driver’s best friend because of the information it conveys. For instance, some signs indicate how far it is to the next town or nearest gas station. Some signs control traffic such as “Stop”, “Yield”, or “One Way.” Other signs warn a driver about situations ahead that could be dangerous such as “Slippery when wet”, “Merging traffic” or “Deer Crossing.” Road signs, however, are only beneficial if the driver uses the information the right way. The chances of having a safe trip are much better when a driver pays attention to the signs and adjusts his driving accordingly. Failure to heed signs might result in a disastrous crash. In today’s lesson, Jesus encourages us to see the signs around us, recognize what they mean, and respond to them accordingly.
So, what kinds of signs was Jesus talking about? Well, Jesus wasn’t talking about new road signs posted by the Judean Department of Transportation. Rather, Jesus was talking about signs that point to an event that will affect every human being on the planet—not just the living, but also the dead! What is that event? Jesus was talking about the end of the world! Jesus was talking about the day when he will return to earth to judge all people and, as part of God’s judgment on a corrupt world, will destroy the world with fire.
Now, you would think that the people to whom Jesus was speaking, which includes you and me, wouldn’t need to be encouraged to look for signs of something as monumental as the end of the world. After all, people are naturally curious about the future. Many people want to know what’s going to happen before it happens. For instance, some parents want to know whether their baby is going to be a boy or girl; sports fans want to know the outcome of a game. God, in his infinite wisdom, however, often chooses not to give us that kind of information. He doesn’t light a neon sign over the car we should buy or shine a spotlight on the man or woman we should marry. God wants us to live our lives guided by his Word and to use our Christian common sense when making decisions rather than looking for signs from God that he has not promised to give.
That’s not to say, however, that God never gives signs. To the contrary, God has given signs to God’s people since the beginning of the world. That fact sparks questions such as what signs has God given? When has he given them? Why? God gives signs that point to momentous events and individuals who play a critical role in God’s plan of salvation. God gives these signs to give us comfort, courage, and hope. They remind us of God’s justice, mercy, and love. For instance, God put a rainbow in the sky as a sign that never again would he send a flood to destroy the earth as he had done in the days of Noah. Other signs serve as warnings that Judgment Day is coming. While the rainbow assures us that God isn’t going to destroy the world by a flood, wars, hurricanes, and earthquakes are signs that the end of the world could come at any time.
Many of God’s most important signs point to Jesus, God’s one and only Son, who came to save mankind from the consequences of sin. Immediately after Adam and Eve’s disobedience had put the world under a curse, God promised that he would send a Savior who would remove that curse by crushing the power of sin, death, and the devil. Yet, the fulfillment of that promise was a long time in coming. So, to renew the hope of God’s people, Isaiah declared, “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). Some seven hundred years later, when the time had come for Mary to give birth to her first-born son, the angel told the shepherds who had been watching their flocks at night, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find him wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk. 2:11-12).
Those shepherds, remembering the signs that pointed to the promised Savior, rejoiced when they saw those signs fulfilled before their very eyes. Their faith was strengthened as the child whom they saw cradled in his mother’s arms was proof positive that the God of all faithfulness keeps his promises. The shepherds responded to the good news of the Savior by telling others about all that they had seen and heard. Sadly, not all of the Jews of Jesus’ day reacted to Jesus as the shepherds had. For instance, many of the religious leaders, especially the Pharisees, doubted or rejected Jesus as the promised messiah. Instead, they demanded that Jesus give them miraculous signs that would prove that he was the Savior. Jesus refused, and instead pointed to the signs already prophesied in God’s Word. Jesus declared “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah” (Lk. 11:29). Jonah was the prophet who delivered a warning to the unbelieving Assyrians that God would soon destroy the great city of Nineveh. The Ninevites heard and heeded that warning. They repented and thus were spared destruction. The wicked generation of God’s people whom Jesus was rebuking also needed to heed God’s warning of judgment and repent.
You and I also need to carefully listen to Jesus’ words of wisdom and respond accordingly. The signs of the end of the world are all around us; but many people act as though there is nothing to be concerned about. They live their lives with a “business as usual, this isn’t going to affect me” kind of attitude. Now, it’s not as though they can’t see the signs of the end that Jesus said would happen and are happening. There is a never-ending stream of news about wars, rumors of war, natural disasters, injustice, and the like. It’s not as though they don’t have the ability to understand what those signs mean. In fact, this generation, like the one in Jesus’ day, is very good at interpreting the signs of the world in which we live—they are often right on when it comes to reading signs about the weather, business, and politics.
Yet, when it comes to spiritual matters, many are blind to the signs God sends and stubbornly refuse to heed those warnings. In so many words, Jesus is telling us to wake up! Because of the sinful nature we inherited and the countless sins we commit, we were under the curse of death. And there was nothing that we could do to lift that curse. It is only because of God’s love that we will not suffer in hell for all eternity. In his love, God sent his Son to bring peace to the world. Yet, accomplishing that peace would not be easy. Jesus waged an all-out war against sin and Satan that came to a climax with his death on the cross. At Calvary, Jesus suffered the punishment that you and I deserve. Isaiah reminds us that “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).
Because of Jesus, God has reconciled the world to himself. What are some of the signs of that reconciliation? You and I are! Through the gift of faith given to us at our baptisms, we are now at peace with God. Through the washing of water and the Word, we have been made children of God and heirs of eternal life. Freed from the power of sin and Satan, we live our lives for Jesus who died for us and now lives eternally. Yet, not everyone in the world enjoys the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Yes, Jesus came to bring peace. Jesus also brings division. When Jesus’ parents presented him in the temple, Simeon prophesied, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign spoken against” (Lk. 2:33-34).
When it comes to Jesus, there is no middle ground. Either you are for Jesus or against him. Indeed, whenever the gospel is preached, there will always be conflicts between those who believe and those who reject the gospel. Jesus tells us that he will cause families to be divided against one another—father against son, mother against daughter and so on. We see these divisions played out in our own families and in our relationships with others. Those who have been given the gift of faith are lifted out of the darkness into the marvelous light of God’s love. Sadly, those who reject Jesus will ultimately fall into the fiery pit of hell that God had prepared for the devil and his demons. Jesus warns that the Day of Judgment is coming soon. The signs are all around us.
So how are we to respond? First, we shouldn’t act surprised. God has given us more than enough signs to know that the day of destruction can come at any time. Ignoring those signs would be equally foolish. If we have been complacent about the end of the world and its consequences, we need to repent and wake up from our spiritual slumber. At the same time, let’s not despair. There is hope. God has provided a way for all to escape his coming wrath. Through the gospel, we are assured that all who believe that Jesus is their Savior are forgiven. As forgiven sinners we live a life of repentance. Since God has forgiven all our sins, we also forgive those who have sinned against us. Motivated by Jesus’ love, we make every effort to reconcile with our brothers and sisters. Like Jonah, we proclaim that good news of a Savior to an unbelieving world, so that many more will know the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.
Friends, during this Epiphany season, we are privileged to see how God reveals his love through his Son. The good news of Jesus in God’s Word and the sacraments are concrete signs of his boundless love. God also reveals that the end of the world is coming soon. Yet, we do not despair. Through faith in Jesus, we look forward to the day when our righteous Judge will bring all believers to heaven. The signs are all around us. Let’s see the signs. Amen.
“The Church’s One Foundation” (CW 538)
Text: Samuel J. Stone, 1839-1900, abr., alt.
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is his new creation
By water and the Word.
From heav’n he came and sought her
To be his holy bride;
With his own blood he bought her,
And for her life he died.
Elect from ev’ry nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation
One Lord, one faith, one birth.
One holy name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With ev’ry grace endued.
Though with a scornful wonder
The world sees her oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping;
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song.
Mid toil and tribulation
And tumult of her war.
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore.
Till with the vision glorious
Her longing eyes are blest
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.