My dad was an engineer, designing fighter jets for most of his life. After he retired, however, my dad became an artist. Hands that once designed warplanes now drew landscapes. He had a drafting table set up in the dining room and he would spend hours drawing. Every time you came over to the house, you would pass by the table to see what he was working on. With the diagnosis of cancer, the days got darker. But the darker the days were, the more beautiful the pictures became. Some would say this was because he got better at drawing. I think it was something else. From an awareness of death, came this celebration of life.
One of my dad’s drawings, which is my favorite, is an etching of an iris. It is a clayboard etching, I believe it is called. You do not draw on paper. You cut into a board. You have a piece of Masonite board coated with white China clay. Over the white clay is a layer of black India ink. The artist takes a razor and cuts into the ink. Each cut reveals a fine line of the white clay underneath. By scratching the board repeatedly, the artist creates a picture. For my dad, it was an iris. Hundreds of little tears in the surface of the darkness created beauty out of blackness.
I thought of my dad, making that image, as I read our text from Matthew. This text records a dark time in the ministry of Jesus. Yet, Jesus uses the moment to give us one sliver of light. I would like to focus on the sliver of light in darkness as Advent begins with the goal that we might wait for Jesus with hope.
Jesus has entered a dark time. First, there is the darkness of death. He has been predicting His death with increasing detail, but now the days are upon Him. He has entered into Jerusalem. His disciples do not understand Him. The religious leaders have turned against Him. Argument after argument consumes Him until, finally, He offers a withering condemnation upon the scribes and the Pharisees and then withers Himself as He looks at Jerusalem.
This is the second darkness. Jesus foresees the destruction of Jerusalem. This city will kill Him, the very Son of God. How He longs to gather these people under His wings, but they would not. Jesus, faced with the darkness of His death and the destruction of Jerusalem, takes His disciples away from the city. He gathers them together on the Mount of Olives and, like my father, creates a picture for them at the end of His life.
The words of Jesus are filled with darkness, but every once in a while, He cuts into the darkness, and reveals one small sliver of light. The sliver of light is this, Jesus says, “I reign.”
The words of Jesus are filled with darkness, but every once in a while, He cuts into the darkness, and reveals one small sliver of light.
In these eight sentences, Jesus mentions the coming of the Son of Man, four times. Four times He tells His disciples that the Son of Man will come. What Jesus is repeatedly saying is, “I reign.”
In the midst of hostility and hatred, “I reign.”
In the midst of vehemence and violence, “I reign.”
“The corruption of the Church cannot overcome Me, because I am Lord of the Church and will rise and gather My people from the ends of the earth.”
“The mouth of the grave cannot consume Me, because I am the death of death and the conqueror over Satan.”
“The righteous wrath of God against all this world’s sin cannot stop Me, for I am Jesus, the One who saves you from your sin. I will die but I will rise and rule and return for you. And when I come, it will not be as some poor prophet, stumbling from Nazareth into the cesspool of Jerusalem with its religious leaders, sinful in their power and sickening in their schemes. No, I will come as King. All eyes will behold Me. The heavens will flash, and I will appear, the crucified Lord, the One who lost His life in love and rose, rules, returns, and will restore all things.”
That is the small sliver of light Jesus gives us, and it is important... very important. It is so significant because Jesus knows of another darkness, a darkness yet to come. It is not His death, because that will be over. It is also not the destruction of Jerusalem, which will be over too. No, this last darkness is the most subtle. It is simply a dullness when people forget to wait for Him.
Jesus references the days of Noah but listen to how calmly He talks about those days. People were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. Jesus does not mention the more blatant sins of the people. Instead of gluttony and drunkenness, he says eating and drinking. Instead of adultery and promiscuity, he says marrying and giving in marriage. Have you ever heard God speak so calmly about the days of Noah? Why?
Because Jesus wants us to see an even greater darkness. There is the danger of simply being unaware, of going on with life as if this world is all there is, and Jesus will never return.
He wants you to be prepared. So, He cuts into our darkness with words that work like a knife. They awaken us from our routine to a sliver of light. Jesus reigns and He will return. For a moment, we dare to imagine what it will be like to be reunited with loved ones who have died in the faith. We dare to speak about the restoration of all creation. Yes, we eat and we drink, we go to church and go home, but we do so aware. You are aware of Christ’s love which awakens you to life. And you are aware of His Spirit, who comes now, and leads us in this one small way to look to the heavens, lift up our hearts, and say, “Come.”
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Matthew 24:36-44.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 24:36-44.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 24:36-44.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 24:36-44