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Intro: Jesus uses the image of a “doorkeeper” (or “gatekeeper” as the translation might say) to tell us how near He is. Growing up, the front gate was the place where the bus dropped you off; where the mail was dropped off. It was where the car parked when Dad came home. Once you reached the gate, it was just moments until you’d be home again. As a kid, looking out the bay-window towards the street, once Dad got to the gate, it was just moments until everyone would be back together again.
We’re all familiar with this picture. That’s why Jesus uses this imagery in order to describe His second coming. Just like when you saw the bus-lights flash or the car park, when you see these signs of the end, “when you see these things”, He mentions, “you know that He is near, at the very gates”.
The thing is, we do see these signs He describes. We do see what seems to be the increase of a godless darkness throughout the earth. We do see wars and earthquakes and rumors of war. We do see false prophets performing signs and wonders. We have seen the spiritual state of not only our nation, but of the world, become so corrupt...(in the Greek, the word means “diseased”) that the name of God is profaned within the churches...the equivalent of the temple walls. To top it off, all these things seem to be intensifying and it makes us ask, “Is this it?”. “Are these the signs?”. “Is He really at the gates this time?”.
Not yet, but these are definitely the signs and rather than being terrified, we should count these signs a blessing. In His wisdom, God has given us these signs as a perpetual reminder of:
HOW NEAR HE IS, AT THE VERY GATES, AND THAT HE COMES TO SAVE
I. The second coming, comes as Christ describes, “it’s like birth pangs”.
When a woman goes into labor, especially if it’s her first time, she might wonder (the first time she has a contraction), if “this is it”. I remember our kids were born. Becky went through (probably a couple of weeks) in which her belly would get “tight as a drum”. This was a sign that her body was preparing for the big day. It was ramping up for the “end of her time”. The closer things got, the more you started wondering, “could this be it?”. Even on the day of, we went to the doctor and were told, “Oh, you’ve still got a while. Why don’t you go out, take a walk, and come back in a few hours”. The good thing though, was that when it really started happening, there was no mistaking it.
Rather than birth pangs, Jesus talks about fig trees in His discourse today. He uses the example of “when you know the fruit is ripe”. We don’t have fig trees around us, but the analogy is the same. As any farmer can tell you, no matter what you’re growing, you know the difference between “close” and “now is the time”. The gracious thing that God has done is that, not only has He told us to “Be on guard and keep awake”, He’s also given us these signs, that are in effect, like the bus or the car at the gate, or even the preparations that the body goes through as it gears up for labor. He’s given us these signs that we might live out our lives in a constant state of expectation...always looking like a child to the gate or a woman for “the time”.
II. We wait in expectation, knowing already that Christ is never going to be more near than He already is today.
When Jesus said, “Behold, I am with you always, even until the end of the age”, He wasn’t lying. The problem is that, as the Apostle Paul says, “We see as though through a glass darkly”. We see as if behind a veil. To the naked eye, it would appear that we are seeing all there is to see...even when we know we’re not.
The scriptures tell that there is nowhere that we can go and be apart from His presence. They tell us that our God is the God in whom we all live, move and have our being. But they also tell us that our sins made a separation between us and God. As Isaiah 59:2 tells us, “Our sins have hidden His face from us”. Not that He isn’t there, but that “our sins have hidden His face from us”. It’s like God is behind a veil. Paul refers to this veil when he says, “whenever Moses is read a veil lies over our hearts”.
But just because we can’t see Him with our naked eyes, it doesn’t mean that He isn’t near. It doesn’t mean that He doesn’t see everything we do at every time of the day. It doesn’t mean that He doesn’t know our thoughts or our desires. It just means that wecan’t see Him do it. He is hidden behind this “veil”.
But even while “hidden”, God continues to come to us in Christ. He comes to us in a way that we might see and recognize His gracious will towards us. He comes in flesh and blood at a particular locale. He comes not as the judge we deserve, but with peace and “healing in His wings”. He makes His presence known in Words. He makes Himself known in sacraments, “binding Himself to physical elements on this side of the veil, by means of His Word. He hides Himself on this side of the veil under bread. Hides Himself in wine. Hides Himself behind the voice of a mortal, fallible man. In these He is completely present -- as present as He was when Jesus walked the earth. Where He is present, His gospel is still proclaimed to us. Where He is present, our sins which once hid God’s face from us have been removed...they’ve been covered by His blood. Here, the veil is all but removed. Here, we wait with anticipation of that day when, “as lighting strikes from the East to the West, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be”. We wait for that time when, in the same way that the curtain in the temple was torn in two as Jesus died, so every eye will suddenly behold Him, coming in power and glory as the veil is torn from East to West at His coming. For now though, we see these things through faith. We see Him hidden under inglorious, plain and simple things like bread, water and wine. Believe it though...these are but a veil. In truth, these are marks of His presence, reminding us of how near He already, truly is!
III. With this knowledge we can rejoice in the double meaning in this text
While there will be a day on which the whole world “will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory and then He will send His angels to gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of earth to the ends of heaven”. His elect are already recognizing that this “gathering” is already taking place on this side of the veil. Look around you. While the world falls off the brink into darkness; while false prophets rail; while the gospel vanishes from pulpits...the elect are being gathered. While the world thinks God is “dead” based on what can been seen by the naked eye, the elect see that they have already been welcomed home. Already, we feast at His table. Already, the harvest is gathered in. Already, the sins which once separated us from God have been removed and already, eternal life has been given. Even now, as we wait for the last day, the woman is already with child. Your labor is over and new life has already begun.
Conclusion: God’s elect need not fear the 2ndcoming of our Lord. For us, it will not be a day on which “life as we know it comes to an end”. Rather, it’ll be that day in which what Christ has begun in us, will finally be made complete. It’ll be a day on which what we now see by faith will be made plain...we will see clearly; we will finally know Him as fully as we have been known. On that day, what looks like bread will look like body and what looks like wine will look like blood; what looks like water will look like a seal upon your forehead, revealing your God-given name...making visible to your eyes, what is already there. We wait in anticipation and hope of these things knowing that He is already near. He’s already at the gates. He’s already come to save and soon, we’ll behold our Savior, face to face. Amen.