by The Rev. Mark Buetow
St. Matthew 24:15-28
So the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea. Their enemies lay dead on the seashore. They journeyed through the wilderness to Mt. Sinai. Moses went up on the mountain to speak with the Lord. And the Israelites waited. And they waited. And they waited some more. Finally they got tired of waiting. So they told Aaron, "We're tired of waiting. We don't know what happened to Moses. So never mind the mountain stuff. Make us gods to lead the way!" So Aaron collected their gold and made a golden calf. But here's the kicker: what was the calf called? It was called "The Lord." The Israelites didn't just make a false god. They attached the True God's name to it! God's people are always in danger of this, dear Christians. Since His Ascension, the Lord's church has been waiting for His return. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Still waiting. And instead of holding on tightly to Christ's Word and promises, people begin to think, "We don't know what happened to Christ. Let's make our own Christ because we don't know what happened to Jesus." And so turning away from the true Christ, people make their own Jesus. False Christs and false prophets. But we knew it would happen. Jesus said so. Christ is turned from being the Savior who dies and rises for our sins into some other kind of Christ. A help-with-all-your-problems Jesus. A personal life coach. A philosophy teacher. An angry and mean Judge. A good pal. A Jesus who says that anything goes. The true Jesus is tossed aside and a false Christ arises. Some might even do miracles. The terrible thing is that people put their trust in these false Christs and thereby deny and turn from the real Jesus, the only one who can and does actually save us!
The Lord was ready to wipe those Israelites off the face of the earth. And they deserved it! How could they be rescued by the Lord and then turn around and make Him into a cow? That's what sinners do. But Moses reminds the Lord of His promises. God had promised to make a great nation from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So for the sake of His Word, because of His promise, the Lord does not destroy them. Oh, they've got it coming! But what turns the hand of the Lord's wrath and anger? His Word. His promise. You and I, who love to trust in something other than the Lord, who, given the opportunity, would nail Him to a cross, are saved by the same thing: The Lord's promises. Because Jesus dies for the sins of the world, and because He has baptized you into His Son, He will not punish you for your sins. Oh you deserve it, and you've got it coming. But it falls on Jesus. The smoke and lightning and thunder of Mt. Sinai are transferred to Mt. Calvary and come pouring down on the Son of God instead of us. Not because we deserved to be saved. But because the Lord promised He would do it. It's a promise that goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. And the Lord doesn't break His promises. We make our confirmation vow to keep the faith even until we die and we turn away the first chance we get. But our Lord does not turn from us because His vow to save sinners cannot be broken. It's why Jesus came and did what He did. The same grace of God that spared the children of Israel after the Golden Calf is the same grace which spares us from the punishment of our sins in Jesus Christ.
Notice that the children of Israel didn't suddenly remember God's mercy and grace and stop what they were doing though! No, Moses interceded for them. When the Lord was ready to march down the mountain and blast the Israelites into smithereens, it is Moses who reminds the Lord of His promises. In fact, in one of the boldest prayers recorded in Holy Scripture, Moses tells the Lord to repent! And the Lord does! Because Moses prays for those evil people, because Moses throws God's word and promises back in His own ears, the Lord spares them. Same for us. We don't suddenly wake up one day and decide we'd better stop sinning and get right with the Lord. We would keep dancing around our idols until our golden cows come home. Instead, Jesus intercedes. He comes to us. He takes on flesh. He stands between the wrath of God and us sinners. He puts Himself between the Father's judgment of sin and us sinners who have that judgment coming. Christ stands high above us, nailed to the tree of the cross to be a lightning rod to take God's punishment of sin so that it doesn't fall on us. And whenever we would sin now, He pleads to the Father for us. As long as Jesus stands before His Father, the Father will never remember our sins or punish us for them. Understand, dear Christians, that what rescues us from our idols is Christ who came and took our place. Now He has taken His place with the Father, praying for us, interceding for us, reminding the Father continually that He has taken our sins away and we are to be spared from everlasting death!
Moses did punish the Israelites for their idolatry. He ground up the golden calf, sprinkled it on the water and made them drink it! Sounds gross! If you want this false god so much, why don't you eat it! And they did! But in the mystery of God's grace, since the coming of Christ, we are not made to eat our idols. Rather we are given to eat the Lord Himself in His body and blood. Where the children of Israel were joined with their false god in a way that pointed out their sin and probably made them sick, we are joined to the One who takes away our sin. In that meal of His body and blood, our Lord reminds us that He has taken away our sins. When we eat and drink His body and blood, we do it for His remembrance, that is, He remembers what He has done for us and holds no sins against us. Not our idolatry or any other sin. The true miracle is not some trick that the devil plays with his false Christs showing off. The true miracle, the true sign and wonder is that the Son of God takes the place of sinners to free us sinners from our sin and death.
And that leads us to Jesus' warning in today's Gospel about false Christs and false prophets. False Christs and false prophets don't preach the forgiveness of sins. They may do miracles. They may do signs and wonders. People might look like they've been healed. People might have some sort of spirituality or connection to the supernatural. But all of it is the Devil's tricks if Christ isn't preached. The Devil wants us to look to other things than Christ but to call them "Christ." Our repentance is that of the children of Israel: to turn away from anything that is not Christ but is called Christ. Brothers and sisters in Christ, that means turn away from any church, any Jesus, any preaching, which isn't about the forgiveness of sins always. It means run from any teaching that doesn't point you to your Baptism, where you are certain that you are the Lord's. Flee from anyone that won't absolve you for Christ's sake and comfort you by forgiving your sins. Run from any preaching or teaching that says the Lord doesn't give His body and blood for you to eat and drink. Run and flee from anything and everything that seeks to have you put your trust in something other than Christ crucified and risen for you, delivered in the means of grace in the church. Oh, other churches or religions may look holy and pious and religious and like they're having a good time, but they will simply be the objects of God's wrath on the Last Day. Hear Jesus warning. But hear it and be comforted. Your Lord has told you what to watch out for. And He promises to keep you in His faith and to intercede for you, so that your sins will never stand against you before the Father.
Our countdown to the end of the Church Year has begun today. Time to start paying attention and looking for Jesus to come back! Jesus warns about something called the "abomination of desolation." We see that all around us as the world makes up and invents false Christs. When people put their trust in these fake Jesuses, that is the abomination. Anything that robs a person of true faith and trust only in the true Jesus, that is the abomination. Should we be worried? No. Because our Lord has warned us. He has given us His Word and that Word cannot be broken. When you are troubled as you look around in these last days, then do as Moses did. Pray with God's Word. Call upon the Lord in repentance and faith. Cling to Jesus in His holy gifts at the font and altar. Then you will be ready with St. Paul and all the saints for the glorious coming of Christ. And so we wait. And wait. But that day will soon come. And on that day, the trumpet blast won't be the one of Mt. Sinai, to frighten and terrify. It will be the trumpet blast of our Savior coming to raise us from the dead and bring us to Himself forever. Amen.
Rev. Mark Buetow is Pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Du Quoin, IL. Pr. Buetow is the editor of the Higher Things Reflections and Internet Services Executive. He has also been a guest on Higher Things Radio.