25th SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 11-10-2019
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
Old Testament: Exodus 32:1–20
Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18
Holy Gospel: Matthew 24:15–28
An abomination. That’s a word used in our Gospel today. It’s a not a word we often use in daily conversation, but it means something abhorrent or detestable. Something that ought not be. An abomination. So if you grew up in Wisconsin here, and watched the Packers, you remember what you felt when you saw Brett Favre in a purple jersey. That’s right, as a Minnesota Viking. A purple jersey. That was an abomination. Abhorrent. Detestable.
Should be no surprise we used a big word like that, abomination, to describe that experience. Football is, after all, the great American idol – we attend to it with religious devotion. We all know it. We somewhat awkwardly and guiltily laugh about it, when we check the football schedule before planning congregational meetings.
But this isn’t the sort of abomination our Lord is speaking of this morning. So what is this mysterious abomination of desolation? Well, an abomination is something that is utterly abhorrent, in this case, in the sight of God. It is the one thing that God hates above all else.
So how about this morning’s reading from Exodus? God’s people were still dripping wet from their deliverance from Egypt and evil Pharoaoh through the Red Sea. They had been given the tabernacle, the sacrifices, a heavenly liturgy, and a place to meet with the God of love. He was giving to Moses and His people a glorious covenant up on that mountain. They had every reason to be filled with joyful confidence in all the Lord’s promises. But the folks became impatient. Their hearts rebelled. They melted down their golden earrings and made for themselves a golden calf. They bowed down to it. They worshipped it. “These are your gods,” they said, “who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”
To God, that was something abhorrent and detestable – something God hated – an abomination. So God sent down His servant Moses, who smashed the Ten Commandments, ground the golden calf into powder and made them drink it, and sent Levites to stab many of those offenders to death.
God’s people had corrupted themselves, and so His anger burned hot against them. Truly an abomination. But look at Moses, what a shepherd he is! He prayed to God. Offered to make atonement, even offering his own life in exchange.
But it was not to be, because God had something else in mind. To send a different shepherd, a different deliverer, His own Son.
Abomination. It’s that which God hates. That which is abhorrent and detestable, filthy and corrupt. But just because it’s not a word we often use doesn’t mean we are free from abominations – and things God hates. Because abominations abound. We call this America the beautiful, but that’s hardly true. Not when children are slaughtered in abortion. An abomination. The abandonment of the elderly by their own families. An abomination. Homosexuality, pornography and sex-change operations, mutilations. All abominations. Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth, are held up as virtues, and the virtues as vices. What an abomination.
But the greatest immorality, and abominations, take place in our hearts. Like those Israelites, you are dripping wet with your baptism into Christ, your deliverance from sin, death, and hell. You’ve been claimed by Christ as His own treasured possession. So how about that pathetic prayer life of yours? How about your worries, anxieties, impatience, and downright unbelief. How about that backsliding of yours. Going after idols. Fearing, loving, trusting in just about everything except the true God. But especially you go after the idol of your own self. Whom you worship, promote, and place first. Woe to those who do not bend to your will and bow down to your wishes.
There is so much that is ugly in us. So much that is detestable, corrupt, and defiling. God should detest us – label us “an abomination” and punish us for our stiff-necked sinful ways. But in our collect this morning we prayed a real beauty of a prayer: “Almighty God, we implore You, show Your mercy to Your humble servants that we, who put no trust in our own merits, may not be dealt with after the severity of Your judgment but according to Your mercy.”
You see, one greater that Moses was to come. And I’ll tell you what: There’s plenty of debate and scholarship on exactly who and what that abomination of desolation is. Scholars, historians, theologians will say it’s the Greek ruler Antiochus, “the King of the North.” He set up an altar to Zeus on the top of the altar in the temple. Even offered the sacrifices of pigs. What an abomination! Or what about the abomination of Gaius Galigala, the Roman emperor in 40 AD? He fancied himself a god and raised a statue of himself in the temple. An abomination. Or what about the destruction of the temple in 70 AD?
The abomination of desolation, however, is not ultimately a statue of a pagan god or a Roman emperor, set up in a Jewish temple. No. the abomination of desolation is something more frightful than that. More terrible and horrifying.
How about every wicked sin, every crime, every detestable deed spanning all human history placed on one man. How about God, tabernacled in human flesh bearing the sins of the whole world. How about Jesus, the Son of God, writhing in agony, hanging upon a Roman cross. Jesus tells His disciples what to look for. “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
The abomination of desolation is the crucifixion of Jesus at Golgotha. Earlier we joked about the awful sight of a man who didn’t belong in a purple jersey. But consider our Lord, wrapped in a purple robe, taking the place of sinful man.
Jesus is made both curse and sin for us. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” You see, Christ therefore is not one sinner among others, but in God’s eyes, at the cross, He is the only sinner. He is made sin for us all. Bears it all. Meaning that everything abhorrent, everything detestable, everything filthy and hateful in us is hung around Him. He’s pounded to a cross. You see, at the cross, Jesus becomes the worst murderer, the worst criminal, the greatest and only sinner – as God’s wrath all pours down on Him. How awful, how horrifying, and yet how wonderful for us with the eyes of faith to see the Lord’s promises met in the sacrifice of His Son.
Jesus became the one and only offender. He was stabbed with a spear – and out came atoning blood and cleansing water. To cleanse you from idols – to purify you. All to make you beautiful, radiant, and holy – through the forgiveness of your sins.
So remember this when Jesus this morning warns us to be on guard against false christs and false prophets, trying to lead folks astray. Because our Lord has told us where to go and where to flee/escape from destruction – to free ourselves from false idols – and idolatrous worship. He instructs us to come to Him – the new and greater Temple. The one torn down in death, but rebuilt in three days in the resurrection. For Jesus is the icon and image of the Father engraved in human flesh, who became the abominable image of sin, to suffer the punishment for the sins of mankind. To triumph over it all by His life and resurrection.
So run to Him – flee to Him – to Jesus – the true and only place of worship. Jesus says this morning “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Another translation might be this: “Wherever the body of Jesus IS, there the saints and angels will gather.” At the Divine Service our abominable deeds are forgiven, and we are made beautiful. We walk away with plunder far better than dazzling golden earrings. Better yet, we get the resplendent words of sweet absolution ringing and adorning our ears. That you are loved by God. That out of great love for you, He did not withhold His Son. How about gathering around His altar and eating Jesus’ body and drinking His blood. Being delivered, fed, and nourished. With death itself passing over our heads. Where the body of Jesus is there, the church will gather. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. From the font, from altar and pulpits, the world over. Yes, we live in the last days. Jesus is coming soon, even now, and He’ll come again. And when He comes, that trumpet blast won’t be the one on Mt. Sinai to frighten or terrify you. It will be the trumpet blast of our kind and gentle Savior coming to raise us from the dead and bring us to Himself forever. In the name of Jesus. Amen.