So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And woe for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short (Matthew 24:15—22).
In other words, run for your life. This is deadly serious business. Now I know this isn’t the most upbeat sermon you’ll ever hear, but then again, our Lord isn’t very upbeat in today’s Holy Gospel. There’s a time for upbeat, and there’s a time for serious. For everything there is a season (Eccl. 3:1). Today, the message is simple: run. Jesus isn’t joking around when He speaks these words. Corpses and vultures are no laughing matter. He’s talking about matters of eternal life and eternal death.
Flee to the mountains; let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And woe for women who are pregnant and nursing in those days! For then there will be great tribulation like the world has never seen. Even the elect would perish if God, in His mercy, didn’t cut the days short. Run for your life.
Being a poor miserable sinner, I often love the things God gives to me more than I love God Himself. You’re the same way. Flesh gives birth to flesh. Especially when I was younger, I used to anticipate disaster scenarios. I had this whole elaborate escape plan worked out in my head if there ever were a fire in my house. My bedroom was on the second floor of our home right above our driveway, and I used to make sure our van was parked in the driveway at night. That way, I could jump out of my bedroom window and land on top of the van. I always kept a duffel bag nearby at night, and I knew exactly what I would grab and put in it before making my getaway.
There won’t be time for anything like that, Jesus says. Run for your life. But we just don’t get it. We miss the urgency of His words, we become complacent, we hesitate. Remember Lot’s wife? She just couldn’t help herself. She had to turn back and take one more look. That was a mistake that cost her life. I don’t want you to make the same mistake.
Do you look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come? Have you heeded our Lord’s multiple warnings to be ready? For the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:44). Or are you preoccupied with the things of this world? There will be no time to go back into the field and get your cloak. Nobody wants to leave a nice suburban home to spend time in the wilderness without all of our stuff, but it’s a lot better than an eternity in hell. Repent of your idolatrous attachment to the things of this world and cling instead to your Lord. Run into His arms; flee to the Scriptures; hunger for His grace.
Remember what happened to the Israelites? When the people saw that Moses was delayed to come down from the mountain, they got distracted by shiny things. They began to worship those shiny things. They even made a golden calf out of them. Now you might not make idol sculptures out of your gold and silver, but do you not do the same thing?
Graciously, the Bridegroom has delayed His return, but instead of remaining vigilant and using the time wisely, you too have become more fixated on the things of this world than Jesus. There are a lot more people running to the mall these days than into the arms of their Lord. And when sickness comes, we run to doctors or medicine or maybe even away, but we forget to run to Jesus.
Thanks be to God that He cuts the days short! For if He didn’t, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. For this I declare to you by a word from the Lord, that the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
You may not cling to Jesus the way we should, but He clings to you. We want to fight the good fight and run the good race, but we get tired. Jesus never does, though. He ran His course all the way to the end, even though there was a cross waiting for Him at the finish. He perfectly delighted in the Father’s will for those times when you’ve indulged your own sinful desires. He remained vigilant for those times when you’ve become complacent. He ran all the way to the end and finished strong for those times when you’ve become weak, stopped short, and run in the wrong direction.
So run to your Lord; join Him in praying His prayer for you, as we did in our Introit: Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress! Find His answer to your prayer at the Lord’s Table. For He has cleansed you of your sin, and strengthens you with this meal in body and soul to life everlasting.
Running for your life can be exhausting and the Evil One will do what He can to trip you up. But keep your eyes fixed upon Jesus, for your Jesus keeps His loving gaze fixed upon you. The Lord restores the fortunes of His people, even as He did not remain in the tomb, but lives and reigns to all eternity. And so we pray:
Preserve, O Lord, in rain and shine, Your worn out little flock; through the running make us weary, be our ever-present rock. Nourish Your weary children, and set the course aright; then we will reach the finish in Your eternal light.