Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sermon for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost (November 18, 2012)

Wordle: Untitled

“Endure to the End” (Mark 13:1-13)

As we approach the end of another Church Year, it’s time to contemplate the end of all things.  A new Church Year begins with the season of Advent the first Sunday in December.  The theme of the Second Coming of Christ on the Last Day will continue even as we consider the First Coming of Christ in the womb of the Virgin.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus foretells the end of the temple in Jerusalem.  But first, as he and his disciples are walking out of the temple, one of the disciples makes a comment: “Teacher! Look!  What stones!  What buildings!”  I wonder if this was what you might call a “No duh” moment.  It would be like standing at the base of Mount Rainier and saying, “Hey!  Look!  A big mountain!”  No duh.

But those stones were indeed big.  The historian Josephus records that some of the largest were fifty feet long, twenty-four feet broad, and sixteen feet thick.  White limestone and gilded gold caused the temple to gleam brightly in the sunlight.  It was a place of Jewish pride, a reminder of God’s relationship with the people of Israel … even though it was an Idumean king – Herod the Great – who had brought this version of the temple to its present glory.

Jesus says, “Do you see these large buildings?  Not one stone will be left on top of another.  Each one will be torn down.”  And if you were to go to Jerusalem today … or travel there on Google Earth as I have done … you would see that there is no more temple.  It was leveled by the Romans in 70 AD.  At the southwest corner of the temple mount, you can still see piles of huge stones that were thrown down.  And where the temple once stood, there now stands a Muslim mosque, the iconic Dome of the Rock.

Consider the demise of this once great edifice.  Compare this to things we think will last.  Walk through Manhattan or any big city and marvel at the skyscrapers towering overhead.  Yet who would have ever thought that those magnificent buildings, the Twin Towers, could be brought down?  Consider other buildings and institutions and empires that have come and gone over the centuries.  Nothing lasts forever.

Even now we worry about the future of our nation.  There was much anxiety and hand-wringing before our last election.  Now there are fears of falling over the fiscal cliff.  I’m still not exactly sure what that means, but it certainly doesn’t sound good!  And there is tumult in the Middle East (what else is new?) that threatens to spread.

The end is coming.  We should know this.  We should expect it.  We should be ready for it.  Not because of anything the Mayans predicted.  Not because of what various prognosticators have prognosticated.  Rather, because of what Daniel and other prophets prophesied.  Because of what the Lord Jesus prophesied.  The flattening of the temple and the city of Jerusalem was a foretaste of the end of time and God’s final judgment over sin and rebellion against him.

Jesus and the disciples walked across the valley to the east and sat down on the Mount of Olives.  As they sat there, the temple rose on the plateau on the other side of the valley.  Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him a question.  They wanted to know when the end would be and what sign to look for in order to be ready.

Jesus does not give an exact time in answer to their question.  That’s because no one knows the day or the hour.  He says this explicitly later in the chapter.  Since this is the case, we should discount all those who attempt to make predictions.  It’s a worthless task.  Everyone who has done so has been wrong.  They have proven themselves to be false prophets.

Jesus gives us no timetable, no calendar, no dates.  But he does give us signs to look for.
False teachers will arise, directing our attention away from Christ.  Moreover, Jesus says that many will come in his name saying “I am he.”  The text literally says, many will say “I am.”  “I AM” … that’s “Yahweh.”  That’s a name that God has reserved for himself.  If you hear anyone making claims like this, or claiming that you have the divine spark within you and must affirm your own divine nature and release the power of your faith by saying “I am,” then run as fast as you can away from them.  These are some of the very people of whom Jesus warns us.

Jesus also says there will be wars and rumors of wars.  Earthquakes in various places.  Famines.  Families torn apart.  Persecution of the saints.  The Gospel preached to all nations.  All of these things have been happening since the day of Pentecost after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  These have been indicators to the saints of all ages to be ready.  They are indicators for us today.  Each new day could be the Last Day finally at hand.

“These are but the beginning of the birth pains,” Jesus says.  This is bad news … but it’s also good news.  When a pregnant woman starts feeling contractions, it means there’s more to come.  It means there’s more pain to come.  Giving birth is a painful process (how’s that for another “No duh” statement?).  But when the birth process is completed, all that pain fades into the background.  Mother holds her newborn child.  There is only joy and wonder over the gift of new life.

Likewise, Jesus does seem to say that things will get worse before they get better.  Daniel says so, too: “there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time” (Dan. 12:1)  But he also promises the help of Michael, the archangel, entrusted with the special duty of watching over the Church.  And finally, the pain of living in this sinful, broken, fallen world will give way to the joy of the resurrection and everlasting life.

So Jesus calls you to endure to the end: “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  Endure in faith to the end of your life here on earth.  Endure in faith to the end if you happen to be alive when Jesus returns.

At times, it may be tempting to give it all up.  Perhaps you’ve already thought that it would be much easier not to be a Christian.  You can do what you want, when you want, with no eternal repercussions.  Religious discussions with your friends won’t divide you any longer.  You can just eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die. 

But this would be living a lie.  Jesus WILL return to judge the living and the dead.  So hang in there.  Fight the good fight.  Cling to your Savior in faith.  Endure.  And you can do this by remembering the One who endured to the end for you.

Jesus is the great I AM who became flesh for you to be your Savior.

Jesus was delivered over to the council and was beaten and mocked.

Jesus stood before Governor Pilate and bore witness about himself as King of a kingdom not of this world.

Jesus’ own disciples turned their backs on him in his darkest hour.

Jesus’ own Father delivered him into death in order that the price for sin would be paid in full.  But Jesus endured to the end and declared, “It is finished.”

The judgment over your sin was laid upon Jesus at the cross.  You are rescued from the coming judgment.  You are forgiven and free.  Jesus conquered your enemies of sin, death, and the devil when he rose again on the Third Day.

Your Old Adam endured the birth pains of Holy Baptism.  There in those waters, he was drowned and killed.  But like a newborn baby fresh from the womb, you were joyfully raised up from the waters of Baptism as a new creation in Christ.  You rose again from the waters of baptism.  You will rise again on the Last Day.

So what does “enduring to the end” look like?  It’s quite simple.  It’s simply the Christian life.  United to Jesus in Baptism.  Confessing your sins.  Hearing the Gospel and believing it for yourself.  Eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus.  Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together.  Encouraging one another to love and good works done in the name of Christ, and all the more as you see that this world in its present form is indeed passing away and the Lord’s return is near (Heb. 10:25; 1 Cor. 7:31).  In this way, you can be confident that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Dan. 12:1).  You can be confident to enter the holy places of heaven by the blood of Jesus, the once for all … the once FOR YOU … sacrifice for sins (Heb. 10:19).


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