Monday, November 16, 2009

Pentecost 24 Sermon -- Mark 13:1-13 (LSB Proper 28B)

November 15, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

Peter and James and John and Andrew asked Jesus privately: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished.” And Jesus began to say to them: “See that no one leads you astray.”

The end times. The Last Day. Dies irae: day of wrath. The terms all convey a character of foreboding, a denoting of doom. With or without the anticipated return of Christ, the end of the age has been a fascinating and intriguing subject. Many religions include it as an aspect of their faith. It can be found in popular culture, including the new blockbuster movie 2012. Even Christian fiction writers have made a good deal on their novels that record their thoughts and imaginations about the End Times.

Jesus speaks about the Last Day and the End Times, so His disciples must also. Today’s Gospel Reading presents part of Jesus’ statements about the time before His judgment. As Jesus nears the day of His sacrificial death to fulfill the Old Testament, He visits the Jerusalem Temple. “As [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’”

Jesus’ comments to His disciple tell of an impending doom. He prophesies about the fall of Jerusalem. Invaders would come and tear down the magnificent structures of Israel’s chief city. And it was so. The Roman legions led by Titus laid siege to the city, eventually obliterating the Temple grounds in AD 70. The Lord’s words would be fulfilled by the pagan warriors from the north, nearly replicating the Babylonian assaults on Jerusalem six centuries earlier.

Jesus’ prophecy of destruction led His disciples to want knowledge. They wanted to know when and how the prophecy would be fulfilled: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are to be accomplished?” Like all men, the disciples liked signs. Foreshadowing, clues, hints, symptoms: they all please the human mind. For by them, future events which by nature are unknown can be determined. In somewhat trivial and ordinary matters it is so: check how much fur is on the caterpillar to predict the severity of winter; red sky at night, sailors’ delight; observe the bellwether states or districts to predict an election’s result. If that is so with such minor events, then when the Lord speaks of cataclysmic destruction, signs will be sought.

But note what Jesus says in response to the disciples’ question: “See that no one leads you astray.” Jesus lists events that will take place before the Last Day: “wars and rumors of wars. . . . earthquakes in various places. . . . famines.” Jesus also prophesies concerning what will happen to the Twelve apostles: “They will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. . . . And you will be hated by all for My Name’s sake.” These are the signs which the Twelve should look for.

After what Jesus prophesied took place, Jerusalem did fall. The Temple was destroyed; the magnificent buildings were toppled. But these events were not immediately followed by the Last day. No, another 1,939 years have passed, and Jesus has yet to return. But He did say about those events: “This must take place, but the end is not yet. . . . These are but the beginning of the birth pains.” Jesus gives the signs to watch for, but the signs are things and events that will transpire every day, week, month, and year prior to His return.

What is much more important than the signs that Jesus presents are the exhortations that He gives. It is necessary that Peter, James, John, Andrew, and all Jesus’ followers know that Jerusalem would fall, that strife will take place in this world, and that the status of being His disciple will lead to being hated. But Jesus’ exhortations must be heard even more closely: “See that no one leads you astray. . . . But be on your guard. . . . But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

During these years before Christ’s return, it is easy to abandon the faith. Scoffers ask: “Just when was it that this Jesus fellow would come back?” False teachers lure people: “I am Jesus’ prophet. I am the Messiah you’re looking for. I am Jesus and I have returned.” Others posit their claims of truth: “Jesus was wrong. I have the true way of life to share with you.” All around the world, still others rage: “Everything associated with Jesus must be destroyed.” In the face of all these voices, in the reality that nearly twenty centuries have passed without Jesus’ return, it is tempting to toss in the towel and take up a different game.

Yet, in precisely such times when that seems a good idea, then Jesus’ exhortations must be heard: “See that no one leads you astray. . . . But be on your guard. . . . But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” That is why the epistle writer included his own words of instruction to Jewish Christians who were suffering for the faith and being tempted to abandon it: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Reading the signs and not seeing Jesus’ return can truly frustrate and cause doubt. But you know the Lord to be faithful. He is not jesting with you or playing some celestial guessing game. He has already fulfilled the prophecies concerning the promise of salvation to you and to all believers. The signs that He gives about the future are not a chronological chart, because the Last Day will not be His decision. Jesus tells you what will constantly happen in this world of sin, the world He has redeemed. He wants you keep a constant state of readiness for the Last Day; that is what His exhortations are meant to instill in you. For even Jesus waits in expectation of the end: “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until all His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet.”

Until Jesus returns, you will be hated by all for His Name’s sake. Until Jesus returns, this world will be embroiled in disaster and destruction—both natural and manmade. Until Jesus returns, there will be false teachers promising all sorts of ways to salvation. Until Jesus returns, you will be tempted to choose a different way of life. But instead of focusing on the signs and events or on impossible attempts to divine when the Last Day will come, direct your hearts and minds to what Jesus has promised: “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” The prophesied, destructive signs continue to take place; that should confirm in your souls that the Lord’s promise concerning your salvation is even more true.

So in these times, as you abide by Jesus’ teachings, you shall be like the Psalmist who wrote: “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells securely.” What the Psalmist gives is the description of all those who heed Christ’s exhortations, being on guard and holding fast to the confession of their hope. It is a trust that Jesus’ words are true and that His salvation is near, even in the midst of seemingly endless troubles of these last days.

The promise of the Faithful One has been given to you, and He will deliver. These last days should not forebode doom for you, for you have been redeemed. Jesus says about His redeemed ones: “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” You have that wisdom, for Jesus has made known to you the path of life. You may turn others to righteousness, for you have been put into relationship with your fellow believers and residents of this world.

So gather together and receive His promises over and over again, especially as His Day draws near. For by gathering and receiving Christ’s gifts, you will abide in Him and He will abide in you. Be on your guard; see that no one or no thing leads you astray. Rather, trust the words that the Lord has spoken, for they are made true for you: “The one who endures to the end will be saved.”

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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