November 18, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“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.’”
Times of trouble are foretold in the Scripture Readings that you heard this morning. Indeed, that is what the era will be as the Lord’s people await the ushering in of the new heavens and the new earth. The foreboding words of the Prophet Daniel introduced the topic: “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time.” Jesus’ words reinforce that message. He speaks about the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple: “There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Then He follows it up with further statements: “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.”
Wars, rumors of wars, natural disasters, calamities—these are what will be experienced on earth in this era. They are the agenda, so to speak, of the world. And yet, Jesus indicates that this is not just something that will be seen at the very end: “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet…. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.” Much will be suffered by this world until the Last Day.
The statements of Daniel and Jesus reveal the carrying out of sinfulness and evil within the creation. They tell of what arises from the Fall into Sin. Turmoil, chaos, upheaval—these are the results of rebellion against the Lord’s will, against the Lord’s order. These form the characteristics of the world’s actions—of both man and nature. What was created in perfection now languishes in all its flaws and failings. As we have witnessed in the last weeks, even the process of supplying needed water to use is turned into a powerful way of bringing devastation and disaster. Mankind has become skilled at using ingenuity, inventiveness, and inspiration as tools to bring death and destruction on others. This is what we experience and even take part in.
The rebellion against the Lord’s will and the Lord’s order extends into the spiritual realm. The Lord has established His commands and promises. He has given great pledges about what He will accomplish and do for His people. Yet, many hear and do not respond in a positive way to them. Instead of grabbing hold of what the Lord is giving—forgiveness of sin and guilt, a life that never ends, deliverance from spiritual oppression and affliction—they reject it all and seek to rid the world of it and those who desire it. So Jesus declares to His disciples: “They will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, to bear witness before them…. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.”
Still others will utilize the Lord’s pledges as tools for deception. This is what Jesus reveals: “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and they will lead many astray.” Instead of anticipating the promised arrival of the Messiah and the new era that He will bring, such people turn that anticipation of others into a weakness to exploit. The longing of individuals for what good will come is abused: impostors and frauds arise who claim to be what the faithful have been waiting for. They make themselves out to be prophets or seers, even the Messiah Himself. This has been witnessed throughout time, even seared into our memories: Jim Jones and Jonestown, David Koresh and Waco, Marshall Applewhite and Heaven’s Gate are not just answers to trivia questions about history. No, they stand as examples of such deception that Jesus warns against.
But in the midst of the turmoil, chaos, and upheaval of the world and the persecution and deception that take place in the spiritual realm, there is something that stands constant and true: the work of Jesus for the redemption of individuals. His work to bring atonement for sin and to open the way of everlasting life has been done according to the Lord’s will and order. This is what Jesus declares when speaking about His purpose in the world. Time after time, His statements refer back to His doing His Father’s will. It is what you have heard and will hear each time through the Church Year—from Advent to the Last Sunday. The witness about Jesus’ work has sounded again this day: “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. For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
While this world endures and suffers many things until the Last Day, the sacrificial act of Jesus’ crucifixion and the exalting act of His resurrection stand fulfilled and accomplished. They have not changed or passed away. No, they remain true throughout time. And this is where Jesus directs His people to place their faith, hope, and trust. This is where redemption is found. So He tells Peter, James, John, and Andrew: “See that no one leads you astray.” He extends to them the promise: “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” They have put their trust in Jesus, and He exhorts them to keep that so. Even as they experience the calamities and afflictions that come, Jesus’ disciples are to remain trusting in what He has done for them.
The same promise and exhortation that Jesus’ disciples received is also are given to you. The end has not come; you live in the midst of disasters and troubles. But you have the benefits of what Jesus has accomplished for you through His death and resurrection. This is what the generations after the disciples have heard from ancient days to now: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
You are called to stand firm and endure. You are called to remain grounded on what Jesus has accomplished for you and to receive the everlasting benefits of it. It is your calling, especially in this time of trouble. Foretelling what you would experience and what the Messiah would accomplish, the Prophet Daniel writes for your hearing: “There shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.” The book of life is where Jesus has written your names, as you have been made His followers. Your names have been written, as He has inscribed His name on your hearts and on your heads in baptism. That has not changed, even amid the chaos and disorder in this world.
Jesus’ work is why the promise is given: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And 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.” This promise is made to those who live through the time of trouble, through the era that precedes the world to come. You have been given the knowledge that makes you wise: this temporal world is not eternal as the Lord is; the order and agenda of this sinful world is not what the Lord established; the ways of this unrighteous world are not the Lord’s commands. You have also been given the knowledge that turns you and others to righteousness: the holiness of Jesus given to you through Baptism, Absolution, and Supper; Jesus’ sacrifice has atoned for your sins; Jesus’ resurrection has opened the gates of Paradise to all believers.
Living in the times of trouble, there are many who have no firm foundation of faith. There is plenty of inspiring others to participate in any activity besides love and obedience of the Lord’s ways. Witnessing the chaos and disorder, people will be fall into hopelessness. This is why you must heed the words written for your hearing: “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.” This is what will lead you to fulfill Jesus’ instructions: “See that no one leads you astray.” Therefore, you will have His promise fulfilled for you: “The one who endures to the end will be saved.”
You are different than many who are all around you during this time of trouble. Because you rely on what Jesus has accomplished for you—His crucifixion to atone for your sins and His resurrection that brings you everlasting life—you need not be fearful or frightened. Your trust in the eternal work that Jesus has done makes you speak like the psalmist: “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.” You can dwell secure, even as the wonderful stones and wonderful buildings come crashing down, as nations rise against nations, as persecutors hand the faithful over to governors and kings. The Lord who makes known to you the path of life, in whose presence there is fullness of joy, and at whose right hand there are pleasures forevermore—He holds your lot. And He will bring you the deliverance to life everlasting that He has promised.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.