Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Sermon - Pentecost 24 - Mark 13:1-13
Pentecost 24 – November 15h, 2009
“Seeing the Signs”
Hollywood is at it again. There's a new movie called 2012, and it taps into the apocalyptic fears of end-of-the-world disaster. Maybe you've seen the previews: explosions, earthquakes, buildings collapsing and people narrowly escaping the destruction.
Much of the hype surrounding such events comes from what the Bible teaches about the end of days. Jesus himself spoke of the end times frequently, as in our text today. But we must rightly understand his teaching on it – teaching which speaks both terrifying law, and comforting Gospel for those who have ears to hear.
The disciples were awestruck by the beauty and grandeur of Herod's magnificent temple. It was considered a wonder of the world – huge marble stones, precious metals, elegant decor. One of the disciples makes an offhand comment about how it was all so impressive, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus uses this as an opportunity to teach, and to prepare the disciples (and us) about the end.
“Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Jesus minces no words, sugarcoats nothing when he tells of the destruction that is to come. He surely spoke of the doom that was at hand for the city of Jerusalem. For just 40 or so years later, the Romans would come and lay siege to the city in a terrible war that would leave the Jewish people decimated and their beloved Jerusalem destroyed. Even the mighty temple would be brought down, never to be rebuilt again. But that's just the beginning.
Jesus tells of wars, earthquakes and famines. Natural and man-made disasters. Surely each will bring its share of suffering and woe. Surely each will seem like the end of the world to those involved. But these are just the beginning.
He goes on to describe the persecution the church will face from the enemies of the faith. Beaten in the synagogues by Jewish opponents, dragged before Gentile governors – tried and convicted for believing in Jesus. Already in the New Testament we see these events unfolding, as the infant church faced martyrdom and persecution. Even within families, Christians will be accused and abused by those who are against Christ.
But it got worse, and it's still getting worse. There have been wars somewhere in the world almost every year in history. We still have quakes and tsunamis, hurricane Katrina, famines, diseases, economic crisis, terrorism and the war on it.
And the claim is made that in the 20th century more Christians were martyred – killed for their faith – than in all the previous centuries combined. And that kind of persecution continues.
Looking at the signs, we can see Jesus is right. The creation is in birth pains. And like a woman in labor, the pains get worse closer to the end.
We know some of those pains in our own lives. Sometimes on the grand scale, sometimes on the small scale. But all of life's troubles and disasters are used by God to call us to repentance. They are reminders that sin and death are non trifling matters. Seeing the signs of the times, signs of the end, reminds us that there is a conclusion to this world, and without Christ we would be lost to the destruction.
But there's also good news in Jesus' teaching about th end. He says the Gospel will be proclaimed to the ends of the earth. That's happening here today. Right here at Grace, and in so many Christian congregations – every Sunday – the message of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners is proclaimed. We hear again and again how his blood covers us, his sacrifice atones for us. With his stripes we are healed. We proclaim and teach and preach that his life and death and resurrection are the basis for our salvation – and though we can do nothing to earn it, though we don't deserve it, his love, mercy and forgiveness are a free gift of God's grace.
This message, this sweet comfort of knowing God sent Jesus for you and that because of Jesus, you are right with God – this good news is also a sign of the times. It is a sign of God's love for us. It is a sign reminding us to stand firm in the faith, throughout all the chaos that may surround us. In the midst of disasters natural and man-made, the Christian has the comfort of the Gospel. In the midst of persecution and trial, we have the sure word of God on which to stand.
The impressive temple was a spectacle for the disciples, but it was nothing compared to the destruction Jesus foresaw. But even that destruction, even as we live through it in part or in whole, is nothing compared to the treasure of the Gospel. For this promise is given by our Lord, “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” There is a hope and promise for us, God's people, in Jesus Christ. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Salvation awaits us.
By ourselves we cannot hope to endure. All the disaster and persecution and trouble would be too much for us. But we have God's promises that he will never leave us or forsake us, that he is with us always, and that his power is made perfect in weakness.
By ourselves we cannot know what to even say, but Jesus encourages his disciples that they will be given the words, that the Spirit will speak for them. Today it is much the same. We do well to rely on the words of the Spirit – written for us in Holy Scripture. When we speak and live by God's words, we have trustworthy words indeed.
So let Hollywood make its spectacles of destruction and disaster. We know we are secure, no matter what trouble comes. The signs are all around us. But we know our salvation is sure in Christ. And let all the wonders of this world, the spectacles of man's greatness, be kept in their place – for when it all comes tumbling down, faith remains. The Word of God remains. And in Jesus Christ, we will remain, forever. Amen.