Monday, November 16, 2015

Sermon - Pentecost 25 - Mark 13:1-13

Pentecost 24
Mark 13:1-13
“Saved in the End”

You see this fancy temple? It's toast. You see these tall pillars? They're coming down. The Holy Place? Scrap it. The Holy of Holies? First they'll tear it down, then it will become a trash heap, then a shrine to a false god, and then, along with every other once proud and impressive location – everything will be destroyed. Not even one stone left on another.

Are you impressed by the things of this world? The Sistine Chapel? The Great Wall of China? Mt. Rushmore? None of it will last. Even the Pyramids, which have stood perhaps the longest – they'll be gone, too. Your house, your neighborhood, the Taco Bell. Your school, your workplace, even your church building.

It's that time of the year again, the end of the church year, in which the lectionary, for several weeks, sets before us these readings which point to the end. Call it the judgment day, the last day, the second coming of Christ. Or use the fancy term, “eschatology” from the Greek word “eschatos”, which means, simply, “the last things”.

Here in Mark's Gospel, were are again in Holy Week. Jesus is with his disciples in the temple, like so many others who have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Jesus has already been welcomed on Palm Sunday and greeted with “hosannas”. He's turned over temple tables, and his teaching is overturning the hopes and expectations for Jewish national glory.

Not only is Jesus not the military messiah so many expected, here to run out the Romans. He's the bearer of bad news: This place is going down. And so it came to pass. In 70 AD, not even 40 years after Jesus speaks these words, Roman general Titus puts down a rebellion in Jerusalem.
And he destroys the temple. Jews still mourn this event every year. Titus would go on to become Roman Emperor, and the arch which tells of his glorious victory in Jerusalem still stands in Rome to this day. But the temple, the temple into which so many Jews put their hopes for the future, has been reduced to one lone exterior wall.

So how can Jesus say “not one stone will be left” if, in fact, a whole wall remains? Because the prophecy isn't finished yet. The destruction of the temple was but a foretaste of the final destruction for which this corrupt world is destined. All of it will pass away. Vanish like smoke. Be rolled up like a scroll. Scripture tells us, and Jesus tells us, of a time to come when he will bring about a new heaven and new earth, and the old will pass away entirely. For us it is a day of victory and celebration.

But before that day comes, he has more bad news. There will be other calamities. And what a list it is! Wars and rumors of wars. Earthquakes. Famines. And maybe worst of all, false teachers.
Do not be led astray! Jesus warns us to watch out, especially, for those who would falsely come in his name. But this isn't just about crackpots who claim to be Jesus in the flesh yet again (though surely there have been quite enough of those!)

This is also about all who would come and teach falsely concerning him. Anyone who teaches against his word. Anyone who points you to yourself for your own salvation. Anyone who teaches you that his grace is not enough, and that you need to add your own work, your own decision, your own acceptance to the mix. Anyone who teaches you to despise his gifts given in water and bread and wine, and not receive them as he intends, for the forgiveness of your sin. Anyone who would teach that Christianity is all about Gospel apart from Law, or vice versa. Anyone who adds the teachings of man to the revealed Word of God. Even those who would cheapen God's grace in Christ by claiming that this sin or that sin doesn't matter, or isn't that sinful, and who call good evil and evil good. Beware! Watch out! Do not be led astray! Many will come, teaching all this and more, but they are not Christ. And it is not yet the end.

He warns the disciples of persecution. That they would be arrested and beaten and delivered over to death. Even families would be torn apart in all of this. And all who are with Christ will be hated for his name's sake. What an uplifting picture of the future Jesus paints for them, and for us.

Church history tells us that all of the 12 Apostles met a martyrs death, except for John – who was also persecuted and imprisoned. Jesus rightly prepares his disciples for the trouble that would follow them, even unto death. But these disciples, too, are but a foretaste of the persecution of the church and the birth pains of creation that would continue from then until the very end.

And we, too, live in those times. Yes, we are in the end times. The times of the birth pains. We hear of wars and rumors of wars. We see earthquakes and famines and false teachers. We see families torn apart and Christians hated for Jesus' name. The church has always faced these things, in one measure or another, in fits and starts, just like a woman in labor. When the birth pains come, then they recede, then they come again in greater force, then recede. We know how this goes. We know that the end is coming, it's on the horizon, it's getting nearer. But we can't say exactly when.

But Jesus doesn't tell us all this to scare us. He knows well enough that we have enough fear living in this fallen world. He's not simply trying to get us to wake up and shape up, and live a good life with the short time we have left. As if threats of the law could do that anyway.

But it should drive us to repentance. Repent of your attachment to the supposedly impressive things of this world, which is passing away. Repent of your adherence to anyone who teaches falsely in Christ's name. Repent of your fears of what may come, of who may oppose you, and your lack of trust in Christ. Repent, and believe in Christ!

And hear that Jesus is also speaking words of comfort to his dear flock, not one of which he means to lose from his hand.

“The one who endures to the end will be saved”. In other words: have faith. Have trust in me. For I have come to save. No matter how bad it gets. No matter what troubles may come. No matter what armies march into your backyard and destroy your homes and burn your churches. No matter what natural disasters befall you. Though the earth shakes it all down and the fields dry up and waste away. I am with you to the end. So endure to the end. You will be saved. I won't let you fall. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And he who lives and believes in me will never die.
Jesus endured all of this and worse, for you, on the cross. He knows what it is to suffer all, and to see your world come crashing down before you. He suffered the wrath of God for the sins of the world. Every injustice against every innocent. Every violence, every cruelty, every hatred – this man of sorrows carried it all on that wooden cross. And his sacrifice was for it all. The sins of the world. To save the world.

Though false teachers will come and give false words about him, his word, and his work. Yet he promises that his faithful people will not be without his Spirit. And that Spirit will give us even the words to speak before councils and synagogues and even before governors and kings. That word never changes. That word of the Gospel which shows Jesus Christ crucified for sin, to save the world. And that Gospel must be preached to all nations.

So rather than worrying about when all this will happen, it is enough for us to know that it will. And that Christ knows it, and is still going to save us. No matter how bad it gets, no matter what you must suffer now or in the future – Jesus suffered all, and has gone before you to save. He faced death, but conquered it. And now you share in his victory. He has saved you. And he will save you, even for all eternity. Cling to this word. Even to the end. Believe it for Jesus's sake. Amen.

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