He who endures!
2nd to Last Sunday of the Church Year
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.”
And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him 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. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 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.
“But be on your guard. For 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 the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 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. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
The big one is coming! When I was growing up the big one was the bomb. Every week in school we practiced duck and cover drills just preparing for the day it would be dropped. I now realize how absurd it would have been to hide under a desk if an atomic bomb had been dropped. When people finally started to relax after the Cuban missile crisis the big one was still coming. The focus was changed to earthquakes. The Sylmar quake hit, destroying some freeways and hospitals but it wasn’t the big one. The big one was thought to be an earthquake that would level Southern California. When we moved to Washington State people said the big one was coming, an eruption that would make Mount St. Helens look like some 4th of July firework display. When we moved to the Midwest the big one was coming. In the town of Mayville, WI people said we were due for an enormous tornado, “the big one.” I imagine in the south the big one is something that would dwarf Hurricane Katrina. In the Northeast the big one is probably a killer winter storm. “THE BIG ONE!” What is our fascination with catastrophic apocalyptic devastation?
Our text is about the big one, the final countdown, the last days. Our thoughts turn to words about the end. Jesus and His disciples were exiting the temple. It was early in what we call “holy week,” the week leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the disciples are playing a bit of the tourist. “Teacher, look at those massive stones! What majestic buildings!”
Herod’s temple was an impressive sight. It was one of the wonders of the ancient. 46 years in the building, it was Herod’s attempt to buy the affections of the Jews. As much as the people hated Herod, they were proud of their temple. Yet Jesus wasn’t impressed, for the temple was no longer the sacred place of God and therefore it wouldn’t survive. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” Thirty years later, it actually happened, just as Jesus said. The Roman army invaded Jerusalem and completely destroyed the temple. The only part that survived was a small portion of the temple’s north wall, known today as the “Wailing Wall.” Not one stone left standing on another.
The disciples were shaken, as any Jew of Jesus day would have been. The temple was the center of Judaism. It was God’s dwelling place. How could God let something like that happen to His house? Later, while sitting on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the temple grounds, they asked Jesus. “When will these things happen?” What is the sign that they are about to be fulfilled? Will it happen in their lifetimes? Will there be a signal, a warning? Jesus never tells them “when.” And the sign He gives is not to satisfy their curiosity or their fascination for eschatology.
We are incurable end time junkies. We want signs. We want to know when so we can pencil it on our calendars and prepare for the end of the world. Wouldn’t it be nice to know? Or would it? Jesus knows better than to tell us. But He doesn’t leave us without warning or without a promise.
“Watch out that no one deceives you.” In other words, don’t take it for granted that you can’t be fooled; watch out. The devil’s a lot trickier than we think he is. The religious world will be a sign: false Christ’s, false religions, false gospels which are not good news at all. We have them today, these pseudo-Christs and pseudo-Saviors, alternatives to Jesus, religious gurus who claim to put you in touch with God, some even sporting miracles to make the point. But they don’t point to the cross and Jesus’ resurrection, to His body and His blood, to His baptism, and Word of forgiveness. The old heresies are alive and well, with new forms popping up all the time. Deceptive spiritualities dot the religious landscape, promise the usual peace, health, well-being, all for a price.
Don’t be deceived. There is only one Jesus who died on a cross for you, and He’s all the Jesus you need.
The political world serves a sign - wars, rumors of war, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom. It reads like a section of a newspaper, doesn’t it? Dictators, communism, socialism, militant religion, just as peace is established in one part of the world war breaks out in another.
The natural world serves as a sign as well - earthquakes in various places, famines, natural disasters. As Paul says in Romans, the entire creation groans under the burden of our sin, waiting expectantly for our resurrection, the redemption of our bodies. We’ve seen a lot of that groaning recently. Natural disasters, floods, earth quakes, volcanoes, weather all sorts of life taking groans from a fallen creation. We will see more of the same. You can count on it.
Jesus isn’t trying to scare the disciples, or cause them to doubt or despair. He’s giving them a way to look at things and to interpret what’s happening in the world from His perspective. All the wars, rumors of war, earthquakes, famines - all the deaths of this world Jesus calls “the birth pangs,” the labor contractions of the new creation. Just as giving birth is painful and often difficult, so is the coming of the new creation. It involves dying and rising - the death and resurrection of Jesus Himself, and also your own death and resurrection.
Jesus prepared His disciples for the trouble that lay ahead. He knew that His own victory over sin and death would bring opposition. His disciples would be considered heretics by the religious world that prefers to deal with God on its own terms. They would be tried in the religious courts and banished from their own houses of worship, those synagogues they grew up in. The government would be used against them. They would be hauled before kings and princes to testify. Yet Jesus assures them they would be equipped for the challenge. “Don’t be anxious about what you’re going to say. Just speak what you are given by the Spirit.”
Think of the apostle Paul in the book of Acts, hauled before the religious high court, tried before governors and kings, and no matter where he went, no matter what the circumstances, he preached Christ, all the way to his own martyr’s death.
In the small towns of Siberia, the religious authorities, who now have a certain amount of power and control, try to suppress Lutheran congregations from gathering. They use old religious laws in their favor. Ordinary parishioners, in many cases old, frail women, are called into court and interrogated in detail about what they believe. Can you imagine being called to testify in court about the details of your faith? And they do, these solid, old confessing believers. They speak the Gospel of Jesus in open court, and much like in St. Paul’s day, the Word of the Lord spreads and grows - not in spite of persecution, but with persecution.
Jesus warned His disciples they would be betrayed, even by those closest to them. Brother would betray believing brother; children would betray confessing parents, even to their death. It happened in the first century. It happens today in our century wherever Christians are persecuted for the name of Jesus.
Jesus is not telling His disciples these things to terrify them or to discourage them. He’s preparing them, and us, to be alert to the times in which we live. Live with eyes and ears open to the signs of His coming. And He assures them. Each of this morning’s readings carries the promise of life in the midst of death, of hope just when things are least hopeful.
Daniel speaks of a terrible time ahead for God’s people, one that will bring the archangel Michael, the protector-warrior of God’s people. St. Paul wrote that the archangel’s call will signal the end, and the coming of Christ in the clouds to raise the dead and gather His believers. This comes at a time of great distress, unparalleled in the history of the world. Yet there is this promise: “Everyone whose name is found written in the book, will be delivered.” All who are in Christ, the Book of Life, will be saved. Those who are wise, that is, those who trust in the promise of God in Jesus, will shine like the brightness of the heavens.
Hebrews tells us that though the whole cosmos will be shaken by the voice of God like it has never been shaken before, yet we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, a kingdom ruled over by Christ crucified and risen, a kingdom in which sin, death, hell, and the Law are no more. That is as unshakeably yours as Jesus is unshakeably risen and you are unshakeably baptized into His death.
Jesus says, “He who endures to the end will be saved.” That’s a promise from Him whose word is sure and true. He won’t ever fail you or abandon you or go back on His word to you. You have the sure and certain signs from God Himself. You are baptized, the testimony from God that your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. You have Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, which you take with you to the end of your days. You have His Word and promise of forgiveness, that in the death of Jesus your sins are covered, and God is at peace with you.
These last days are not days for panic, or anxiety, or uncertainty. They are days for alertness, readiness, watchfulness, expectation, longing, hopefulness, patient endurance. There will be hardship, pain, difficulty but these are only the birth pangs of a new creation that has already come in Christ.
“He who endures to the end, will be saved.” You have Jesus’ promise on it. Trust Him to the end, for He is faithful and His mercy endures forever. In Jesus name, amen!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, amen!