Sermon for Sunday November 14th, 2010
End-Times Living by
The end of the church year draws near. With the end of the church year comes preaching of the end: the end of this creation, the coming of Jesus Christ, and the new creation on the Last Day.
When Jesus comes on the Last Day, the world as we know it ends. That probably doesnít cross your mind when heavy traffic in Branson is frustrating you, or your everyday tasks are wearing you down. I suppose few of you woke up this morning thinking, ďToday could be the last day of the universe.Ē Thatís one reason we have a church-year calendar that ends with the end. It reminds us of that reality.
When we look at our nation, our government, our institutions, and our way of life, we think, ďAll this canít possibly end.Ē We plan to will items to our children. We expect a tomorrow, a day after that, and another day after that. How can everything weíve worked for come to such an abrupt end? [Pause]
One day, when Jesus was walking in the Temple courtyard, He saw the tourists of His day look with awe on Herodís Temple renovation. The Temple was an architectural wonder of its time! Much money and labor went into its rebuilding.
But then Jesus drops a bomb: Not one stone of this Temple will be left intact. This Temple was the same Temple where God came to His people in Old Testament times. The Temple was the place of Godís sacramental presence among His people. Even so, Jesus clearly says, ďThis Temple is coming down.Ē
What are the signs for this? When will it happen? Such a focus on the end brings out such questions. So, Jesus prepares His disciples, not only for the near future, but also the distant future! Jesus prepares them for both the coming judgment of Jerusalem and the coming judgment of the world. Jesus does this all this in only a few words.
First, Jesus drops this word of warning. ďOthers will come in my name, other saviors, false messiahs, saying ĎIím the one.í Ignore them. Oh, they sound religious and spiritual. But just because something sounds spiritual doesnít mean itís from Holy Spirit. Just because something sounds spiritual, doesnít mean itís true. They will say, ĎThe time is near.í Donít let them fool you.Ē
Jesus prepares His disciples for hard times and persecution. As a disciple of Jesus, should you expect life on this earth to be easier just because you are a Christian? Jesus says, ďNo.Ē Life could even get worse. Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. Famines and diseases will have their way throughout the land.
End-times living wonít be easy. Jesus doesnít promise that it will be. How can it? This universe is plummeting down to its death, and such death throes are never pleasant.
The disciples will be arrested. They will be persecuted. They will be brought before kings and authorities. Yet, they will continue to proclaim a Gospel: that a dead-and-risen Jesus is the Savior of the world! Such a truth will not often be popular or believed. And so the disciples will stand trial, bear witness, and testify, even to their own martyrdom.
Yet with all this, Jesus gives His disciples a promise. Donít be anxious about what you will say. You wonít have to cram for this exam. Jesus says, ďI will give you words and wisdom.Ē Thatís how Jesus is: He never leaves His Church without breath. He never leaves His baptized believers without the Spirit, the breath, and words to confess the faith.
So donít worry what you will say when itís your time to speak. Keep coming to receive God in Word and Sacrament. Keep getting filled with Jesus until you are overflowing with His thoughts and words. The Spirit will use all of it. He will use every Scripture youíve read, every sermon youíve heard, and every hymn youíve sung as the raw material for the words you must speak.
You will have words and wisdom. You will speak Christís words and wisdom. Thatís how Jesus works. He comes to us through His creation, in this case through the words and wisdom of His people.
Jesus says they will put some to death. And that was true. Of the Twelve, only John didnít die a martyrís death. Thatís how it is. The world crucified Jesus. So donít expect the world to be too enamored with His true followers. Donít expect true Christianity to be popular. Consider the times in history when Christís followers basked in the glow and favor of the world as an anomaly.
Jesus says, ďOthers will hate you because of me.Ē Does Jesus say, ďHateĒ? Yes! That means others may persecute you. This means others may betray you. This is hardly the health-and-wealth, the name-it-and-claim-it schlock you hear on TV or from the religious best-sellers. Does this surprise you?
But Jesus hides a promise in His serious warnings. ďNot a hair on your head will be lost.Ē If your God knows how many hairs you have, that means He knows you! Even more, the same Jesus, who loves you and died for you to save you, holds you in His hands!
Even if you die for confessing the faith, on the Last Day, not a single hair on your head will be lost. Then, you will see that your faith, your trust in Godís promise, in Christ Jesus, will all have been worth it. By your persistent contending for the faith, you will gain your life. Although you die, yet you will live--and by living and believing in Jesus, you never die forever.
But thatís not how it will be with the world. It will die. Nations and empires rise and fall. Institutions do not go on forever. Even the splendid Jerusalem Temple, which the disciples were admiring in awe, fell at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD.
Jesus prepared His first disciples for that cataclysmic event, when the Roman army would surround Jerusalem and siege the city. His disciples knew, ahead of time, to flee Jerusalem and head for the hinterlands. And so the Jerusalem Church moved from Jerusalem to Pella and was saved. Those who received Jesusí words and heeded them were saved. And thatís still true today.
Good Friday signaled the end of the Temple. Thatís when the Temple curtain was torn from top to bottom. The time of the Temple was now over. God made a greater Temple--the Temple of the Son of God. This was the Temple that God set up through the death of His Son. Now all people were to approach God only through the crucifixion and death of His Son.
Now was the time of the New Covenant, superseding and replacing both the Old Covenant and the Temple. For Godís people, it was no longer a building, but a body, the body of Jesus. For Godís people, it was no longer the blood of bulls and goats, but the blood, the blood of Jesus.
It took almost 40 years for God to take away the Temple through the hands of the Roman army. But thatís how God works. Heís not in a hurry. When God speaks, itís as good as done. In truth, itís already done!
Even from bad, God can work good for His people (Romans 8:28). With Jerusalemís destruction, God hid within that destruction a Gospel truth for His people. That destruction showed that the time of the Gentiles being fully brought into the Church had begun. The Apostle Paul described it this way in Romans: A branch of the Israelite tree was cut off and, in its place, a wild branch was grafted. That wild branch was the Gentiles (Romans 11:11-25).
Although once outsiders, Gentiles are now insiders. Today, we still live in the ďtime of the Gentiles.Ē It is as Jesus said in His great apostolic commission: This is the time when ďall nationsĒ are discipled into Christ through baptizing and teaching.
Yet, Jerusalemís destruction was only a preview of the destruction to come. Its destruction foreshadowed the cosmic end of time. Scripture uses language to describe the end. It will be when the sun will darken, the moon will turn to blood, and the stars will fall from the sky. It will be when the sea roars and foams and humanity is shaken to its core. But the end is not all fear, especially for the followers of Christ.
On that Day, all the struggles of the faith will be worth it. Then your contending for the faith will give way to seeing God face-to-face. Then with your own eyes you will see what you now hear and believe by faith. Just when life is at its worst and you are left hollow and empty, that is when you lift your head toward heaven. Jesus tells us why: because your redemption draws near!
With the eyes of faith, we see all the events of the end as already having taken place. The end times were finished, were completed, in a dark death on a Friday afternoon. Thatís when Godís Son hung on a cross and cried out, ďIt is finished.Ē Thatís when it was finished. Thatís when God judged and condemned the world under the Law for our sin. Thatís when Godís Son saved, rescued, and redeemed the world back to God.
So, during these last days, go about your everyday tasks, serving others in the vocations where God has placed you. Thereís no need to fret. Thereís no need to fear. Remember, that on the Last Day, the One who will judge you will be the same One who died to give you His life.
The Last Day draws near. Your Jesus draws near--and so does your redemption. Indeed, this is not a time of fear but of rejoicing. Amen.