Wednesday, November 18, 2015

For Strength and not fear. . .

Sermon preached for Pentecost 25, Proper 28C, on Sunday, November 15, by the Rev. Daniel Ulrich.

Signs are very important in our lives.  When we drive, we look at road signs to help us get from one place to another.  In school, we look at signs in the form of grades to tell us how we’re doing in our studies.  Aches and pains, fevers and coughs, are signs that tell us that we’re sick and need to see a doctor.  We rely on these signs, and many others, to give us information so that we can navigate our daily lives. 
Jesus speaks a lot about signs in the Gospel reading today, signs that foreshadowed the destruction of the temple, and signs that foreshadow the end of the world.  Although these signs are scary in nature, Jesus doesn’t tell us about them in order to scare us.  No, He gives us these signs to strengthen us. 

The setting for our Gospel reading is the temple and the Mount of Olives opposite it.  During Holy Week, Jesus went to the temple every day and taught His disciples.  After coming out of the temple, one of the disciples mentioned the beauty and magnificence of it.  And it was a grand building.  The temple was made of massives stones and it was decorated with intricate engravings and gold.  The temple sanctuary towered 15 stories high; it was a skyscraper for that day.

This massive building was the center of the Jewish life, it was the center of the Jewish world; it was the very place where God promised to dwell among His people.  However, this great building wouldn’t stand forever.  Jesus responded to the comment by His disciple by prophesying its destruction.  “Do you see these great buildings?  There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Mk 13:2). 

Hearing the prediction of this future destruction, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Jesus when it would happen, and what signs would foreshadow it.  Jesus gave them 4 signs.  The first sign would be the rise of false teachers.  Second, there would be wars and the rumors of wars.  Third, there would be natural disasters, earthquakes and famines. 

The forth and final sign that Jesus mentions is the persecutions of His followers.  He warns the disciples, “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.  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” (Mk 13:9, 12, 13a).  This sign might be the most terrifying of all.  The other signs can be seen and avoided somewhat.  However, the persecutions that Jesus mentions is unavoidable, for it comes from the hands of those closest to us, our family and friends. 

Hearing about these signs and the destruction of the temple would have been terrifying for the disciples.  The temple’s destruction would signify the end of life, the end of their world.  And in fact, Jesus was speaking of the end of the world.  These signs that foreshadowed the destruction of the temple also foreshadow the Last Day.  Before Christ’s return, before God destroys this sin filled world and creates a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1), we’ll see these same signs.  We’ll see false teachers proclaiming false doctrine; we’ll hear about wars; natural disasters will plague the earth, and Christians will be persecuted.  These signs will be seen in the future, and they’re seen today.

Right now, we see the signs that point to Christ’s return.  The false teachers that Jesus warns about are all over our TV’s and their books line the shelves of every bookstore.  They claim they alone have the true way of Christianity.  But in fact, when you listen and read their teachings, many don’t teach Christ at all.  Wars are they top news story every evening.  We hear of terrorists bombings and attacks.  Just this past Friday, Paris was attacked by terrorist killing over a hundred people and wounding over 300 more.  This congregation knows first hand about war with the Fort Campbell being here in our city.  We have family and friends who serve in the military and who are deployed right now because of war.  The natural disasters Christ spoke of also are taking place.  Every year the mid-west is spotted with tornados and their destruction.  Coastlines are battered with hurricanes and flooding.  Drought leads to poor crops and famine. 

And yes, the persecution of Christians is a reality today.  Worldwide, it’s conservatively estimated that over 100,000 men, women, and children are killed every year because of their faith in Christ.  Videos and headlines cover the internet with the beheading of Christians.  In this country, there are shootings that target Christians, on college campuses, and even inside church sanctuaries.  Every single sign Jesus speaks of are seen today, and they will continue to be seen until Christ comes again on the Last Day. 

As we daily see these signs we can become frightened.  The fear of war, natural disasters, and persecution are very real.  But Christ doesn’t give us these signs to frighten us.  He tells us about them to strengthen us, so that we won’t be caught off guard, so that we won’t be surprised when trouble befalls us, so that we don’t loose our faith in Him.  We know the signs, but we also know the outcome.  Christ promises that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mk 13:13b).

This promise is based on the fact that you’ve been given everlasting life in Christ’s redemptive death on the cross and His death defeating resurrection.  When Christ returns on the Last Day, this world will be destroyed and all will be punished for their sin.  However, you won’t receive this punishment, because Jesus already suffered it for you on the cross.  He received the death sentence that is rightly yours.  Because of Christ’s sacrifice, God graciously forgives you all your sin.  Your Father in heaven no longer condemns you.  No long will He punish you.  Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, you bear His name and His righteous life is credited to you. 

We don’t know when Christ will return.  Peter and Paul tell us that the Last Day will come like a thief in the night (1 Thess 5:2; 2 Pt 3:10).  But when we see Christ descending from heaven in all His power and glory, there will be no doubt that the end has come.  At this time the unrighteous will be filled with fear because they’ll receive the punishment they deserve.  But Jesus tells us not to fear, for we know that we won’t receive that punishment.  Rather we’ll receive the reward of eternal life.  We’ll live with Him forever in the new heavens and new earth that our Father will prepare for us. 

The destruction of the temple eventually occurred in 70 AD at the hands of the Romans.  History tells us that each and every one of these signs occurred during the 40 years that passed between Jesus’ words and the temple’s destruction.  Today, we don’t know when Christ will return.  We don’t know what day will be the last.  But we do know that our Savior will return.  We see the signs of it every day.  But don’t cower in fear as we see them.  These frightening signs don’t frighten us, for we know what is coming.  We know that when Christ returns we’ll be taken to live in paradise with Him because He has saved us with His death and resurrection.  Because of the faith in Christ that we’ve been given, we’ll endure to the end, and will be saved.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

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