Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
And 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.” (Mark 13:1–13, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Well, that's not what they expected to hear. The disciples came out of the temple with Jesus they were looking up in awe at the wonderful buildings. They were impressive structures. They were permanent structures. They were set on foundations of deep stone. Surely these buildings would stand forever. And the sacrifices would continue until God's kingdom was fully established. So when the disciples said "Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings." They didn't expect Jesus to say in a time not too distant they would all be gone.
The Revelation was jaw-dropping. Think of the reaction we had when the World Trade Center buildings fell. Think of the horror in their minds as Jesus says "“Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” There was simply no way they could have comprehended what Jesus was telling them. It was unthinkable that God would even allow such a thing. They wanted to understand. So, after a while when they had gone across the valley to the Mount of olives and were looking over on the city of Jerusalem they ask Jesus, "Tell us, when these things will be."
I'm sure in their minds things went from bad to worse. They had imagined what they were doing with Jesus was establishing a new kingdom. They were waiting patiently (and not) for Jesus to throw the Romans out. They thought their way of life was going to be established for everyone. This is not what Jesus says. Instead of stability impermanence; chaos, confusion, wars, famines, earthquakes, and worse. What they hear from Jesus is actually that the whole world as they knew it was coming to an end. Instead of being in positions of wealth and honor and power because of following Jesus what they should watch for his arrest, persecution and death. The world would not accept Jesus as King. Families would be destroyed. Communities disrupted. And false prophets would lead people astray by telling them what their itching ears want to hear.
Well, that's not what they expected to hear. That's not what they wanted to hear. And then Jesus caps it all off by dropping this bombshell. "But the one who endures to the end will be saved."
Now you know what the disciples asked next. "Will that be me?" Jesus had just turned everything they believed to be true on its head. Of course he said "Don't be anxious" and "Be on your guard" but when he said "the one who endures will be saved" they had to wonder "And just how do I do that?" I mean just look at what Jesus told them they would face. They had a difficult time getting what Jesus was teaching them right. They knew their weaknesses, and their sins. If the temple, as strong as it was, would not even last, how could they and their fickle, fearful, flesh remain faithful?
And now this is a good question for you and me. Jesus says to you "but the one who endures to the end will be saved." And in a certain sense it should give you chills down your spine. Look around you. You see the things Jesus is describing. Wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, floods, fires, droughts, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Our soldiers boots are marching on foreign soil. And even before their finished with one mission we add another. Our economic future is far from certain. Real estate values drop, 401(k) plans evaporate, the cost of food ever increases, everything changes. In fact that's the only thing in this world that we can count on, change. Nothing stays the same. Nothing lasts. Nothing works out the way we think it should. These are the signs that Jesus tells us. The world is coming to an end.
And even spiritually things on the whole are not very good. On other continents our brothers and sisters in Christ face death for confessing the name of our Savior. In Muslim dominated countries loss of employment, home, and freedom are constant. And we can see hostility to the Savior growing even here. And we stand between an angry world, and what Jesus teaches, when we confess his name. And even worse, within the church, or those false teachers. They use Jesus name as a way to line their pockets. They teach what people naturally want to hear, which is, that they can earn God's favor by doing good things. And if they do good things God will reward them. These teachings lead people astray, sometimes our very own people, even to hell. And just once tried to say that teachers such as Joel Osteen, Rick Warren and others who teach prosperity, false teachers and see what happens. Talk about hostility. There is no end in sight to false teachers plaguing the church.
If these things make you yawn, either you not listening to what Jesus is saying or you don't believe it. He tells us these things so that we can be alert and on guard. He tells us these things so that we know how to answer the question, "how am I going to stand and endure to the end?"
Don't think I'm going to give you instructions for stockpiling weapons and food and water. That's only shifting your hope from one shaky foundation to another. I'm not going to tell you that as things get worse Jesus promises you won't have to go through it. Some Christians believe, falsely, that they won't have to live through it. They believe that they will be whisked out of the world before the real trouble starts in the rapture. There is nothing remotely biblical about this belief. There is no rapture escape hatch for Christians. Put your faith in that and it will make you unprepared for the end.
So back to the question "How then shall we stand?" How can we be sure that we will endure? Jesus doesn't answer the question in our text for today. The truth is if he told the disciples what was going to happen they would not have believed or understood it. They only came to understand it later. The writer of Hebrews believed and understood it. It's confessed clearly in our reading from Hebrews today. The buildings and the priests and the sacrifices they offered in the Temple (and throughout the Old Testament) could never bring forgiveness. They were only shadows, the earthly model of something much greater. Jesus is the priest, the Temple, and the sacrifice, who offered himself on the cross as a once for all atonement for the sins of the whole world.
Built on the Rock the Church shall stand
Even when steeples are falling.
Crumbled have spires in ev’ry land;
Bells still are chiming and calling,
Calling the young and old to rest,
But above all the souls distressed,
Longing for rest everlasting. (LSB 645)
The Rock is Christ. There is nothing else in this rust and decay ridden world that we can depend on to last until the end. The truth of Jesus is the only permanent and powerful thing. Clinging to him for the forgiveness he offers is the only place where strength can be found to endure. The only place to stand in days of trouble is in faith, in Jesus. And how is it that you know that Jesus is worthy of such faith? Jesus proves all that he said and did, especially that his life and death are for the forgiveness of your sins in your reconciling to God, with his resurrection from the dead. Jesus resurrection is proof positive that faith in him is not misplaced. That he is the real thing to depend on. And his ascension to the right hand of God is also the guarantee that he rules and reigns over the world and he will come again with glory to place all things under his order and protection.
Jesus words about the Temple came to pass only 40 years after Jesus spoke them. In fact the holy city of Jerusalem was razed by the Romans. It was a shadow of itself and lay in utter rubble. This world fell to pieces the disciples only had the truth of Jesus life, death, and resurrection for their forgiveness to stand on. By then they did understand and believe. This truth is what enabled them to stand before kings and hostile crowds and confessed Jesus in the face of death. Trusting in the truth of all that Jesus did is what gave them strength to endure to the end.
The writer of Hebrews gives a specific instructions. "Let us draw near [to God] with a true heart." A true heart is one that recognizes its own sin and weaknesses. A true heart is one the confesses it sins, failures and faults. A true heart is one that trust in God's mercy for the sake of Jesus life, death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin. This is faith in Jesus Christ.
The writer continues, "… With a hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." He is of course speaking of Holy Baptism. It is in Holy Baptism that we are connected to Jesus. In Holy Baptism he promises the results of his life, death, and resurrection for us. He promises that we are washed clean. Hearing this in this place you hear your pastor say to you "I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit." That is, to revisit your baptism through your confession and God's pronouncement of your forgiveness. Your slate is wiped clean. You are forgiven. As the writer says you have a "clean conscience".
And so every day from now until the end we endure with baptismally clean consciences. The writer of the Hebrews says "Hold fast to the confession of our hope." Our hope is the resurrection and the life of the world to come. All that Jesus did points us to that focus for our future. God is indeed faithful. God completely keeps his promises. Through Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, and our connection through Holy Baptism these promises are ours and that new life too.
The threats we face in the world a very real. False prophets, betrayals, natural disasters, persecution, all growing in intensity as the final days draw near. The world and all of its strength and glory fails in the face of the birth pangs of the end. But even as the world crumbles Jesus work on the cross for us stands firm. This is the foundation on which we, the church, stand on together. And standing there, in Jesus, we cannot fall. Standing there, in faith, we will endure all life's trials. This is God's promise for you. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.