Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 28)
November 15, 2009
Text: Mark 13:1-13

Beloved in the Lord, Jesus does not promise us an easy life, or a life of comfort, or a life of ease. Hear again some of the disconcerting promises He gives in the Gospel lesson: Many false christs will come. Many of the faithful will be led astray. There will be wars and rumors of wars. There will be earthquakes and famines. And these are only the beginning. The disciples of Jesus Christ will be handed over to authorities and be beaten, brought to trial, often betrayed by brothers and parents and children, even unto death. Jesus promises persecution for His followers. He even says, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mark 13:13; ESV). What kind of Gospel is this? How is this good news? Jesus tells His faithful apostles that even the very temple in Jerusalem would be torn down, that grandiose dwelling place of God with men, not one stone left upon another (v. 2). And it happened, just as Jesus prophesied. In AD 70, the Romans razed the temple. All that is left is a section of what was the north wall, now called the Wailing Wall. Is this supposed to encourage the disciples in the face of the events of Holy Week, the betrayal and crucifixion of their Teacher and Lord? Is this supposed to encourage us?

Jesus tells His disciples these things beforehand, that they may not lose heart in the face of disaster and persecution, but believe, trust in Him alone. Jesus does not want to terrify His disciples, and He does not want to terrify us. Rather, He is interpreting the signs for them. He is interpreting the signs for us. “This must take place, but the end is not yet” (v. 7). These are signs that the impending end is near. And contrary to the instincts of natural, fallen man, these signs ought not lead the Christian to terror or despair. Christians ought be on their guard. Jesus commands as much (v. 9). But Christians ought also be comforted. You ought to be comforted when you see the signs of the end. For the end is your deliverance. Persecution is only for a short time. Hardship is only for a short time. Tribulation is only for this earthly life. Then comes the rescue. Then comes the joy. Do not be anxious. In a world ever more hostile to Jesus Christ and His Christians, God is with you. He is with you to strengthen you and to uphold you and to help you and to deliver you. While nation rises against nation and kingdom against kingdom, while soldiers murder soldiers in the name of demons and politicians only offer politically correct platitudes without hope, while spouses prove unfaithful and children rebellious, brother betraying brother, father betraying son, children betraying parents, the Lord is faithful to His promise to you: All your sins are forgiven. Your salvation has come. Eternal life is yours through the death of Christ Jesus. “(T)he one who endures to the end will be saved” (v. 13).

Jesus does not promise us an easy life. He promises just the opposite, in fact. He promises hardship and disaster and persecution. He promises the breaking down of all those things that tie us to tightly to this earth and this earthly life, including our most treasured relationships. But do not be afraid. Do not be anxious. Our hope is not in temple or Synod. Our hope is not in nation or kingdom. Our hope is not in brother or sister, or father or mother, or son or daughter, or even husband or wife. Our hope is Jesus Christ alone. He has told us beforehand, because the end is near. We’ve been living in the end times since the day our risen Lord ascended into heaven, promising to return visibly to judge the living and the dead. The things Jesus promises in the Gospel lesson, the persecutions, the hardships, the tribulations, are, as He calls them, “the beginning of the birth pains” (v. 8).

What do we know about birth pains? I don’t know this from personal experience, but I have been told that giving birth is a great tribulation. And yet pregnant mothers look forward with great anticipation to that pain, that tribulation, because they know what great joy they will have in the aftermath, the birth of a precious little child. I don’t know this from personal experience, but I have been told that a mother virtually forgets her pain for the joy of holding that dear little baby in her arms. Jesus even says something to that effect: “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world” (John 16:21). He goes on to say, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (v. 22). Jesus is speaking to His disciples in the context of the sorrow His impending death has caused, yet the joy that will result from His own resurrection. But we can apply this also to our situation in this fallen world, for Jesus uses this same illustration in our text to describe the birth pains of the new creation.

This is how it will be for you when you are delivered out of this present tribulation into the joy of heaven and the resurrection, the new creation in Christ Jesus. The tribulations of this life keep our eyes focused on Jesus Christ and His resurrection, and so also the eternal life and salvation that He grants us. These tribulations keep us from getting distracted by the perishable things of this world that so easily become our idols otherwise. These tribulations keep us living with heaven in our minds, even while fully engaged as Christ’s emissaries in the affairs of this world. We can face these tribulations as Christians confidently, knowing the end of the story. Jesus will come again. Everything that is wrong in the fallen world, all the suffering, all the pain, all the bloodshed, all the broken relationships, everything that is out of order and rotting with the corrosion of sin, He will make right again. For He “has offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins… by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:12, 14). He has offered His body on the cross, His hands and feet to receive the nails, His head to receive the crown of thorns, His side to receive the spear, His very soul to suffer all the anguish of hell in separation from His heavenly Father, all for us, to redeem us, to rescue us from the pit of hell, to pay the full penalty we, in our sins, deserve. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is crucified for you. And He is risen. God has accepted His sacrifice. All that separates us from God, our sin, our death, our fallen-ness, has been done away with by Christ. God loves us with an everlasting love. And He has marked us by Baptism, sealed us with His own Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the Day of Christ’s returning. In the meantime, none of these birth pains, the old fallen creation anticipating the new, can separate you from God. Thus St. Paul can write confidently, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

Thus the Lord preserves you by His mighty power. In the midst of persecution and hardship and tribulation, the Lord is with you. You are called upon to confess Jesus Christ and His Word to a world, a society, possibly even family members, who are hostile to Jesus and His Christians. You are called upon to confess Christ in the midst of all these birth pains. But do not be anxious. Do not despair. What does Jesus say? He will give you the words to speak, by His Holy Spirit. You actually know these words already. They are the words of Scripture. They are the words of the Creed. Society, nation, family may forsake you on account of these words. But do not worry. The worst they can do is kill your body. You are marked for the resurrection. You sorrow now, but then, your joy will be full. Then you will behold the Lord face to face. “(T)he one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). You can count on it. Jesus has promised it, the one who purchased you with His blood and death.

Then everyone whose name is found written in the book of life, the book that is Jesus Christ, shall be delivered (Dan. 12:1). Then shall be the resurrection of all flesh, some to everlasting life, namely, believers in Jesus Christ, and some to everlasting contempt in hell, namely, those who have rejected Christ (v. 2). And those who are wise, enlightened by the Spirit through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, will shine like the brightness of the sky above. Those who have confessed Christ faithfully in the midst of persecution and tribulation, thus bringing many others to the righteousness that comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ, will shine like the stars forever and ever (v. 3). Let not your hearts be troubled. Do not be anxious. Be comforted and encouraged as you see these signs of the end. Rejoice and be glad. Jesus is coming. Salvation has dawned. Come now to His Table and receive His body and blood to strengthen you for that Day. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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