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Last Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 13:24–37

James T. Batchelor

Last Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 29, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Nov 22, 2015 

Todays Gospel is part of the same conversation that we heard last week.  As Jesus and the disciples left the temple area, Jesus told them that sometime in the future, someone or something will destroy the temple.  When He and the disciples reached their camp ground on the Mount of Olives, the disciples asked for more details, and Jesus began to teach.  He warned them to keep their doctrine pure so that false prophets would not deceive them.  He told them to expect persecution for their faith and encouraged them to remain faithful even in the face of persecution.  He gave them warning signs so that they knew to get out of Jerusalem before the Roman army destroyed it.  As His teaching continues in todays Gospel, He talks about the end of all things.

Jesus description of the end of time is literally universal.  That is, He gave the disciples and us a visual image of an entire universe going out of existence.  It is as though someone had a switch that controlled all the laws of physics and turned them off.  The sun going out is not an eclipse.  It is the sun no longer existing.  The moon will no longer exist.  Modern astronomy tells us that many of the stars are millions of times larger than our sin.  Jesus states that they will all go away.  One moment everything will be absolutely normal.  The next moment EVERYTHING, and by EVERYTHING I mean THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE, will be gone.  The three hours of darkness as Jesus hung on the cross foreshadows this utter darkness.

One of the things that Jesu emphasizes is that this will all be a surprise.  No one will have any idea when this will happen.  He said, Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:32) He restated this thought just a few words later, You do not know when the time will come. (Mark 13:33) Then He included this teaching in a short parable, You do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning. (Mark 13:35) When Jesus rephrases a teaching in three different ways one right after the other this is important.  One of the teachings that Jesus is emphasizing in todays Gospel is, DO NOT TRY TO WORK OUT TIMELINES AND DATES FOR THE END TIMES BECAUSE YOU CANNOT DO IT.

Never the less, there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of authors and teachers who are making a lot of money by telling people that Jesus lied.  You can figure out timelines and dates for the end times.  I typed the phrase end times prophecy books into Amazons search engine and got over 3,000 hits.  A few of these books are good, solid, Biblically accurate studies, but the far larger majority of them are a waste of ink and paper.  Authors are becoming wealthy by telling gullible readers that they are smarter than Jesus.  Even though Jesus said that even He did not know the day or the hour, somehow, these con-artists have worked out some secret code of Daniel or Revelation or some other scam, and they know something that even Jesus did not know.

Then think about the damage this kind of foolishness does to the name of Christ.  Some guy gets a following and makes a big deal out of the end of the Mayan calendar, or the Bible code, or some ancient writing, or some other gimmick.  He predicts the end of the world on some date.  The date comes and goes and we are still here.  The result is that many in the unbelieving world think that Christians are idiots.  These end-times con artists not only say that Jesus lied, but they also drag the name of Jesus through the mud.

Furthermore, all of this speculation acts as a diversionary tactic that leads people away from the main message of the Bible.  If you review todays Gospel, you will see that there is a concept that Jesus repeated even more than the warning against trying to figure out timelines and dates.  Instead of trying to calculate times and dates, Jesus said, Be on guard, keep awake. (Mark 13:33) Stay awake. (Mark 13:34) Stay awake. (Mark 13:35) Stay awake. (Mark 13:37) Five times Jesus encourages us to be ready for the Last Day whenever it comes.

In todays reading from the Gospel account, Jesus is very specifically telling us to stay away from any speculation on timelines and dates for the Last Day.  Instead, we are to be ready for the Last Day no matter when it comes. But how do we come to be ready?  What qualifies us to be one of the elect that the angels gather to the Son of Man when He comes?  The answer to these questions is the main message of the Bible.

The main message of the Bible is the forgiveness of sins that Jesus earned for you with His perfect life, His suffering, and His death on the cross.  You see, Jesus didnt die on the cross so that we could know the details of all the events on the Last Day.  He died so that we could be prepared for the Last Day.

Preparation for the Last Day means that we must be holy in Gods eyes.  For only those people who are holy will enter the Kingdom of God.  The Bible gives us two ways to be holy.  One way depends on us.  The other way depends on God.

The way that depends on us is easy to say, but impossible to do.  If you wish to save yourself, all you must do is be perfect in every way.  There can be no mistakes, no slip-ups, no oopsies, no sorry-about-thats. We must be as perfect as God is.  The slightest blemish, spot, wrinkle, or blot on our record, and we fail.  It is all over.  The test is a pass-fail exam.  100% passes.  Anything else is a fail, done, over, next stop eternal torment.  There are no appeals or do-overs.  In all of time and space, there has been one and only one human being who has ever pulled this off.  Every other human being fails this test at the moment of conception.  As King David said, In sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5) So although God makes this way available, one and only one human being has ever been able to do it.  It just isnt possible for the ordinary person.

The way that depends on God involves God the Father sending His only begotten Son into the world to take our place as a human being under the law.  Gods Son Jesus is perfect.  With Him there are no mistakes, slip-ups, oopsies, or sorry-about-thats. Jesus has no blemish, spot, wrinkle, or blot.  Jesus is the one and only human being who passed the test with a score of 100%.  As the Apostle Peter said, He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:2223) So God the Father sent His Son Jesus into the world and Jesus became the perfect human being for us.

On top of that, Jesus submitted to His Father and took up all our sins.  He took up everything from the sins that we consider the worst to the sins that we dont even notice.  As the Apostle Paul said, For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus then took those sins to the cross where He suffered and died for us.  As the Apostle Peter said, He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24) This is the way that God makes us holy.  This is the only way to be ready for the Last Day when it comes.  Jesus Christ, Gods Son must give His holiness to us and He offers that holiness to us from the cross.

In todays Gospel reading, Jesus promised to send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. (Mark 13:27) He can make this promise because even though He died on the cross, He did not stay dead.  In His death, He conquered death so that the grave could not hold Him.  If He can keep His promise to rise from the dead, He can certainly keep His promise to raise us from the dead and gather us to Himself.

Jesus spoke about the Last Day.  He taught that no one knows when it will be.  Therefore, He taught that we are to be ready for the Last Day at any time.  It could happen today.  It could be another thousand years.  Be ready.

It is the Holy Spirit who makes us ready by creating faith that believes in Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.  The Holy Spirit uses Gods Word to build and sustain that faith in Jesus Christ.  It is the Word that we hear with our ears, the word combined with water according to Christs command, and the Word that comes with the body and blood of Christ as we eat and drink the bread and wine.  It is by that faith that we are on guard, awake and watchful.  It is the Holy Spirits gift of faith in Jesus Christ that keeps us ready for the return of the Son of Man who comes in power and glory.

This faith not only prepares us for the coming of the Son of Man in glory, but, if the Lord waits to return, it also prepares us for that day when we shall leave this world through the door of death.  Just as no one knows the day that the world will end, so none of us knows if we will be around when it comes.  The same faith in Jesus Christ that keeps us watchful and ready for the one, also keeps us watchful for the other.  Whether we leave this world at the end of our own lives or at the end of the world, the same readiness saves us.  No matter which way our end comes, it is God who saves us by the Fathers grace, for the Sons sake, through the Holy Spirits gift of faith.  Amen.

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