Today’s gospel reading is full of what any reasonable person would certainly call ‘bad news.’ It starts off with the bad news about the Temple in Jerusalem – as noble and impressive as the building is, it’s going to be destroyed.
And then it goes on to say that before that happens there’s going to be a lot of ‘bad preaching’ going on. And a lot of preachers are going to make a lot of false claims that they have no business making – such as, “I am He.” And “the time is at hand.” And it’s going to get very confusing for the believers who are going to have to be very discerning about what preaching they believe and what preaching they simply refuse to accept.
And then it goes on to say that while all of this is going on in the church, there’s going to be tons of turmoil going on in the world. “Nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”
And then it goes on to say that while all of this taking place, there will be regular and ever increasing outbreaks of “famines” and “pestilence” “in various places.”
And then it goes on to say that even before all of this kicks into high gear, a general persecution against Christians is going to break out and believers are going to be arrested and imprisoned and put on trial for the sole reason that they confess Jesus Christ to be Lord – and themselves His follower.
And then it goes on to say that if you think that this religious persecution is going to be limited to ‘society’ or ‘the culture’ or ‘the world,’ which is the way that we like to keep this all very vague and general and faceless – you’ve drastically underestimated the ‘bad news.’ This is in fact going to get very, very personal. “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends…” It doesn’t get any more personal and close to home than that.
“Some of you they will put to death.” And those who are spared death may wish they weren’t because they “will be hated by all for my names sake.”
And then it goes on to say that just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, an army is going to attack the city of Jerusalem and it is going to fall and the fall and the best thing you can do is to run. And woe to those who can’t run!
And then it goes on to say the creation itself is going to start coming apart at the seams and national and international disasters are going to happen on such a scale that they will leave people “fainting with fear and foreboding at what is coming on the world.”
That is our gospel text for today. Have a nice day.
What are we to do with this reading? All along this journey with Jesus we have been learning what the Kingdom of God is like and what the life of the believer in this Kingdom of God is like.
And just in case we got the silly idea that believers in this Kingdom of God were spared the ‘bad news’ or sheltered from it so that it didn’t affect us like it does those ‘unbelievers,’ today’s reading ought to assure us that that simply is not the case. The follower of Jesus does not get a free pass from any of this.
In fact, what Jesus says is that while all of this ‘bad news’ effects everyone, there is a special bit of ‘bad news’ that applies solely to those who call themselves Christians and who refuse to deny it. “You will be hated by all for My names sake.”
Some of the ‘bad news’ that we hear our Lord announce has already happened. It’s history. The city of Jerusalem was surrounded by the Roman army and an extended blockade reduced the population inside the city wall to dehydration and starvation and utter helplessness. And the Roman army destroyed the wall around the city and then the Temple in 70AD and not one stone was left on another.
Much of the ‘bad news’ that Jesus speaks of here has been going on for a very long time, even into the present.
What has not happened yet is that Last Day of this world as we know it when “the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” That day has not yet come.
But the very fact that Jesus was right about the persecution and the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, and in describing the history of the world up to our very day, ought to caution us not to dismiss His Word about the “powers of heaven being shaken” and the coming of the Son of Man.
Our Lord is giving us the ‘inside scoop’ on the future. And if we believe Him, we know how things are going to go with this world long before they actually happen.
So the question remains, what are we to do with this reading? Shall we ask the text the same question that those at the temple asked our Lord? “Teacher, when will this be and what will be the sign when this is about to take place?” No. What would we do even if we knew the day and the hour when time ran out when time ran out and the Son of Man comes in His glory?
Peter asks the very question that we’re asking in his 2nd letter to the church. Pointing to the stars and the “power of the heavens,” Peter asks, “since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (2 Ptr.3:11-12).
Peter asks, “what sort of people ought we to be” in these Last Days? How shall we live in these End Times? Shall we live in FEAR or shall we live in FAITH?
The truth is, there are many who should live in fear. For when the Lord comes in a cloud with power and great glory on the last day, He comes to judge the living and the dead. And the judgement is based entirely upon the faith of the individual. Because that is all that God has ever asked of anyone. “Believe Me. I am who I say that I am. Trust Me. I am the only God and your only hope for salvation.”
And so there are many who should live in fear of that Day. And my friends, we’re one of them. Because haven’t we all failed to believe and trust that Jesus Christ is ‘the way and the truth and the live’ as fully and completely as we should? Haven’t we all carefully set aside His Word and done as seems best to us because we believe in ourselves and our own ‘gut’ more than we believe in Him and His Word? We should all live in fear of that Day because on that Day, the Lord will judge the secrets of our hearts – because they’re not secrets to Him.
The Psalmist tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.” (Psalm 111:10) When the fear of the Lord leads us to repentance and turning away from ourselves and to our Lord in faith and trust, then this ‘fear’ has done its proper work on us.
To live in these Last Days by faith is to hear our Lord’s Words to His apostles as to us. “This will be your opportunity to bear witness.” These Last Days are made for ‘bearing witness’ to Jesus Christ.
And the Good News is, we need not worry about whether or not we will be able to say the right things when the opportunity comes. Don’t worry about it, says our Lord. ”I will give you a mouth and wisdom which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”
And the Good News is, we need not worry about our life because He has promised, “not a hair on your head will be harmed,” even if we should die.
We live out our life in this world that is headed to its end in leaps and bounds by faith simply by going about our daily business of doing our daily vocations as to the Lord. Jesus told a parable about some wicked servants who figured that while the Master was away the mice would play.
We heard St. Paul write to the Thessalonians, speaking harshly against some of the brothers and sisters who were “walking in idleness.”
Luther is quoted as saying, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” Whether he really said that or not, it’s good advice.
Even though we know that its destined for destruction, we are to work hard to make it a better place to live, as though it were going to last another 2000 years.
Even though we know that ‘wars and rumors of wars’ will increase as time goes on, we work for peace and safer society for everyone. Even though we know that “there will be earthquakes and famines and pestilences in various place,” we keep building buildings and rebuilding homes that have been destroyed and we keep bringing food and medicine to the hungry and diseased.
And along the way, we have are given ample opportunities to “bear witness.” We are called upon to declare that ‘right is right eve if no one does it.’ And ‘wrong is wrong even if everyone is says that it’s not.’
We’re not dreamers. We know that some people will be unreasonable and downright mean to us because of our insistence on standing on God’s Word. But we “straighten up and raise our head” and love them anyway.
Some will abuse our kindness or accuse us of false motives. But we stand firm and do good anyway. We know that our honesty makes us vulnerable – but we are honest nonetheless.
We’re not naive. We know that if we give others the best we have we might well get little thanks in return or maybe even a kick in the teeth. But we give our best anyway.
In the midst of all of the ‘bad news’ that bombards us every day, we have ‘good news’ to share with this world. God has reconciled the whole world to Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ. By His suffering and death, all of your sins have been forgiven. And by His resurrection from the dead, you have been ‘redeemed.’
In these LAST DAYS, as we await the FINAL DAY, we live in the PRESENT DAY by faith.
In fact, on this day, we not only “raise our heads” but we also “lift up our hearts,” knowing that “our redemption is drawing as near” to us as the bread and wine on this altar.