November 13, 2018- Jesus at the End of All Things- Matthew 24:1-14, Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:1-14 (ESV)

Christians have speculated on the events surrounding Jesus’ return ever since His ascension almost 2,000 years ago. Most scholars agree that Jesus made a clear reference to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD here in verses 1 and 2.

There are thousands, perhaps millions of people over the course of history who have tried to guess the date of end of time. The study of the end times is called eschatology. Almost all religions have some version of eschatology- because humans are curious and want to know when the end of the world is going to take place. People set dates and concoct all kinds of doom and gloom scenarios. We see the documentaries on the Science Channel or Discovery Channel on Nostradamus, or on what astronomers have to say about the life and death of the universe. However, from a Christian perspective we have no way to know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return and the end of the world as we know it. Most of what Jesus has to say about the end of days is found in Matthew 24-25.

Unlike many other Christian sects, Lutherans generally don’t spend much time with speculative eschatology. We focus on what Jesus specifically tells us in the Bible about His return. We do know that the times and world around us are not improving, and contrary to common wisdom the world has been becoming more and more soaked in sin and its effects since the Fall. While creation was made very good, it awaits the final restoration and redemption (Romans 8:18-25.) Like it or not, as it is now, this world and everything in it is temporary and subject to the effects of entropy, decay and death. We live in the now, but not yet.

The important thing to remember is that even though we go through hardship and suffering in this life and Jesus warns us that it’s going to get worse before it gets better, is that Jesus is with us through all the trials and temptations and He will see us through them, clear up until and beyond the great day of His return. We don’t know if it will be tomorrow or five thousand years from now. All we do know is that Jesus has told us to be ready for that day.

We who have faith in Jesus have been given an assignment of sorts that goes along with our vocations (vocation meaning the roles in life in which we find ourselves, i.e. employees, spouses, parents, children, etc.) As we go through our lives and anticipate Jesus’ return He gives us the Great Commission:

(Jesus said) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

In JRR Tolkien’s beautiful trilogy The Lord of the Rings, he tells a story of a quest to return the One Ring (that was evil) to be destroyed in the mountain in which it was forged. For those familiar with the story, Frodo had a faithful companion, Sam, who was with him from the beginning of the quest until the moment in which the One Ring was returned to the fire in Mount Doom. Just before the end of that quest Frodo says to Sam, “I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.” – JRR Tolkien from The Return of the King.

While JRR Tolkien was a Christian and he makes many good references to redemptive themes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, we have even more hope than the people of Middle Earth in Tolkien’s fiction that Jesus will be with us at the end of all things.

May we have joy and be glad that Jesus is with us, now and at the end of all things- because in Him there is no end.

September 10, 2018 – The Author and Perfecter of our Faith- Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Psalm 23

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By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 11:29-12:2 (ESV)

“By faith,” the writer of Hebrews repeats several times in this passage. Faith by its very nature must have an object.  Faith in faith makes no sense.  Faith in fallible people will always disappoint. Even though the writer mentions some of the heroic tales such as the crossing of the Red Sea, and notable characters of the Bible, such as Joshua, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David and Samuel, these stars of these epic stories were imperfect sinners just like the rest of us. Faith in Jesus- the founder and perfecter of our faith- is the only faith with a valid object, the only faith that will not disappoint.

It is amazing to contemplate what God has done, is doing, and will do in and through His people.

One must marvel at the faith of the people of God over the millennia, but we also must realize that faith is a gift of God. The witnesses before us were only able to accomplish the “races set before them” because the ability to do so was given to them by God.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23 (ESV)

We learn in the 23rd Psalm that Jesus is God with us- Emmanuel.  As much as we wish He would at times, He does not give us a pass from all the suffering of this world.  We carry our cross just as He had to. He does not carry us over the valley of the shadow of death.  We still have to walk through it, but we walk through it with Jesus beside us.

What comfort and what power there is in Jesus. We are powerless and helpless in and of ourselves no matter what we might want to think.

No matter what this world might throw at us, we have faith in Jesus- the real deal, the One True God, and we know we can endure anything because He lives in and through us, and in Him we have all we need.

August 9, 2018- The Strength of Jesus for the “Three Score and Ten”-Psalm 34:1-8, Romans 15:1-6, Psalm 139:16

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I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:1-8 (ESV)

(The apostle Paul writes:) We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.  For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”  For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Romans 15:1-6 (ESV)

There is a distinct irony in the apostle Paul’s teaching here, especially in referring to the persecuted church as, “We who are strong.” Who is Paul kidding here?

He is speaking of the strength that we who believe have in Christ. In  2 Corinthians 12:1-10 we learn of the struggle that Paul endured with the thorn in his flesh.  He doesn’t come right out and say exactly what that thorn was, but we can infer that it was some sort of painful physical infirmity.  Those of us who live with chronic pain can certainly identify with Paul’s struggle.

(The apostle Paul writes:) For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV)

Human beings are vulnerable in many ways. Even the most robust and physically sturdy among us are only a slight electrical charge- the one that tells our hearts to beat- away from sudden death.  Our physical bodies are vulnerable to disease and injury.  Our mental and spiritual states are tenuous as well.  In this life all of us are only a missed heartbeat or a rogue driver away from the end of worldly existence, and no amount of money, influence or anything else can change the reality of our physical mortality. We might think we can delay the inevitable, but we learn from Scripture: Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16 (ESV.)

Human strength and the promises of health or longevity via modern science are fleeting at best. Try as we might, we don’t see too many people who live beyond the “three score and ten” of Psalm 90:10.

The omniscient God of the universe knows exactly how long each of us is set to live on this earth. He has equipped each of us to meet the challenges that we will face, and He gives us what we need to endure this life.

When we realize that we have no real strength or power in and of ourselves, we are free to abide in and trust the mercy and the strength of God. We look to God knowing our own fragility and powerlessness. We can trust Him to meet our own needs and also to provide for the needs of others.

In Jesus’ strength– not our own- we can lift each other up. In Jesus’ strength we can endure the unendurable for ourselves and we can help bear the burden for others. In Jesus’ strength we have hope, renewal and peace now, even in this wretched, paradoxical place of “not yet.”