April 4, 2019 – The End of the World? Jesus Says Stay Awake- Mark 13:21-37

end of the world

(Jesus was teaching His disciples:) And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.  But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.  It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.  Therefore stay awake—for 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—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.  And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” Mark 13:21-37 (ESV)

Jesus tells His disciples: Stay awake.

Our culture is fascinated with eschatology or the study of the end times. There are a variety of differing Christian teachings on the end times, but Lutherans generally take the Bible, especially what Jesus says about the end of days, at face value.  The traditional Biblical understanding of end times is called amillennialism, in which we contend that Jesus began His rule and reign upon His ascension into heaven, and that He will come again to remake heaven and earth. This view is supported and affirmed in the Ecumenical Creeds and in Article XVII of the Augsburg Confession.

So why are there so many people out there claiming this or that inside knowledge on the end of the world when Jesus Himself does not know the day or the hour?

Jesus gives us a clue when he warns us about false teachers. There are people who claim that they have hidden knowledge, but how can a fallible human being know something that Jesus doesn’t claim to know?  How many date setters have there been who have failed to accurately predict Jesus’ arrival back on earth?

The apostle Paul also gives us some insight on how to verify what is true and what is not. He commended the Bereans for taking his words- the Holy Spirit inspired words of an apostle no less- and holding them to the light of Scripture.  (Acts 17:10-15) If we are intimately acquainted with the real thing- God’s Word as it is given to us in the Bible- it becomes easy to spot false teachings and counterfeits.

Perhaps the reason why we have no way of knowing when Jesus is coming back is so that we will focus on being God’s people now. How do we know if today is our own personal last day? Jesus talks about the foolishness of relying on ourselves and in our own wealth for security in the parable of the rich fool- Luke 12:13-20.  We rely on God’s provision, whether today is the last day or if the world does not end for another thousand years.

We should not follow false teachers who promise prosperity in this life or listen to wolves in sheep’s clothing who preach a theology of glory rather than a theology of the cross. We aren’t going to have our “best life now” just yet. Our life now is a life with one foot on the fallen earth with all its sin and brokenness, and one foot in the heavenly kingdom, living in the promise of the life to come.

By faith, we trust Jesus at His Word. Stay awake.

“Keep your lamps trimmed and burning /For this old world is almost done
Brother don’t you stop prayin’/ Sister keep right on prayin’
Don’t you stop prayin’ /for this old world is almost done” – from the Spiritual, Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning- Rev. G. Davis

March 2, 2018 – Betraying Jesus- Mark 14:37-42

sleeping disciples.jpgHe (Jesus) came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” Mark 14:37-42 (NRSV)

Jesus had to have had some level of frustration with Peter and the rest of the disciples. All He wanted was for these guys to stay awake and pray with Him as He anguished in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Instead all of the disciples had found some way to abandon Jesus- if not by nodding off then it was by trotting off and selling Him to the authorities for today’s equivalent of enough money to buy a few gallons of gasoline.

Sometimes we just plain know our loved ones are going to let us down. Whether it is something simple as forgetting to set out meat to defrost for the evening meal, or something more serious such as taking the car through the garage door, our friends and loved ones are not perfect.  Our spouses don’t anticipate our needs, they spend money on things we might think are wasteful, or sometimes they are emotionally cold.  Our kids fail to follow instructions, tend to sass back, fail to do their chores, and break things.  Our friends don’t always show up when we need them.

Jesus had to be heartbroken being abandoned and betrayed by His friends. Betrayal, as much as it stings, is part of the human experience.  All of us have both been betrayed by other people and we have all betrayed other people in various ways. Hopefully none of us succumbs to the temptation to sell one of our friends to the executioner for less than what it takes to fill up a Toyota Camry, but before we judge Judas too harshly, we should remember, we share the same root of sin with Judas.   We are sinners and we live with sinners.  Our spirits are indeed willing, but our flesh screws up.

The good news is that unlike our loved ones and those around us, Jesus is faithful. He does not betray us even when we are imperfect and in our sin and error, we betray others, and we betray Him.

We are like those friends of Jesus so much of the time. We try and we fail. We can’t stay awake to pray with Jesus or stand by Him in His anguish. It is too much for us to bear. Even so, Jesus is faithful to us.  He forgives us.  He walks with us through the valleys of shadow. He pulls us out of our weakness and comforts us when we have been betrayed.