Sermon: Mark 13:1-13, November 14, 2021


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A sermon preached by Pastor Lewis Polzin on November 14, 2021 at St. Peter–Immanuel Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, WI, on Mark 13:1-13. You may play the audio of the sermon here.

A mostly unedited transcript of the sermon follows the jump:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The text this morning is from the Gospel according to St. Mark, the 13th chapter:

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Thus far the text.

My dear friends in Christ,

We are now fully in this time of pre-Advent, and I've told you this before, but I'll say it again, it used to be in the ancient church that advent was seven weeks long, just like Lent. Advent and lent were actually seen as the same season, just happening at different times and with a different culmination, Advent with the culmination of Christ's incarnation, and, of course, Lent with the culmination of his crucifixion and resurrection. So, accordingly the readings that we have today and next week are going to be a little bit more dark. They take a turn toward the end, as the day grows darker. And even now, as daylight savings has ended, well, we know what it is to grow darker in this world. After all, who doesn't love to see a sunset at three o’clock? But it is that the Christian should be on guard for these things because our Lord tells us that the day is drawing near, the days are coming to a close.

You kind of feel a little bit bad for the apostles. After all, after hearing Jesus's words in our gospel reading today, you've got to expect that they kind of thought that the end would be coming soon. And as they were tortured, as their backs were flayed open, as they were boiled alive, as they were crucified upside down, as they were cut and maimed and run through with the sword, you have to believe that they were saying, Any time would be fine now, Jesus.

And yet he tarries. And it's not that different today. After all Christians all over the world are going through the very same thing that the apostles would go through. Even we here in this country, even again in relative comfort and ease, see how the world is difficult and dangerous. We see how things play us. The sicknesses that we deal with, the grief that we bear, the financial burdens we encounter. All these things are weighing on us. And our cry, as it is with the entire church, is How long, O Lord. The martyrs teach us this. It's appropriate to talk about them following after All Saints Sunday, where the martyrs under the altar of God, as they await the Lord's return, cry out, How long, O Lord until you take your vengeance. We hope it's soon. I hope he comes back very soon. After all, it's been awhile. It's been a long time. And yet it is in his mercy that he waits. It's not because he's forgotten about us. It's not because he's stopped caring. It's not because he wants us to go through all these trials and tribulations and he gets some joy out of watching it. But it's out of his mercy, because the longer our Lord waits, the longer it is that we have to reach others with the very good news of Jesus Christ, that he has died to take away the sins of the world.

Isn't that what our Epistle lesson was telling us, that our Lord offered once for all the sacrifice of all sins and after doing so, sat down at the right hand of God until all of his enemies would be put under his feet? He waits, he waits. He waits for all people whose names are written in the book of life. That's what Daniel tells us. He's waiting. And we sit here and we go, yeah, I'm waiting too. And I want it to be done. I'm waiting. I can't tell you how many times I've cried out for the Lord to return. And I don't know how many more times in my life I will cry out. I literally don't have that number. I don't know when my end will be, nor do you. We don't know when we will die in this life. We don't know when our Lord will return. If we're still living, we wait.

That's hard. It's hard. Peter and James and John and Andrew, they hear Jesus saying, The temple is going to be torn down, not one stone on top of the other. And they're going, Wow, that's really scary. They love that temple. They grew up in that temple. So, they come to Jesus and they're like, All right, I know you can't tell everybody, but you can tell us. I mean, we’re your buddies. We’re your close friends. Tell us when these things going to happen. It says Jesus began to say to them. And I think, when you see this, this happens a few times in the gospel lessons where Jesus begins to teach, or Jesus begins to say, and I think the implication is not that he wasn't able to say these things, but he wasn't able to reach them at this time. He wasn't able to teach them fully about what it is that he's actually saying.

And what does he say? There's going to be many people who come in my name. And I think that's some people who are claiming themselves to be Jesus Christ. And we certainly have those people. I think of David Koresh with the massacre at Waco. I think of Reverend Moon with the cult of the Moonies. I mean, they all claim to be Jesus, but I think too, it's people who are claiming to represent him and do it wrongly. After all it is your pastor who stands in front of you week in and week out and he says, In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all of your sins. Now, you can trust that because that’s in Christ’s Word. I am claiming, in the name of Jesus, to stand before you and be able to do this, because this is what Jesus has said, but there are some who claim to be in the stead of Jesus who speak things that don't belong in the Scriptures. So you've got these people who start these heretical groups, these cults, who claim to be coming in the name of the Lord, and when that happens, you know that the time is approaching.

You're gonna hear wars and rumors of wars. I mean, we just ended probably one of the longest wars in American history, much less the history of the world, where we warred against an enemy that really couldn't be conquered. More of that, and we know our Lord is coming. But he says, when you hear these things, when you see these things happening, don't be alarmed; the end isn't yet. In fact, the time for alarm is coming because there's going to be earthquakes and there's going to be famines and kingdoms are going to rise up against kingdoms. And these are just the beginnings of the birth pains.

If this is the beginning of the birth pang, can you imagine what it's going to be like as he approaches? Many of you probably have, and, if you've not dealt with this yourself, as I have not dealt with this myself, I certainly watched it happen. The beginnings of those birth pains are super fun, right? When Liz went into labor with Eli, when her water broke, we went to Subway. Nothing was too bad yet and we wanted to get her some food before we went to the hospital because she wouldn’t be allowed to eat until it was all over. So, we ate and enjoyed it and we got ready. We went to the hospital and we waited. The labor wasn’t too bad for a while, though it certainly wasn’t exactly fun, but then it got worse and worse until finally, finally it was time to push and that hurt. I mean, she had the epidural and everything, and I think it still hurt.

All this terrible stuff that Jesus says is going to happen is just the beginning of the birth pains. It’s just the trip to Subway. Earthquakes, wars, heresies. That's the beginning. What's it going to be like at the end? If these are the minor contractions, then what is going to be thrown at us when the labor of the world is nearing its end?

It ain't gonna be pretty. It's not going to be pretty. In fact, it's going to get so bad that they're going to deliver you over to councils and they're going to take you into the synagogues. Maybe not you into the synagogue, but certainly the apostles into the synagogues. And you'll stand before governors and kings for Jesus’ sake and be witnesses to them. And you’ll be beaten. You’ll be murdered. You’ll be crucified. They’re going to bring you to trial. They're going to deliver you over. It's going to be bad. The world is going to grow darker and darker and darker.

So, what hope is there? Where do you put your hope? When a world grows darker like this, where’s your hope go? I mean, we actually have a name for what happens to us during the season called SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, where people start getting a little bit blue because of how dark it is and they don't see the green. Some people have posited that's why the idea of bringing evergreens into the house during the Christmas and Advent seasons, that's part of what helps alleviate some of that. I don't know about you. I've been listening to Christmas music since the beginning of October. Makes you feel good after a while, right?

What do you do when the world goes dark? Where's your hope? How do you persevere? It's simple enough to say that our hope is, of course, in Christ; we can say that. How do you feel that? How did you know that? How do you make that part of who you are, of your life, of your experience? I can't say I have all the answers for you. I wish I did. I wish I could say that things are easy. I can tell you certain things: be in church, remember your baptism, come to the Sacrament of the Altar, receive the forgiveness of your sins, be strengthened in the faith. Those are the good things, but how does that become personal for you? That's an answer that really only you and your God have between you, the faith that he's given you will be nourished by these things. Will you grasp on to it? Will you hold onto it as you stand before the kings and the governors in the synagogues and the councils? Is it going to be enough for you? Because the reality is, I don't know if it's really enough for anybody, because if it's dependent on all this stuff that I have to do, if it's dependent on me getting my butt into church every week, it makes it hard. If this is on my power, on my authority, my responsibility, then I think I’m not going to have much hope at all.

I confessed to my class that I was teaching this week, even as a pastor, there are days when I come to work and I stand in front of the congregation and I go through the service. And all of a sudden I looked down in the bulletin and I think, how did I get to this point? You know what I mean? Like when you're driving down the road and all of a sudden you're at a whole other spot down the highway, and you're like, I don't remember the last three miles. I hope I was paying attention and didn't run anybody off the road. And you kind of feel like that sometimes as a pastor, leading a service where all of a sudden you don’t know where you're at in the service and how you got there. And you're just hoping that you didn't say anything really stupid in the meantime. Your heart's not completely in it. And if it's that way for a pastor, I know that it's that way for parishioners. If it's dependent on us to build our hope, to make us feel good, to rely on our own strength to say, oh yeah, I'm a Christian and Christ will see me through, then we don't have hope.

But instead, if we do what Jesus says, to not be anxious about these things, I think that's a better option. Sure. We notice the world getting darker, but don’t be anxious. Sure. You're going to feel the earthquake, but don't be anxious. Yes. You're going to be taken before all of these people and you're going to have to give an account, but don't be anxious. And why? Because you are baptized. The Holy Spirit, who came to you in your Baptism, will guide you into all that you need to know and all that you need to say. There’s your hope. It’s not on you; it’s on God, and that’s okay. He will give you what you need. He calls you. He motivates you to receive His gifts. He brings you to where you need to be. He gives you hope. You don’t have to create it on your own; don’t be anxious, He’s got you in his hands.

It might be that your children betray you. It might be that you've betrayed your children. It might be that they betrayed their kids. Who knows. It might get really bad for you. This life, there is no promise of happiness. There's no God wants you to be happy, healthy, wealthy and wise. That's not it. This life, God desires for you to turn your eyes to the crucified and risen one. And he's going to do that because he's given you the gift of the Spirit and that's the Spirit's job. The Spirit’s only desire is to turn your eyes to Jesus. And he's going to do that.

Don't be anxious. Don't worry about the things that are going to happen in this world. Yes. The temples will fall. Yes. The churches will tumble. Yes. The world is going to hell in a handbag, but don't be anxious. The Lord is sitting at the right hand of the Father. He has written your name in the book of life. And even if the day comes, when you are under the altar of God, crying out with all the martyrs around you, saying, How long, O Lord, the answer is soon. It may not be as our eyes are open in this life. But the answer is soon.

Yes. The Lord is waiting. Yes, he's tarrying. But remember, it is out of his mercy that he does so. And if it's out of his mercy that he is waiting to come back to reshape this earth into what exactly what he wants it to be, if he's waiting to come and take you up out of your grave, there is no need for you to be anxious. When Christ has mercy, you can know all things have been made well. You know that the forgiveness of sins has been offered for you. You know that, if he has had mercy on you, then all things are under his rule and under his reign. He has no need to do any more. And neither do you. Don't be anxious. The Spirit will guide you into all that you need to know, all that you need to say. Our Lord has his own confidence in the means that he has given to this church, his Word and His Sacraments–his word will do what he says it will do, create faith in those who hear it, and His Sacraments will strengthen your faith and guide you into everlasting life. The one who endures until the end will be saved. The one who closes their eyes in death to see the cross will be saved. The one whose eyes are pointed to the sky to see where their Lord is coming back from will be saved. And that’s you. Do not be anxious, but put your hope in Christ, for he has given you here today all that you need to endure. In Jesus' name, amen.

Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord! Amen.