The Your End Time
Up until at least 2005, everyday over the plains of Flanders in France the sirens wail. There is a moment of silence and a thunderous blast as piles of ammunition newly unearthed from World War I battlefields are destroyed. "'An echo of the Great War which has continued to reverberate for eighty years" (Unknown Soldiers, xiv). Hear that echo especially today for today is the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day which ended World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. I invite you to remember the reality of this war ending to cause you to think not just about the End Time in some remote future but your end time which could come any day.
The End Times are alluring in the abstract just like war is. People, men particularly, delight in war movies. War games have always been played long before Call of Duty video games. The prospect of actually going to war has thrilled many a young man's heart. World War I troops sung "Over there, over there" with zeal as they marched off to their end time. How bitterly the mother at the Vietnam Wall remembers "just a little boy, playing war since he was three." A Vietnam Vet who enlisted in the Marines at age 19 told me he couldn't understand why his mother was so upset. "I was going on an adventure," he said.
In the abstract war is alluring as are the End Times. People are beguiled to hear, to talk, to speculate about 3 things. Satanic arts, death, and the End Times. It's adventurous. Is this a sign of the end? How about that? Trouble in the Middle East means the end must be or at least might be near. Same thing with Satanic arts: Is this the devil's doing? Can he be prowling about here or there? And how we delight in picturing Death as a grim reaper; how we like getting scared to death in the abstract. But in the concreate war, death, and Satan are not so alluring. World War I decorated veteran and leading poet of that war, Siegfried Sassoon, pictures Satan visiting the famed British monument of The Unknown Warrior which is also called a cenotaph. "The Prince of Darkness to the Cenotaph Bowed. As he walked away I heard him laugh" (Ibid. 280).
That's creepy, that's disturbing as the End Times, death, and Satan always are in the concrete. Didymus the Blind said in the 4th century. "'War is pleasing to the inexperienced'" (ACC, OT, IX, 2). Here's what Jesus expressly says about the End Times and your end time. The wars and rumors of wars that are so horrible in the concrete are but beginning birth pangs. The real birth is. "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death [Here are the 2 sides of the culture of death we live in: abortion and assisted suicide.]. All men will hate you because of Me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved." Tell me; be honest. Do you think we who stammer, blush, and are embarrassed to confess, let alone defend, a six-day creation, a pro-life position, salvation being only in Christ, and closed Communion will stand firm in the face of that kind of end?
"No plan survives first contact with the enemy." That piece of military wisdom comes from a 19th century Prussian. That Vietnam vet I referred to earlier said that his adventure of going to war over there, over there ended when he first came under fire and found himself voiding his bladder and bowels even as he returned fire. Green troops are those who haven't been in combat. They always suffer higher losses. We're all green troops when it comes to facing our end, death, and Satan laughing with delight. The last 3 Sundays of the Church Year are like a live fire drill. Very few times do you have an exercise in the military where you use live ammunition. You know why? Someone could get killed! See the irony? Well when it comes to facing our end time, our death in the concrete, we need to see that whether our end be quick or slow, soft or hard, short or long not one of us can stand firm to the end.
The translation of last sentence of our text is misleading. "But he who stands firm to the end will be saved." Now doesn't that sound like a doable law? Sure does, and I can't leave it like that. I want to deliver you from what Jesus isn't saying. First though, let's hear what He is saying. The end spoken of in the last sentence is your end. It doesn't have the article. Earlier when Jesus spoke of the false Christs deceiving many and of wars and rumors of war, He said, "But the end is still to come." There end' has the article. There it's the End Times, not your end time. This last verse is about your end time. Of the 38 translations I checked only two have "stands firm". The majority have "endure." This particular Greek word describes bearing a burden you have no choice but to bear. The only question is if you bear it patiently or impatiently. The word translated "stands firm" is really "endure", and it describes the man who confronted by things and under great trails bears up and does not lose heart or courage (Trench, 195-198). God's grace in Christ is the only thing that can enable this. And you can be certain you have it.
On August 15, 1945 Emperor Hirohito directly spoke to his people for the first time. It was after the second atom bomb was dropped and he told them Japan had agreed to surrender. He said in doing so they would be "enduring the unendurable and suffering what is not sufferable." And they would do it for the benefit of generations of Japanese to come (www.theatlantic.com/ international/ archive/2012/08/the-emperors-speech-67-years-ago-hirohito-transformed-japan-forever/261166/). Nope: there is only One Man whoever endured the unendurable or suffered the insufferable and He did it for the sake of all past, present, future men facing their end.
End times whether yours, mine, ours are endurable only in Jesus. In World War I the steeple of a church had a statue of Mother Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms. It was shelled by both sides. The statue began to lean more and more. (I think it's called the Leaning Virgin of Albert, but I'm not sure.) One who was there said it was as if Mary was about to pitch her Son into the maelstrom of the conflict to bring it to an end because there was no other way. Mary didn't do that but that's exactly what God the Father did. From eternity He chose His Son to take on flesh and blood so that He might descend into the sin, the death, the bedevilment that is the fallen human condition. He was born into this conflagration of God's wrath against sinners and the innocent life He lived and the guilty death He died put out the flames. That death you can't endure; that suffering you deserve for your sins which is absolutely insufferable by wimps like us, Jesus endured to establish peace between God and mankind.
No man can establish this peace on his own: not by believing, suffering, promising, or doing. To try, is to do what British and German soldiers did on the first Christmas of WW I. Soldiers met in No Man's Land to exchange cigarettes and take pictures. The leaders on both sides were outraged and forbid it ever to happen again (The Great War, 10). Jesus alone could bring about peace and He did it by remaining under sin, death, and devil right till the end. Jesus says endure to your telos. On the cross Jesus said right before He died, "It is teleo." There's the end that counts. There's the end to fixate on. There's the end to embrace.
Christ is not just God who endures to the end; He is the God of completion. That's why the disciples ask Jesus about the sign that all things are about to be fulfilled. They ask, "What will be the sign when all these things are about to be sunteleo?" Sunteleo is the completion of all things together. What you see going on about you isn't complete. This isn't the end. These are the birth pangs. The rumors of war and even the horrible wars themselves are not the end. Many of you know what false labor is. Many of you have gone to the hospital only to be told you're not in labor yet. But none of you have ever mistook labor pains for the birth itself. Labor pains are a means to the end; they aren't the fulfillment of anything. They're something that must be gone through, must be endured to get to the end. The end itself, whether ours in death or the universe's on the Last Day, is something that God in Christ brings about.
In Christ what is ended is not life but life as you know it: miserable, fallen, beleaguered life under sin, death, and the devil. What Jesus ended by a life lived in perfect holiness and an absolutely damned dying is the Big Three - Sin, Death, and Devil. He ended Sin. "There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus," trumpets Paul. No condemnation means in Jesus the Father sees no sin. Jesus ended Death. Since Old Testament times for Jesus' sake Death can be taunted like you do a defeated bully. Where's your sting now, Death? Where's your victory now, Death huh, huh? And He ended the Devil. He crushed the head of that snake as God prophesied He would thousands of years before. The devil lost his right to stand in heaven or even in your conscience and accuse you. What sin of yours can he point to that Jesus didn't pay the bill for in toto? What law of God that you broke go on dredge it up, bring it up, sick it up in all its ugliness what law of God that you broke did Jesus fail to keep perfectly in your place? Stick a fork in him; no stick the cross in him, the devil's done.
The 5th century B.C. Greek historian Herodotus said, "No one is fool enough to choose war instead of peace in peace sons bury fathers, but in war fathers bury sons" (Histories, I, 87). In the end both will rise from the dead. In the peace of God that passes all human understanding which is Christ both rise to everlasting life in the end. Christians don't prepare for their end or the End Times by moments of silence punctuated by explosions of the instruments of death. We prepare by gathering in prayer, praise, and thanks for the explosion of life everlasting we have for Jesus' sake. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year (20181111); Mark 13: 1-13