It's Not the End of the World
How many things do children consider to be the end of the world? A skinned knee, a broken bike, a lost pet. Adults tell them, quite rightly, "It's not the end of the world." As children age into their teens and even into their early adult years, they are confronted with missed promotions, unjust politicians, and lost loves. Some older, wiser adult speaking from decades of perspective on such early tragedies will assure them, again quite rightly, "It's not the end of the world." But guess what? No one gets old enough or wise enough to really know what is the end of the world. We are always thinking something is the end of the world when it's not.
Being flesh and blood bodies our world pretty much consists in what we can see and touch. We like the disciples are impressed with big buildings and big organizations. The disciples just knew Jesus was impressed by the strength and beauty of the massive temple. Some of the stones were 90 feet long by 10 feet high. The temple had been under construction for decades and they still were building. Every Jew was proud of this building and proud of the organization that ran the temple. The disciples are beaming with pride over the temple. Then Jesus says, "Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." Most of the disciples lived to see the temple demolished in just this way in 70 AD.
We too are proud of our magnificent church. We too are proud of our downtown skyscrapers that sweep the sky. We are proud of our 153 year old synod and our 224 year old country. Firm will they ever stand. Jesus must be pleased as punch with these too. He must be as awed over and proud of over these massive buildings and intricate organizations as we are. But what does Jesus say, "Do you see all of these great buildings, all of these wonderful organizations, all of these United States? Not one stone here will be left on another, not one building will stand, not one bureaucrat's desk will remain, not one corporate logo be it synodical, commercial, or political will stand; every one will be thrown down."
That's not all Jesus tells the disciples. He warns them about many coming in His name who will deceive many. The disciples would live to see this very thing. Acts mentions the Egyptian who was a rebel Jew, Judas of Galilee, a revolutionary, and Theudas a false prophet. All of these claimed zealously and certainly that God was on their side. That the true God supported what they were doing, and if you were not on their side you were wrong, and even fighting against God.
How upsetting that sort of thing is to God's people. Just watch Christian programing on TV. There you will find preachers saying the Lord is warning you through them. Thundering that you must follow them or you will be lost. God is speaking to you through them, and you had better listen. And they speak so boldly, so confidently, so godly. Surely, you must be wrong. You don't have that kind of certainty, that kind of boldness. You're not doing enough for God. You're not helping Him to overthrow the evil that's in this nation as they are.
But the disciples weren't just warned about zealous false teachers. Jesus told them they would hear of wars and rumors of wars, and that nation would rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. These disciples would hear of Rome fighting here and there. This or that kingdom would be up in arms against her. But not only that, their very own nation would be embroiled in a mighty conflict with Rome. Most of them would live to see Rome march on Jerusalem and obliterate it in a most savage way.
And what do we hear? At any given time there are over 100 wars being waged around the world. There are conflicts going on right now in Africa, Europe, South America and of course the Middle East. We're only a security breach away from a terrorist bomb blowing up in a major city. There is no real peace in the Balkans or the former Soviet Union. A religious frenzy, a holy war is agitating the Middle East. How much longer can the United States go without being embroiled in these uprisings?
It's not just in nations and kingdoms and peoples that Jesus told His disciples there would be instability. The very earth itself would shake and quake. The regularity of the seasons on which their food and water depend would fail and famine would result. And the disciples lived to see this. There were major earthquakes in Laodice and Pompei. Famine severely afflicted Jerusalem the Book of Acts tells us. In addition, secular history tells us that famine struck Rome in 41 and 42 AD and again in 52 AD. Greece had one in 50 AD.
What about us? Wildfires seemed to burn in all of the west this summer. Drought has griped Texas for years and now we have more rain than we know what to do with. When I was in Michigan, I saw Lakes Michigan and Huron 30 or more feet away from the shore. Something seems out of whack. It doesn't rain when it should or snow where it should. It's unseasonably warm in some places and cool in others. O weathermen can blame El Nino and La Nina, but we know something fundamental is wrong.
All of this is bad enough, but there's more. The world of the disciples is not the only thing that will be shaken. They themselves will be. They can expect to be flogged by the Jews and put on trial by the gentiles. They can expect to be betrayed by brothers and fathers and for their children to rebel against them and hand them over to death. Basically, they will be hated by all men because of Jesus.
Isn't that just peachy? Not only doesn't Jesus promise a rose garden, He promises thorns, and these thorns are personal. We can expect that not only will people get upset because we won't commune them, we can expect them to get violent. We can expect that not only will our relatives disagree with us about religious matters, but they will persecute us. Not only can we expect that we will not be popular for following Christ, we will be hated. And I don't think we should expect persecution only from government and people but from all other things that Satan can use: disease, depression, despair. Everything that Satan can throw at us, we should expect.
And what does Jesus conclude after telling us all these terrifying, horrible things? He tells us what we tell our children or someone with less experience, "It's not the end of the world." The disciples thought in order for the temple to fall it would have to be the end of the world. And the wars and uprising, the famines and the earthquake surely point us to the end of the world, but what does Jesus say, "Such things must happen, but the end is still to come...These are but the beginning of the birth pains."
Okay, take all the fear, all the uneasiness that you feel at the thought of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod collapsing or the United States crumbling. Take all that agitation those false teachers on TV whip up in you. Take all the worry that the nightly news generates in you by telling you of all the wars and rumors of wars around the world. Take that sense you have of something being fundamentally wrong because the rain and the heat and the sun and the earth seem to be out of whack. Take your fears of disease, of being disabled for life, and your fear of unrest in your family because of differences in faith. Take all of these troubling emotions to the Lord and hear Him tell you, "It's not the end of the world."
The Lord stands before a crumbled country or church and firmly says, "It's not the end of the world." He stands before the ranting and raving TV preacher and confidently tells you, "It's not the end of the world." Christ stands before your TV set as the anchorman goes on about the prospect of war and says, "It's not the end of the world." He stands before the withered fields and the flooding rivers and says, "It's not the end of the world." He stands before the hatred of family, friends, and world that is directed toward you and says, "It's not the end of the world." He stands beside the bed where you lay sick, disabled, dying and says, "It's not the end of the world."
You know when you tell someone, "It's not the end of the world," you usually have a perspective they don't. So it is with our Lord Jesus. He sees the collapsing, warring, false preaching, famine, flooding, and personal hardships not as an end in themselves, but as a prelude. He says, "These are but the beginning of the birth pangs." Dear friends, when a birth is eminent do you focus on the pangs? In fact, don't birth pangs give way to something much more joyous? And isn't true that for the joy of a child being born the mother forgets almost instantaneously the pain?
Something bigger, better, more noble, more lasting, more loving is on the way. The country, this Synod, this world, these bodies of ours are not at all what the Lord wanted. They are not the best He can do! Far from it. The crumbling, the decaying, the uprising, and even the diseases are indications that a new heaven and new earth, indeed new glorified bodies are pushing through. Don't focus on the pangs; don't focus on the pains; don't focus on what is passing away but on what the Lord is bringing to pass!
And take comfort members of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. All that you see and sense going on around you is not slowing or even hindering the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. "The Gospel must first be preached into all the nations." The Good News that God is not angry with sinners but has put His wrath away from them by putting it all on Jesus Christ must first be preached to all the world. The Good News that Jesus has kept the Law perfectly in place of all imperfect sinners MUST be proclaimed. The Good News that Jesus has already borne the punishment deserved by sinners MUST be preached in all the world. There is a divine necessity to the Good News of forgiveness going out. Nothing: not a synod failing, not a country collapsing, a world quaking, or a Christian getting sick will hinder the Gospel from going out and sinners being saved.
More than this, the Holy Spirit that accompanies the Gospel doesn't disappear from the world even when it appears to be ending. The Holy Spirit is an ever present possession of Christians being theirs through the Word, their Baptism, and the Holy Communion. Though the world be quaking, earthly organizations be shaking, and hearts be fainting, the Holy Spirit remains on the scene testifying to God's Children. In the Word He is saying that though the world be overrun by sins, your sins will not damn you. In Baptism, He is saying, "Though this world is old and dying and you are too, still you are a New Creation in Christ." In Holy Communion, He is saying, "Though the world pretends like Christ is not really here; He's here for you always even to the close of the age."
Friends, what seems to be the end of the world is not to our God in Christ. He will say to you even at death, "It's not the end of the world." Actually, not even the end of the world is the end of the world to Him. To Him it's the beginning of a new heaven and a new earth. It is for us too. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
3rd Last Sunday of the Church Year (11-12-00) Mark 13: 1-13