Pentecost 2718 (PR29)-“Tribulation, Figs and Falling Stars.” Mark 13:24-37
Pentecost 2718(PR29)-“Tribulation, Figs and Falling Stars.”Mark 13:24-37
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
The text for our sermon meditation is the Gospel account of St Mark, the 13th Chapter.
“24[Jesus said:] “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27And 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.
28“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. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34It 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. 35Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or in the morning— 36lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
So far the reading.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
When God created the world he set everything in its place and gave it a purpose. Trees and plants were for food and to produce oxygen needed for life. Animals were creatures subject to the care and nurture of Adam and Eve. Sun, moon and stars were created to give light to the earth by day and by night. They were used to mark seasons and times and days. In all this, God leaves a witness to Himself and His will.
We have a greater witness to the will of God in the confession of faith we spoke earlier. One portion of that confession we perhaps gloss over. We gloss over it because the seasons times and days continue to return as they were set to do from the beginning. We gloss over it because we are complacent concerning the eventual end of the world as we know it. As we confess the Return of Jesus Christ to judge both the living and the dead, we tuck that thought away in the back of our minds for future reference and then get on with life.
Yet our Lord continues to call us to be ready for His final summons, whether it be calling us to eternal rest or on the day of his coming. This God does for His people in every generation until He sends the angels to the four winds and gathers us for the final judgment. God gives signs to know time is coming close for the Return of Jesus.
The first sign to recognize is that period of tribulation. In the book of Acts we read these words. “[Paul and Barnabas were] strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” It is very clear from these words that the time of trial and testing marks the whole life of the believer in Jesus Christ. From the moment of baptism until the end of life, the believer is confronted with tests of faith.
In other places Jesu speaks of tribulation connected to the destruction of Jerusalem. Indeed that was a terrible time of trial for those who were besieged by the Roman legions surrounding Jerusalem. Hunger, thirst and disease afflicted those inhabitants. However, in this instance, Jesus is speaking of the time of the end of the world. Last week we heard of signs being wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famine, persecution and betrayal. Now Jesus speaks of general calamity coming upon the world at the return of Jesus Christ. He also speaks of signs in the heavens such as unnatural solar eclipses, the moon failing to reflect the light of the sun, stars falling from their places in the heavens.
To some extent we are familiar with these events. Usually at the end of the summer on a clear night you might see shooting stars as the dust and rocks of outer space enter the earth’s atmosphere. About 20 years ago I remember looking up into the night’s sky and being able to see the fiery tail of Hal-Bopp comet. Just recently there was a lunar eclipse that attracted people’s attention. It is of little doubt that the events spoken of by Jesus will be greater in magnitude than what we normally see.
Our Lord also speaks of signs in the natural world. He uses the fig tree as his object lesson. What did the disciples know about fig trees? They were the most fruitful of trees, bearing three crops of figs at various times of the year. The months of April and May these trees were barren. Yet, when the leaves began to appear it was sure that the summer was near. The time of harvest is coming. It is best to be prepared for harvest.
Still this message is about the sings of the end. Like the leaves on the fig tree beginning to grow, so also the signs in nature, the stars and among the nations. This is not referring to onetime events. Rather it refers to the signs which appear in every generation to keep the warning current in the eyes of God’s people. Our Lord is intent on us being prepared for the day of Jesus’ Return. Our Lord is intent on us looking past the present tribulations to the day when such things will no longer be. Our Lord is intent on fixing in our hearts and minds that His promises are sure, and, in His time, Our Lord will consummate our faith and bring us into His eternal presence.
We, however, seek to know the day and the hour of Jesus Return. We are curious, impatient, worried, doubtful, even demanding. We think like the super market tabloid “inquiring minds need to know.” Such was the question asked by the disciples in the verses prior to this reading. When will this be? To this question our Lord finally gives an answer.
“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.”
This indeed is a strange reply. Is Jesus not true man and true God? Does Jesus not say in John’s Gospel that He is one with the Father? If this is true, Jesus is true God, and he is one with the Father, then he should know the time of the end. God was sending His Son to gather in all those whom He had called, gathered and enlightened in the faith. The time and date are fixed as the Father determines. Yet the Son, according to His human nature was not given to know this time or date. This is the mystery of the Incarnation. It is above our comprehension.
Yet our Lord leaves us what we can comprehend. He gives us warning but also He gives us comfort. He gives us the means to secure eternal life by grace through faith – word, water bread and wine. These are the means whereby God creates faith and nurtures faith in preparation for the Day of Christ’s Return.
For centuries, people have tried to determine the day of Christ’s return, or the day of the end of the world. St Paul took the Thessalonian Church to task for thinking Jesus would return in their lifetime. Others in the not too distant past also set dates. William Miller, whose followers are known as Seventh Day Adventists, set the end of the world to be between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, predicted the world would end sometime between 1835 and 1891. Pat Robertson, the television evangelist and sometime presidential candidate, predicted the world would end in 1982. Most recently, the Mayan Calendar was interpreted to predict the end of the world to be December 21, 2012.
When we focus on what the Lord gives to us to maintain faith, we will be following the command of Jesus gives his disciples. Jesus says keep watch, stay awake, be on your guard lest the day come upon and you are unprepared. Live in your Baptism each day. This means the believer begins the day in penitence and faith prayerfully seeking God’s absolution and guidance for the day.
Be present in the house of the Lord to receive His absolution which comes through the words spoken by Christ’s representative. Receive Jesus absolution given to you in the bread and wine of the Holy Supper. As you receive this Holy Supper you receive the very gifts of Jesus Christ given and shed for your sins. Jesus gives you His body to eat and blood to drink that you are assured of your salvation, His forgiveness.
Jesus is the master who is away on a journey but leaves His servants to attend the duties they are given. We are the servants of Jesus, each with a vocation to fulfill. First, we consider who we are, father, mother, son, daughter, pastor, teacher, student, or worker. We are called by Jesus to live our faith as witnesses to the hope that is with us. Dr. Luther understood this quite well. He once wrote:
“The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”
Where we are placed in life there we serve our Lord in faith. Carrying out the duties according to the responsibilities received. God well-crafted us in Jesus Christ. He gave us enduring and living faith. He gave us Is enduring and life-giving Word to encourage and guide us as we wait vigilantly for Christ’s return.
We do not know the day or the hour of Jesus Return. We will continue to see and hear the signs of the end. These also reinforce our hope that in due time our Lord will come. As Isaiah said long ago:
“Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner;
but my salvation will be forever …”
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,
to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”