First Lesson: Isaiah 64: 1-9
Responsive Reading: Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9
Gospel Lesson: Mark 13: 24-37
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin this morning by asking a hypothetical question “What would you do if you heard that the world was going to end in 24 hours?” How would you spend your last twenty-four hours on Earth?
Let me give you a second to think about it.
We could answer this question several different ways. Many of you would spend your last twenty-four hours eating all the foods that your doctors and wives have been telling you not to eat for the sake of your health.
Many of you would spend your last hours saying goodbye to family and friends, saying all that you’ve wanted to say, but never actually said before. Others would spend their last hours trying to get things right with God. The last twenty-four might be time to attempt a dramatic last hour conversion to be sure you’re truly saved. The final twenty-four might be time to confess every sin a person may have ever committed. Your last hours might be time to promise to be the best Christian that you can be.
How would you spend your last hours on Earth?
There is a great quote attributed to Martin Luther regarding what he would have done if he found out that he only had hours before the world was going to end. Luther was alleged to have said “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
For if Luther did mouth these words they serve as a powerful statement to how Christians often get the end of the world wrong.
Many people look toward the end of the world serves as an opportunity to promote fear, paranoia, and false religions. Luther looked to the End of the World by looking towards the promises of his baptism. Luther grasped the promise that there is a God out there who promises to love us and be with us through even the End of the World itself.
Luther looked to the threat of the world’s ending as fundamentally changing nothing regarding his relationship with the Almighty. The same God bringing forth the End of the World is the same God that died on the Cross for the forgiveness of his sin. It is because of the Cross that the “when” and “how” questions regarding the End of the World should be of relative unimportance for Christians.
Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from Mark the 13th Chapter. In this passage, Jesus gives details of the Second Coming. This passage points to highlight how one of the oldest rituals within the Christian church is thinking that the End is near. In fact, the first book written in the New Testament in 1st Thessalonians is written to a community of faith that Christ would return before any of their members experienced death.
Our Gospel lesson for today is important because it describes in detail what exactly the Second Coming of Christ will look.
Verses 24-27 read
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 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.”- Mark 13:24-27
So within this passage the Second Coming of Christ is described as a visible, clear event easily recognized by all people. There will be no rumors or reports about the End of the World; the End will come as subtlety as a massive hurricane. The scriptures in other places describe trumpets as heralding The End. We will know The End loudly and clearly.
Why is this passage important?
Whenever we talk about the End Times, you need to respond to various ideas that people have heard. People talk about the End in some very scary ways such as people vanishing from the face of the Earth without cause. People talk about Satan causing all sorts of special mischief. I think what always needs to be stated is that for the first 1800 years of Church history, Christians whether Catholic or Lutheran or Presbyterian or Methodist were in fairly unanimous agreement about what they believed about the End of the World. We say it simply in the creed that “Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end”. We say these words in the creed because we believe that the End is ultimately a very good thing.
Recent decades have seen a rise in an end-times speculation movement called “date-setting”. Date-setting is where people look for hidden clues within the pages of scripture to try to discern when the End is going to come upon us. Churches like the Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah Witnesses came into being on the basis of their belief that other churches weren’t serious enough about studying the scriptures to prepare for The End.
The absurdity of this all was captured beautifully on an episode of the Simpsons several years ago. The episode centers on Homer Simpson the oafish Father after seeing a parody of the Left Behind movie fears that he won’t be spared in the end. Homer makes a dramatic conversion into a Bible scholar trying to warn his hometown of Springfield that the End of the Earth is coming next week because of an elaborate series of numbers that he finds within the Bible. Homer convinces the whole town of Springfield that he is correct and The End was coming the next week. Springfield and even Homer’s family abandon him when he turns out to be wrong. Homer then finally recalculates the formula, and is right the second time being raptured into God’s presence. Homer is sad though as his family is left behind because they didn’t believe his predictions after having previously been wrong. God eventually relents of the Rapture, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Homer Simpson manages to highlight a bigger issue regarding Churches that tend to obsess about the End Times. End Times speculation finds its basis in the belief that if one can correctly predict The End then they have a “secret” in with God. People believe that if they are in control of their future, then only then are their salvation secure. What I wish to point out today is that End Times obsession is an extremely dangerous foundation for one’s faith due to so many false and contradictory promises that have defined church history. Instead, we are much better off looking towards the clear promises of scripture in Baptism, and in Communion in the forgiveness of sins of which they scriptures point.
The 2nd part of our Gospel lesson deals with the Parable of the Fig Tree. This parable contains an interesting statement by Jesus in verse 32, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the son, but only the Father.”
This passage is noteworthy for a few different reasons. The first reason is that you’ve had countless people claim to know when the world is going to end. What this passage reminds us is that the date for the end is so unknown that Jesus himself claims not to know it.
This statement raises an even deeper question and it goes back to some of our favorite confirmation questions “Could Jesus have a found a rock so big that he couldn’t lift it?” or “Could Jesus see someone walking down the streets and not know the person’s name?”
The answer to all questions like this is “yes” but I need to attach an explanation. When Jesus came to Earth, there were limits that he assumed on the basis of being human. Jesus got thirsty, Jesus got hungry, Jesus would have had to go to the bathroom, Jesus would have gotten cold, he could have gotten sick, Jesus could undergo actual temptation for forty days in the desert, Jesus could draw blood, and Jesus could actually die. If Jesus had never left Heaven then, none of these things would be the case. All these things that Jesus could endure go along with being human.
So Jesus wasn’t so strong that he would have been able to life a house above his head and spin it around three times apart from invoking the power of God to perform miracles.
Alongside this whereas Jesus came with perfect insight into religion on account of being from heaven itself, Jesus didn’t have the type of mind that would have been able to predict the future actions of every person in every place while he was on Earth. So the reason that Jesus wouldn’t have known the exact date of his Second Coming was on the basis of the limits placed upon him upon assuming humanity.
So the best way to understand all this in relation to the Trinity is that Jesus is only a lesser entity to God the Father when he assumes human flesh. When Jesus sits at the right-hand of God then, he is co-equal in power, knowledge, and authority to him.
So it’s important in seeking to understand the End Times the words that Mark gives us on this day. So whenever anyone from a popular book to some random radio preacher to Homer Simpson predicts knowing when the world is going to end, I would be skeptical of their claims as Jesus here on Earth didn’t even know the answer to this question.
Our lesson for today comes to conclusion in verses 33-37 with a warning for us to be alert and watchful before the Second Coming occurs. We do not know when the Master of the house will come whether in the evening, or at midnight; at the cockcrow, or at dawn. Our passage warns us against falling asleep as we ready for The End.
What this passage means essentially sums up the Christian religion. We are a religion of promise. We believe that Jesus Christ is coming again for the sake of our salvation. We believe that Christ will bring the dead back to life.
The closing passages ties the rest of the passage together in how there are two basic approaches to the End Times. The first approach is one of fear/fright. The first approach is highly legalistic seeking to get believers to fear the end so that they are not “left behind”. The second approach to the End is one of comfort and assurance in God’s promises. What Martin Luther would have described as the tree-planting approach to the End.
The reason that we should always be on the look out for the End Times is because it is precisely at the moment of Jesus’ return when the sky is darkened and the heavens shake that we are reminded that when Jesus was nailed to the Cross that God’s love changed all of creation. We look towards the End today by remembering how the End of the World cannot be separated from the reality of the Cross and Resurrection. We look together towards the day when Sin, Death, and the Devil will be destroyed once and for all, so that the final victory will be won for all believers. We should always be on the look out for the End of the World as a source of comfort and assurance to reinforce the other promises of God’s grace continually made known throughout the scriptures.
We come back to our question for today?
What if there were twenty-four hours left to save the world? How would you spend these hours? Would you set out to try to fix the messes of your life, of your relationships, and of your faith? Or would take comfort in the promises of God’s grace? Would you look towards the promise of forgiveness, the promise of Resurrection, and the hope that lies ahead? Would you plant an apple tree? Would you plant this tree as a reminder that there is nothing to fear in regard to what lies ahead because of the love of a God who promises to see us through not just the End of the World but beyond it? Amen
 The following statement of Luther’s is apocryphal. This is similar to another famous statement of Luther’s “It is better to be ruled by a wise Turk, rather than a foolish Christian”. Whether Luther said these things is debatable, but these quotes do express Luther’s approach to the End-Times and politics.
 Matthew 24:31, 1 Thessalonians 4:16
 This episode of The Simpsons “Thank God, It’s Doomsday” is the nineteenth episode of The Simpsons sixteenth season. The episode originally aired on May 8, 2005.