Text: Mark 13:1-13
“I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let Your Holy One see corruption.” These were the words of King David in our psalm. We learn from the sermons of Peter and Paul in Acts that these verses were fulfilled in the resurrection of our Lord. The Lord did not let our Lord, Jesus, see the corruption of the grave, but raised Him from the dead on the third day – securing for us our own resurrection through faith in Him. These words were of King David and were fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection, but they can also be our words.
With the Gospel text today, we certainly can tell we’re approaching the end of the Church Year. At the end of the year, our minds turn toward the end of the world and the glorious return of Christ. We learn from His mouth today, though, that before His return there will be wars, rumors, famines and disasters. There will be great persecution of believers in Christ. Even families will be split; some will believe in Jesus, and they will be hated by those who don’t. These things have been happening already for some time; they are happening in now our time. Hidden in this somewhat distressing teaching of our Lord are a couple Gospel gems – and they’re the reason why Jesus is telling us these things. Though Jesus says that things will be bad before His return, He promises that they will never be out of His control, nor we outside His care.
Our text this week continues immediately from our text last week. Last week, Jesus ended His teaching in the temple by instructing His followers to beware of the scribes. They loved attention from people, but had no love in their hearts. In contrast, Jesus encouraged them to be like the poor widow who did fear, love, and trust in God. In St. Mark’s Gospel, this is the last time Jesus was in the temple. After He encouraged the disciples, He went out of the temple and, already, the disciples’ minds had shifted. One of them said to Jesus, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” Off the bat, it’s hard to fault them; the temple complex really was a marvel. It had been greatly enlarged by King Herod the Great. It was truly a feat of architecture and engineering.
Nevertheless, none of the temple buildings remain intact today. Its buildings and stones were obliterated and thrown down when the Romans came through in 70 AD. Jesus’ prediction in response to the Disciples was a foretelling of this. He said to the disciple who had been marveling over the temple, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” But, then, prompted by some of the Disciples, Jesus continued to teach about the End of the Age and time of His return.
Peter and Andrew, James and John were really looking for specific signs. But, as with other times He talked about it, Jesus didn’t give specifics, perhaps to keep people from trying to calculate His return. Instead, Jesus pointed increased stress levels through all parts of creation. There will be many claiming to either be Jesus (what the Greek says) or teach in His name, and they will lead many astray. There will be wars and rumors of wars. There will be earthquakes, famines, and various natural disasters. The end of the age will be marked also by an increased persecution of believers in Christ. Jesus gave us teaching which, even from His mouth, is hard to hear. He said, “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.”
The Gospel this week is not an easy one to hear. I imagine neither was it easy for the Disciples. Jesus just told them they would be hated by all for His sake. They would be beaten in the synagogues, dragged before councils, governors and kings. These words were true, as all of them died as martyrs, except St. John. Beyond all that, wars will encompass the earth, Jesus said, and there will be natural disasters at increasing rates and scales. If you have sensed that bad things seem to be happening more often in our world, perhaps you’re not wrong. Jesus gave these general signs not just to keep us from trying to calculate specific dates, but also to teach us that we are already in the End Times; we have been since His death and resurrection. That’s what it said the Hebrews reading last week. It said, “[Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
With a reading like this, it’s very easy to get caught up and not see the forest through the trees. We should ask ourselves: why is Jesus teaching this? Is this Law, meant to show us our sins; or is it Gospel, pointing us to Him? I would venture this is a Gospel admonition. Jesus is teaching this so that when these things are happening, we would neither be led astray into false teaching nor into despair and unbelief. There are two reasons we should believe this. The first is: Jesus is telling us what sort of things will happen before the end of the age, which means He knows what will happen. We should be encouraged by this, because then we know that nothing happens which is outside of His keeping.
This is not an easy teaching. We look around at all the bad things that happen, and the Old Adam within us tempts us to think that either God is not in control of the world or that He wills people to suffer without reason. The Scriptural perspective, however, is that God using world events to discipline us and teach us. True, sometimes He does use events to punish, but we can’t necessarily say what things and what for. Also, we know from Scripture that God is able to use things that seem bad to us to bring about His good purposes. Think of the story of Joseph in Genesis. St. Paul says, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.”
Jesus gives this teaching today, first, to assure us that all things are within His keeping. The world will seem to get worse before the end – before His return. But, nothing will happen outside of His control and keeping. Second, just as world events are under His control, so will we – through all these things – be in His care. The concern for the Disciples when they would be dragged before world rulers would be what to say. But, Jesus said, “Do not be anxious…but say whatever is given you in that hour.” Jesus would provide for them in their time of need, giving the words to say, so that they might bear witness to those before them and, perhaps, save some.
He who gives the words to say, will also provide all other needed things. Or, should we think that the Lord would provide the words to speak – but not all the other things needed things? Would He care so much to put His Word in our mouths, but not also give us food, clothing, shelter, rest, and peace? Would He not also provide for our ultimate need of forgiveness and salvation? No, He has and will provide for all these things and more. The Lord is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. He will not let us see the corruption of eternal death, but will bring us with our Lord into His eternal life.
This is a hard text. It’s a hard one to hear, and a hard one to believe. Yet, our Lord’s purpose in this is not to cause us fear or distress, but to teach us, to comfort us. Yes, before the End of the Age things will get progressively worse. Yet, nothing will happen outside of our Lord’s control, neither will we be outside His care. Instead, He will continue to provide for us all things needful, most especially, the forgiveness of our sins in His Word and Sacrament. David said, “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken”