Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 28)

Text: Mark 13:1-8
As Jesus was leaving the Temple, one of his disciples said, "Look, Teacher! What wonderful stones and buildings!" Jesus answered, "You see these great buildings? Not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one of them will be thrown down."
Model of Herod's temple


The end is still to come

There are certainly some very beautiful things to see in our country and other places around the world. In Europe there are castles and churches that have stood for centuries. They existed long before Australia was known to the rest of the world.
It is an amazing feeling to walk on a set of steps where kings, princes and popes walked centuries ago.
It is amazing walking around Lutherís house in Wittenberg and walk through the rooms where Luther and Katie lived, worked, played with their children, and talked theology with students.
It is a wonderful thing to walk around a medieval village weaving along the narrow streets and stumbling on the cobble stones knowing that people 5 or 6 or 7 centuries ago went about their daily tasks along those streets and were born, lived and died in those houses. I guess Iím a bit of a history buff and it is remarkable experience to walk amongst buildings which here in Australia we only read in history books.

St. Markís Gospel locates us in Jerusalem, near the time of Jesusí crucifixion. Jesus and his disciples were leaving one of the most magnificent structures in biblical times. The disciples couldn't help but marvel at its majesty.

The temple had been torn down twice by invading armies. King Herod undertook the rebuilding, expansion and beautification of the temple at about the time of Jesusí birth. It was completed about the time the incident recorded took place. It was acknowledged as one of the most beautiful building complexes in the entire world.

There were gates and arches, tunnels and stairways, the stones were gleaming white with extensive gold overlay. The outside was decorated with marble walls and columns. The eastern side of the temple was plated with gold and the ten gates into the temple were covered in gold or silver. It must have been quite a sight as the gleaming white marble and stunning metal work flashed in the Middle Eastern sun. For the people of Jerusalem the temple was a sign of the glory that would return to Israel.

The disciples were obviously impressed and overawed at the sight of this remarkable building. "Look Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!"

What Jesus said next almost amounted sacrilege.
"You see these great buildings?" he said. "Not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one of them will be thrown down."

What a thing to say! This magnificent house of God would be destroyed! This was completely unthinkable.

If that isnít bad enough, Jesus goes on to talk about the end of all things. He warns the disciples,
"When you hear about wars and threats of wars, don't be afraid. These things will have to happen first, but that isn't the end.  Nations and kingdoms will go to war against each other. There will be earthquakes in many places, and people will starve to death. But this is just the beginning of troubles"
(Mark 13:7,8).

The whole of chapter 13 of Markís Gospel contains all kinds of signs that will indicate when the end is near. He warned about times when the followers of Jesus will be persecuted and brought before judges and kings. Family members will turn against each other. (Mark 13:12).

He told of unnatural things happening in the heavens. "The sun will grow dark, the moon will no longer shine, the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers in space will be driven from their courses" (Mark 13:24,25).
Peter, who was there that day admiring the temple, adds, "The Day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that Day the heavens will disappear with a shrill noise, the heavenly bodies will burn up and be destroyed, and the earth with everything in it will vanish" (2 Peter 3:10).  Jesus gives all kinds of signs when the end will come near, but at what precise moment these things will happen; only God the Father knows.

We have seen a lot of these predictions come true Ė there have been wars, and earthquakes, natural disasters of all kinds Ė floods, famines, drought, storms, tsunamis, you name it. Itís obvious that there is still more to come. Christians have been persecuted and these will continue to happen. In fact, if we take seriously all the predictions of the Bible about the end of the world, we are left with a terrifying picture of "the day when the heavens will burn up and be destroyed, and the heavenly bodies will be melted by the heat" to use the word of the apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:12).

It would seem that everything solid, even something as solid as the temple,
every human relationship even the people close to us in our families,
every thing that we put our trust in,
every thing that we love in this life,
every thing that we thought would go on forever,
will all be suddenly wiped away when the end of the world finally comes.
The disciples thought that the temple would stand forever but it would be just a few short years and the Romans would strip the temple of all its precious metals and tear it down stone by stone, never to be rebuilt again.

Scary, isnít it? Things that we think are so permanent in our lives, in actual fact, are only temporary. Itís hard to imagine what life would be like without those things and those people that give us the sense of security and permanency. The things we own, our wealth, our accomplishments, all the things we think are important really are very temporary. In a moment they can be taken away and Ďthe rug is pulled out from under usí so to say. We discover that the things that we thought were so solid and important are not the things that we can really rely on.

I have been told on many occasions by people with serious conditions in hospital beds that they had come to the conclusion that all the things that they once thought important were not important at all. None of those things could prevent their cancer or even their death. All the things that were so important to them before their illness have no relevancy whatsoever to their current situation. Even the doctors canít provide the permanency that we would like.

It is then that faith in Jesus and the assurance, comfort and the hope that he offers is all that matters. The promises of Jesus that we have heard a thousand times before suddenly take on new meaning and importance as all the other things that we once thought important are relegated to the sidelines. Our God and his promises of love, strength to endure, and the joy of eternal life in the end are all that we need.

This is what Jesus is really getting at when he says, "Not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one of them will be thrown down." As wonderful as the successes and the things of this life are, they are not permanent. And we are so easily led by the lie that the things of this world are so important and that we could never exist without them. Just go to a Third World country where there are no wide screen TVs or electric gadgets; there is not even electricity and clean water yet the people are still happy even though there are so many uncertainties in their lives. They donít need these things to be happy. Iím not saying we shouldnít be grateful for the pleasures and joys that we have in this country, but we need to be careful that being happy and contented does not depend on these things. Paul talked about being content and satisfied at all times no matter whether he was in need or had enough. What gave him true contentment was knowing Jesus and his love and with that he could face all kinds of conditions.

He said this,
"Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless.  Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my LORD. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ and to know that I belong to him" (Philippians 3:7,8).

When Jesus talks about what will happen in the future, I donít believe for one minute that he is telling us horror stories to terrify us like kids huddled around a campfire listening to scary ghost stories. He is simply pointing out what we so easily forget. Our journey through life in this world is short, we are travellers passing through, and that our true home is in heaven and our true wealth is knowing Jesusí love and care for each of us.

The biblical writers have recorded the details about the end of the world to reassure us that in the end what is important is not so much what is coming but who is coming. Jesus says, "Then the Son of Man will appear, coming in the clouds with great power and glory.  He will send the angels out to the four corners of the earth to gather God's chosen people from one end of the world to the other." This fulfils the promise that Jesus made,
"I am going to prepare a place for you, when I come back I will take you to myself, so that you will be where I am" (John 14:3).

The lead up to the end of the world might be scary in one sense but Jesus will always be ready to help us get through it. When the last day finally arrives Jesus will return. He is our loving Saviour. Those whom he loves and those who trust in him have nothing to fear during these last days when everything is in chaos. Not even the idea of the Last Judgement can fill us with fear, because we know that all the sins that could possibly condemn us and send us to everlasting punishment have been washed away with the blood of Jesus.

Yes, everything that we thought would last forever will pass away, but we will be taken up into heaven to a life that will last forever. St Paul puts it like this,
"There will be the shout of command, the archangel's voice, the sound of God's trumpet, and the Lord himself will come down from heaven. Those who have died believing in Christ will rise to life first; then we who are living at that time will be gathered up along with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. So then, encourage one another with these words" (1 Thess 4:16-18).

Note those words Ė "we will always be with the Lord."
In spite of catastrophic happenings in the world Ė earthquakes, wars, and famines;
in spite of persecutions, suffering, and betrayals;
in spite of fire, the earth melting, and heavenly bodies dissolving in a flash of blinding light, and as terrifying as all this can be,
"we will always be with the Lord", nothing, absolutely nothing will separate us from the protection, the power, and the love of Jesus.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
19th November, 2006

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