Twenty-Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
November 18, 2018
“Firm To The End”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
That whole thing of asking you a question to begin my sermon worked last Sunday. I could tell that when I asked the question I woke some people up just as they were falling asleep. So, I’m going to try it again. Last Sunday the question was, “What would you never want to run out of?” I heard about never wanting to run out of chocolate, or of toilet paper – at the worst possible time, of course. I heard about never wanting to run out of hope or love.
So, here is today’s question. What would cause you to give up your faith? What would have to happen that you would leave the church never to enter the doors again, never to come to the Lord’s Table ever again, never to be involved in any type of Christian fellowship, even for one more time?
You probably know that many people in our world, in this generation, are making that choice of leaving Christ and His church. Some have had it with the leadership of the church – pastors and Priests – who are just a bunch of liars. Some have had it with the politics that come out of the pulpit. Some don’t like the church telling them what to do. They give up the faith. They don’t come back.
I remember talking to one of our members who was pained that her own daughter had left the church. She had her baptized and confirmed, took her to youth group in high school but later she resented God and the church and left. Our member’s daughter had a daughter who had gotten ill, when she was just young, and that little girl died. She could never forgive God for taking her most precious gift from her. She always thought of God as being strong and mighty, as well as loving and good. But her daughter died and she didn’t see God as mighty anymore. She always had looked at Him as loving, but she only felt emptiness now and could not feel His love. That tragedy caused her to give up her faith.
Well, the question of what it would take for people in Jesus’ day to step away from God was raised. In Mark 13 Jesus talks about some awful events that were going to come to Jerusalem and to God’s people in the coming years and then at the end of time. Such events would shake their faith and leave them wondering about God’s presence and mercy. One of the disciples of Jesus looked at the size and splendor of the Temple and said, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (Mark 13:1b) And this was no exaggeration!! The Temple in Jerusalem, the Temple built under Herod the Great, was absolutely amazing. Solomon’s Temple had been destroyed in 586 B.C. and then rebuilt a few hundred years later but it became old and dated and now Herod was going to make it greater than anything ever built. He doubled the size of the Temple area to 145 acres, making it the largest man-made platform in the ancient world. Some of the huge blocks of stone that made up the wall of the Temple weighed 50 tons – 100,000 pounds. Huge!! The Temple was plated with gold, when the sun was shining on it you could not look directly at it. “What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” No exaggeration. But it wasn’t just the size and the beauty that was important. It was what happened there that gave God’s people hope and faith. God blessed His people there. He came to them. Forgave sins. The sacrifices for the people were made regularly for the remission of sins. Without that place faith and life might die.
Jesus answers that disciple who marveled at what they saw with this, “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left upon another; every one will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2) How could anyone take 50 ton blocks and make them into pebbles? This place was going to last forever. It proved God’s greatness. When they saw it they were reminded about their God – strong and mighty.
Within 40 years after these words of Jesus, a battle that left 1 million Jews in Jerusalem dead, all of Jerusalem was destroyed. Not one stone was left upon another. The Temple was destroyed, never to be rebuilt. What Jesus spoke was true.
At the end of all His warnings Jesus speaks the word, “And he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mark 13:13b) Firm to the end. Keeping a faith in our God until life’s end. Holding to a confession that doesn’t disappear before we leave this world. Jesus is concerned that they would give up their faith. It is like Jesus in John’s Revelation who would say, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10b) Firm to the end.
But standing firm to the end is not so easy. That is why God gave us Mark 13. It comes as a warning against everything that will challenge the faith. “Watch out that no one deceives you.” (Mark 13:5) Jesus warns against false religions and false Christs, keeping people from standing firm. He talks about all the calamities on earth. “Wars and rumors of wars.” “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom.” Persecution of believers will be common. In our reading from the Old Testament book of Daniel we are told, “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.” (Daniel 12:1b) Standing firm is not so easy when all you see is trouble and problems and loss. When God becomes silent and you don’t see Him in a miraculous way it becomes hard to believe. Is He present? Is He good?
Many years ago there was a cartoon that depicted a scruffy, robed and bearded sidewalk prophet carrying a sign that read, “Bad news! The world is not coming to an end, and you’ll have to cope.”
Our dear friend, Doris Carlson, died this past Monday morning. In my visits to her at her home over the last number of weeks I saw her get weaker and weaker. When I saw her initially she was sitting in her chair. Last Friday she was in her hospital bed. For the last number of weeks she couldn’t eat due to the growth of the cancer. She told me, “I just want this to be over.” She felt sick for the last number of months of her life and she was tired of it. About 4:00 a.m. on November 12, God said “Yes” to her prayer, and the suffering was over and the glory began.
Doris was firm to the end. And God calls us to be the same. We are called to cope while still living. Here. Among our family or friends. Within the church. Upon the earth. Ephesians 6:10 says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”
Firm to the end means that we stand in God’s grace and promises and Spirit. We don’t face our challenges alone. It would be foolish to make our defense against everything that we have to face in life simply by the strength of our own two hands!! Jesus, talking to those who would be persecuted for their faith said, “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say, but say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13:11)
Firm to the end means living in the promise of our Baptism. It means trusting Jesus is our Savior and knowing we have a God who will never let anything, or anyone, snatch us from His hand. Firm to the end is confessing, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
In Corrie ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place, Corrie tells of her first encounter with death. As a girl, she and her mother visited the family of an infant who died. The idea of losing a loved one just overwhelmed Corrie. Sobbing, she told her father that he couldn’t die, because she just couldn’t handle it. Her father reminded her of their trips to Amsterdam, and how he always gave her ticket to her just before they boarded the train. Her father told her that God does the same for us when a loved one dies; giving us the strength we need, just in time.
What would cause you to give up your faith? Until that day when you take your last breath many things will try to rob you of your hope, your peace, your confidence, your faith, your Jesus. The devil will try, repeatedly, to take your faith away. But you have someone stronger. God’s Spirit is dwelling in you. Remember, “Greater is the one that is in you, than the one who is in the world.” (I John 4:7b)
Jesus, as He spoke about difficult days ahead for His followers told them, “He who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Stand firm all the way to the end. Amen!!