Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 24:45 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The disciples have questions for Jesus, just like we have questions. When Jesus tells them that the impressive buildings and stones of the temple are going to be thrown down, they want to know two things: when are these things going to happen, and what will be the sign that they are about to happen. But just as we do not always get the answers to the questions we have, Jesus does not directly answer these questions of the disciples. He does not tell them when, and He only gives them some vague signs, which aren’t all that helpful, since they’re happening all the time: wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, persecutions.
Instead, Jesus tells them about what their response should be in the midst of all these things. Jesus tells them how they should respond: do not be deceived; do not be frightened; watch; do not worry beforehand how you’re going to respond; and the one enduring to the end will be saved.
Do not be deceived into believing any person claiming to be the Messiah, or claiming to be Jesus returned, or claiming to speak for God against what Jesus has said. Do not be deceived into turning away from Jesus’ words, even when everything around you seems to speak against what He has said. Watch, so that you are not deceived. When Jesus appears in glory, it will not be a secret. Everyone will know, and every eye will see, and every knee will bow. There will be no doubt. So watch.
And in the midst of all these frightening things, do not be frightened. People were terrified around the disciples, and people are terrified around us. It doesn’t matter whether people are on the political left or the political right, people are terrified that the other “side” is going to destroy this country. Everyone’s terrified. But Jesus tells His Christians not to be terrified, not to be frightened, not to be afraid in the midst of all these things. Is Jesus dead? Has God been dethroned? Have His promises failed?
But we should not forget that Jesus is speaking these particular things to His disciples at a particular time. Do not forget that Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies in 70 AD. And all these things happened to the disciples just as Jesus says. We can see it all in the Book of Acts. They were brought before the Sanhedrin, and into synagogues. They were arrested and imprisoned and beaten and stoned, and brought before rulers and kings. They bore witness to Christ and they were not afraid. The Spirit gave them the words they needed at just the right time.
We also have historians from the time, such as Josephus, who tells us about the wars, earthquakes, and famines. These things happened a long time ago. Some of these things, of course, are still happening and will happen. But Jesus focuses more on the response of His people, and it is all for this specific goal: that they endure to the end—of these events, of their lives, of the world. Enduring in the midst of whatever circumstances we face, at whatever time.
The word “enduring” in Greek is literally to “remain under.” So there is already the sense of being under something, a weight, a burden; something pressing down on us, making it difficult to stand up straight. And that could be something in the world, in our lives, in our families. It could be persecution. It could just be the burden of living this life subject to sin and death.
It is easy for us to want to quit, to want to get out, to give up. Endurance is hard, and seems to be getting harder. And when we turn our eyes to our circumstances, when we stop looking at Jesus and hearing His Word, we can hardly see the point of enduring. But that is a failure of faith in that Jesus. Despair is a sin against God’s promise to us in Jesus that He will be with us, that He will never leave us or forsake us. The cross presses down on us, and we cannot endure under our own power. It is too much for us. This world is too much for us. The devil is too much for us. Our sinful flesh is too much for us. As Paul wrote to Timothy, Because lawlessness daily increases, the love of many will grow cold.
Endurance to the end means that there is an object, a goal, a purpose for which we are enduring. And James gives us the key: he writes, you have heard about the endurance of Job. Job lost everything, including his health and his family. You have heard of the endurance of Job. But, James says, you have seen the end, the goal, the purpose of God, to which He is bringing you. Our endurance is weak and will fail if we are left to ourselves, but God’s end is found in Christ. He endured to the end; He endured the cross, despising its shame, for you and for me. He endured all things, even to death. But God raised Him from the dead. That is the end, the goal, the purpose. And because you have been baptized into Christ, resurrection is your end, as well. It is to that end that we endure, under the promise that Christ has made and gives us. He loves His own, who are in the world, to the end.
And today He gives you a little bit of the end to eat and drink on the way. He gives you His own resurrection body and blood to sustain and keep you. The true body and blood of the Lord keep you steadfast in the true faith until the end, until life everlasting. Enduring is hard, impossible even, apart from Christ’s sustaining promise. Sometimes, we think ahead, and a lifetime seems too much. A year seems to much. Maybe even a month or a day seem too much. Endure for this hour. Endure for the next hour. Endure in the strength of Christ.
Paul describes Christians this way: In hope, rejoicing; in tribulation, enduring; in prayer, busily engaged. And Paul promises that Jesus, who began His good work of salvation in you, will bring it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ. That is, not only on that day, when He reveals the fullness of His promises, but until that day. This is why we encourage and build up one another, exhorting one another to love and good works and not to neglect gathering together around Christ and His Word—and all the more as you see that Day drawing near. This is how our God sustains us and causes us to endure; He is our strength and our endurance each and every day, until that last Day. The one who promises is faithful. He will surely do it.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/12/21