Sermon Text: Mark 13:5-11
Date: October 31 & November 1, 2015
Reformation of the Church, Year B
Mark 13:5–11 (NIV84)
5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
Take Your Stand On the Truth
We are surrounded by lies every day, and we know it. So when a commercial comes on advertising a new product with claims that sound too good to be true, we raise an eyebrow and assume that it isn’t true. Parents question the weak excuses of a child when the child has been known to exaggerate or simply lie to try to get out of trouble. Children question the validity of claims and promises made by parents who have proven in the past to be untrustworthy. The world at large seems to be looking for the next sucker of which it can take advantage.
Jesus, in our Gospel this morning, warns about these exact problems, but also gives us an encouragement. When lies surround us, when we are tempted perhaps to lie or distort the truth for our own benefit or self-preservation, don’t give in. Rather than embracing the lie, hold on to and take a stand on the truth. Because the truth which Jesus is talking about—the truth of sins forgiven in his life, death, and resurrection—is the truth which would have horrendously negative eternal consequences if it was lost.
Jesus had begun to teach his disciples about the end times, that all things in this life would eventually come to an end. Peter, Andrew, James, and John came to Jesus with a question in the verse just prior to our lesson. They ask what will be the signs that the end of the world is at hand. Jesus explains: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.”
One of the clearest signs of the end are claims by false prophets claiming to speak for Jesus, or perhaps even claiming to be Jesus. But, as Jesus says, these will be deceptions. How can we know if something that someone says is something new from God or a lie? We go back to the truth on which we stand. We test what we’re being told with God’s Word and see if it agrees. Might there be someone to whom God speaks directly in our day? Perhaps. Might someone, as Paul mentioned in his letters, be given a gift to speak in tongues by the Holy Spirit and speak something in addition to what is in Scripture? Perhaps. But we know that in all of these things, nothing is going to contradict what God has clearly said in his Word.
The world will have many false Christs and false ideas about what true love and peace looks like. Any claim that there will be world peace, Jesus says, is a worldly lie that seeks to exalt this life above eternity. Things in this world are just going to get worse, not better. Sin is going to take hold more and more clearly and publicly. The love of most will grow cold. The desire for the truth will continue to fade into the desire to hear what people’s ears want to hear. This is the world we live in.
As we celebrate the Reformation of the Church this weekend, we might well have in mind Martin Luther’s work. Luther and the reformers around him took their stand against the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman church taught (as it still does) that mankind is justified, forgiven, by the works they accomplish. Have you sinned? Rome’s answer is penance, some good work or prayers that will then remove that sin. It’s a system of forgiveness that in part or in whole takes Jesus out of the picture and puts the hope of your forgiveness squarely on your shoulders. It’s a teaching that is appealing to your and my natural sense that we want to make things right when we have sinned. This is a crystal clear example of mankind taking the place of Jesus, making themselves a substitute Savior. “Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.”
The truth is there is no end to the problems in this world. As Jesus says, there will be wars and rumors of wars. His encouragement to the four he’s speaking to stands for us as well: “Do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” Things will continue to be difficult in this life because of sin—because of our sin. How many of the struggles and problems you have in your life are the result of your sin or your sinful response to someone else? It’s at those times especially that we need the truth of God’s Word. We need the reality of our sins being wiped out in Jesus. Without Jesus, we’d be left on our own and left with a death sentence on our heads. But, because of Jesus’ death in our place, we are declared forgiven. God has redeemed us, bought us back from sin, death, and the devil. We are his because he has made us a part of his family solely by his love for us, not because of anything else we have done.
Despite how eternally important this message is, it’s not something the world wants to hear. The world wants to be told how good it is, how blessed it is. The world wants every “atta-boy” and “atta-girl” it can get. And so when this message of real sin and total inability on our part to change anything without God comes to light, the world runs from it—or runs toward it to attack. Jesus said, “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.” This gospel message, this truth, will land people in jail. It will get people beaten. It will even cost people their lives. We can see this happening even today around the world as people are put to death for being a Christian.
But notice how Jesus prefaced that warning, “You must be on your guard,” or perhaps more literally, “Watch yourselves.” What do we have to be on our guard about? What do we have to watch ourselves for? We’re not going to be able to change the fact that there will be suffering, hardship, and persecution for our faith as Christians; Jesus made it clear that that is an inescapable reality. But if you’re being dragged into court for your faith, if your life is being threatened because of Jesus, if you’re on the brink of losing your job or your friends or some social status because you trust that God’s Word is the truth on which you take your stand, what is the temptation? The ever-present temptation is to give up on that truth, compromise is some small (or big) way to avoid the bad things that Jesus said would happen. The temptation is always there to take a stand on lies rather than the truth to save our skin.
But notice that the suffering that Christians endure for standing firmly on the truth is for a purpose. Jesus says, “You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” Even this suffering, even trial and pain, misery, even death all serve the purpose of preaching the gospel. An uncompromising stance on the truth, even in the face of nearly certain punishment, means you’re given yet another opportunity to witness to what Christ has done. It’s another opportunity to share God’s forgiving love with the world.
On this Reformation weekend, we can’t help but think of Martin Luther, not in 1517 nailing the 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, but later, in 1521, in the German city of Worms. There, Luther, having firmly established his rediscovery of the gospel message in Scripture and publicly proclaiming sins forgiven wholly and solely in Jesus, stood on trial before the Emperor himself. If found guilty before this diet, Luther would not only be labeled a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church, but a wanted man by the secular government (largely because the church and state was very much comingled in that day—to disastrous results).
It would have been the easy thing (maybe even the smart thing by some lines of thought) for Luther to recant what he had written and said. But, as he boldly said in his second day of testimony, he was held captive not to any church or government authority, but to the Scriptures. He could not in good conscience speak against God’s Word. For the sake of the people who didn’t yet fully know their Savior, he could not recant his message that we are saved only by God’s grace, a gift received only through faith.
And so Luther took his stand on the truth, and God worked good from it. There were certainly consequences brought about by his uncompromising stand on the truth. The apostles’ stands on the truth brought consequences as well—even death! But in all of it, be it for Martin Luther, the other faithful who went before him including the prophets and apostles, God still worked good from difficult consequences for standing up for the truth. God is no less willing and no less able today to work good from the bad that comes from standing up for our faith and making a clear confession to the truth of his Word.
You and I have been called to be faithful to our Savior’s Word. God forgive us for the times we’ve shrunk away from the opportunity to be his witnesses and the times we’ve taken a stand on falsehood rather than truth. In Jesus we know that those sins are forgiven and we are truly redeemed and reconciled with our heavenly Father. And that is the truth we stand on; that is the truth that we share.
Lord, help us to be your faithful witnesses here and everywhere, now and forever. Amen.