Sermon Text: Mark 13:24-27
Date: November 14 & 15, 2015
Saints Triumphant Sunday, Year B
Mark 13:24–27 (NIV84)
24 “But in those days, following that distress,
“ ‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
26 “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.”
We Stand in the Power and Glory of the Son of Man
Being on the winning side can feel very powerful. A few years ago, Karen and I went up to Oakland to watch a football game between the Raiders and my hometown Cleveland Browns. We were in enemy territory, but Cleveland won the game. It was a lot of fun, especially seeing your team as what appeared to be the weaker team as the visitors come and win. And as fans, you felt like you had an odd, undefinable connection to that win.
Jesus describes for us a picture of what the end of time is going to look like, a more graphic picture of Judgment Day than perhaps we had even last week. But no matter how dark, or gloomy, or scary, or alien the world and environment around us is going to feel, we can be confident, excited, and even powerful because we will stand in the power and glory of the Son of Man, Jesus, our Savior.
Jesus begins his description with a note about timing: “in those days, following that distress.” What distress is he referring to? In the verses prior to our lesson, we hear the words that served as our Gospel on Reformation Sunday, “Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many…. 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. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.” As rough as that time sounded before, Jesus didn’t stop there. Between those words and the words of our lesson this morning, Jesus has more grave warnings about what is to come: “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible.”
Jesus warns his Jewish audience living in Jerusalem that disaster is coming. Jesus is put to death in 33AD. By the time we get to 70AD, not even 40 years later, the Romans are going to come and destroy Jerusalem and its temple, so that even to this day the Jewish temple in Jerusalem has never been rebuilt. Jesus invokes powerful imagery to describe this destruction. “The abomination that causes desolation” was a phrase used by the prophet Daniel describing what the Greek ruler, Antiochus IV would do in the temple. In 168BC, more than 150 years before Jesus was born, Antiochus would come to the Jewish temple, slaughter pigs on the altar, thus defiling the entire place. The festival of Hanukkah comes out of this desolation as a celebration of the purification of the temple after this ceremonial desolation.
But what Jesus speaks of is no mere ceremonial desolation. The Romans will come and leave “not one stone on another” as Jesus foretold at the very beginning of Mark 13 because they would melt down the mortar between the bricks of the temple to retrieve the gold with which it was laced.
For the people living in Jerusalem, this would’ve felt like the end of the world. Everything they would have known would be gone, wiped away by this invading army. But this, like the false prophets and the rumors of wars were just signs that the end was coming. The real end would be much more dramatic and, perhaps, terror-inducing: “ ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’” Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah with words of disaster: stars falling, the sun and moon ceasing to shine. The world as mankind has known it for millennia will be gone.
But then, something happens, something different appears. A light source shines in the heaven that is not star, moon, or sun. “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” When Jesus would later ascend into heaven, the angels who appeared to the disciples promised that he would return just as they saw him go—into the clouds. And here, before that, Jesus promises that he will return in the clouds. But he will return with great power and glory, not in the state of weakness and humiliation we see him in from birth to crucifixion and burial.
What does all of this mean for us? It means that our Savior was not defeated. It means that he came and did exactly what he set out to do—rescue us from all of our sins. It means that we do not need to fear, no matter what happens around us, be it armies destroying our cities; terrorists slaughtering tens, hundreds, or thousands of people around the world; or even sun itself ceasing to shine. Because the one who loved us, called us, died for us, this same Jesus is coming again with power and glory. That power and glory will cause every knee to bow and acknowledge that he is the Savior of all.
But for many people, the bowing in reverence to his glory and power will be bowing in fear and subjugation. Because here, the people’s rejection of Jesus as Savior is shown for the terrible idea that really is. God is not a God to be mocked. He is not a God whose will we can shirk and decide that I don’t want to do what he directs me to do because it’s easier for me, or feels less awkward, or makes me happier. The God who commanded these things will come as Judge and he will come with power to punish those who spurn him.
We’d like to think that that’s not us, and yet so often it is. We let sinful thoughts and weaknesses govern our decisions. We try to pretend like his return is so far away that we can do what we want for now and worry about his will later. But Jesus makes it clear that’s not the case. We don’t know when he’s coming back, but he’s coming. The time to put our house in order and prepare our hearts is now, not later. There may not be a “later.”
Our hearts are prepared in his Word. His Word condemns our sins and our apathetic attitude toward him that rears its ugly head day in and day out. His Word has us drag those sinful habits and drown them in the depths of the waters of our Baptisms. His Word assures us that he has forgiven every one of our sins. His Word assures us that his return in power and glory for us won’t be scary, but joyful.
Jesus goes on: “[The Son of Man] he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” Jesus will direct his angels to harvest the crop that his Word has made ripe. The angels will gather his people—all who clung to him as Savior by the faith the Holy Spirit created and sustained in Word and Sacrament—and bring them to be with him. So that great, awe-inspiring power and glory with which Jesus returns is not turned against us, but rather it is for us. We are able to stand with our Savior not because we’ve been perfect, but because he’s made us perfect in his death and resurrection for us. And so we bask in his glory and benefit from his power. In that moment it will be inescapably clear that the promises and assurances that Jesus gave us in his Word are absolutely true: he does love us; he has been caring for us; he will be with us in the perfection of eternal life forever.
We triumph in Jesus’ victory. We conquer by Jesus’ might. We are his now and will be forever. Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come and bring us to your heavenly home! Amen.