Sermon from 14th Nov 2021 (Pentecost 25)

Mark 13:1-8 (EHV)

1 As Jesus was leaving the temple courts, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look what impressive stones these are, and what impressive buildings!”

Jesus said to him, “Do you see these large buildings? There will not be one stone here left on top of another. They will all be thrown down.”

As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be fulfilled?”

Jesus began by telling them, “Be careful that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.

“Whenever you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled. Such things must happen, but the end is not yet. In fact, nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places. There will be famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

Dear Heavenly Father, knowing many of our dreams will be shattered and our plans will come tumbling down, send your Holy Spirit on us so that we may be comforted and built up in you, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Have you ever been impressed by what humans have been able to do?

Maybe you’re impressed by the fact we’ve put men on the moon, sent machines to Mars and beyond, or that we can communicate over long distances with loved ones via video chats on tablets and phones. Maybe you’re impressed by some of the artwork popping up on silos, the grand designs of buildings and machinery, or how fast the world has responded to a threatening virus.

Just like us, the disciples were impressed. They’ve been impressed by what Jesus has said and done, but today we hear they’re impressed by a building – the temple in Jerusalem.

This temple could be seen from anywhere in the city and was the defining landmark and religious focal point of the whole region. In fact, it was even recognised as one of the wonders of the world at the time. No wonder the disciples marvelled at it!

But, as Jesus, the living heavenly Temple, left that earthly temple building for the last time on his way to the cross, he said this impressive building and primary location all for their worship of him would be demolished, destroyed, and thrown down into a pile of rubble!

Now, try putting yourselves into the disciples’ shoes and consider how this might affect them as they heard these shocking words from Jesus.

I mean, how would you feel if you’ve just heard this church building; the centre for all your religious life; where you and your children may have been baptised, confirmed, or even married; and where you regularly sing God’s praise and receive the precious and holy grace of God, was going to be a pile of rubble?

Can you imagine how demoralising and upsetting this news must have been for the disciples? After all, now that the promised Christ had come, shouldn’t this be the time of glory for the temple and its people? Now that they have Jesus, the Son of God, at their side, isn’t this the time when everything will finally go right for God’s chosen people?

Similarly, have you ever thought that, with Jesus at your side, everything should always go right? That, if you worship him rightly, if you follow all his instructions, and if you keep gathering to sing his praise, that God will always answer your prayers and bless you the way you want him to?

But have you instead discovered that, even with Jesus by your side, your own life can feel like it’s falling into a heap?

For example, you may have thought your health would last. You may have looked after yourself, done all the right things, but now your health suffers. It could be through sickness, injury, old age, or a single silly moment which affects the rest of your life. As your health suffers you may feel as if your independence is being stripped away and you’re becoming a burden to others. Your plans for the future may have now fallen in a heap.

Or perhaps work isn’t what you planned – whether it’s your paid employment or your voluntary service. You’ve worked hard, but you feel as if you’re not appreciated by others. People criticise your efforts. You’re sick of constant bickering and demands for political corrected-ness. The pressures and stresses have started affecting your health and robbed you of joy in your service. Your plans for success, or being recognised for your efforts, have fallen in a heap.

Perhaps your marriage is struggling. You had this ideal picture of what marriage would be like, but now it’s strained or threatened or destroyed. Maybe your spouse won’t change or changed too much. It could be your spouse has started withdrawing from you and seems to invest more and more emotional energy into something or someone else. You might argue and fight, or perhaps you purposely spend time away from each other to avoid those fights. The fairy tale of ‘living happily ever after’ is now only a childish memory replaced by the painful reality of today. Your plans for a happy marriage have been shattered and fallen in a heap.

Maybe your children’s lives haven’t turned out the way you had hoped. You tried to bring them up the right way. You provided for them. You did your best for them. But something went wrong. Your best-laid plans for your children have been shattered in their moments of weakness or they criticise what you did for them. You watch with agony as your children, grandchildren, siblings and relatives wander from things you consider important and vital. Your dreams and plans for them have been demolished and fallen in a heap.

Perhaps your experience of church isn’t what you hoped for. Maybe you thought all Christians should love each other and get along well, but you’ve seen and experienced the bitter pains of unforgiveness and disharmony within the body of Christ. While the church building may still stand firm, your hopes to constantly experience love and peace and joy and forgiveness within these walls have been shattered by the reality of worshipping with fellow sinners. Your desires for peace and love and harmony lie fallen in a heap.

Or perhaps a loved one’s died. You still had so much to say and do with them. You miss them and their physical presence. You miss their conversations, advice, and jokes. Your dreams for them, and your dreams you had with them at your side, have disappeared. You feel as if the pieces of your shattered heart now lie in a jumbled heap.

Although Jesus’ words came true and the temple was destroyed around AD70, the people and things we look to, and hope for, still come tumbling down today. Our best laid plans, our carefully constructed ideals, our faithful methods, our high standards, our beautiful homes, our precious belongings, our loving relationships, our Christian fellowships, and every earthly thing we rely on and look to for comfort and security, are all too often demolished, destroyed, taken away, shattered, or fall in a heap.

But did you really think that if you looked after your health properly, if you worked hard enough, if you did a lot for your spouse, if you brought up your children in the right way, if you believed in the right God, if you prayed the right prayers, and if you went to church every Sunday, that everything would be ok? Where did you get this expectation from? Haven’t the people of God always suffered disaster, heartache, and troubles?

When did Jesus ever promise you a perfect hassle-free and happy life? Didn’t he warn his disciples of troubles, pains, heartache, and strife? Didn’t he tell you buildings and kingdoms will come tumbling down? Didn’t he say wars and disease and disasters would happen? Didn’t he warn you not to place your trust in people or temporary things because they’ll let you down? Didn’t he warn you nothing in this life lasts? Didn’t he encourage you to put all your trust in him and his words which are the only things which truly last forever?

You might be tempted to think that when your beautiful buildings and dreams come crashing down that God’s abandoned you or doesn’t care, but this is far from the truth!

It could be that, like the disciples, your focus has shifted away from the living Temple who walks beside you, and you’ve instead been busy marvelling at, and trusting in, your own man-made temples and efforts and plans and dreams.

You may have been looking to the temporary people and things around you as your source of comfort and strength and joy and blessing instead of the eternal God who is with you. As you’re warned by the Psalmist, ‘Those who chase after another god will increase their sorrows’ Ps 16:4

Everyone places faith in something or someone. We’d like to think we’re always placing our trust in our Triune God, but we’re also always easily impressed by what we see and hear and experience. We’re easily impressed by technology, design, and grandeur. We’re captivated by convincing and emotional arguments. We’re spellbound by the love we feel for people.

This also means we’re frightened to lose what we’re looking to, impressed by, or relying on. And if any of these things are destroyed or lost, if any of them are taken away from us, or if people ever let us down, we’re devastated, overwhelmed, and frightened.

Then, if we keep looking for hope in the shattered remains of our buildings, our health, our plans, our efforts, and our relationships, of course we’ll lose hope. In them there’s no future. There never was. We were never meant to rely on them! We’re meant to rely on our Lord Jesus Christ who lives forever and never goes back on his word.

But how does this help you when your efforts and plans and relationships and hopes all lie in a crumbled heap?

Well, by faith in Jesus Christ, you believe Jesus is with you in your suffering. By faith in Jesus, you believe you’re forgiven for falling short of God’s glory. By faith in Jesus, you believe you have a great high priest who prays for you and with you to your heavenly Father. By faith in Jesus you know your prayers are heard because the Father listens to his Son. By faith in Jesus, you believe death and destruction don’t have the final word. By faith in Jesus, you believe because Jesus lives eternally, you’ll also live eternally in the house of God. By faith in Jesus, you believe when all your buildings and lives collapse, God has already fit you carefully into the new living temple of Christ himself. By faith in Jesus, you believe the pains you experience are like birth pains which are replaced by the joy of what Jesus delivers to you by grace.

Therefore, for you, suffering and death and destruction never have the final word. Even if your own constructions and hopes and plans were to collapse, you’re to trust in your God who cannot be defeated, even by death. When your world crumbles around you, you’re to look to Jesus who remains faithful and loving to you, even when you’re not.

When people let you down, when empires collapse, when viruses and political pressures rage around you, when churches become empty or close, and when your health suffers, you’re not to be alarmed or despair! Even if death itself were to stare you in the face, you don’t need to be afraid because you look to your eternal and unchanging God of love and peace and hope.

You do this because Jesus revealed himself as stronger than death. In the face of destruction, suffering and death, he is victorious. That stone which the builders rejected from their beautiful man-made temple, now becomes the cornerstone of a new and living Temple, a Temple made up living flesh like you and me as we’re now joined, brick by stubborn brick, into the ever-living Temple of Jesus Christ.

And here in his living Temple, you still receive forgiveness, life and salvation through faith as you continue to hear his Word and receive the benefits of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

You’re to look to Jesus as your cornerstone, the one solid and unchangeable Saviour who gives you hope and a future. Only through faith in him do you know sin, death and the devil are defeated. Goods, fame, churches and life may fall in a heap, but through faith in Jesus Christ you trust that life and forgiveness and salvation is still yours through faith.

Therefore, when you experience times of suffering, destruction and even death, you’re not to be alarmed or troubled, but you trust Jesus will lead you through this valley of the shadow of death into his resurrection, glory and everlasting life so that…

…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.