See Clearly in the End
Forms of the Greek word for see' show up 3 times in our text. So do forms for end' as well as for betray.' Put these all together and what do you get in the end? What Johnny Nash sang about in 1972. The realization that you can see clearly now.
See nothing endures in the end. The first form of the word end' comes from the disciples. It's translated fulfilled;' it's literally "when will these things end together, completely?' Jesus uses the example of the Temple. The Jewish historian Josephus writes that its gold dazzled the eyes. Some of its stones measured 90 feet by 10 feet. Not even all this beauty, all this majesty dedicated to the true God would endure to the end. Josephus tells us that after the Romans destroyed it nothing was left to persuade later visitors that anything had ever been there.
"Dust in the Wind" almost catches this Biblical truth: "All we do crumbles to the groundDust in the wind/ All we are is dust in the wind." I say that 70's hit almost catches it because of the line: "Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky." Sorry, not even that endures to the end. In the final end it all melts with a fervent heat. And not just material things end up dust in the wind. So do are our hopes, dreams, careers, achievements, and plans.
Do you see how the Lord who is love sets them up to crush their views? A disciple points Jesus to the size and grandeur of the buildings, and Jesus says, "Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another, every one will be thrown down." Do you see our beautiful church? Do you see the majestic Austin skyline? Do you see all that you have built, bought, or beautified? When God's holy judgment falls whatever is tainted with sin, corrupted by the fall ends completely.
How much time do I spend on what Jesus says will never endure to the end? We think we're building lives and legacies out of iron and steel that will last forever; we're really building sandcastles on the beach. A child may be surprised when the rising tide takes his castle, but no adult is.
That leads to the second thing to see. See that birth pains are not the end. Listen to the troubling things Jesus describes. Wars and rumors of wars; nation rising up against nation, kingdom against kingdom. Earthquakes in various places and famines. Jesus points all of these things out and then says tersely and emphatically, "Necessary to happen these things, but on the absolute contrary this is not yet the end."
When a big wave takes a piece of the sandcastle, that's not the end. So the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa, and Asia are not the end of the world. The hundreds of earthquakes rattling Oklahoma or the killer ones striking South America aren't the end of the world. The famine that is always in one part of Africa or another isn't the end. What's more, Jesus says it's not even full labor yet. He says, "These are the beginning of the birth pains."
While the disciples invited Jesus to look and admire what men had built, Jesus says look at war, earthquakes, and famine and stop being alarmed. All these things that have been going on since the Fall aren't even real labor, they're Braxton Hicks contractions; they are, You-can-go-home-from-the-hospital contractions. Why is Jesus so dismissive of things that have us glued to our phones, computers, and TV when they happen? Precisely because we do treat them as the end of the world, and this physical mistake sets us up for a spiritual one.
See how Jesus starts this section with, "Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in My name, claiming, I am He,' and will deceive many." "Watch out" is really the second use of "see." The NASB translates it, "See to it that no one misleads you." When the world is in physical turmoil the spiritual deceivers rise to the top as when you heat a precious metal the impurities rise to the top. Close behind the outbreak of the First Gulf War came the predictions that war in the Middle East was a sure sign of the end. Today I hear on the radio nationally known men, respected in their professions, saying government is going to end the world as I know it.
Read your Old Testament. The Old Testament Church strayed spiritually when they were stressed physically. When there was no food, not the right type of food, or not enough water, they lusted after the fleshpots of Egypt. When they were at the foot of Sinai for over a month, they felt abandoned by Moses and the True God, so they fashioned the Golden Calf. When the Land of Milk and Honey appeared to be in the hands of men before whom the spies felt as grasshoppers, the faith of the Old Testament Church folded like a cheap suit.
Numbers (14:2-4) records the return of the spies and the folding of faith. Hear it yourself: "And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?' So they said to one another, Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.'"
That can't happen here; says who? You? Jesus says, "Watch out because false teachers will try using the beginning of the birth pains." Keep the birth pains in perspective Jesus says. "Such things must happen." Not one of these troubling things is outside of your Savior's realm, control, or purpose. And you can dismiss them as no more serious than a wave breaking on part of your sandcastle.
The theme is "See Clearly in the End" so we have to look all the way to ours. The third use of the word see is "You must be on guard." Literally, it is "See to yourselves.' See what? See the first use of the word betray." "See you will be handed over." The last use of the word "end" also comes in this section. It's wrongly translated "he who stands firm to the end will be saved." The article is not there as it was when Jesus says, "The end is still to come." This section is not talking about the final end, but your end. In their end Christians go the way of Christ: betrayed by family, hated by men, rejected by the official church, and handed over to the State for punishment.
Think you can stand that? It's already happening. The mainline churches already think you're a fanatic if you believe that the truth can be known and it doesn't contradict. Family members have already betrayed you to the class of nut job if you take the things of the Faith more seriously than anything else. The State says you're no different than a racist if you don't believe Adam and Steve can really be married. Think you can keep standing till your end with the fear, the doubts, and the loneliness dogging your every step, nagging your every thought?
Yes, we go the way of Christ but first go with Christ. He was betrayed because of your sins. He was betrayed by His best friend and most loyal followers because we have betrayed God in thought, word, and deed. He was punished all the way to hell and the grave to pay every last pain, fear, and death you owed. If you think what happens to you in your end is about paying for your sins, you will never last in the Faith. You will give way to the delusion that your suffering though tainted by sin and ruined by pride has paid for your sin. Or you will despair of being saved because you can't suffer long enough, hard enough, faithfully enough.
Think the truth instead: Jesus was betrayed because of your sins; you will be betrayed because Jesus' blood and righteousness are your beauty and glorious dress. Jesus was betrayed to the dirty, brutal, pitiless hands of Sin, Death, and the Devil in your place. You, for Jesus' sake, are "betrayed" into the clean, gentle, merciful hands of forgiveness, life, and the angels. This is true even when you're in the condemning hands of family, church, and state.
But still? Who really knows if they will stand firm to the end and so be saved? Because we make this last verse the antiphon of the Introit this question hangs over this text like a damp, heavy pall. Can you stand on an ever quaking earth? Can you stand before church, state, and home accusing you of things you did not do? Or if you prefer the more accurate translation endure," can you endure to your end?
Remember the setting here. This is the last week of Jesus' ministry. Maundy Thursday where Jesus tells them they all will betray Him is only days away. And here Jesus is telling them about the most vicious betrayals imaginable, not by the organized church or the State, but by brothers, by fathers, by children. They will have them put death, says Jesus. This happened in Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia. Look for it here, says Jesus. Which of you really thinks they can stand, will endure that?
Do you really think Jesus points those He knows will betray Him in days to their standing firm? Do you think He is seeking Peter-like hollow vows of " I will never forsake you?" Jesus knows where such promises end, and so He points them not to themselves but to Himself." "Stands" isn't present tense, but past. It's, "He that did endure to the end; he shall be saved."
Who is the "he" that endured to the end? Hebrews 12:2 says, "Jesus for the joy set before Him endured the cross." Hebrews 12:3 invites us to "consider Him who had endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary or lose heart."
Think about it. Jesus starts by tearing down the Temple they thought would last forever; He warns them of false teachers that will prey upon them in the midst of trying physical times; then He takes them to betrayal after betrayal. Jesus is trying to bring about what we sang about: "When every earthly prop gives way, / He then is all my Hope and Stay." Jesus knocks away the props of the organized church, the state, your family, and at last you. And all you're left with is the One who endured to His end, will endure to your end, and is there at the end of all things. See Him clearly now at all 3 ends. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year (20151108); Mark 13:1-13