You Can Take This with You
Alexander the Great literally conquered the world in his thirties. He died at age 33. I read in a book of sermon illustrations that he instructed that when carried to his grave his hands were to be open and left dangling from the stretcher, so all could see you can't take it with you. I think that story is made up. Besides according to our text there is one thing you can take with you. One thing you had better take with you.
There is another thing, like it or not, that is going to go with you right up till your end or the end. It's this generation. Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened." This one sentence has sparked much debate and even more misunderstanding.
Some say "this generation" refers to the generation alive when Jesus speaks the words in 30 A.D. That would then mean that all that Jesus says in Mark 13 would have happened by around 70 A.D. But the sun wasn't darkened, the moon didn't fail to give its light, the stars didn't fall from the sky, nor were the heavenly bodies shaken. Some have argued that in a figurative way they did when Jerusalem was totally destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. But still Jesus didn't return then and gather those elected for salvation from the 4 corners of the earth. So all these things did not happen before the generation Jesus was speaking in passed.
We have to look at how Jesus uses the phrase "this generation" elsewhere. In Mark 8:12 Jesus castigates "this generation" for always seeking a sign. In 8:38 He calls "this generation" adulterous and sinful. In 9:19 Jesus calls "this generation" faithless. The phrase "this generation" occurs 4 times in Mark and 9 times in Luke, and it always refers to unbelievers. "This generation" denotes a certain kind of people, unbelievers, not a span of time.
The type of people that rejected the prophets, John the Baptist, and finally the Christ will be in the world to the very end. Like it or not, these do not pass away; they will go with you to the very end. The world is not going to be converted to Christianity. Ables will always have Cains, Jacobs their Esaus, Daivds their Sauls, and Zion her Babylon. The Church, Christians, must not wring their hands or worry their hearts thinking if they just did this or that differently then all the world would believe. No, the unbelieving generation will not pass away until all these things have happened: the angels have gathered the elect, and the stars, moon, and sun have failed.
You can't take the unbelieving generation with you but, but it goes with you till the end. Another thing you can't take with you past your end or the end is heaven and earth. Jesus says simply and solemnly, "Heaven and earth will pass away." Do you live as if this is the truth? I don't. I live directly opposite to how St. Paul advises based on these words of Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul says, "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
I don't do that. I fix my eyes on what is temporary, what is passing away, what is always moving. No wonder I have spiritual seasickness. Physical sea sickness happens when you can't find a fixed point to focus on. Once you're able to find a point that doesn't move, seasickness subsides. I give myself spiritual seasickness by trying to focus on the ever passing away world with all its ups and downs, all its frenetic activity. One minute this is a crisis the next this is; one digital nanosecond this is the latest trend the next something else is. One report says I'm dying because I eat fat the next says I'll live longer if I do. It's like standing on the deck of a ship in rolling waves; it's like trying to follow a mouse running around your kitchen.
Some people never get sick of the rolling deck, the constant motion. They thrive in this environment because all this movement all this activity pushes away the thought that all this is temporary; all this will come to an end. Evolution is not right; material things have not always been here. There was a beginning and there will be an end. Those in love with the movement, the action, the activity of this passing world will in their end be like the man who reaches out to grab a tree limb only to find that it can't support him. There is a sickening moment when you realize that what you thought was strong enough, permanent enough to hold you isn't.
But if that's not you, if you haven't expected the temporary to be permanent, you can rejoice that heaven and earth will pass away. Place a big sign on sadness, sorrow, sickness, pain, and death that reads PASSING AWAY. Put PASSING AWAY on all the movements, all the fads, all the trends that revel in their open flaunting of God. Put PASSING AWAY on the movement that crows about their right to choose to kill babies in the womb. Put PASSING AWAY on gay marriage, living together, and premarital sex. Put PASSING AWAY on universalism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
Stop acting like any of these are permanent. Treating the immaterial ideas and isms of men as permanent is just as foolish as treating the physical heaven and earth as such. You should see stenciled on both the physical and immaterial things of this passing world what the military does on equipment. They stencil at various places NO FOOTHOLD, NO STEP. You can't find a firm place to stand, on any of things of this passing world; more importantly you don't have to.
There is one thing you can take with you; one thing you had better: Jesus' Words. Jesus says, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My Words will never pass away." We no more believe the second half than the first half, do we? One little squeak from science, psychology, or popular opinion and we think the Words of Jesus come toppling down. "Scientist say," "psychologists" or better yet "child psychologists say" and "the majority surveyed say" are the authorities in a post-Biblical world. "Jesus says" seems weak, naive, Sunday Schoolish.
Guess what? In the end Jesus' Word is the last one standing. What He says about sin carries the day. Though some scientist can make moral problems into medical ones, do you think that means they're not sinful? Because psychologist can declare sex outside of marriage healthy do you think that's the truth? Do you think because 9 out of 10 people surveyed don't think something is a sin that's true in the end? On the Last Day, or your last day, you're going to be weighed, judged, graded by the Words of Jesus.
Ignore those Words now. Make fun of those Words today. Do you think that because you can ignore, interpret, or ridicule those Words that will make you not guilty on your last day? Get this through your head: What counts is not what I say Jesus' Words mean or you say Jesus Words mean. What counts is what Jesus says. And He says we are all lost and condemned people. There is not one of us righteous, no not one. All of us have fallen short of His glory; all of us deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment.
All of this will pass away; Jesus' Word will never, ever; no not ever. His Word will always condemn your worrying. His Word will always convict you of misusing it when you shape it according to your opinions. His Word will always convict you, judge you, sentence you for not hearing it preached and taught. You can successfully shut out Jesus' Words now because they come to you in a weak looking Bible challenged by science, rejected by psychology, and made fun of by the majority, but on your last day they will come to you without means. Then those words will be like deep thunder, like crashing surf, like a blaring trumpet, and all who have rejected them, interpreted them away, or laughed at them will pee their pants and beg Jesus no longer to speak to them.
But that's not you, is it? The Words of Jesus are what rescued you from your unbelief, your misbelief, your despair and other great shame and vice. The Words of Jesus came and found you when you sought Him not. Perhaps they found you when you were just a baby. The Word added to the Waters of Baptism reborn you to a new life. Your unbelieving old adam right there was drowned; it was joined to the crucified body of Jesus. And a new man was reborn: perfect and holy just as Jesus was. And just like the perfect Jesus this new man no longer lived on bread alone but by every Word coming out of the mouth of God.
Take this Word of Jesus with you as you journey through this world that is passing away. Only Jesus' words can bespeak you holy, righteous, forgiven. Don't try to find your holiness in what you do or don't do; what you can excuse, or your silly promises to do better next time. Only Jesus' Words can send your sins away from you as far as east is from west. Only Jesus' Words can throw your sins behind the back of God never to be seen again. Only Jesus' Words can blot up your shameful sins of thought, word, and deed because Jesus' Words are stronger, thicker, richer than sin.
Jesus says His Words will never pass away. So we are not fools for paying attention more to them then to the words of scientists, psychologist, politicians, or the masses all of which are passing away even as I speak. We are not fools for studying it, hearing it, living by it, dying by it. We are not fools for saying this Bread is His Body; this Wine is His Blood. We are not fools for believing this is the very Body He gave on the cross to pay for our sins, and this is the very Blood He shed there to cover our sins because that's what Jesus' Word says.
Take these Words of Jesus with you. They don't expire. They don't go bad. They don't loose power. They are more powerful than Sin, than Death, and even than the Devil. They last longer than heaven, than earth, and even longer than your earthly life. No, you can't take any of this with you but that Word first applied to your body; that Word that absolved you today, and that Word that you will eat and drink for forgiveness and everlasting life does go with you never, ever to pass away. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Last Sunday in the Church Year (20121118); Mark 13: 24-31