The Rev. Frank
These Things Must Take Place
Our Gospel reading can be summed up with one line of song. Not being gifted musically, we better hear it from the source.
[insert short sound clip of R.E.M. singing
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.
Jesus said that though there will be wars and insurrections, nation will rise against nation, there will be earthquakes, famines, plagues, dreadful portents and great signs from heaven, we are not to be terrified. The end of the world is coming and it’s gonna be just fine.
From the earliest days of Christianity, we have taught that Jesus is coming back. His return is imminent, which means it could happen at any time. In fact, the end may be closer than you think. My job is to keep up with all the latest theological reading and the like to help y’all to keep informed. In this capacity, I learned of a massively important End Times event that may have passed by off your radar screen.
Six end times prophets agree that the End Times began September 16 of this year at 4:42 p.m. I have this bit of data from a very reliable source I ran across in the check out line at Publix—the Sun tabloid. And in case that sends a bit of fear into your heart, be not afraid, because on the very next page an article told us “Aliens will save the world.” I am not making this up. It’s right there in black and white. Just like the sign I ran across that said, “Rapture was last week. You all missed it. You just weren’t good enough!–God.”
By the way, that tabloid cover and the sign are both evidence of Jesus’ prophecy from this week’s Gospel coming true. Jesus said, “Beware that you are not lead astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Jesus warned us not to follow those people.
How are we to make sense out of this? I’ve mentioned before that as a teen, I tried to read and make sense out of the Book of Revelation and its strange and terrifying imagery like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who come leaving death and destruction in their wake. Then there was all those sevens: seven churches, seven stars, seven lampstands and on and on. The 666 of the beast. The 144,000 redeemed from Israel and on and on the imagery compounding my confusion and fear.
The painting of the rapture that was a fixture of my teen years showed Jesus appearing in the sky and people drawn to heaven to meet their Lord leaving behind car and airplane wrecks and empty graves. I tried not to dwell on those images, and to think happy thoughts of life in heaven. But heaven sounded boring and it was the fear of being left behind that stuck with me. I couldn’t quite hold on to the vision of the joy of being united with Jesus. I was too obsessed with the terrifying thoughts of life on earth after Jesus’ return.
All of that imagery was from Revelation. But the Book of Revelation is not our only source of information about the end of times. For example we have our Gospel reading this morning. I think it’s best to look at the whole picture of what the Bible says about Apocalypse and having done so, I long since made piece with the Revelation to John and find it comforting now.
So I do hope that I haven’t set off a panic with the news from The Sun tabloid that the End Times have already begun. Because I do believe that this is one story that The Sun got mostly right. The only part they got wrong was that day and time—September 16, 2004 at 4:42 p.m. Was that Jerusalem time, Eastern Standard or Greenwich Mean Time anyway? Forget the time. From a Gospel standpoint, they are 100% correct—the End Times have begun.
The time we find in scripture for the beginning of the end came that first Easter Sunday morning sometime around the year 30 a.d. when Jesus was raised from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of the end.
Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of the end of life as we know it on earth—the end of tears, the end of pain and suffering, the end of dying. No Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t the end of these things in itself, but the resurrection was beginning of the end for all these things. Jesus was and is the first born of the dead and his own resurrection shows that human flesh can be reborn to eternal life. Jesus’ resurrection marked the beginning of the end of the age.
Jesus had already been clear that none of this changed the fact that there would continue to be trouble in the world until the end of the age. When asked to name signs of the end, Jesus said that we should not be led astray by the many bad things that can and will happen. Jesus, in fact, promised wars, insurrections, earthquakes, famine, plague, dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. Yet, Jesus’ main message to us in today’s Gospel reading is not a message of war, famine and death. What Jesus tells us most clearly is “Do not be terrified, for these things must take place, but the end will not follow immediately.”
Never were truer words spoken, “The end will not come immediately.” Jesus told his disciples these things while walking in the Temple in Jerusalem. That great Temple dedicated to the one true God was destroyed in the Jewish War of 66-70 a.d., just a few decades after Jesus’ resurrection and not many years before Luke wrote his Gospel. The center of Jewish worship was destroyed and has yet to be rebuilt after nearly 2000 years, but this was not the end. The Roman Empire was conquered first by Christianity and later by the Huns and the Vandals, but this was not the end. And so on through history, with wars and insurrections, nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom and the end has not followed immediately. But through every day of these last 2,000 years, Jesus’ words have held true, “Do not be terrified, for these things must take place first.”
Jesus assures his followers that an end is coming to all the chaos and problems of this age, but in the meantime, he will be present in all that happens. Jesus will redeem the chaos as none of it is beyond the power of God’s love as shown through the cross.
Jesus warns his disciples that they will face persecution and death, but paradoxically, not a hair on their heads will perish. How is that possible? How can one be both put to death and not have a hair on their head perish? It is because Jesus promises eternal life that will more than likely come through death rather than his return in glory. Jesus’ own resurrection came only after the pain and agony of the cross.
Jesus never promised a life without pain, suffering and loss. Jesus taught that he would be present in that pain, suffering and loss. Jesus promised to be with you in whatever you face. “Do not be terrified,” he said, “These things must take place.” But he promised to be with his followers in whatever they may face. However you picture Jesus, whatever image is comforting to you, also picture that that same Jesus is present with you in your heart when life turns tough.
Isn’t that what you really need anyway? When you think about it honestly, are you more concerned with when Jesus will come in glory or when he will come into the problems of your life?
When I was in seminary, I would often say, “Lord, if you are going to return soon, please do so before I have to actually get around to writing this paper or before I have to take that test, because I would hate to waste the effort on all this school work only to have you come back right afterwards.” Now I see that same thought in many problems, which are much more serious. Lord, if you are coming soon anyway, come before this person gets the results back on the biopsy. Come before that person has to go through chemotherapy, or this couple’s marriage breaks apart. Come Lord before this teen has yet another friend stab them in the back, saying mean things to others only to act like their friend when they are together. Come quickly Lord before all these things happen.
Of course, that sort of prayer is all wrong. Jesus taught that he has already come and by the power of the Holy Spirit he is present still in the class with the teacher you think has it in for you, at work with the boss who won’t give you a break or the co-worker who drives you crazy. Jesus is already here in the marriage that is falling apart and in the frightening news you await from the doctor. When we pray “Come quickly Lord Jesus,” it should not be an invitation for Jesus’ to come back in glory to make all our problems go away. Instead we should pray “Come quickly Lord Jesus into my problems and my pain.”
For Jesus will return at the right time and scripture tells us that it is not for us, or even Jesus to decide when that time has come. God the Father is the only one to know the hour and the day.
As Jesus return in glory is not a get out of problems free card, then how does this doctrine help us. The answer from today’s Gospel is that life will get tough, even for Jesus’ followers, but in all of those terrifying circumstances, we are not to be afraid. Our lives, our world, our present, our future are all in God’s hands and we should grab hold of that comfort rather than the fear of the unknown. The Second Letter to Timothy puts it this way, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Timothy 1:7).
Jesus put it this way: There will be wars and insurrections, nation will rise against nation, and there will be earthquakes, famines, plagues, dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. These things must take place. But in all these things be not afraid. The end of the world is coming and those who follow me are gonna be just fine.