“The End of Times”
Wingrave Methodist Church – Sunday 15 November 2015
Reading Daniel 12: 1—3
12 ‘At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
Reading Hebrews 10:11—25
11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.
15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
16 ‘This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.’
17 Then he adds:
‘Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.’
18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Last time I took this service was back in August. The theme was Wisdom. Today’s theme from the lectionary readings is equally clear, but harder to tackle. All the readings are about the end of time.
The word Apocalypse is much used in popular culture. Dr Who spends most of his time protecting humanity against total destruction. Disaster movies are all the rage in America. They all seem to depict a catastrophe which results in the end of the world as we know it, or at least provides the hero with a chance of saving us all.
Then there are the religious sects who predict the end of the world on a particular day and time in the future. Before you laugh too loudly, remember the millions we spent before the Millennium? Most of us woke up the next morning and looked out to see if the world still functioned as it did before: were computers compromised? Did lifts stop working? Y2K they called it.
In a minute, we’ll hear what Jesus had to say about the Apocalypse, but first let’s think about the prophecy of Daniel. The archangel Michael will appear, it says, at a time of great distress and destruction. At that moment, everyone whose name is written in the book of life will be saved. They will rise up from the dust, in what is the first mention of resurrection in the Bible.
The difference between Old and New Testament prophecy is that in Daniel, the names of those who lead a good life are saved. But our hope is that through faith in Jesus, and not only good deeds, are we saved.
The picture painted in Hebrews is of a priest who constantly offers sacrifices for the people, knowing they can never fully take away sin. But when Jesus himself is the priest, he will offer sacrifice once and for all time, before sitting at the right hand of God. “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.” (10:14).
That does not mean we can sit back, rest on our laurels, and let life slip away. We still have to fight the good fight. Listen to the words as you sing the next hymn.
Gospel Mark 13: 1—8
The destruction of the temple and signs of the end times
13 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’
2 ‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’
5 Jesus said to them: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth-pains.
Our picture of Jesus is a peace loving man, who heals others and is kind, who turns the other cheek, who cares for those on the margins of society, who attends synagogue and loves his family.
It much harder for us to understand a Jesus who distances himself from his mother, brothers and sisters, challenges religious authority, and is an end-of-the-world prophetic apocalyptic figure.
The word apocalypse means an ‘unveiling.’ Jesus’ first sermon was all about the Kingdom in Mark’s gospel. He regularly performed exorcisms, and spoke about the signs that will accompany the end of time.
The scene is the Temple in Jerusalem, where Jesus has been teaching, closely watched by the religious authorities, whom he openly criticises. He watched people making donations, and commented on the widow whose contribution of 2p was worth more from her than all those rich benefactors. So it was a bit insensitive for the disciples to be so impressed with the majesty and wonder of the Temple buildings. But it’s this conversation that sets up a warning about the destruction of the Temple and signs of the end of times.
The prediction is apocalyptic, involving Jesus himself and his second coming.
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.”
I suppose in Victorian times, in this very chapel, preachers might have frightened people with hell fire and damnation, faced with a passage such as this. Which is quite wrong, because the whole point of our faith is that we are time and time again told by Jesus not to fear, but to have hope in our own salvation. So that’s the first thing I want you to think about and remember.
The second is like unto it, namely this as Cranmer would have said. No one — not even Jesus himself, but only God — knows when the end of times will come. In fact there is evidence throughout the gospels that Jesus thought his return might be imminent. Clearly he passed that expectation on to his disciples, since none of the gospels were written down until at least 30 years after his death and resurrection. So who are we to speculate?
Thirdly, this does not change how we should act.
33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 ‘Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”’
Remember the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins? Those who were unprepared ran out of oil when the bridegroom was delayed, and were locked out of the wedding feast. Remember the parable of the Bags of God, or the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, or the Thief who came in the Night? They’re all about the end of times, and follow the same gospel passage as we read today, only in Matthew’s version (chapters 24,25).
Maybe we’d rather think of Jesus as the Messiah who has already come, and told us to be nice to our neighbours, give to charity, and help the afflicted. But, occasionally, it may be an important reminder to hear an ancient prophet cry out about the fragile nature of the world.
37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Keep watch!”’ says Jesus. Amen