By Pastor Piet Van Kampen, November 4, 2018, Reformation Sunday (End Time 1)
Mark 13:5-11 (EHV) - 5 Jesus began by telling them, “Be careful that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many… 9 But be on your guard! People will hand you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues. You will stand in the presence of rulers and kings for my sake as a witness to them…
I’ve said it before. We get lots of compliments on our church building. People walk in here all the time and they say stuff like, “Oh, what a beautiful church!” But I’ve never answered those compliments the way Jesus answered them.
As they were leaving Jerusalem for the day, Jesus’ disciples drew His attention to the Jerusalem skyline, which included the temple—the house of the Lord, with all of its marvelous large stonework. “What beautiful buildings!” they said.
Jesus’ answer was essentially this: “You think so? Truly, I tell you that one day there’s not going to be one stone left on top of another.” And then Jesus went on to speak the words of our gospel lesson. One day, that beautiful temple would be destroyed. Jesus wasn’t trying to scare His disciples, but to remind them of what’s really important. That God’s glory and grace wasn’t found in a building, but in the Word of God which that building proclaimed.
In the same way the Reformation serves to remind us of what’s important. A church building is important; a place to worship is important. But at the same time, today you can go to Germany, to the cradle of the Reformation, and find all kinds of beautiful churches—sitting empty. Why? Because they lost what was really important; they stopped watching out for God’s Word. As we celebrate the Reformation today, may we also pay close attention to what Jesus is telling us, and may we always be watching out for God’s Word.
I. So that we don’t lose it.
Watching out for God’s Word so that we don’t lose it. Jesus warns His disciples: “Be careful that no one deceives you” (v. 5). He says it because at various times that very thing has happened: God’s people have been deceived, led astray from the truth of His Word.
In 2 Kings, King Josiah tore his royal robes when he heard the Book of Deuteronomy read to him. He realized, “This is the first time I’m hearing this!” It made him angry to know that his nation had fallen so far that they’d actually lost an entire book of the Bible!
And from Jesus’ time onward, in every age, His prophecy has been fulfilled again and again: “Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many” (v. 6). In Jesus’ day, the priests, Pharisees and Sadducees had left behind the Word of God for “the tradition of the elders.” And in the medieval church of Martin Luther’s day, the church had largely traded in the truth of God’s Word for man-made teachings of salvation by works.
And that prophecy has been fulfilled in our time too. Over the last 150 years the Bible itself has been under constant assault—not from outside the church, but from inside! People who call themselves Christian and yet claim that the miraculous parts of the Bible, like the six-day creation or the Israelites crossing the Red Sea or Jesus rising from the dead—that they’re just myths. People who claim that the books of the Bible weren’t written by the actual authors, but by people who lived hundreds of years after the fact (a claim largely disproven by modern archaeology, by the way). People who claim that certain parts of the Bible—like the parts dealing with gender roles and sexuality—that those parts of the Bible aren’t really God’s Word, but a product of the culture, so we can just ignore it.
And we’re led astray sometimes too. Just ask yourself, “What is my greatest fear?” Is our greatest fear that somebody’s going to push a little red button and end the world in one big nuclear mushroom cloud? Is our greatest fear that global climate change is going to wipe out life on planet earth? Is our greatest fear that someone might reject us and get offended if we actually mention the name of Jesus in a conversation? Is our greatest fear that one day we’re going to stand before God and He’s going to say, “Look at all these sins!”?
If these are our greatest fears, then we have already been led astray. We’ve already forgotten the heart of what the Bible teaches. We’ve already traded in the Word of God for the world’s lies, the fear of the Lord for every fear of sinful humanity.
And yet—isn’t this why Christ has given us His Word? Isn’t this why He has preserved His Word, painstakingly ensuring that the Bible you and I have now is the same one that was written so many years before? Isn’t this why He raised up prophets and kings and people like Martin Luther—to put the Bible and its teachings front and center in the life of God’s people? So that we can know the truth—and the truth will make us free (Jn 8:30-32)!
Our Reformation heritage is all about watching out for God’s Word—so that we don’t lose it! To cling in faith to what the Bible teaches first and foremost. To believe the Word of God over the word of man any day! To believe the Word of God in spite of what’s going on in the world—because we know what Jesus Himself has said when it comes to war, politics, and natural disasters: “Do not be troubled,” Jesus says. “Such things must happen, but the end is not yet… These are the beginning of birth pains” (v. 7-8). God will end the world—not man, and not nature. And when it finally happens, we have nothing to fear! Our heavenly Father, who has shown us grace and mercy through His Son Jesus, will take us to be with Him!
II. So that we’re ready to share it.
And that powerful message isn’t just something we want to hold onto; it’s something we want to proclaim! Don’t we want everyone we know to have this same confidence—this same comfort that you and I have in the assurance of God’s grace and mercy in Christ? Our Reformation heritage isn’t just the careful keeping of God’s Word. We’re watching out for God’s Word—not just so that we don’t lose it, but so that we’re ready to share it!
Jesus told His disciples to watch for false teachers—but He also told them to watch for opportunities to speak the truth of His Word. “But be on your guard! People will hand you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues. You will stand in the presence of rulers and kings for my sake as a witness to them” (v. 9). How many times was the apostle Paul beaten up and then dragged before officials, governors and kings—even the ruler of the world, Caesar himself—because he had taught that Jesus was the promised Savior? And yet, Paul never collapsed in fear! He understood that God had given an opportunity to proclaim Jesus as the Savior! Peter, Paul, all the apostles—and even Martin Luther—they all understood what Jesus had said, “But the gospel must first be preached to all the nations” (v. 10).
Yet have we always understood? “Carrie” and “Bill” are both devout Christians, but Bill’s parents—not so much. And especially for Carrie, who grew up in a very Christian household, those visits to the in-laws were not easy. Bill’s mom especially would make things hard for Carrie, questioning things that she and Bill were doing, wondering why they went to such a “strict church” and why they spent so much on sending their kids to a Lutheran grade school. Carrie would get frustrated because, what do you do? You feel like you’re under attack—do you say everything you feel like saying? Or do you stay quiet?
On the one hand, people like Bill’s parents were the ones who needed to hear God’s Word the most. But on the other hand, in those moments, our natural reaction is to play defense, to look for a way out. To get into an argument—or to stay silent. The fear of God goes right out the window—because we feel like it’s the end of the world.
Thankfully, the truth we’re given to speak is the truth of God’s grace. The truth of Jesus’ love for us, that He got up and spoke in our place as our righteous substitute—as He testified before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, bearing witness to Himself as the promised Savior of the world. That Jesus by dying on the cross washed away all the times we let our fear of other people overtake our fear of God. That, through faith in Jesus God has forgiven all of our sins.
And it’s that truth that moves us to keep watching out for God’s Word—so that when the time comes, we can share it. To realize that somebody’s reaction to the Word of God—it’s not the end of the world! And as Jesus says, when that time comes, we have nothing to worry about: “do not worry beforehand what you should say. Say whatever is given to you in that hour” (v. 10-11). It’s not a license to say whatever we want, but the go-ahead to lovingly stand up and tell the truth—to your boss, to your mother-in-law or your father-in-law, to your teacher.
We can tell the truth “Because,” as Jesus says, “you will not be the ones speaking; instead it will be the Holy Spirit” (v. 11). God wants His Word to be proclaimed so badly that, as long as you’re standing on God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say—and work through your words to accomplish what He desires in the hearts of those who hear.
And as long as God’s people are watching out for God’s Word, God’s churches will never sit empty. As long as His Word remains, His Church will last forever. Amen.