Blessed Endurance

Texts: Daniel 12:1-3; Mark 13:1-13

Jesus said to one of His disciples, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” In our text last week Jesus taught the people to beware of the scribes. Afterward, He and the Disciples left the temple and one of them marveled at its wonderful stones and buildings. Buildings are temporary, even the temple, said Jesus; There will be a time when not one of those stones will be left standing. A minor fulfillment of this prophecy would come some 40 years later when the Romans come to destroy Jerusalem. Its major fulfillment will be at the return of Christ when He sets all things in order.

We’ve now hit the final two Sundays of the church year, and our readings take a turn toward the somewhat dire. For example, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” That doesn’t quite sound like the Gospel words we’re used to, or maybe prefer. We might’ve forgotten that Jesus Himself said that He did not come to bring peace, but division. (Lk. 12:51) That is the result when sinful man hears the Word without the aid of the Holy Spirit. He rejects it and those – like us – who receive it with joy. In our world today, and increasingly in times to come, this results in brother delivering brother to death, hating each other on account of Christ’s holy name.

Just where is Jesus going with this? “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Jesus tells us all this plainly so that we will not be deceived. My first sermon as a pastor I used the phrase, “The times, they are a changin.” This is going to become increasingly true of the world’s tolerance for the one true faith. It’s going to get worse, until it won’t. Christ tells us all these things so that we may have the blessed assurance, the blessed endurance, that we will be saved in the resurrection of the flesh.

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We turn back to the the text. The occasion is that upon leaving the temple, a remark is given about how great the buildings are. For a first-century Jew, the rebuilt temple of Herod the Great was about as close to the glory of Solomon as one could get. Surely its storied halls were a sign of God’s benevolent love. Not so, according to Jesus. The larger context is that we are in Holy Week. Jesus had already cleansed the Temple of those buying and selling, and last week He set the scribes straight. He is endeavoring now to tell the Disciples what will soon happen to them, and what will happen to the Church before His return. Jesus says,

See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.”

There again is why Jesus is telling us these things, so that we are not led astray. Scripture tells us that Christ will come again in the same way that He left – on the clouds – and the whole world will see it. But that will not stop many from falsely coming in His name. Recent history has shown us examples of that, as in ancient history some claimed to be Moses reincarnated and led many people to their deaths. There will be wars and rumors, but these things must take place. And yet, these are but the beginning.

This continues to bear immediate implications for the Disciples. “They will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.” This was true for the Apostles. Save St. John, all died martyrs’ deaths, along with many other early and present-day Christians. St. Paul was beaten in synagogues, stood before governors, and even Caesar before his martyrdom in Rome. They all stood before governors and kings bearing the Word of Christ. We, likewise, are called to bear witness to Christ before the world. Some of us may be called to suffer directly for His sake.

That is a scary thought, though, isn’t it? Many of us struggle sharing the faith with people in our regular lives; how could we possibly testify before kings? At various times in the early church there were persecutions. But, if a Christian brought in would just offer a small sacrifice to the gods, all would be forgiven. They could just forget all the bad stuff. Do you know how many are remembered in history for doing that? None. For Jesus says, “When they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”

We have been given the Words of the Holy Spirit. We hear them weekly in church, we have them in written form in the Holy Scriptures, and we have all received the Holy Spirit in our hearts through the washing of Holy Baptism, whereby our sins are forgiven and faith is received. Jesus says that things are going to get worse. More and more persecutions of our faith will come, but Jesus is telling us these things so that we do not lose heart. When these things do come, we will endure. We will speak not our own words, but the words of the Holy Spirit. Jesus also says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

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Many of you probably know and love the hymn, “Blessed Assurance.” It is actually based off a verse from our Epistle text: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” The author to the Hebrews is reminding them and us that we have been sprinkled clean with the blood of Christ and washed pure from our sins through Holy Baptism. That is our blessed assurance in the times of trial that we are in now and in the ones to come. This blessed assurance gives us what I would call the blessed endurance. We have the endurance of the Holy Spirit, given to those whose names are written in the Book of Life.

The Lord gives us a picture of where this blessed endurance leads in Daniel 12. Our Old Testament text is one of the most beloved passages in the Bible that speak specifically about the resurrection of the dead. We confess it almost every Sunday in the Creed, but what will it look like?

There shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

The Lord tells Daniel that there shall be a time of great tribulation, a great persecution of the true faith of the Church, such as has never been until that time. But, those who belong to the Lord will be delivered – everyone whose name is written in the Book of Life. That’s you. When you were baptized your name was written in the Book of Eternal life and inscribed upon Christ’s palms. When He stands before the throne to plead on behalf of sinners, He intercedes for you. When we die we go immediately to heaven and are with Christ. We become those who are standing before the throne with palm branches in our hands as we await the Resurrection. When Christ returns, He will raise our bodies from the dust of the earth and bring us into the New Heaven and New Earth.

We’ve covered some pretty heavy stuff today. We began with the teaching of Christ that more persecutions will come. Before He returns, the world will grow increasingly cold to the warmth of the Gospel and we who bear it in our hearts through Baptism. We may be called to suffer for His sake, but we need not worry what to say, because it will be the Holy Spirit who will speak through us. St. Paul writes that He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion in the day of Christ. This is the blessed endurance that we have received. The Holy Spirit will keep us in the true faith through all persecutions until the return of Christ. When He comes back, our bodies will be raised to shine like the stars and we will live forever in both soul and body with Christ and those who love Him.

November Newsletter and Announcements

Happy Saturday Everyone!

The e-mail with the newsletter is going out right now, but there are some indications it might not work as planned. I’ve attached it lower in the post. Here are just a few things I want to call to your attention in the weeks ahead:

  • 14th (Next Saturday!) will be our fall vendor show at St. John. It will be 10:00-3:00 at the high school. Help is needed to set up on Friday.
  • 15th (Next Sunday!) Deaconess Caitlin Worden will be with us. After church at St. John we will be having a potluck lunch and gather for a presentation on her work in Peru. Trinity will also be having a potluck later in the afternoon.
  • 18th will be our annual joint-parish meeting. Voters and members of both congregations are invited to join us at 7:30 p.m. at St. John.
  • 22nd will be the annual meatball dinner at St. John. To facilitate that, St. John and Trinity will be switching service times. (St. John at 8:30, Trinity at 10:30)
  • Thanksgiving services will be Nov. 25th and 26th. St. John will have theirs Wednesday evening at 7; Trinity will be 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving.
  • The next regularly scheduled voters’ meeting at St. John will be December 9th after the Advent midweek service.

Please let us know if you have any questions, or if we missed anything. Have a wonderful rest of your day and we’ll see you tomorrow for the Lord’s Day!

Pastor Swenson

November 2015 Newsletter

Sola Gratia: Sealed and Delivered

Text: Revelation 7:(2-8) 9-17

“Oh, how blest are they whose toils are ended, who through death have unto God ascended! They have arisen from the cares which keep us in prison. We are still in a dungeon living, still oppressed with sorrow and misgiving; our undertakings are but toils and troubles and heart-breakings.”[1] These are the first two stanzas of the hymn “Oh, How Blest Are They,” #679 in our hymnal. Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints. This day was set aside by the Church many centuries ago to commemorate those who have preceded us in the faith. We do so not by invoking them, but by giving thanks God for the faith that He gave to them and to us and for the grace that we have all received in Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God for their great example in the faith and the forgiveness they received, but we would be remiss if we ignored one major thing.

One thing we can’t ignore today is that all the saints that have gone before us have done exactly that – they’ve all died. Though they were forgiven their sins and covered in the robes of Christ’s righteousness, they still died as a consequence of the sinful condition which we’ve all inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve. But now they have been freed from all that. As the elder says in St. John’s vision of the throne room, they have come out of the great tribulation. Those who have passed from death to life stand before the throne where there is no hunger or thirst, no death, for the Lamb of God is in their midst and wipes every tear from their eyes. But what about us? We live amidst a culture of death; what about us? When will we get what the saints now enjoy? The answer to that is now, actually. At Holy Baptism God signed and sealed you as His, and He continues to keep you until, by His grace alone, He delivers you into His eternal kingdom.

I.

We have in our text a vision of the heavenly throne room. We’re in an interlude in the outpouring of God’s wrath, as if to see how the saints are doing while the world is in tribulation. The period described in the text relates to us now. The 144,000 in the first part of the text are those who are coming out of the tribulation of the times, but are still in it. Those in the throne room are those who now rest from their labors. They are in the presence of Christ continually as they await His second coming and the resurrection of their bodies. The camera pans and we see four angels with the authority to pour out God’s wrath on the earth and sea. Then we see another angel, who says to the first four, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”[2]

This is where we fit into the text. The 144,000 put before St. John and us is not a literal number of the elect, but a signifier of the completeness of the Church that will enter into eternal life. In Scripture the number 12 signifies wholeness or perfection. You multiple that by twelve and you get a number of completeness. Then multiply that by 1,000 – and you get the picture. Those who are sealed upon their foreheads are those marked as redeemed by Christ the crucified. Though they are now in the midst of trial and tribulation, they have received upon their forehead and heart the mark Christ, which signifies them as inheritors of eternal life.

The Church has long understood this passage, this sealing of the elect, as a reference to Baptism. The word for seal in the Greek is σφραγίζω (sphragizo), and it means to mark as a means of identification or to certify something for delivery. This is our connection to Baptism. In the ancient Church, at Baptism the pastor would take some olive oil, the sphragis, and make the sign of the cross upon your forehead and heart. This would be a sign to you and others that you have been claimed by Christ. In the same way we might put a seal on the back of an envelope, certifying that what’s inside comes from us. We carry on this practice today, though usually without the oil. When you were baptized the pastor made the sign of the cross on your head and heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ.

It doesn’t always feel like it, though, does it? In Holy Baptism you are marked by the blood of Christ. You were given the gift of faith and the forgiveness of sins. You received eternal life and salvation in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And yet it doesn’t look like it. All around us we see death. We see the death of loved ones. We see long, protracted, painful illnesses. We live through the loss of jobs and closing of businesses, even the closing of churches. It says right here in Scripture the saints of God are before His throne and neither hunger or thirst, nor cry or suffer pain. When do we get that?

II.

The painful reality we live in is that, because of the Fall, we who are baptized into Christ are not only marked on our forehead and heart for redemption, but also with a target on our back. This is what St. Paul preached to the Christians at Iconium and Antioch. He taught them to continue steadfast in the faith, for, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”[3] You see, the devil hates you. This is why we suffer so many things. Ills of body and mind, broken relationships and lives, persecutions of various kinds – especially when we confess the pure Gospel of Christ against all false doctrine – these are all the result of the Fall into sin and the instigation of the devil.

Jesus promised that in this world we will have tribulation. But, “take heart,” Jesus says. “I have overcome the world.”[4] When we look at our text from Revelation, and see those saints and the rest they’ve entered, where there is no suffering of any kind, and then we look at our lives, it’s easy to feel short-changed. We look at the pagans and atheists who prosper and cry out to God, when we will have what they (seemingly) have. When will we have eternal life and rest from our labors, when will we be free from the effects of sin? When we will come out of the great tribulation? Now. St. John wrote, “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”[5]

By God’s grace alone, you were marked as one redeemed by Christ the crucified and now share in the inheritance of the saints in heaven. One of the meanings that I shared with you for the word seal is to certify something for delivery. In Baptism you were marked as Christ’s, and by that mark He promises to you that you will enter eternal life. He promises that He will guard and keep you until the time when we all feast together in the new creation. How does He do that? Through the preaching of His Word and in His Sacraments. In Baptism He washes you and makes you clean, and daily you rise before Him in righteousness and purity. Through the preaching of the Word He reminds you of your sinfulness, but also comforts you with the fact that He died for you. In the supper of His own body and blood, He gives, again, the forgiveness of your sins and the faith and love to serve Him and each other. Through these things He guards and protects you as His own redeemed and inheritors of eternal life until we become the saints who’ve gone before.

Today we celebrate All Saints Day. We celebrate not because they were better than us or more perfect examples of the faith. We celebrate because of the grace and forgiveness that they received, as we do, through faith in Jesus Christ. They have passed from death to life and rest from their labors. Some from among us are there now, too. May Christ keep us ever steadfast in the one true faith, and may He always remind us that we are marked by His blood for the redemption of our souls until these words are said of us:

They are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”[6]


[1] “Oh, How Blest Are They,” Lutheran Service Book, 679.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Re 7:3.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ac 14:22.

[4] Jn. 16:33.

[5] 1 Jn 5:4–5.

[6] Rev. 7:15-17