Sermon delivered by Rev Sydney Maitland on Sunday 15 November, 2015. ‘It is what we have become in Him that will last to eternity’.
Daniel 12: 1 – 3
Michael shall arise – time of great anguish such as has never occurred – But at that time your people shall be delivered. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many into righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
Hebrews 10: 11 – 25
When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. The Holy Spirit testifies to us: “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds… and I will remember their sins no more.” Therefore we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus … since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience. Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.
Mark 13: 1 – 8
The overthrow of the temple – “When? What signs?” – Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will claim to be him – wars and rumours of wars – do not be alarmed.
The temple buildings were impressive, especially in comparison with the narrow streets and the cramped shops and dwellings that flanked them. Some of the streets were steep and difficult to negotiate, especially when crowded with people and beasts of burden.
So yes the temple was impressive, with the great stones of its foundations and retaining wall. But it was all to come down and the effects of that would be traumatic.
And it is not the only time when the pinnacles of power might be toppled. The French and Russian revolutions saw their royal families killed, and the French lost 3 armies: one in Egypt, one in Russia and one at Waterloo.
The Russians saw their economy and society wrecked while the Germans saw their cities reduced to shells and rubble.
So yes, we can get very attached to our monuments and customs and civic institutions and the thought of the loss or overthrow of any of them leaves us with a feeling of profound anxiety.
On the other hand, we have all seen major changes in our own times to the practice of marriage and divorce, the loss of heavy industry, changes in the way we are governed, and of course the digital revolution in which any virus or malpractice can strip us of identity and even bank savings.
As one comic once remarked: “It’s being so cheerful that keeps me going”.
But Jesus’ disciples were asking about more than the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, but about the signs that would foretell Jesus’ own coming again, this time in glory and to rule.
And Jesus refused to provide a timetable or schedule of events, even if He did speak of the kind of times that would prevail before He came again.
But He did warn against complacency – saying that the church must be ready in all eras and circumstances to be ready to welcome Him. It must not relax at any apparent delay in His coming, in the pursuit of its mission or in the maintenance of its life in Him.
But He also warned against over-enthusiasm, and said that there would be all sorts of pretenders who would have all sorts of doctrines, all exquisitely matched to the flavour of the times, and oh so socially acceptable.
There would indeed be the purveyors of false teaching, undermining every aspect of His own life and ministry and especially of His atonement on the cross.
New life without personal conversion or commitment in faith would be especially attractive.
But then Jesus also offered words of profound encouragement, for there was no question that He would not return, even of this was delayed.
Those who continued in their faith and in His life would indeed find that peace in their hearts which comes from not relying on their own works but which receives His works in their lives instead.
And that process of being steadfast and wholehearted may not have the glamour of the media glitterati but it would last far longer and would be far more reliable.
For it is what we have become in Him that will last to eternity, as will the works that He has been able to do within us and through us.
Ultimately just as Jesus has taken our sins to Himself on the cross, so it is His works in us that will last into eternal life.
And these are the kind of works that can endure under any political or economic or cultural crisis. They are the fruits of His Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
Equally it will be those times when we have allowed ourselves to live and act outside what we are used to, and for His sake have stepped outside our comfort-zones.
These are the times when we have exposed ourselves to comment, to ridicule, even to abuse as we have sought to live out and to speak forth for the sake of Jesus Christ.
But Jesus was speaking in the shadow of His own arrest and trial and as He faced His own journey to the cross. He was speaking in a confidence that God would also lead Him through His own passion and death to His resurrection – but these things also lay in the future and not in the past. His own trials were still to come to their own climax, and there would still be temptations to escape the cross, to talk His way out of it and even to come down from the cross itself.
Jesus was speaking with a deep personal confidence but in the shadow of a trial yet to come.
What He was telling His disciples also applied to Himself: fear not – for the Lord is indeed the victor.