The world is coming to an end! If fact, according to a series of television programs that have been playing for the last year, the world is coming to an end on December 21, 2012. Now we’ve heard these claims before. Time and again we’ve heard that the end was coming. The last time was at the millennium. I’m sure you remember. But this time is different. Along with these television programs proclaiming that the end will be here next month, there is a series featuring the preparations people are making to face and survive the coming Apocalypse. This series is broadcast on the National Geographic Channel (a serious and highly credible organization not easily given to triviality). This series – titled “Doomsday Preppers” – is dedicated to evaluating the preparations being made to survive the coming Apocalypse and then experts score their preparations and estimate their chances of survival.
Now this is the point that I find most interesting. Just where does one find an expert on the Apocalypse, let alone how to survive it? Who has the requisite experience in surviving the end of the world? I mean, just think about that resume: master’s degrees in agriculture and engineering, expertise in self-defense, experienced hunter and farmer, previous survivor of the end of the world. This seems ridiculous doesn’t it? Just where does one find guidance in surviving the end of the world? Well, right here in the Word of God. Just where does one find someone with the experience of surviving the end of the world? Right here in this church and in churches around the world. Just who is there who can share with others what they need to know in order to survive the Apocalypse? Here among the members of the Body of Christ. So what is the secret? Well according to an apocryphal tale, Luther was once asked what he would do if he knew that tomorrow the world would end. Luther answered, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
In our Gospel text this morning as Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Now we are not talking about small stones. This was not just an ordinary structure. The temple was a structure built of stones weighing up to 400 tons apiece and capable of accommodating up to one million people. It was unimaginable to them that any force could ever destroy such a massive and imposing structure. It was the physical manifestation of the very glory of God in the eyes of the people. The greatest that man’s hands can make. Something that could never be thrown down. So when Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” They were in truth asking when the world would come to an end and Jesus understood this. He said that we would 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.
Jesus cautioned His disciples. He said, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.” You see only God can know when the end will come and we all desire to know; to have the inside track; to understand what the signs will be when the end comes. Why? So they can prepare themselves; so they can be ready; so when everyone else is suffering and dying, they will be safe and sound, protected from the end that is coming.
This is only natural, but Jesus does not tell them what they want to know. Instead he tells them to be on their guard. “For 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. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And 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. And 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. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Jesus tells us that we are not to prepare for the end; we are not to equip ourselves to survive while everyone else burns. No, instead we are to go about our lives day by day, doing what God has called us to do. To go and proclaim the Gospel to our neighbor, to our rulers, and to every nation in this world. We are not to escape the end, rather we will endure the persecutions and suffering before the end that we would seek to escape in the end. We are to endure these sufferings for Jesus; for the sake of the Gospel; and for love of our neighbor. But this call to endure the sufferings we would otherwise escape in the end comes with a promise. Jesus said, “but the one who endure to the end will be saved.”
Now how can this be? The disciples were asking to know the secret to be saved from the coming end, and Jesus’ answer is to endure suffering for the sake of Jesus’ name to the end and you will be saved. This doesn’t make sense. If you endure the sufferings Jesus described to the end, how can one survive? He said, “And 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.” How could one endure this suffering to its end and survive? To endure this suffering to its end is to die. But don’t you see? This is just the point. If we hope to place our trust in our preparations; in our plans; in what we can build – no matter how glorious – we will fail. Of all our preparations, “there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” But we do not need to concern ourselves with this. For our hope is not in our plans and preparations. All we can do must fail. For all we do is fallen and stained with sin. Our only hope is in Jesus; our only hope is in His crucifixion, His suffering, and His death for our sins; our only hope is in His resurrection, His victory over sin and death for you through God’s free gift of faith in Him.
So the world is coming to an end in 24 days? Well I don’t think I’m going to just take their word for it. But what if it does? Our hope is not in this world or any of our preparations to save ourselves. Our hope is in Him who spoke this world into being. Our hope is in His death for us and in our resurrection in Him. We do not need to worry about surviving the end, for through faith in Jesus Christ, we have already been saved from it, saved unto eternal life. So, is the world coming to an end? Well yes, one day. But take my advice, go and plant an apple tree.