(Daniel 12:1-3, Psalm 16, Hebrews 10:11-25)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/IiP9KwFgaCM)
As [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.”
There’s a funny story about a Bible study group that was discussing the unforeseen possibility of their sudden death. The leader of the discussion said, “We will all die someday, and none of us really know when, but if we did we would all do a better job of preparing ourselves for that inevitable event.” Everybody shook their heads in agreement with this comment.” Then the leader said to the group, “What would you do if you knew you only had 4 weeks of life remaining before your death, and then the Great Judgment Day?” A gentleman said, “I would go out into my community and minister the Gospel to those that have not yet accepted the Lord into their lives.” “Very good!” said the group leader, and all the group members agreed, that would be a very good thing to do. One lady spoke up and said enthusiastically, “I would dedicate all of my remaining time to serving God, my family, my church, and my fellow man with a greater conviction.” “That’s wonderful!” the group leader commented, and all the group members agreed, that would be a very good thing to do. But one gentleman in the back finally spoke up loudly and said, “I would go to my mother-in-law’s house for the 4 weeks.” Everyone was puzzled by this answer, and the group leader asked, “Why your mother-in-law’s home?” “Because that will make it the longest 4 weeks of my life!”
No, I have been blessed with a delightful mother-in-law whom I wouldn’t mind sharing the last 4 weeks of my life with! But I guess this isn’t all too common…hence, the humor in that story. All kidding aside, the story does raise an interesting question—what would you do if you were given only 4 weeks to live before the Great Judgment Day? Would you go out into our community and ministry the Gospel to those that not yet accepted the Lord into their lives? Would you dedicate all of your remaining time to serving God, your family, your church, and your fellow man with a greater conviction? Would you spend it with your mother-in-law? Or would you cash in all your savings and set out on a spending binge? Would you travel the world? Would you do things that you’re afraid of doing? Would you go skydiving? Would you go snorkeling? Would you tell your boss off? Would you tell your co-workers off? How exactly would you spend those few precious days?
Though it would be interesting to hear how those days would be filled, there is another component of the story that is equally revealing. Recall what the study leader asked: “What would you do if you knew you only had 4 weeks of life remaining before your death, and then the Great Judgment Day?” Right at the end of the question the leader alludes to something called the Great Judgment Day. What is the Great Judgment Day? Scripture continually refers to this great Day of Judgment. We confess in our Apostles’ Creed that Jesus Christ…”is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge to the living and the dead.” So Jesus is involved in the Great Judgment Day. Both the living and the dead are involved in the Great Judgment Day. The act of judging involves both praising and condemning. Jesus will both praise and condemn the living and the dead. Jesus will separate good from evil on this Great Day of Judgment.
Over the centuries, preachers and leaders and artists and basically anyone with an imagination have tried to envision what the Great Judgment Day will look like. Tempting as it is, I will not be joining their ranks. No, the Great Judgment Day serves a greater purpose than simply to spark our imaginations. We will explore what that purpose is but first ask yourself another question: what are your feelings about the Great Judgment Day? Are you anxious about Jesus coming back to judge the living and the dead? Are you relieved? Are you happy? Are you afraid? Are you angry? What are your feelings about the Great Day of Judgment?
Now hold that feeling in mind as we reflect back on our readings assigned for this week. Indeed, we are not the first ones to have to wrestle with how we feel about a Great Day of Judgment. All of Scripture is a testimony to the battles that are being waged between good and evil in this world. Even before Jesus came on the scene in the New Testament, prophets were referencing the Great Day in which the forces of good and evil would have one final battle. In our first lesson, we heard the prophet Daniel prophesy how Michael, “the great prince,” would protect the righteous from the unrighteous and deliver them to everlasting life on that day. In our psalm, David sings out, “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” David knew all too well the battles that were being waged between good and evil both within himself and outside of himself. Time and time again, he asked for God’s protection in these battles. “Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their brink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.” David continually girded himself against the forces of evil in his world: “I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”
In our passage from Mark, we hear Jesus specifically describe what will happen on that Great Day of Judgment. He said, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.” Jesus himself foretold of the great day in which chaos will appear to reign and all will be destroyed. Of course, chaos will not reign…simply appear to reign. No, on the Great Day of Judgment there will be great upheaval. The whole world will be in complete disarray. But God will be at work in the chaos, separating out the good from the evil. God will be creating something new, much like a newborn child. This is why Jesus alludes to the “beginning of the birthpangs.” Something new, something good, will arise out of the chaos.
The prophet Daniel, David, and Jesus all were aware of the Great Judgment Day. Were they afraid of it? Were they anxious about it? Were they angry about it? Of course not! They all spoke words of hope about it. Hope…hope that the righteous will be protected, hope that the Lord will not give the righteous up to Sheol or let the faithful see the Pit, hope that there will be a new creation. Hope is a great salve to calm anxieties and anger and fear. Hope helps us endure all the days of lives…even the last 4 weeks of them however way we choose to spend them. Hope is key to everlasting life. Time and time again, Scripture gives us hope—hope in God, hope in each other, hope in the past, hope in the present, and hope in the future. Luther once said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” Luther could speak these words because he was filled with hope—hope for the future, hope for his future, and hope that God would be at work creating something anew. Like Luther, let us also be filled with hope in knowing…there will come a time.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.