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By Your Endurance You will Save Your Souls




This Sunday we have heard a lot about the future times of the world. In Systematic Theology this topic is call Eschatology, which comes from the Greek word “Eschatos” which means “last things.” The study of the last things or end times is called eschatology, or as I like to call it ES-CATO-LOGICAL. The prophet Malachi tells us about the Day of the LORD, which to the Old Testament hearer meant a day of destruction and doom. It was definitely an apocalyptic time when they referred to the Day of the LORD. Malachi the prophet is concerned with the moral and religious laxity and apathy of his day. He promised that there would be vindication for those faithful and close to God. There would be punishment for sinners. If we try to live according to God’s will for our lives then Malachi’s message gives us hope and encouragement. Let me take a little aside with reference to the word hope. Last week’s collect referred to hope. Hope can mean a kind of wishful desire rather than the firm conviction intended by the Bible. Read this passage from Romans chapter 4 & 5.

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead-since he was about a hundred years old-and that Sarah's womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." 23 The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness-for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Rom 4:18-25, 5:1-5


Hope always centers itself around faith. For Abraham, his faith and trust was displayed in his obedience to God, but not so with the people of Malachi’s day nor for us. If we are disobedient and running away from God then Malachi’s message is a warning and a call to return to God. The New Testament uses the word Repent to indicate a return to God. The Greek word used most often for repent is Metanoia which means to turn around, or as I used when I used to drill soldiers, the command “Rear, March” or as sometimes said “To the Rear, March.” There is a complete 180 degree turn is made. Malachi and Paul both exhort their hearers to turn to the Lord with all their hearts. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians is an exhortation to live godly lives and stay busy at work for the Lord. There is an apocryphal story about a young monk running up to St. Francis of Assisi as Francis was hoeing the garden and the young monk excitedly exclaimed that he had just seen Jesus coming up the path toward the garden. He asked Francis what he was going to do about that? Francis calmly replied that he was going to finish hoeing the garden. I guess the young monk expected Francis to stop hoeing and immediately run out and start an evangelistic campaign or something else that was a spectacular spiritual event. Francis gives us an insightful look into the mind of Christ when it comes to our activities while we await his return. We are to carry on, to endure, to be patiently go about our work as we await his sure return. In fact, he told the disciples that BY YOUR ENDURANCE, YOU WILL SAVE YOUR SOULS! To hang in there and be patient about and trusting as we go about serving the Lord, or in other words, by our perseverance. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians seems pretty harsh when he said that if a brother will not work then do not let him eat! The churches in Paul’s day participated in communal meals and there were some people who were just hanging around the community. They were people who were content to relax and await the Lord’s return. Since Jesus clearly told them that even he did not know the day or the hour of his return, that it would be better to keep busy at their work and be an example to others of patient endurance. He does warn the disciples and us that we can expect persecution. The disciples were in wonder at the magnificent setting they found themselves in as they had spent most of the ministry with Jesus in Galilee and are now in Jerusalem. I guess it is kind of like growing up in one of the small towns in Georgia and then going to Atlanta for the first time. It would be sort of overwhelming. Jesus however warns them with these words.


“Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, "As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down." "Teacher," they asked, "when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?" He replied: "Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and, 'the time is near.' Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away." Then he said to them: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. "But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life. Luke 21:5-19 (NIV)


You may have noticed that the NIV translation I just read used the words “Standing Firm” in place of the word “endurance” that we find in the NRSV translation. Maybe that is a better translation for what we should be doing, STANDING FIRM in our convictions for Christ, STANDING FIRM in our worship of him, STANDING FIRM in love and service to one another, STANDING FIRM on our commitment to Christ. On the back of the cross I wear are the words “Christ is counting on you.” When the rector of the Kairos weekend places the cross around the neck of the inmate who has just completed his Kairos weekend he says, “Christ is counting on you.” The inmate replies, “And I am counting on Christ.” Perseverance is the name of the game in Kairos and in the kingdom of God. A few weeks ago I told you that Walter Payton, the Chicago Bears running back of a few years ago had gained over nine miles in yardage. One of the guys on ABC’s Monday Night Football commented, “Yeah, and that’s with someone knocking you down every 4 or 5 yards.” I read of another example of perseverance in a story that John Killinger wrote for Atlantic Monthly about the days of the great western cattle ranches. When they had a new horse they wanted to break in, they would harness the wild, bucking steed to a little burro. Bucking and raging, convulsing like drunken sailors, the two would be turned loose like Laurel and Hardy to proceed out onto the desert range. They would be seen disappearing over the horizon, the great steed dragging that little burro along and throwing him about like a bag of cream puffs. They might be gone for days, but eventually they would come back. The little burro would be seen first, trotting back across the horizon, leading the submissive steed in tow. Somewhere out there on the rim of the world, that steed become exhausted from trying to get rid of the burro, and in that moment, the burro would take mastery and become the leader. That is the way it is with the kingdom and its heroes, is it not? The battle goes to the determined, not to the outraged; to the committed, not to those who are merely dramatic. Being committed is what relationships are all about. Once at a Marriage Conference, I heard about commitment being the foundation of marriage. We are also in the midst of stewardship season, even though from the looks of the stores around town it appears to be already Christmas season. It is stewardship season because we reflect on what God has done for us and through us and in gratitude, we give back to him a portion of what he has given us. It is a time of making commitments, to the church, to the diocese and to God. How committed should we be in this gathering of the Body of Christ? Our commitment as disciples should mirror what we see in the commitment that God was willing to make to us. That is seen in the cross. If you want to see how committed you should be, look for your example right up here. Almost all the things Jesus told his disciples would happen did happen. Many of them suffered at the hands of people who hated what and whom they represented. But they were forewarned just as we are. They knew that if they persevere until the end, they too would be victorious. Commitment and perseverance results in endurance. The day-to-day effort to respond to the activity of God in our lives produces the pure fruit of obedience. Later, as the gifts of bread and wine are placed on the altar. let us offer ourselves to God, asking that he open our eyes to the many ways he is active in our lives and in the world. May this new vision fill us with trust and hope and commitment. The Nelson Bible dictionary tells us that the cross is the decisive eschatological event. In it the curse that brought God's wrath was reversed. Ever since then, God has been progressively accomplishing His judgment against the forces of wickedness in heaven and earth.


Psalm 110:1 is a key verse for understanding the redemptive side of eschatology. The King will reign until He defeats His enemies. As He returns to begin the final preparations for His reign, He will gather the ELECT to Himself. The redeemed will be evaluated by the Lord (Romans 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:14-15) and will receive their reward of eternal life. The curse will be reversed, the Abrahamic covenant fulfilled, all earthly distinctions eliminated, and God's people will live in eternal fellowship with the Father and His Christ.

The point of eschatology throughout the Bible is to provide encouragement to believers in their witness for Jesus Christ (Matt. 24:14; 1 Cor. 15:58). It is not mentioned to encourage idle speculation or controversy. The reason God grants us a view of the future is to encourage us to witness for Christ and serve Him in the present. We serve him through our commitment to him and to God. We persevere, we never, never, ever give up.


The night before he met his tragic death, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in an apocalyptic mood. He looked ahead, beyond the moment, beyond the Civil Rights Movement, beyond his own life, and spoke of seeing “the promised land.” This is the vision, at the end, that gives one a hope that endures beyond our end:


“I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind . . . I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” (Martin Luther King Jr. Speech, 3 April 1968. Memphis, Tennessee.)


William Willimon writes, “My moderate, mainline church doesn’t care much for talk of this type. We leave apocalyptic to the fringe groups, in their pre-fabricated steel buildings out on the edge of town – the Branch Davidians. We don’t care much for this talk of ominous signs in the sky, buildings ripped off their foundations, and cosmic meltdown.

On this pleasant Sunday, most of these stones seem fairly well in place, fixed, forever fixed. And though we had some anxious moments during the Cold War and the Nuclear Arms Race, we have surely worked all of that out now. Sure, the economy could be better, but we are fairly well fixed, “fixed in stone” so to speak. So we don’t resonate much to Jesus’ talk of cataclysm and catastrophe. People with good stock portfolios and large homes do not enjoy being told that God is going to get all of us in the end. If a temple, built to last for the millennia, with stones two tons thick, won’t last forever, what will?

A while back, we had a new roof put on our home. It was an expensive undertaking and I was annoyed that we were having to do it. I told the roofer that this time around I wanted quality shingles. Something that would last. “We guarantee these shingles will last for 30 years,” the roofer told me. I was pleased. Then the roofer added, these singles will last longer than I will.” Friends, it does something to you to know that an asphalt shingle is more immortal than you are.


Jesus, look at these shingles!


I have stood in the ruins of the great temples at Luxor. One moonlit night, a couple of my college friends and I caroused in what’s left of Hitler’s great stadium at Nuremberg, the Acropolis at Athens, the crumbling and looted pyramids at Giza. Jesus, look at these stones.”



DOCTRINAL POINTS:


1. THIS DESTRUCTION IS GOD'S JUDGMENT UPON ISRAEL AND SYMBOLIZES GOD'S

FUTURE JUDGMENT AT THE END OF THE WORLD. Luke closes Jesus' public

ministry with his teaching daily in the Temple. He predicts that the glorious temple will be destroyed. For the reader of Luke's gospel that had already been fulfilled in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. As readers of Luke we stand between the two events.


2. JESUS PROPHECIES THAT BEFORE THE END HIS FOLLOWERS WILL BE

PERSECUTED BY BOTH JEWS AND GENTILES: Suffering will even come from

those bound together by blood and love. They are not to be misled. The time of the

testimony must precede the end.


3. DISCIPLES MUST SUFFER AT THE HAND OF OTHERS ON THE WAY TO

GLORY: Blessed are they for they walk the way of the Son of Man. Just like John the

Baptist and the prophets of old who suffered for their service to the Lord, disciples can expect to be persecuted for their testimony to the Lord.


4. BY ENDURANCE "TO THE END" DISCIPLES DEMONSTRATE THAT THEY

ARE THE GOOD SEED SOWED IN GOOD SOIL. They are those who hold the

word in their hearts and "bear fruit through perseverance" (Luke 8:15).



APPLICATION/DISCUSSION:


1. The prophet Malachi was one of several prophets who wrote about the coming Day

of the Lord. It would be a day, which would bring vindication for those close to God

and punishment for the sinners. If we try to according to God's will, then Malachi's message gives us hope and encouragement. If we are running away from God

Malachi’s message is a warning and a call to return to God.


2. The second reading from Thessalonians was addressed to those Christians who

were convinced that the second coming of Jesus was imminent. Rather than go

about daily work and duties, they spent their time idly waiting and interfering in the

lives of others. Paul writes they were busy being busybodies.


3. The destruction of the temple and Jerusalem as predicted by Jesus had already

take place when Luke wrote his Gospel. This event was seen as a symbol of the end

of the world. Today we live under the threat of nuclear war or some other nuclear

disaster at the hands of terrorists. We spend millions of dollars on high-tech

defense systems [remember the "Star Wars" space defense systems of the 1980's?]

and anti-terrorist systems.


4. In Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street journal essay “God is Back” we see that the tragic

and apocalyptical events of 9/11 remind us of the Day of the Lord when disaster will fall on us suddenly. But we also see another dynamic at work, the total refocus of our attention on God. We might even say we have had a Metanouia in this country with our return to God. Let us pray that it is a total commitment to God that will lead to revival.

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