St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Jesus’s Words of Prophecy

Sermon on Mark 13:9-11 (Reformation Sunday)
Text: “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues.  On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.  And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.  Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say.  Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”
     Jesus spoke the words of our text on Tuesday of Holy Week.  As he and his disciples were leaving the temple area in Jerusalem, they called to his attention the majesty of the buildings.  In reply, Jesus said, “Do you see all these great buildings?  Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”  This caused a great deal of concern for the disciples, so when they were together with Jesus on the Mount of Olives, they asked Jesus when this would all happen.  Instead of telling them exactly when, he told them some things that would happen before the end of the world.  We read some of those earlier, when Jesus said, “Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.  When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines.”  He told them these signs so that they would be ready at the end of time.  He also wanted his disciples to know what was in store for them.  This morning, we are going to look at these verses seeing that JESUS’ WORDS OF PROPHECY were 1. Fulfilled In The Days Of The Apostles.  This day as we observe the Reformation of the church, we will also see that Jesus’ words of prophecy were 2. Fulfilled In The Days Of The Reformation.  We will also be reminded that Jesus’ words of prophecy are 3. Fulfilled In Our Day.
     Jesus would send his apostles out with the message of the gospel.  Before he ascended into heaven, he told them that they were to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”  This was to be their task.  The gospel message is a divider.  Those who hear it are either for it or against it.  Jesus wanted his disciples to be aware of the fact that their message would not always be well-received.  So, he said to them, “You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues.  On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.”  He prophesied what would happen to them, because they proclaimed the name of Jesus.
     As we study the subsequent history of the disciples, we see that Jesus’ words were fulfilled.  It would not be too long after Jesus ascended into heaven, that Peter and James were arrested for speaking to others about Jesus, after they had healed a man who was crippled.  When they were brought before the council and were asked by whose authority they had done this miracle, they witnessed to them, concluding with the words, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  When they were told to stop talking about Jesus, they replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”  They were then released.
     This was not the last time that they would be brought before the Jewish council.  The next time, when they refused to stop telling others about Jesus, they were flogged.  The attacks against them intensified.  A man by the name of Stephen was the first Christian to be put to death for his faith.  One of the twelve disciples, James, soon followed.  As a matter of fact, if early Church history is correct, all of the disciples, except John, were martyred for their faith.  We might also think of the apostle Paul.  In recounting his experiences, he wrote, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move.  I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.”  According to early Church history, he was also martyred for his faith.  Jesus’ words of prophecy were fulfilled in the days of the apostles.
     Yet, those were not the only words of prophecy that were fulfilled.  Jesus also said to them, “The gospel must first be preached to all nations.”  Jesus promised them that, in spite of the persecution, the gospel message would continue to spread.  If you read the book of Acts, you can see the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to Antioch.  Then we follow the apostle Paul as he went on those missionary journeys to modern day Turkey and Greece.  We also see how he continued to share the message even after he was arrested.  He appeared before the Roman governors, Felix and Festus.  He shared the word when he was taken to Rome to be put on trial.  According to early Church history, he was released and wound up going to Spain with the gospel, before he was arrested again.  According to these sources, the apostle Thomas made it as far as modern day India with the gospel.  Jesus’ words of prophecy were also fulfilled in the days of the apostles as they went out with the gospel message.
     We jump ahead some fourteen centuries to the days of Dr. Martin Luther.  Dr. Luther was a monk and a professor at the University of Wittenberg, Germany.  As he was teaching, a man by the name of John Tetzel came to a neighboring town and was selling indulgences.  Indulgences were pieces of paper that you bought which, it was claimed, would give you remission of sins and freedom from the terrors of purgatory.  When Dr. Luther heard what was going on, he went to the door of the Castle Church and posted ninety-five theses, or points that he wanted to debate.  He had no intention of breaking away from the church.  Rather, he saw abuses in the church and wanted to correct them.  Little did Luther realize the furor that those ninety-five theses would cause.  It wasn’t too long before the church began to attack him.  John Tetzel boasted, “Within three weeks I’ll have that heretic thrown into the fire.”  Dr. Luther was ordered to appear before Cardinal Cajetan, who ordered him to recant what he had said.  When Dr. Luther refused to do so, the pope issued a decree that Luther was a “stiff-necked, notorious, damned heretic.”  In this decree, the pope said that Luther was to be put to death, if he should refuse to recant.
     To settle this matter, Luther was summoned to the Diet or Meeting that took place in Worms.  Emperor Charles V presided over the meeting between Luther and the church.  During the course of the meeting, Luther was asked if the books that were on the table were his writings, and if he would retract them.  To the first question, Luther answered, “Yes.”  To the second question, he asked for the night to think about his answer.  The next day, when he was asked if he would recant, he said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures or evident reason . . . I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience.  Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise.  God help me.  Amen.”  God gave him the opportunity to witness before the “governors and kings.”  As a result of this confession, Luther became a man wanted dead or alive.
   Yet, the gospel continued to be “preached to all nations.”  Luther translated the Bible into the language of the people so that they could read God’s Word for themselves.  They could see that their salvation did not depend on what they did.  It was a free gift that came by God’s undeserved love.  Luther wrote many different books and sermons that taught the amazing love of God.  God used Dr. Luther to uncover the gospel truth, which had been hidden for so many centuries.  Because of his work, the gospel light has shone in the dark world.  Jesus’ words of prophecy of persecution and the spread of the gospel were also fulfilled in the days of the Reformation.
     Jesus’ words of prophecy continue to be fulfilled in our day.  We may ask if the words regarding persecution are still being fulfilled.  In doing some reading for this sermon, I came across a 2011 report regarding modern-day Christian martyrdom.  Using as the measure of someone’s life prematurely being shortened because they were Christians, this study estimated that there were 1,000,000 martyrs during the decade from 2000-2010.  That comes out to 270 martyrs every day.  There are many places in our world where you cannot openly worship Christ or talk about him.  In some places, you face a fine or prison.  There are other places where you could well lose your life for telling others about Jesus.  Jesus’ words regarding persecution are still being fulfilled in our day.  While we may not be facing these things in our own country, it does not mean that they are not going on.  Jesus’ words of prophecy regarding persecution are still being fulfilled today.
     Yet, how thankful we are that Jesus’ words regarding his gospel message being proclaimed to all the world also continue to be fulfilled.  We see the easy access of the Bible, both in written form and electronically.  We thank God for those people who go around the world with the gospel message.  We don’t even have to go across the seas to see this in action.  We are blessed to have our churches and schools share the precious gospel message.  We see parents teaching their children about what Jesus has done for them.  We see it as people tell their neighbors and friends about what God’s amazing love.
     Yet, as we were reminded earlier, the gospel is a divider.  Some people will not want to hear it.  Some will make fun of it.  Others will react harshly to the speaker.  For that reason, we may be tempted to keep quiet about Jesus and let someone else do the spreading of the gospel message.  May God forgive us for those times when we have felt this way.  Jesus also commanded us to tell others what he has done for them.  We must confess that there have been times when we have not done this as we should.  At times, we also have not supported those around the world with our prayers and our offerings as we could.  How thankful we are that Jesus also paid for these sins when he died on the cross.  Because of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, we have been cleansed.  Now, because we have been reminded of God’s great love for us, may we share this good news with others.  Jesus gives us this assurance that when we don’t know what to say, we don’t need to worry.  He said, “Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”  The Holy Spirit will use your words for his purpose.  You simply witness to the faith that has been created in you.
      Jesus’ words of prophecy, at first, may be frightening.  He speaks of persecution.  He speaks of people hating the gospel message.  Yet, we also have his assurance that, in spite of Satan’s efforts, the gospel will continue to be proclaimed until the end of time.  At that time, those who have been brought to faith will be gathered from all the nations and will proclaim the victory of our God forever.  How wonderful it will be to be part of that celebration.  Amen.