What's Taking So Long?
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 13:1–13:13
The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost
November 17-18, 2018
“What’s Taking So Long?”
We are about to find ourselves in some heavy traffic as we go over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving, or Grandma comes to our house. With all the holiday traffic, the question we will be hearing is this: “What’s taking so long?” I asked myself that question recently as I was waiting for the technician to come to our house and do the annual maintenance check-up on our gas fireplace. I waited until well after the window of time when he was supposed to show up, and then called the company to see what was going on. I learned that the technician had just been fired and that the next available appointment wasn’t until after Thanksgiving. Grrr… Needless to say, I wasn’t too happy. “What’s taking so long?” When I talked to my mom last Sunday afternoon (November 11), I reminded her that her birthday was coming up in just one month. She will be 96 on December 11. My mom’s comment went something like this: “Oh, hmmph… I don’t want to be another year older. I’m ready to go to heaven and be with the Lord.” “What’s taking so long?” As we get ready to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday in the week ahead, that can be a question almost everyone asks as we wait for the turkey and trimmings to be ready to eat. Whether we are six years old or ninety-six years old, it can be mighty hard to wait. We believe in Jesus Christ who died, who has risen from the dead, who is coming again, and we are waiting for his promised return. As we wait and watch for his coming again, Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel call us to vigilance, patient endurance, and faith in the midst of a world that is literally falling apart. “What’s Taking So Long?” is the theme for preaching on this second to last Sunday of the church year. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
The large stones of the temple complex in Jerusalem are the backdrop for today’s Gospel lesson. Today, we see only the foundation stones of this massive structure, which form the western, or wailing, wall, sacred to Jewish people. The disciples are in awe of all these magnificent buildings, covered in white marble and overlaid with gold. No one could have imagined that in only forty years the temple and all of Jerusalem itself would be destroyed. The prophetic words of Jesus are a sober reminder to us all that structures and institutions which appear to be solid and enduring can quickly come to an end. “Too big to fail” – remember that phrase from ten years ago? And yet, some very big financial corporations failed big time when the housing market bubble burst in 2007 and 2008. As a result, many people’s housing and financial situations were devastated. It’s taken the better part of ten years to turn this around, and even now, many are still living with the effects of this. We’ve learned that outward appearances can be deceiving. Things are not always what they seem. Jesus cautions his disciples, then and now, to be wary and watchful because all of these things can and will all go away.
Jesus’ words about false messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, earthquakes, and famines are more than 2000 years old, and yet they are strikingly relevant for the time in which we live. Perhaps this is true of every generation, but it seems especially poignant now. Having just observed the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, what have we learned from our forebears? Are we more just and upright, more decent and moral, than those who have gone before us? Have we gained insight, wisdom, and understanding for living from them? Not so much. It seems that every generation must learn the same lessons over and over again. That is the sad history of our humanity. In the midst of all this, God’s people cry out, “What’s taking so long? Come quickly, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).
There is a reason why it seems to be taking so long, and Jesus tells us this: “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations” (Mark 13:10). The will of the Lord is that every people and tribe and race and language be allowed to hear the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. The will of the Lord is that people everywhere have the opportunity to receive the good news that Jesus himself is that once-for-all sacrifice for sin – their sin and ours. The will of the Lord is that all people everywhere would come to know the full forgiveness, freedom, and joy that comes through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, that because of what Jesus has done, “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18). But we’re not there yet. The good news of Jesus has not yet gone out to all peoples, tribes, races, and languages. The Joshua Project is a Christian outreach ministry dedicated to bringing the good news of Jesus to unreached people groups. In their research, they have identified a world-wide total of some 17,000 people groups, of which 7000+ are considered unreached at the present time (https://joshuaproject.net/assets/js/ppt/JoshuaProjectOverview/JoshuaProjectOverview.html). This means that outreach and mission work are just as important as they ever were as we join Jesus on his mission until Jesus comes again.
Jesus’ words may well strike us as harsh and difficult to hear. They make us uncomfortable – even squirm – because we’d rather not think about them. Being hauled before the authorities because we follow Jesus may not be our experience in this particular time and place, but it is something that fellow believers in other parts of the world are very familiar with. They have much to teach us about the cost of discipleship and what it means to follow Jeus. We want to believe that the good news of Jesus isn’t something that divides people or sets them against one another, especially in families, but this does happen. And it happens within our own families. This may even come up around our own Thanksgiving dinner tables. When people do not share our faith in Jesus, what do we do? Do we stew and fret? Do we get up and leave the table? Do we get into a shouting match? No, we trust that Jesus will do what he says: “… do not be anxious before-hand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11). It is the Holy Spirit, not us, who will move hearts and minds. This means that we will seek out Jesus and his guidance in these situations. It means that we want God’s gracious will, not our own will, to be done, and that means submitting all things to the Lord. It means that by God’s grace we are going to show forth the fruits of the Spirit in what we say and do: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23), even when tension and tempers flare around the Thanksgiving dinner table. No one is ever argued or coerced into the kingdom of heaven, but people are loved into God’s kingdom. Jesus words to us are these: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Here is a call for the endurance of the saints: by the grace of God in Jesus Christ we are to persevere, to hold on, to hang in there in faith, even when we find ourselves asking God, “What’s taking so long?” Jesus reminds us: “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13b).
Help us, Lord Jesus, that by your grace we may be “steadfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58b) until the day of your coming. Amen.