“The End of the World’s Coming” (Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, on Mark 13:24-37, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)
“The End of the World’s Coming” (Mark 13:24-37)
“In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” Mark 13:24-25.
Sunday, April 14, 1935. Palm Sunday. Across the Great Plains of America–in Kansas, Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, Colorado, New Mexico–people awoke that day to a bright and clear morning. It looked like it would be a fine, sunny day. This came as a welcome relief. For several years, that part of the country had been suffering from a severe drought, and dust storms–“black dusters,” they called them–were a frequent occurrence. Most every day was gray and hazy now. The dust carried in the air made it hard to breathe. People–children and old people, especially–got “dust pneumonia,” which killed many. But this day, Palm Sunday, 1935, looked like it would be a clear and sunny day.
But before the day was over, the biggest dust storm of them all–a mile high and 200 miles wide–would sweep down the plains and turn the day to night. Palm Sunday, 1935, would forever be known as “Black Sunday.”
In the PBS series, “The Dust Bowl,” which aired this past week, people who lived through Black Sunday–they were children then, they’re old folks now–recalled in vivid detail what they remember from that day. One woman said: “We saw this cloud coming in. It would just roll in–black, black dirt. And I’ll never forget my grandmother . . . she said, ‘You kids run and get together. The end of the world’s coming.’ . . . And that cloud just rolled like that, just kept coming in. It just got dark as could be.”
A young songwriter who would go on to become famous, the late Woody Guthrie, told what he remembered: “We watched the dust storm come up, like a Red Sea closing in on the Israel children. . . . And a lot of people in the crowd that was religious-minded, and they was up pretty well on the Scriptures, and they said, ‘Well, boys, girls, friends, and relatives: This is the end. This is the end of the world.’”
Woody Guthrie would write a song about that day, called “Dust Storm Disaster.” It begins, “On the 14th day of April of 1935, there struck the worst of dust storms that ever filled the sky.” The song goes on to say, “We thought it was our judgment, we thought it was our doom.” And again, “They thought the world had ended, and they thought it was their doom.”
Now what is the point in telling you this story? The point is, it was not without reason that those folks back in 1935 thought it was the end of the world. What they were experiencing fit one of the signs that Jesus said would happen when the end comes. The sun was indeed darkened. It did look like judgment. It did look like doom. And what I want to tell you here today is that these signs have been occurring ever since Jesus first predicted them, and they will continue to occur, until the last day finally does come, the day when Christ returns. That will be a day of judgment and doom, yes. But it will also be a day of salvation and great joy. And the point is, we want to be ready for that day. Yes, “The End of the World’s Coming.”
Jesus has told us in advance that that day is coming, and to be ready for it. And that in itself is a sign of his grace. “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” Jesus says we won’t know the day or hour. But we can know that the end is coming. We can be sure of that.
We can see the signs of this world coming to an end in the things that Jesus has told us about, in both last week’s Gospel and this week’s: religious deception; wars and rumors of wars; natural disasters, earthquakes and famines; the persecution of the church. All these things must take place–and they have been taking place–before the end comes. But, Jesus says, the end is not yet.
But this is why every generation might think the end is very near, because they are seeing these signs, any one of which might be the harbinger of the end. Like the folks back in 1935 thought. Like we might think, in 2012. And no, I’m not talking about a Mayan calendar. I’m talking about international economic distress. I’m talking about a great falling away from the Christian faith, at least in Europe and America. I’m talking about tsunamis and hurricanes and changes in the climate, whatever their cause. You see, there are enough signs in every generation to lead the people of that time to think, “This might be it.”
And so we must be ready. Are you ready to face the end? It will be a day of judgment and doom for many. “The clouds of judgment gather, the time is growing late; be sober and be watchful, our judge is at the gate.” How will you escape the judgment? On what basis? On your works? On your inherent goodness? Good luck with that. I can tell you right now, that won’t cut it. Not good enough. You don’t measure up to the standard of God’s law. The law will accuse you. Your sins will condemn you. The Lord will judge you, and you will be lost, if that’s all you’ve got to stand on. No, you need a different refuge, a different way of escape when that black cloud rolls in. What will it be?
Christ alone. He is the only way. There is no other. For that day that is coming is the day when Christ returns, coming back to save all those who are trusting in him. And your confidence will not be misplaced, beloved. This Christ Jesus is your Savior, your rescuer and redeemer. He will save you from the day of judgment and condemnation. He will roll back the dark cloud that hangs over you, the doom of death and hell, and the heavens will open to a bright and glorious day, an endless day, with no more sorrow or mourning.
You see, God in his mercy has provided one other sign that must first take place before the end comes: The gospel will be proclaimed to all nations. The good news of salvation in Christ, the message of forgiveness and hope found only in him–this most glorious of good news has been sounding forth, ringing out, for 2,000 years now. That’s how you have come to believe in Christ. That’s how you and multitudes more, from every corner of the globe, have come to trust in him and will be saved by him. That is why that day when Christ comes again will be a day of rejoicing for us, not one of fear or dread.
For this is what Christ has done to save us. He endured to the end. When all the signs for him were looking bad, he endured. In the evening, when he was betrayed. At midnight, when he was falsely accused. When the cock crows, and his disciple denies him. In the morning, when they call for his crucifixion. Truly that was a Black Friday when the Son of God hung on the cross in your place, suffering the punishment you deserved. And darkness fell over the land.
But Jesus cried out, in loud triumph, “It is finished!” The end, the goal, has been reached. Salvation has been won. “My righteousness will cover all your sins,” Christ says. “No longer will the judgment terrify you. Look at my empty tomb. That is what is in store for you, too, on the day when I return. Resurrection. Life. Hold on to that hope. Live in that hope. Look forward to that day, with great expectation, for your redemption draweth nigh.”
And this hope is what will free you up now to carry out your assigned tasks in life with both diligence and alertness. You will be busy, doing what God has given you to do, whatever the tasks of love and duty you find at hand to do. At the same time, you will be awake and alert to the nearness of your Master’s return, for he is coming back.
What is the work God has given you to do? Husband, father, wife, neighbor? Worker, citizen, church member? Whatever your vocation, or vocations, in life, the Lord will help you live out that calling with uprightness and responsibility. That is what faithful servants will do, while we await the Master’s return.
And we will also have our eyes open to the signs of the times. We can see the dangers and the disasters all around us. This is no time for falling asleep. No, we don’t want to be caught off guard and be seduced by the world into a sleepy stupor. Christians are wide-awake people. We can see our Lord coming, just over the horizon. For us, it is a bright cloud, a cloud of glory, that we can see. The world may be growing dark, but the light of Christ will lead the way before us, even as the sunrise is just about to dawn.
“The end of the world’s coming,” the people thought when they saw the giant dust storm approaching. “They thought the world had ended, and they thought it was their doom.” Life without Christ is indeed like a “Dust Bowl,” a dry and arid place of death and darkness. “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” The end of the world’s coming, and, without Christ, a grave and grim future lies before us: only judgment and doom.
But in Christ, through faith in him, disaster and despair give way to life and light. The end of the world’s coming, but for us who hope in Christ, something better is on the way. We who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake to everlasting life and shine like the brightness of the sky above. This is God’s promise. Believe it.