You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet!
Our text for today is our Gospel lesson, Mark 13:1-13, which has already been read.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Even his critics knew President Ronald Reagan as “The Great Communicator.” I think much of that ability to communicate was due to the consistency of his message. No matter what the forum or audience, he always spoke of the greatness of America’s heritage, the productivity of its citizens, and the potential for even greater success. Frequently, he would close his message with these words: “America’s best days lie ahead. You ain’t seen nothing yet!”
Though certainly not grammatically correct, it did get his point across and it captured the imagination of millions of supporters for years afterward. Even in the most recent election many people were looking for someone who could effectively communicate that sense of optimism and purpose.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet!” I can almost imagine Jesus saying that to His disciples as they oohed and aahed at the splendor of the temple compound. “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
“Do you see all these great buildings?” says Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
You ain’t seen nothing yet!
It was natural for one of His disciples to remark on splendor of the buildings as Jesus left the temple for the last time. We, too, are impressed when we view beautiful churches and monumental buildings. We tour them on our vacations and show slides and photographs of them to our family and friends. Historic societies raise millions of dollars to restore them and preserve them.
The temple in Jerusalem was perhaps more spectacular than anything we have ever seen. It was one of the wonders of the ancient world. In fact, there was a proverb in the Jewish Talmud that “Whoever has not seen Herod’s temple has never seen anything beautiful” (Baba Bathra, 4a). Herod the Great started rebuilding it in about 20 B.C., employing over 18,000 slaves. Fifty years later work was still in progress and would continue for another 30 years.
The stones mentioned by Jesus in our text were massive. The ancient historian Josephus tells us some of them were 40 feet long by 12 feet wide by 8 feet high. Even the smallest “bricks” were 15 feet by 3 feet by 2 feet. Looking at this impressive structure, the disciples thought that here surely was something built to stand as long as this world would.
They were mistaken. When those governing the temple rejected the Word of God and the authority of His Son, they wrote their own ticket of destruction. In A.D. 70 the Roman army overran Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. Not one stone was left on another, so we can no longer even determine the exact location on the temple mount.
In further demonstration that He had rejected the temple, God has since permitted the Muslims to build their Dome of the Rock on that very site. Part of the great retaining wall still stands, but that was not part of the temple itself. Sadly, even its use today as the Wailing Wall does not turn hearts to the one and only Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Israel’s history shows that Jesus came to His own and His own did not receive Him. May we never make the same mistake!
In shocked silence, the disciples follow Jesus to the Mount of Olives. There they have time to pause and ponder Jesus’ weighty words and four of them question Jesus privately: “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” These four—Andrew, Peter, James, and John—had first been disciples of John the Baptist, who had spoken of the end of things as well.
“I baptize you with water for repentance,” John had declared. “But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Mt 3:11-12).
You think John the Baptist is great? You ain’t seen nothing yet!
For over three years, these disciples had followed this more powerful One, Jesus Christ, whom John pointed toward. Now He is also talking about this time of judgment and great destruction. It’s no wonder they have a few questions. You and I would too, if we were in the same position. The four disciples believe the destruction of the temple will be one of the signs that usher in the end of the age, when Christ comes in judgment. They want to know what else to look for so they were not caught off-guard.
Jesus answers accordingly. He does not reveal the date to them, for that would have been spiritually dangerous. But He does speak in detail of the signs and of what would happen in the meantime. Thus He prepares them and us for the trials ahead. You think you’ve had hard times? You ain’t seen nothing yet!
Jesus says to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 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. These are the beginning of birth pains.” You think the world’s gone crazy? You ain’t seen nothing yet!
These words of Jesus read like a page out of our daily newspaper: cults with their messiahs, wars and threats of war, earthquakes and famines. We have them all. They are the evidence that sin has corrupted all things and that only the Lord’s coming can finally set things straight.
False messiahs appeared before the destruction of Jerusalem, and there have been many since. They are among us now. Cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons have taken millions captive by their false teaching while they claim to be Christians, while they claim, to be the actual true church.
And even within Christian denominations there are more and more false prophets who dismiss Biblical teachings on topics such as sin, sexuality, the person of Christ, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and the pastoral office. They spread soul-damning “new, enlightened understandings,” and their words are eagerly received by people with “itching ears.”
If you think that this isn’t bad enough to fit the terrible descriptions of the end times in Scripture, remember that the worst kind of distress is not physical but spiritual. The worst disaster is the loss of the Gospel, when Jesus becomes merely a model for victorious and obedient living rather than Savior and Redeemer from sin. When God’s Word is not purely taught and the Sacraments are not correctly administered, the very means of our salvation is taken away from us. Jesus’ words are sharp and to the point: “Watch out that no one deceives you.” On the surface, things may appear normal or even peaceful. But Satan’s best work is done in secret, without people realizing what he is doing or that he is the one doing it.
Jesus also cautions, “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” (Mark 13:7-8).
The last century witnessed the most destructive wars on the broadest scale in the world’s history. And with terrorists dedicated to another god and the elimination of all who will not convert to their Islamic faith having access to weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, this age has the potential for something far worse in the future. You think our world is dangerous now? You ain’t seen nothing yet!
Jesus also says, “There will earthquakes in various places and famines.” Nature itself will “act up” in these last days. Creation itself will start to fall apart. We’ve certainly seen this happening in a variety of ways. Whether you want to blame it on “global warming,” “El Nino,” or just regular climate cycles and changing weather patterns, there have been earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and droughts on a broad scale.
But you ain’t seen nothing yet! Jesus does not say that all these signs are indications that the end is present but they are “the beginning of birth pains.” St. Paul explains: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22, 23).
Now, Jesus doesn’t want us to become fatalists or doomsayers. But He does give us a healthy dose of realism here, so that we will remember what’s really important. We are all fallen people in a fallen world that is headed for judgment. Still, it is not all bad news. When Jesus says, “Such things must happen,” He indicates that God has a hand in it. In fact, if it were not for God’s intervention in our lives, we would be among those many people whom Daniel describes as condemned to shame and everlasting contempt. But God, in His mercy, has forgiven us for the sake of His Son. So the appropriate attitude for us in these latter days is not fear, but one of repentance and humility before God.
Jesus does not tell His disciples these things to terrify or discourage us, but rather to prepare us for what lies ahead. We need strengthening to be able to live out our faith in this world and bear the cross. We need to be reminded that for God’s people, suffering comes before the glorious victory, just as it did for our Lord Jesus. Yet, that victory is ours as surely as Jesus is now at the Father’s right hand, ready to return for His people.
In the meantime, He has not left us here alone. In Word and Sacraments, Jesus continues to lead us and guide us. In Holy Baptism, God seals us with His Holy Spirit. He gives us His holy name and makes us His children. His Holy Spirit gives us faith, wisdom, and understanding. As we hear and study God’s holy Word, we grow in the faith and are “prepared to given an answer to everyone who asks [us] to give the reason for the hope [we] have” (1 Peter 3:15).
As we confess our sins and receive God’s holy absolution we are cleansed of our sins and renewed for service in God’s kingdom. In Holy Communion, we receive Christ’s very body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and strengthening of our faith. We are given a foretaste of the eternal feast that awaits us in heaven. In these means of grace, we are equipped to take up Christ’s cross and share the Gospel with our family, friends, and neighbors, and all of the world until the end of time when Christ appears in glory.
When will that end be? Jesus does not say specifically. Rather, he points to our assignment in the meanwhile: “The Gospel must first be preached to all nations.” And then He encourages us to remain faithful in the meanwhile: “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” Instead of being concerned about the exact date, let us go forward using our time and talents to witness for Him. Let us regularly gather around His life-giving Word and Sacraments, knowing that as we do, Christ Himself will help us face and overcome the trials.
Remember, the best days lie ahead—for eternity. You ain’t seen nothing yet! Of this, you can be most sure, because the One who has overcome the world for you declares to you His love and forgiveness. That is, He lived for you, He died for you, and He rose again for you, so that you would have salvation and eternal life. So that you would be forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.