The Gospel Must Be Preached

Sermon 1768 Mark 13.5-11 October 31, 2021

If you have lived long enough and paid attention, you can recount how much the world has changed. Imagine growing up without cell phones! It’s like a post-apocalyptic horror movie, right? One of the things that has changed is Reformation, or more specifically, attitudes between Lutherans and Catholics. One of my childhood pastors was rabidly anti-Catholic. Some of the Reformation sermons you dig up use some pretty loaded words directed at the other side. Even today, some church rituals or songs or even readings appointed for the Church Year are condemned as “too Catholic.” You can’t generalize over a few incidents, because there certainly were sharp words coming from the Catholics about the Lutherans, too. Young women were kicked out of Catholic homes for getting engaged to Lutherans. One of our preschool students said the table prayer at the Thanksgiving meal. His grandpa beamed, “He’ll make a fine priest, one day.” Grandma sniffed, “I don’t think so—they’re LUTHERANS now!”

So you could imagine my surprise when at Seminary I discovered in the Augsburg Confession, a confession of our church, the Lutherans did not want to “wrest the government from the bishops, but this one thing is asked, namely, that, they allow the Gospel to be purely taught (Article 28.76).” Lutherans would submit to the bishops’ authority out of love and unity, if they permitted the Gospel to be preached! That was all that mattered. The Gospel must be preached. Lutherans could hold their noses at a lot, but

The Gospel Must Be Preached

1. Though the earth itself gives way (5-8).

2. I will listen to God’s Gospel (9-11).

“Jesus said 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. There are the beginning of birth pains (5-8).’”

Trouble was coming. It would seem as if the earth itself would give way. For two generations the Mediterranean world, from Spain to Asia Minor, from Northern Africa to Jerusalem, had enjoyed the Roman Peace. No enemy invasions, no famines sweeping the land. When one section suffered drought, the wheat fields of Egypt more than made up for it. Life was good, as long as you didn’t raise a hand or shoot off your mouth against Rome. That was going to change. Society and nature would be turned upside down.

False prophets would come and have the audacity to claim to be the second coming of Jesus Christ himself. And people would listen to them and be led astray by them. Wars would break out so often that even rumors of wars against the Roman Empire would seem like today’s headlines. Ethnic groups against ethnic groups, tyrants and against rebel warlords. Sound familiar? Earthquakes would sink shorelines and bury cities in volcanic ash. Famine and disease would sweep the entire Roman Empire, from the East to the West. It would be as if the earth itself were giving way.

The disciples were to watch out for it, because they had a job to do. The Gospel must be preached.

The age of the Reformation was one of those eras when the old world was giving way. A New World had been discovered and its gold was sending Spanish navies across oceans and Spanish armies across European borders. The printing press generated the world’s first mass media. Rising cities broke the cycle of birth, marriage and death on the same plot of land. Everything seemed to be changing. Nothing was the same. But don’t lose heart. There was a job for Christians. The Gospel must be preached.

Oh, I wish I could point to the hardships and terror of our times to compare them to the times of Luther or the times of the early Christian Church, but I can’t. The only famine we face is the lack of large sizes in the clothing stores. Building codes have improved so much that headline earthquakes rarely claim more than a dozen people. There is still tribal warfare, tribe against tribe. Military coups still take place to oust the old dictator, but mostly that’s in out-of-the-way places which are only a concern to the United Nations and our State Department. People don’t really need a false Christ to be deceived and led astray. Sunday all you can drink mimosa brunches do the trick just as well. We don’t need natural disasters and social upheavals to silence the Gospel in our midst. Pastor Kolander finally believed me when I told him rain days out here were like snow days in the Midwest. When it is raining, don’t expect people to show up for church.

“These are the beginning of birth pains,” Jesus said. You could lose perspective and in despair say, “It’s going to get a lot worse!” Or you could wise up and see how the story ends—a woman forgets the pangs of labor when her newborn child is in her arms. Press on.

Jesus speaks like a veteran baby doctor. He lays out everything that will happen, everything the patient will experience and have to go through to have a successful childbirth. The payoff for this suffering is that the Gospel will be preached.

There is an undercurrent in Jesus’ words. He is going to die on the cross. He is going to pay for the sins both of the pathetic and apathetic world. And then, he will leave this world for his heavenly throne. How could any false prophet come and claim to be Jesus if Jesus were still here in the world? It would be the lamest version of “To Tell the Truth” ever! No matter what happens in the world, the center of God’s plan of salvation will hold. Jesus will die for the sins of the world. Jesus will rise to prove there is eternal life with God—heaven is open. Jesus will ascend into heaven to show his mission had been gloriously accomplished. Because of these realities, the Gospel must be preached. The disciples, in the face of persecution and death, all would preach the Gospel, because it was a fact. It was truth. It had happened.

The Gospel must be preached. I will listen to God’s Gospel.

Jesus goes on. “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 (9-10).”

As if a world falling apart weren’t bad enough, Jesus turns his focus on the church, well, synagogue, the religious home of the disciples at the time. From your own church opposition will arise! The ones you trusted, the ones who led you, the ones you regarded as pillars of the community—they will arrest and punish you. And your own government, your governors and kings, you will have to answer to them! Jesus’ disciples are not going to be undercover spies or behind the lines guerilla fighters. They are going to go about their business within their own culture, be it Jewish or Roman, and find this opposition. People they listened to will become their enemies.

Who to listen to now? Listen to God’s Gospel. It will always be there. Jesus says the Gospel will preached to “all nations.” We make a big point of including everyone when Jesus tells us to baptize “all nations.” “All nations” includes everyone, young and old. We baptize babies. We baptize grandparents (if they have not yet been baptized). We baptize everybody, “all nations.” The Gospel will be preached to “all nations.” Everybody will get a chance to hear the Gospel. It is not just for people in First World countries. It is not just for people in developing countries. It is for all people. Jesus died for everyone. Everyone needs to hear about that sacrificial death which won forgiveness of sins for them, life and salvation. And how is that Gospel going to get there? Let Jesus tell us!

“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 (11).”

We are going to carry that message! The Gospel must be preached and we are the ones who are going to do it!

I think you can tell why this Gospel text has been chosen for Reformation Sunday. Luther and the Lutheran princes did stand before kings and governors to confess their faith. The Lutheran Reformers who followed Luther did appear before the government, repeatedly, to set forth the Gospel as the heart and core of their teaching. The same assurance Jesus gave his disciples was the assurance the Reformers counted on—the Holy Spirit would give them words to speak. It would be God speaking through them, not them having to wing it on their own.

Arrested? Put on trial? I don’t care how much some want to incite and panic us, but that isn’t happening in America. Not here anyway. Not yet. But the same principle applies. The Gospel must be preached. Don’t work ourselves into a tizzy. God will give us the words to speak.

This is perhaps one of the greatest applications of the Reformation. The Gospel must be preached. You and I will do it. The Gospel is not rocket science. We don’t need years and years of education and an IQ that almost equals our weight to tell someone about Jesus. Every believer can tell others about Jesus. Every believer can participate and support the preaching of the Gospel, both by their attendance in worship, their offerings to support and fund Gospel spreading efforts and by their prayers which God uses to open doors for the Gospel. It is something the theologians have called the Universal Priesthood. Every believer can pray to God, every believer can hear and learn God’s Word, every believer can offer worship to God and every believer can brag Jesus up to others. In a nutshell, that’s what evangelism and mission work is, bragging up our God, proclaiming his praiseworthy deeds!

Now, here’s the other side of that application. Every believer can preach the Gospel because God gives us the words. Oh, don’t think of some extra-biblical vision with a secret message we are to give the world. And don’t think of some charismatic, ecstatic messages that just pour out of us. “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of prophets (1 Corinthians 14.32).” Out of control doesn’t come from the Holy Spirit.

Think rather, of the words that do come from the Holy Spirit—the Bible! God has given us the story of Jesus in the Bible! We have his saving will black on white in the words of the Bible! We have the very words of Jesus in the Bible! The Holy Spirit has given us the words we are to use. They are the words of the Bible. That’s how the Apostle Paul described the way he worked. “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words (1 Corinthians 2.14).” Stick to the words of the Bible. Stick to the story line of Jesus.

I can’t help but make a mention—and this will certainly be the last one I will ever make of it—of the Broadway play, “The Book of Mormon.” As a subscriber to the Broadway series at the Smith Center, I saw it when it came to town. I am too cheap to skip a show I paid for. It made me feel sorry for Mormons, it was so bad. And I don’t think I will spoil the ending, for I doubt any of you will spend good money to see it, but the missionary who is the worst missionary any religion could ever have, wings it and comes up with his own version, a cross between the Book of Mormon and Star Wars, the “Book of Arnold.” Stick to the words of the Bible. Stick to the story line of Jesus. Don’t wing it. The more Jesus and the less us in the telling, the better!

The disciples practiced what they preached. The Gospel was the center of their lives. We don’t have any other writings from them besides what they wrote in the Bible. The Gospel was all their message. I wonder if that’s why Luther insisted that the only writings of his people should fight to keep were his translation of the Bible into German and the Small Catechism. They contained the very words of the Gospel. And the Reformers who followed Luther confessed their determination “not to depart even a finger’s breadth either from the subjects themselves, or from the phrases which are found” in the Old and New Testaments.

Don’t wing it. The more Jesus and the less us in the telling, the better! We will be running with good company.

The Gospel Must Be Preached

1. Though the earth itself gives way (5-8).

2. I will listen to God’s Gospel (9-11).

Things change. Priorities don’t. Our priority is not to go about picking fights with those who don’t see things the way we see them. Warning about teachings that can undermine the cross of Christ is one thing. Petty partisanship is another. Our priority is that the gospel must be preached. Do that, and we will be not only heirs of the Reformation, but we will live it every day.

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