A Reformation Day sermon at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Greenville, WI by Pastor John Qualmann; based on Mark 13:5-13. 

Frenchman Frederic Bourdin is known as the “Chameleon.”  At age 23 he convinced a Texas family that he was their 16-year old son, who had been missing for three years.  Despite the fact that he had different eye color than the missing boy, he pulled it off for five months.  In fact, he made a career of it, posing as an imposter of missing children over 40 times across Europe and America, until he finally went to prison.

I suppose that doesn’t concern you a whole lot, but stories of deception happen every day. The suave engineer you just met online isn’t really Mr. Right, or the gorgeous internet nurse who melts your heart isn’t Miss Right, but they are email scammers from Nigeria who trick nice people into giving away every dollar in their bank account. It happens every day.  How do they do it? How did the Chameleon do it?   Deception.

While Jesus is concerned about your hard earned savings, he’s more concerned about you spending eternity with him. So today we hear him speaking with a powerful voice warning about deceptions that could lead any of his believers to the wrong side of eternity.

It was a late Tuesday afternoon in April. Jesus and his disciples are on the Mt. of Olives just east of Jerusalem looking west, watching the sun shine on the glorious temple.  Peter, Andrew, James and John ask him about the destruction of that temple and Jerusalem that Jesus had referred to minutes before. In his answer Jesus looks beyond Jerusalem’s demise 40 years down the road and refers to his second coming.  Twice he says “Watch out!”

“Many will come in my name claiming ‘I am he’ and will deceive many.  Not a few, but many false teachers will speak on the basis of Jesus’ words recorded in the Bible and will trick people. At the same time there will be obvious signs of Judgment Day:  countries attacking countries, natural disasters, evil increasing, etc. “But you must be on your guard!” Jesus said.  Believers will be arrested and will have to speak before Jewish leaders and secular government officials and they’ll die for their faith in Jesus.

And all that happened.

Throughout the book of Acts we read of the early Christians thrown into prison, sometimes flogged (their bare backs whipped with sharp pieces of metal or bone), killed. Just a little after the words I read, Jesus concluded, “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” You’ve got to be on your guard.

But the fulfillments of Jesus’ words didn’t just happen in the decades following his ascension to heaven. They have been and continue to be fulfilled for the 1985 years since Jesus spoke those words on that Tuesday. Across the globe Christians are being arrested, sometimes beaten, sometimes robbed, sometimes beheaded. False teachers are still here – some so far out that they actually claim to be Jesus himself, or the world’s messiah. Most are much more subtle; they twist or contradict or ignore Jesus’ words.

Do you remember these billboards and all the talk in May 2011?  $5 million was spent on them as Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping predicted Jesus’ return on May 21.  Now to his credit, on May 22 he admitted he was wrong. He said it was actually October 21, 2011, that Jesus would return. Seems no one had bothered to mention he had actually predicted Jesus’ return first on Sept 6, 1994.  O for 3!

This shouldn’t surprise us because Jesus predicted it. The deceivers will trick people! That’s why he said, “You must be on your guard.” But it didn’t start with Harold Camping. It started in the very first decades after Jesus was here. A variety of false teachers, wrong ideas about who Jesus is, the notion that you get to heaven by a combination of Jesus and your efforts, spread like wildfire. At the same time faithful missionaries traveled the world and God-fearing believers supported those missionaries, prayed for their unbelieving family and friends and invite them to learn about their only hope. The message of what Jesus has done to save the world reached all nations by the end of the first century.

Fast-forward 1400 years to about 1500 AD.  The good news message of the Bible – that we get to heaven by God’s grace (undeserved love) alone – was all but lost, buried under man-made rules, ideas that don’t come from Scripture, layers of “extra” things that need to be done so someone could go to heaven.  And God sent a humble man, a German monk and priest named Martin Luther who studied the Bible and saw the good news of God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life was being covered up.  He uncovered it.  And then he did what Jesus predicted:  he appeared before both religious assemblies and secular government officials and boldly spoke in defense of Jesus and his Word. “Here I stand” are Luther’s famous words when he was told to take back his writings or face death.  On God’s Word and God’s Word alone he stood. “I can do no other” he said, “God help me, Amen.”  And God did. God saw to it not only that Luther wasn’t killed but that the true teachings of the Bible would remain to this day.

 

But what about you and me? It’s been 498 years since Martin Luther posted the Ninety-Five Sentences on the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany, and no one’s being arrested and hauled off to Oshkosh or Waupun because it says “Lutheran” on our sign. It’s over 19 centuries since the Apostle Paul spoke about Jesus before the Roman emperor, Caesar, the most powerful person on the planet. The Holy Spirit did give those apostles the words – both to speak and to write so it’s exactly what Jesus said, “It is not [them] speaking but the Holy Spirit.” Those words are right there in your pew, on your shelf at home, for many of you in your desk or locker at school, even on your phone!  Yes, there’s an app for that!  We’ve got the Bible, so how much do we really have to be on guard?

The answer to that question depends on not only what value do you place on your immortal soul, but what value do you place on the eternity of your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren? The truth that God rescues sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, from Scripture alone is still being attacked today. And if we lose that, so will our kids and grandkids.  We’ve got to be on our guard! College students, are you on your guard or are you oblivious to the attacks on you and your faith in Jesus?  High school students, are you on your guard, soaking up your opportunities to grow stronger in God’s Word realizing that there’s a greater likelihood that in five-six years from you will have fallen away from Jesus and your church family right here?  Catechism students, are you on guard, knowing that Satan is trying so hard right now to keep the things you learn out of your heart – not in them – so he has a better chance of enjoying your company in hell for ever and ever?  Parents, are you on your guard, knowing that the devil hates it when you bring your children to God’s house every weekend, and he loves it when you make it once it a while because you’ve “got so much going on.”

 

With these predictions and warnings about persecution, judgment day, and false teachers, Jesus is pleading with us to keep our eyes open, to keep our mind alert, to read (and re-read) and study (and re-study) the Word he’s given us. If we don’t keep on our guard we will be easy targets, kind of like the lovely, lonely woman I recently read about who gave away $600,000 to the charming man she met online….she never saw him and heard from him again.

Do you see why Jesus says, “Be on your guard”?  He loves you like no one else and has given you all his treasures:  forgiveness, peace, eternal life and so many more promises.  He's placed them in your hands and in your heart because he wanted you to have it all!  He doesn't want you to get ripped off!  So he says, "Be on your guard—don’t be deceived."  And you know the best part?  You’re not on your own.  Jesus is there to help you guard what you’ve got. With every promise you read from his Word, Jesus strengthens your grip on that treasure.

The Savior who said, “Don’t be deceived!” would say in less than 72 hours, “It is finished.” As he died like a common criminal, he declared to everyone in earshot (and for us who read those words today) that the price for our sin is paid in full. For the times we’ve neglected his Word, for our sleepy eyes that should have been wide awake, for even our lack of appreciation for the believers who have gone before us and sacrificed their very lives, Jesus said I’ve taken care of that. You’re forgiven! The forgiveness that he earned for us and the whole world drove his first followers to distant countries to share it; that forgiveness empowered humble believers to boldly stand before world rulers and armed soldiers and say “I will stand on the promises of my Savior Jesus Christ.”  That same forgiveness that we received personally in our baptism, that we hear about in God’s Word every time we open up our Bible or worship Jesus in his house, and that we will taste in just a few minutes will strengthen you and keep you on your guard.  Jesus gives you his word on that – that’s no deception.  It’s the truth.  Amen.