DOES MY FAITH DECEIVE ME?
We have gone soft, dear Christians! When we hear these words they convict us of spiritual sloth, of religious inertia. We all have a working knowledge of the Christian faith. We know that patient endurance is a requirement, but our performance is lacking. We are unwilling to bear the slightest inconvenience that our faith demands, so how would we do if the predictions of the end times were to happen in our lifetime: persecution by the state, the false church and even those who are nearest and dearest to us?
Not only does the Lord's saying indict us, it also lays a frightening burden on us: Whoever endures to the end will be saved!
But it's good if these words make us uneasy, because the Old Adam only understands one language, the language of fear. You can't teach him or inspire him to endure anything. The best you can do is to beat him down by frightening words, the kind we hear today; and drown him by daily repentance and remembrance of our baptism. Then the New Man, which is Christ in us, can rise up to hope all things, believe all things, and endure all things. Yes it is good if these words jar us, so that we can also learn their proper meaning; so that we can learn once again to depend only on Jesus, who endured temptation, suffering and death to the end, who drank the bitter cup to redeem us; and so that we can discover again that it is the hope that we have in Christ that empowers us to endure till the end of our course and be saved.
The writer to the Hebrews has this to say: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
From these words we learn the same thing that our sermon hymn says: that "Christ is all in all" for us. That He is the One who, moved by great love, was: born of the Virgin Mary and made man. We breeze over those words very easily, but it was not a small thing that the Creator should become creature! that He should throw in His lot with us! that He should show solidarity with sinners who wanted nothing to do with Him or the things He came to reveal. Please notice that He did not redeem us from afar, or by remote control as it were. Instead, as our sin and the hideous death which attends it is real, so was the human flesh He took on and the human blood that flowed through His veins.
As a man Jesus felt real and true temptation to give up and to give in when after 40 days of fasting the Chief Tempter laid the most amazing allurements before Him, or when He was threatened, hated, persecuted and laughed at by the religionists of His day, or when He was taunted on the cross that saves us: if you are the Son of God come down from the cross, save yourself. These things that Jesus bore were not a sham or charade, but things which He willingly took on to Himself so that by His endurance to the end, we might be saved!
Yes, He did this for us, but the Christian faith is not a spectator sport where we simply sit and applaud our Champion! We have a part in it. We are baptized into Christ and that is very real; and for this reason the words of our Lord, "whoever endures to the end will be saved," no longer discourage us. Instead we see them as we do every utterance of God, as a word that creates the thing that it states. This Word gives us the endurance it requires. It enables us to: fight the good fight with all our might, knowing that: Christ is our Strength and Christ our Right. It fortifies us to rise above the desires of the Flesh, to dismiss our doubts, to keep moving forward in the face of temptation, sorrow, discouragement, sin, failure, suffering, persecution and the grave. It makes us strong, firm and steadfast in the most important struggle of human existence, that of attaining to the resurrection from the dead. We need endurance because the life of a Christian is not a sprint, but a marathon; not a single battle, but a long campaign, and we are prepared for it, reinforced and made strong by Jesus who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, giving no thought to the suffering and shame. Whoever endures to the end will be saved. In Christ, we are those people!
Will the end happen in our lifetime? Many people wonder about that, but no one knows the answer. Anyone who says that he does, whether in specific or broad terms, is to be avoided. He is at best an entertainer or businessman, at worst a false prophet, and you don't want to follow one of those. We do not know when the end will come, but we do know that each of us will have his own personal end. There will be much to endure then, and much we must endure until then, and only Jesus can aid us in this struggle. Not Jesus simply as a religious notion housed in our minds, but Jesus the High Priest who by the sacrifice He made, once, for all sinners, has perfected and sanctified us. This is the Jesus who is with us now, in the church, audibly in His Word, and bodily by His Sacrament. By these blessed means He brings the future glory of salvation into the present and assures us that we will endure to the end and that we will be saved. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras