Sermon, Pentecost 25B
Sunday November 18, 2012, St Petri
Mark 13:1-8 (TNIV)
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” 5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 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.
I am feeling a little nervous about what is going on the Middle East this week. They are at it again. This time it is an escalating conflict between Palestinians in Gaza and Israelis. It is looking a bit serious.
Of course, any conflict in that part of the world automatically draws in everyone – the US, Egypt, Iran, Syria – Arab, Jew, Muslim, Christian….. It also tends to bring up the thorny subject of nuclear weapons capability, and this always makes me ponder the world, its future its present and its end – and God’s plan for his world.
It must have been so hard for Jesus’ travelling companions to believe what he said about the single most important place in theirs and the lives of tens of thousands of people in their country of Israel. As they walk around the temple precinct the disciples of Jesus are awe struck by the magnificence of the Temple. So would we be. It was a magnificent structure. Herod the Great spent millions on it and it took over 50 years to complete. It had a marble base about 35 acres in area. Its construction was cutting edge. Its massive stones were somehow put in perfect place – some over 10m in length! It was as magnificent and as eternal as a place could get – like those grand scale cathedrals in Europe.
I have been to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, which is a wall of those remaining original stones of the original Herod temple. My sister has just been there too. She tells me there are very deep excavations going on all the time to get down to that big marble bedrock.
But the Temple’s size, construction and decorative beauty were not its most significant characteristic for people of Jesus’ day. This building was almost the incarnation of the Lord for people. This place had a direct link to Moses, the burning bush, the name of God (Yahweh), the Tabernacle and God’s promise to live with his people in this place.
5 But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; (Deuteronomy 12:5)
This was the place to which the people of Israel went to seek God, pray to God and give their offering to God, seeking his blessing on their lives and their land, and seeking protection from all their enemies and troubles – seeking confidence of faith when they were shaky in their faith….
In accordance with the OT promises of the Lord, as they saw it, the belief of most people in the city on this day was that this magnificent building would one day become the centre for world religion. This was the place where nations would come and seek the Lord’s blessing and wisdom and pay homage to Him (and Israel – God’s chosen nation.
So this building was permanent, significant in world politics, eternally blessed and holy because the Lord made it so by his promises.
Can you imagine what was going through the minds of the disciples when Jesus said that this eternal, blessed, holy place would be smashed into pieces some awesome force?! That would be like us hearing that this great building would be smashed down by someone or something; or like hearing that the family farm, Parliament House, Footy Park and the Adelaide Oval would be demolished by some foreign power.
James, Andrew John and Peter ask the obvious question. “When will this be and how will we know it is about to happen?”
This is the queue for Jesus to launch into a teachable moment on all that “end times” stuff – that apocryphal stuff.
In a nutshell, apocalyptic literature stems from a worldview where people believe that everything happening on earth represents and correlates with a larger, heavenly struggle between good and evil. So people who study the apocryphal writings in the bible (Daniel, Revelation, Matthew 24-26, Mark 13 etc…..) find cosmic significance in earthly events and anticipate future events on earth in light of the coming battle between the forces of God and Satan. They often try to make sense of current events and experiences by casting them in a larger, cosmic framework and in this way give comfort to people who are currently suffering or being oppressed.
Because of this belief in the larger battle between good and evil, and because apocalyptic literature tends to be highly symbolic, it’s ripe for reading all kinds of things into it – like predictions about the end of the world! We have heard a few of these predictions over the years!
But friends, as I understand it, this chapter in Mark – and other passages, notably the book of Revelation – were not written so that we could ferret out signs of the end. Rather, they were PRIMARILY written to offer comfort and confidence to first-century believers struggling to make sense of their world and lives – a world in which Christian families were often under intense persecution.
These words about the end times are also for us.
The wars may be fought differently, but people still get displaced and killed, as we are seeing with the looming trouble between Syria and Israel this week. The injustice may be of a different time but there is still injustice in the world. The earthquakes and natural disasters may be understood differently now, but people still lose everything, including loved ones in these things. The Evil One may be more easily disguised under our White Western rationalistic mindset, but he is still present and active attempting to destroy your faith and your relationship with the Lord and other people.
So, what is Jesus saying to us modern people who live long after the final destruction of that magnificent temple in Jerusalem which happened as Jesus said it would in AD 70 – 4 years after the building’s final completion!?
Here’s what Jesus says to those who are looking for signs of the future events. Here’s what Jesus says to everyday Christians who believe that the world is in God’s hands and that when it ends it will be at God’s hand, not the Evil Ones hands…
1. “Watch Out”
2. “Be on your guard”
3. “Do not be scared”
4. “Do not believe in false messiahs”
“Watch Out”. Watch out for what? Watch out no one deceives you with false promises and lies about the future or the present. Wars, natural disasters, political conspiracy, the powerful dominating the powerless…… all will happen and no amount of doomsday theories or promises to stop these things or avoid these things in total are real or to be trusted. They are part of a bigger scale process which the Lord has in hand – “trust me”, says Jesus.
“Be on your guard” – against what or who? Against anyone who tries to extinguish the gospel of Jesus in you by whatever means and by whatever authority.
10 ”…the gospel must first be preached to all nations”.
The gospel simply must be proclaimed by us all – not matter the personal cost or the cost to our budgets or buildings or anything else. Jesus will give us the words to say and the actions to do at just the right time…
“Do not be scared” – Do not be scared of what? Of the personal cost of bearing witness to Jesus in all places among all people, whether they are open to what you are saying about your faith or not. “Don’t worry about what to say in defending/protecting yourself”, says Jesus. “I will speak in and through you always.
Also, Don’t be scared of what you see and hear happening – war, rumours of wars, famine, injustice, crime, violence…… just preach the good news – be the good news in all of this.
“Do not believe in false messiahs”. Who are they? Where are they?
They must be people who deceive you into doing the opposite of all these things Jesus directs us to do as we face an always uncertain future in our human terms. They must be people who con you into letting down your guard, encouraging you to be scared and trust their take on life and the future and even these “end times” discussions.
For me the sign of deception is always fear. If person speaking about end times is creating fear, then it must not be of the Lord because Jesus says here there is no need to be fearful – only watchful, prayerful, careful and well aware – but not fearful.
Friends, receive the gracious love of your Saviour today and let tomorrow take care of itself. Stick with that and avoid all the other offers to calm your fears because we don’t need them.
We have Jesus and his Word of grace and his promise to be with us through anything to the very end of all things.