Posted by: mikebackup | November 17, 2009

Always looking to God

Mark 13
Signs of the End of the Age
1As he 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.”

3As 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?”

5Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

9You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues.

12. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Imagine for a moment being the disciple that says to Jesus “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”. You would be getting used to being surprised by what Jesus said and did, but even with this in mind, what Jesus says in reply to your comment is totally unexpected.

“Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

This leaves you dumb struck, such a comment would be laugh out loud if it had been said by anyone else except Jesus. The temple is simply colossal and magnificent beyond anything else in the world, nothing could touch it.

Jesus was of course right, the seemingly impossible happening about 37 years later. The largest sacred enclosure of ancient times, measuring 144,000 sq. m. was destroyed by the Romans and was nothing short of a total catastrophe for the Jewish world and emerging Christianity. How could this have happened and what would be next? Well Jesus had already warned his followers to buckle up as this was just the start of a very bumpy ride. Throughout human history humankind has marvelled at its own creations, believing great achievements to be untouchable and divine. Jesus says no, earthly things return to the earth. We need to keep our focus on God.

These verses are the start of what is known as the Markan Apocalypse, where Jesus looks ahead and lets his followers know what’s in store for the future. It is typical of apocalyptic writing that for the reader, some of what is disclosed has already happened, so that which is still to come will happen as predicted. Mark in written form probably dates to not long after 70ce so the first readers would have the destruction of the temple still ringing in their ears. The whole of this apocalyptic discussion is hard to interpret as there are tensions within it. It says we must just get on as many things must happen before the end times. Yet we must be ready at any time for the end to come. This is easier said than done and many have fallen into the trap of thinking the end times are here. So many have dropped their lives and decided to draw up ‘The end of the World is nigh’ posters. The time of judgement is here, repent or be consumed,!

We all smirk a bit at this, because the end hasn’t come and it shows how right Jesus was. So many people have decided to say that they know the end is here. So many have decided to say that they are Christ.

Who can forget David Icke for example, someone who when I was younger looked up to. He had grown up in Leicester like me, had become a footballer and then gone on to be a likeable presenter and good spokesperson for the Green Party. I still remember the horror I felt as a 16 year old watching him during an interview on the Terry Wogan show in 1991. He announced that he was “the son of God,” and that Britain would be devastated by tidal waves and earthquakes. How wrong he was and later he commented on what that cost him.

“One of my very greatest fears as a child was being ridiculed in public. And there it was coming true. As a television presenter, I’d been respected. People come up to you in the street and shake your hand and talk to you in a respectful way. And suddenly, overnight, this was transformed into ‘Icke’s a nutter’. I couldn’t walk down any street in Britain without being laughed at. It was a nightmare. My children were devastated because their dad was a figure of ridicule.”

One of the best ways to view the end times is the same way as we view our own death. We know it will come, but we don’t know when. It could be in the next hour or many years away. Either way we have got to be spiritually prepared for that moment. The worst possible thing is that at the moment of no going back, our thoughts are filled with what we could have done for others, how we could have viewed life more positively, the missed opportunities because we were taken in by our own negativeness. Death has as theologian Karl Rahner says a hiddenness about it, so we are rightly apprehensive about it. That will not go away, but what we can do is to ensure when we are faced with that door opening we can look back and know that our house is in order. We had shown in our lives how much the grace of God meant to us.

This means we must live each moment of everyday how God wants us to live. Loving others, being passionate about injustice, working the best you can in church for the good of the faithful and the community, praying, praising, petitioning, reflecting. We must remember the words of James, ‘Faith if it is not accompanied by action is dead’. By making sure our faith is alive, when the end comes, we will know we will have lived out our lives as God wanted. We don’t earn our way into heaven by what we do, but it is by what we do that we show how grateful we are that in Jesus, God has saved us. That is critical.

The real difficulties in making this happen is when in our life, everything appears to be wrong and God feels distant. Jesus says in verse 9 and 12 that it will be very difficult for those walking with him. Our faith will be tested. In one sense Jesus is encouraging the disciples and ourselves to see the divine perspective on life. We must think bigger than our own situation whilst at the same time putting our trust in God no matter what happens. We know that we live in a fallen world, and the consequences of that mean that evil and suffering have a grip. As Christians we will have to face this in our walk with Jesus. Sometimes it will mean being a suffering servant.

In context, think back to the early Christian church, how many men, women and children suffered and died as a result of trusting God and keeping firm in their faith. The Roman Empire looked to crush Christianity and the penalties for being a Christian were severe, from being eaten by lions as public entertainment to all other most barbaric forms of execution including crucifixion. A hard question to ask is where was God when that was happening? Atheists are keen to point out that it proves the only possible reality that there is no God and religion itself has been the single biggest cause of suffering in human history.

Those Christians were suffering servants, but they did not die in vain. They proved faith in God’s love can beat anything. If you lived 2000 years ago, which would you think would survive, a tiny breakaway peaceful but highly persecuted Jewish sect called Christianity or the all conquering Roman Empire? God’s plan in our fallen world was going to happen through the dedication of his suffering servants, who despite their own suffering, would enable God’s love, values and presence to be known by so many billions of people. They were able to get a God perspective on their own lives.
Hang on a minute you say, isn’t what you’re saying in direct tension with Romans 8.28 – ‘God works for the good of those who love him’? No not at all, God works for the good in that overall divine sense for those that love him. It means our individual experience maybe to endure suffering to the very end. We may not live to see the good works that will come from that suffering, but we must have faith that God will use it for good in that bigger divine plan for the whole of our fallen world. That is difficult to come to terms with, but from a Christian perspective, that’s exactly what Jesus, and the early apostles had to face.

God will work for the good of all those that love him, but it might not be what we personally hope that will mean. As Christians we must abandon the difficulties of our own lives and focus on the divine plan. Paul understood this brilliantly:

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 7-10.

When life goes wrong, it is easy to lose our way, but Paul and Jesus are telling us to keep firm in our faith and to do what we can. The very foundations of everything we know may come tumbling down, in our life, in the world or both. We must not be tempted to think, ‘the end of the world is nigh’, nor to abandon trusting God. Amidst the chaos, tensions and doubts there is always a goodness and hope to cling onto. That goodness and hope is found in the love of God which is made alive by our response in faith.


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