Sunday, 15 November 2015

in times of destruction... wars and rumors of wars... Mark 13

When we look at what is happening in the world it can feel like we are on the verge of the end of time. Almost 130 people have been killed in the Paris attacks that we assume are connected to the Islamic State (ISIS). Recently, in Beirut (Lebanon) there was an attack that claimed the lives of 43. There have been massacres in the hundreds in Nigeria by the fanatical Islamic group Boko Haram. We see a constant stream of attacks all over the world in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Somalia, and the Philippines. In 2014 there were just over 30,000 deaths due to terrorist attacks. … On top of this, the news is frequently telling us about the increased frequency of natural disasters due to climate change and showing us the deadly results. This is often reported alongside the threats of Western economic collapse. .. Jesus said that there would be wars and rumors of wars. He said nation would rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. He said there would be earthquakes and famines. It all can make us wonder what’s happening to the world.

It was devastating to watch the attacks on September 11th, when the World Trade Towers were destroyed and nearly 3000 people were murdered. It was hard to watch because of the horrendous loss of life, but it was also hard to watch because the devastation we see on TV is usually so far away. Suddenly it was happening on our side of the ocean. Suddenly the violent reality many people in our world experience became more real. … But the trade towers were also an icon of the New York sky line. They were a symbol of architectural skill and of the economic status of the United States. The incredible military technology and intelligence of America wasn’t able to stop it. If the twin towers were vulnerable, then everyone was vulnerable.

The importance of the twin towers are miniscule when compared to the importance of the Temple in Judaism at the time of Jesus. It was believed to be protected by God as His house. It was a symbol of the Jewish nation, but also Jewish history and identity. The Temple in Jerusalem was the heart of the Jewish religion. It was the only Temple allowed. You could have multiple places of prayer and teaching like synagogues, but you could only have one Temple. The Temple was the only place where sacrifices for the atonement of sins were allowed. The Temple was the continuity of the Tabernacle that housed the Ark of the Covenant in the wilderness, which was also where God spoke to Moses as he led the people. The Temple was where heaven and earth touched. It could be argued that the Temple was as important as Scripture to them.

The Temple was tremendously important for the Jewish people for spiritual reasons, but it was also a very impressive building. Some described it as a mountain of white marble and gold. The gleaming white marble and the huge gold plates made it nearly impossible to look at when the sun reflected off it. Everyone who saw the Temple was impressed by its beauty.

During the time Jesus was teaching, the destruction of the Temple would have been hard for people to imagine. Partly because it was such an imposing structure, but more so they wouldn’t have thought God would allow it to happen. The Temple was a powerful and vital institution in Jewish life. It was a holy place as it was the house of God and His people, but it was also a political place. If you controlled the Temple you had tremendous power. To tamper with the Temple was to tamper with the very heart of Judaism and the nation of Israel. For that reason the Temple and how it was run was often a point of criticism among various groups.

Jesus was also critical of the way the Temple was being run. Once when he entered the Temple he 
“began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons” (Mark 11:15). 
Some have seen this event as Jesus cleansing the Temple and restoring it to a place of prayer rather than commerce. Some have seen it as a symbolic destruction and judgement of the Temple.

The Temple puts on a good show. In our Gospel reading one of the disciples points out the grandeur of the Temple 
“Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" (Mk 13:1). 
 Though the temple is beautiful and loaded with people and services and sacrifices, it is not giving the fruit of true worship. It is corrupt and will receive judgement. In our Gospel reading Jesus declares, 
"Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." (13:2). 
This happened when Rome destroyed the city of Jerusalem and dismantled the temple in 70 AD, less than 40 years after Jesus was resurrected.

The destruction of the temple would have been horrifying for the Jewish people. This destruction by a foreign pagan army would have led them to question everything. Where was God? Had God abandoned His people? Have the Roman gods proven to be more powerful? Had his people done something to cause God to turn His back on them? Was this judgement? Their world would have seemed like it was falling apart. This isn’t just the destruction of a building. This is the destruction of their identity. This would have shaken them to their core.

Jesus didn’t want his followers to be shaken by this. He knew that the destruction of the Temple would be a fragile time. The disciples asked him for details about the Temple’s destruction, but he seems to ignore their question drawing their attention away from the Temple. He lists off the horrible things his followers will face saying, 
“See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. ‘But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (13:6-13). 
That doesn’t sound like a list of things any of us wants to endure.

So why is Jesus saying all this? … I think the key is in his statement, “do not be alarmed” (13:7). He assures his followers that things are not out of control. The world is still broken and evil is still active in it, but evil will not have the last word. What Jesus wants is for his people to calmly endure and faithfully persevere. He doesn’t want them to get caught up in the excitement of these dramatic events that people so often exploit claiming to be prophets, messiahs, and saviors. Jesus wants his people to be wise, maybe even skeptical, and to not be surprised by the evil they encounter. In fact he is telling them to expect it. He says that the world will look like it is falling apart, but it’s not the end of the world (13:7). In fact he says it’s a kind of beginning, like birth pains (13:8). 

Right now, we might be tempted to panic. We might be tempted to turn away from God and towards some false promise of salvation. Maybe bigger guns. Maybe bigger bombs, smarter bombs, more drones. Maybe more security cameras. Maybe more invasive internet screening. Maybe a ban on refugees. Maybe we turn racist to protect ourselves from people we think might be terrorists. … But if we do that we are turning towards a false prophet promising a false salvation. … Has violence, hatred, and prejudice ever made a peaceful world? If we choose hate we reject the Lord of love. If we choose violence we reject the Prince of peace. If we reject and hate our neighbour, then we reject the one who taught us to love our neighbour … and even our enemy. … We will not make a peaceful world by adding more violence to it. We will not make a more loving world by adding more hate to it.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood the act of following Christ in the middle of violence and hatred. He once said, 
“To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘we shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. … We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non co-operation with evil is … a moral obligation. … Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

As followers of Jesus we choose to be vulnerable rather than fight hate with hate and violence with violence. We have a savior that endured the worst the world could throw at him. He showed us that death could not hold him, and he promised that if we follow him death will not hold us either. In a few hundred years Christianity won the heart of the Roman Empire, not through terrorist attacks, but through love. The world is convinced hating their enemies is the way to a better world, but where has that gotten them? We pray for God to help us show Christ in the midst of suffering and violence … to show the world a different way. In John 16:33 Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Chris. We need to ask ourselves "What would Jesus do?".


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