13 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 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.
9 “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. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 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. 12 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. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Mark 13 is traditionally known as the “little apocalypse”. It deals succinctly with the more detailed and graphic elements of Revelation. In this chapter, Jesus deals with the practical and ethical actions associated with His return and the end times. The specific section in consideration today warns the disciples about four great spiritual temptations. The first, reliance upon outward accessories of religious practice and life. The second is on the deception of false messiahs. The third, being distracted by the chaos and turmoil of the world. The fourth, stumbling and falling because of persecution for one’s faith. These four warnings are as relevant today as they were back then. Too often Christians are more concerned with material things and miss the necessity of a faith journey with Jesus himself. We race after others who say the things we want to hear and miss the graceful truth God speaks into our lives. We get worried about what is happening in the world around us and lose our focus on Jesus who is master of the universe. And when we are called to account for our faith, we retreat and hide, too frightened of what to say.
The 3rd Jerusalem temple built by Herod was one of the great wonders of the ancient world. It is unsurprising the disciples marvelled when they saw it, even though it was not fully complete. But Jesus warns against their fascination, as He predicts Rome destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70AD. In doing so he reminds us that the buildings, furnishings, property, money, and every other thing we acquire is transient and superfluous. How often do churches get embroiled in disputes over these things, shattering relationships and permanently damaged the community over the material things they acquire? We often seem more concerned with these things than our relationship with Jesus himself. In the end, these things must only empower a deepening sense of faith in Christ and the call to share that faith with the world yet to know him. The moment our buildings, money, or any other material thing become the centre of our attention, we have lost our way.
Sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples begin pondering when these things will occur. This single topic is shaping our political landscape with the dire message about global warming. The world is collapsing on itself. How do we know? Science seems to have the answers, so we’re told. Jesus’ response was not an answer but a reminder to not be led astray. He warns against the voices of our world who all strive to claim a place in our lives. So many demand our attention in this world. Just consider technology and smart phones. We are addicted to them, craving the next titbit of social media gossip to brighten our day. We race after various social media gurus telling us how to live better and happier lives. Are we more connected? Are we in control of our happiness? Suicide rates continue to escalate. Depression, anxiety, and mental health issues are rapidly over stretching the health system. The voices calling us to follow simply distract us from the voice of the lamb who was slain. He alone is the shepherd who leads us to still waters and green pastures, who wipes every tear from our eyes.
My grand-daughter rang me the other day to tell me the rock monster was shaking where she lived. Not far from where they lived an earth quake, 6.4 on the Richter scale, shook NZ. All around the Pacific rim there have been earthquakes on land and sea, some generating tsunamis. It’s easy to ask if this is a sign of the end times. Wars continue to rage around the globe, even on our own city streets terrorists attempt to create fear amongst us. Famine, drought, flood, and all sorts of other disasters are being lived out across the globe every day. Some people have made a science of analysing all these things to predict the end. But again, Jesus simply reminds us they are natural events that distract us from our true focus. In the end, the hope of the world is not predicating the end but being in a relationship with the one who transcends this world and offers life eternal in His presence.
Jesus then reminds his disciples that they will face persecution, trial and struggle, and not to lose faith when it comes. How easy is it for us to play down our faith? How easy it is to hide what we believe out of fear of being bullied, intimidated, even attacked, because of it? Being a Christian in a secular world like Australia, is becoming increasingly difficult. We don’t know how to respond, and for many it is easier to abandon the faith than to persevere and endure. It is this which Jesus warns against. To hold fast what you believe and rely on Him to provide you with the words to say and the strength to endure. Remaining focussed on Jesus, growing in our relationship with Him, provides us with this strength, and when the time comes, the words to say.
When asked about the end times, Jesus sole response was calling people into a relationship with Him that grows out of the Gospel. Everything else is a distraction. It is faithful endurance that changes lives and makes a true witness to the world. It is the path of the cross, that makes our discipleship with Jesus a thing worth clinging too no matter what is happening in the world around us.