The Twenty-fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Text: Mark 13:1-13
Dear Friends in Christ,
On 9/11, we saw something that we would have considered impossible. The two towers of the World Trade Center collapsed. These towers had come to define our image of New York City. In the remake of King Kong, he climbed to the top of the World Trade Center. Yet, anything that can be built, can be destroyed. In fact everything built by man is temporary, because this world it temporary. Now we can take this two ways. We can be philosophical about things and go about our business. We know that one day, whatever we do will be undone. In the end this world will cease. This was Luther’s approach. Once when asked what he would do that afternoon, if he learned that Christ would return the next day, Luther replied that he would plant an apple tree. That was what was on his schedule and he wouldn’t change it, even if he knew it would last but a day. But many have taken a different approach. Cardinal years seem very important in people’s thinking. In about the year 970 A.D., people stopped all construction on new churches. Why? Because of course Christ would return in the year 1000. It wasn’t until about twenty years or so had passed beyond the turn of the millennium, that construction resumed. So for about fifty years, church construction was put on hold. That’s a long time - particularly at a time when large churches took a generation or more to build.
Our text is one that must be carefully studied and understood. It is and it is not about the end of the world. What does that mean? Look at the question - what about the great buildings in Jerusalem? The temple was rebuilt at the time of Ezra. But they built everything, including the temple, from the building materials that they had on hand - namely the rubble left behind when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. So the temple was built of small stones. It was not seen as having any great beauty. Yet, the Prophet Haggai assured the workers that the new temple would indeed be the temple of the Messiah. After Rome took control of Jerusalem, they installed a client king - a half Jew named Herod. Herod the Great was one of the shrewdest politicians that ever lived. This is the Herod of the Christmas story. Unfortunately, he went insane in the last years of his life. So many people do not understand what an incredibly accomplished man this was. Herod, was among other things, a great builder. He rebuilt the temple, though it remained in continuous use. Thus we still count this as the second temple, not a third. Herod had his masons use massive blocks. Some of these stone were 37 by 18 by 12 feet! They would have perfectly smoothed and polished faces and so forth. This was the height of Roman building technology applied to the Temple. In Jesus day, the construction was still ongoing. So it was the marvel of the temple that enthralled the disciples.
What did Jesus say? Not one stone will be left upon another. What is He talking about? He’s talking about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman General Titus Flavus Vespatian Minor. The Roman assault would breach the city walls right in the courtyard of the temple itself. The temple was totally destroyed. So everything that follows is warning signs about the destruction of the temple and the destruction of Jerusalem. The Church remembered Christ’s words very well. When the revolt started in 66 A.D. and the Jewish authorities killed James the Just - that is Christ’s brother who served as the first bishop of Jerusalem - they fled the city. No Christians died when Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D.
Now, do these words, about the destruction of Jerusalem have anything to say to us? Yes. For much of what Christ is saying applies to any calamity, as well as to the stresses Christians face in these latter days. First notice that Christ does not give a date or a definite sign. They had to interpret what they were seeing and take appropriate action.
The key here is found in verses 5 and 13. See that no one leads you astray and endure to the end. What will happen in the later days? There were be false Messiahs. In fact in 66 A.D. they paraded a false Messiah through Jerusalem. Interestingly, he was brought in, riding on a donkey, from the Mount of Olives, wearing a purple robe. Sound familiar? Our text says that these false Messiahs will come and say I am He. But here our translation is not quite accurate. It actually says that they will say “I AM”. In other words they will claim to be Yahweh, that is God. Every generation has it’s version of this, Jim Jones, when I was in high school and so forth. We see the muck that has been made of the Christian faith in our age, and particularly, the non Christian religions that have been spun off from Christianity - Mormanism, Jehovah’s Witness, Christian Science and so forth. All these groups would point us to a false Messiah of one sort or another. And all of these false teachings throw everything back upon ourselves. They would teach us that we must do all that is necessary for our salvation.
As Christians we face many enemies and many trials. We may have neighbors who despise us. We may have government officials trying to tell us what we can and can’t say. There have even been laws proposed, in the U.S., that would attempt to tell the churches what they can and can’t call sin. Such laws are already in place in some other countries, including Canada. We also know that this sinful world will always be marked by wars and natural disasters. This is the course of this world. They are not signs of Christ’s return, but do serve as a warning. They warn us of our constant need for repentance. As Christ said of another disaster - you repent, lest you also perish. Even families will be divided. But again, this is what Christ does - He divides the world into the believers who live and the unbelievers who are dead. These two groups will always be at war.
How can we endure in the face of such things? Because there is no alternative. Christ alone is life. He alone died for our sins and gives us perfect forgiveness and eternal life. Even if we were killed, as Christians we have not lost. For as St. Paul says, to die is gain and to live is Christ. Our life is wrapped up in the life of Christ. As He lives so also we live. Christ is coming. He will judge this world. He will draw it to its end, though I doubt it will happen in 2012. Yet, we have a power that the world cannot comprehend. It is the knowledge of God’s love in Christ Jesus. It is the certainty that in the death and resurrection of Christ, we have life. It is the promise that the dead will rise in their bodies and the believers will live with Christ in holiness and purity forever.