Monday, November 9, 2009

Trust to the End

Right after Jesus admires the widow who put everything in the offering (yesterday's gospel), and immediately after the disciples admire the building in which the offering was given:
Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings! (Mark 13:1)
Jesus says:
Do you see these great buildings?
Not one stone will be left here upon another;
all will be thrown down. (Mark 13:2)
Jesus then goes over to the Mount of Olives, the easternmost of the three main hills in Jerusalem, across the valley and about three hundred feet higher than the hill where the Jerusalem temple was being reconstructed at the time.  At that point, most likely among gravestones*, Jesus gives a special teaching there to a few of his disciples.  You'll find it recorded, with slight variations, in all three of the "Synoptic Gospels," in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.

This special teaching is called the "Olivet Discourse" or "The Little Apocalypse." We'll read the first part of it next Sunday. In this section Jesus reveals what will happen in in the future.  Jesus has already told them that the temple will be destroyed--this happened about 40 years later in 70 A.D.  Now he goes on to tell them about other future events--events that some present day Bible teachers seem to understand down to the last detail.

Most of the events described in Mark 13 and parallels in Matthew and Luke are horrible.  So much the better for preachers and authors who like to scare people.  It's great material for best selling books and profitable movies.  I remember being very interested when The Late, Great Planet Earth came out in 1970 from author Hal Lindsay and publisher Zondervan. More recently I've read through the Left Behind series of books.

Personally, after some study, I'm not much impressed with that sort of thing. When I look at the Bible for details about the future I get lost. Trying to stitch together chapters and verses from parts of the Bible that are the very hardest to interpret** seems a losing game to me.  It's way over my head.  If you want a pastor to go into detail about the end of the world, you'll need to find someone else.

So what do I think about Mark 13 and the other end of the world parts of the Bible?  My thoughts are very simple. These simple thoughts just make me want to trust God and keep on living and loving God's way as long as I can.  Here are a few things that have been helpful to me.:
  1. There will be an end!  We don't know when, but we shouldn't pretend that things will go on as they are forever.  If we're not "ready" to meet the Lord by knowing him personally through Jesus Christ, we ought to seek him now.  Come and talk with me or with someone else who does know the Lord so you can come to trust his amazing love.
  2. God will bring the end. Though I can't understand all the details, God is the Alpha and the Omega.  Just as God is the creator God is also the one who will bring everything to an end.  
  3. I can trust that the end will be under God's control.  It's good to know that so I do not panic when things look bad. Someday, when things can not get worse, it is God who will intervene and bring the painful history of this world to an end.  And if things don't get that bad in my lifetime, if the world continues past my 60, 80 or 100 years of life, the "end" will be at my physical death.  I can trust God for that too.
  4. Until the end, as long as can, we keep helping other people trust God though Jesus Christ.  Instead of getting too wrapped up in speculations--not even Jesus knows when it will all end--it's better to focus on doing what God's people have always done--trusting God's gift of love through Jesus Christ and letting others in on that same gift.  As it says in Mark 13:10 -- the good news of Jesus will be made known until the very end!
  5. Finally, we can trust that the end God brings will be a very good thing!  Here are some clues:
verse 8: ...This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
verse 10: ...the good news will (or must) first be proclaimed...
verse 11: not worry beforehand about what you are to say...
verse 13: ...the one who endures to the end will be saved.
verse 20: ...he has cut short those days (of suffering)...
verse 21: ...I [says Jesus] have already told you everything.
verse 26: ...Jesus (a.k.a. "the son of man") will be coming in clouds with great power and glory
verse 27: ...he will... gather his people (his elect)...
verse 31: ...heaven and earth will pass away, but my [Jesus'] words will not pass away.

Last week we talked about a widow who gave everything to her Lord. This week a couple from our church will renew their wedding vows, pledging their all to each other. These are signs and symbols of the trust and commitment God desires of us. We don't need to stop doing these things when things seem to be crashing down on us, or when things seem to be getting worse and worse.  Jesus assures us, in the end he will be in control. So get to know him well, and then trust him for all things.


* The Mount of Olives was a graveyard even in Jesus' day--today there are thousands of graves on that site.
** These parts of the Bible that I find the most difficult to understand are parts that fall under the heading of apocalyptic literature.  These parts are found in places like the Little Apocalypse (in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21), in books like Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation and passages from other places in the New Testament like First Thessalonians.

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